coming back to our bodies (with some ideas of how to do so)

In the last week I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the “Internet of Things.” “Smart homes” where lights, heat/air, door locks, and more are controlled by one’s smart phone are becoming increasingly common. At the Consumer Electronics Showcase in January a bulk of internet connected home appliances were revealed, inspiring behind the scenes talk about the security measures that will be needed as increasing numbers of our things become capable of gathering, storing, presenting, and recording information.

One reviewer of smart home technologies commented in a New York Times piece that his decision point on whether or not to add digital capabilities to an object is if he needs to stand in front of the object to use it. An internet enabled toaster, for him, is unnecessary because he needs to be in front of it to insert and eat the toast. An internet enabled oven, however, could be turned off and on remotely to aid in food prep when he isn’t home. Similarly, an internet enabled refrigerator would allow him to check the contents while at the store (with the internal camera) thereby helping him determine his list remotely. Other reviewers rave about diaper changing pads that record baby’s weight and stool consistency, tracking it and sending charts to your phone throughout the day. Internet enabled pet collars allow owners to talk with their pets from work as well as check their heart rate and body temperature. It all gets pretty weird, to me, after a while.

So much of our lives, it seems, are already lived outside of our bodies. We maintain our friendships via texting, commonly saying we’ve “talked” to someone when, in reality, we’ve actually typed messages back and forth. We play games in digital spaces, our eyes seeing and brains perceiving any manner of different locations and settings while our fingers/hands feel the same exact controller/keyboard every single time. We sit on our couches with screens in our hands and others on the walls, often being completely out of touch with the feel of the room we reside in. We apply filters to our pictures, blurring the features of our selves and surroundings which we’d like to distract attention from. We look at our phones to know the weather and to track our calories. We rely upon our wearable technologies to tell us how to feel about our night of sleep and how many steps we still need to take. 

There is a technology for everything and push notifications, alerts, and digital reminders attached to objects in such a way that we hardly have to think in order to use them. All the while it feels to me as though we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the message indicators built into our bodies and souls. I believe that it is time for us to do some work to reverse this trend. I believe it is time for us to get back into the skin we live in.

This is not easy. Not only have we allowed ourselves to be intolerant of boredom but we have also trained ourselves to seek entertainment and distraction from outside of ourselves. We have relied upon screens for much of this, foregoing practice at occupying ourselves with only our selves. We perform physical tasks with less awareness of our bodies than of the devices we hold. Our tablets are in the bathroom and bedroom with us, our cars come complete with audio and video systems stocked with never ending entertainment options, our earbuds deliver a stream of music and podcasts tailored to and by our preferences. We order, pay for, pick up, and consume our latte making no human contact and our purchases are delivered to our doors at all hours of the day and night, meaning we rarely venture out to touch and feel and look at that which we are placing in our carts or the humans who make the goods available to us. We scroll through social media or news sites while we eat, barely tasting our food let alone smelling or seeing it. 

I refer to this tendency to live outside of our bodies as disembodiment. I believe it contributes to much of our use of chemical aids to amp us up (caffeine and stimulants) and to calm us down (alcohol, marijuana, and depressants). When we haven’t practiced stimulating or soothing our physiological selves in and of ourselves it is easy to rely on something from outside of us to do it for us. Further, exposed to images of people that have been highly digitally edited, we hold our bodies to unrealistic expectations. As men we might compare ourselves to the hyper masculinized video game avatars that grace our screens each day. As women we unconsciously notice the lack of inner thigh or sagging skin on nearly every image of women we are presented with. Turning from our screens and to our own physical bodies, we expect conformity to standards that are impossible for the vast majority of humans to achieve. Disappointment, harsh self treatment, and sometimes real clinical disorders result making us less inclined than ever to want to invade our own actual skin.

What if we were to live at least a little bit of life from the central space of our very own bodies? How might it feel to reside consciously from the skin in which we live, tending to the message indicators and unique needs and preferences of our actual bodies? What if we checked in with our own levels of tiredness, alertness, receptivity, and focus rather than our inbox or queue in order to determine our next course of action?  It doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming to do so. It simply requires intentional forethought and dedicated action. 

It is the weekend, giving us a bit more opportunity to practice this kind of living. We might do so by adding consistent, simple, physical check-ins or we might get more fancy and add an embodied experience to our day. I’ll add some ideas below to help you get your creative juices flowing. As for me, I plan to embody my weekend fully and I hope the same for you. If you have creative ideas for doing so, please share them so we can all be inspired.

Speak to your senses. Eat food or drink something you have never eaten or drunk before. Ask others (or use a search engine if you must) for recommendations of restaurants from far away lands. Indian, African, Central/South American, Japanese, Chinese, Vegan, Raw, and more. Pay attention as you walk into the location. Smell the smells. Ask the server for suggestions and really listen. When the food arrives, take time to look at it and notice it. While eating feel the textures as well as tasting the tastes. If you are choosing the drinking route, tea is a fantastic embodied drink. Go to a tea house or good tea shop and look at the leaves/buds, smell them before and after brewing. Feel the steam. 

Create a mood. Tending to the sounds and sites within a space can profoundly change the feel of the room. Turn off overhead lights and place lamps at seated eye level. Sit on pillows and wrap up in blankets rather than sitting on the couch. Make a fire or light lots of candles. If you don’t have scented candles or an essential oil diffuser, place a small sauce pan on the stove with a bit of water and cinnamon, cloves, and even a slice or two of citrus and let it simmer or brew a pot of aromatic coffee or tea. If you love music, choose it with intention to create the feeling that matches the mood you are going for. Sit in the space and simply take it in. Notice how your body feels in a room you have tended to for comfort and peacefulness or alert wakefulness (whichever you were going for).

Make a fort. Be simple or elaborate in creating a small(ish) space to get cozy and away from the “real” world in. Toss a blanket over a table so that the edges of it reach down to the floor and add a few pillows, a lantern/flashlight/candle and you’re set. If you want to get more elaborate use chairs, blankets/sheets, and clamps from your garage. Leave all screens outside of the fort and, instead, bring paper books, journals, or a friend in and notice how it feels to be in a small/otherworldly space free of responsibilities and distractions.

Set a reminder. Set a reoccurring alarm on your device (or an actual alarm clock). When it sounds take a 3 minute breathing break. Stand up and feel the ground firmly under your feet. Rock back and forth and side to side gently, working to notice your center. From here take 10 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose (“smell the roses”) and exhaling through the mouth (“blow out the candles”). At the end of these breaths reach your arms up high above your head and stretch up lowering slowly down to a forward fold. Return to standing and thank your body for being present to you. Return to normal activities.

Take a (realistic, safe-enough) physical risk. This does not need to be a herculean task. You don’t need to summit a mountain. Instead, think of what is a growth inducing risk for you specifically. You might turn opera music up loudly and try to sing along from the depths of your diaphragm. Heading into a new and unknown restaurant, like suggested above, might be the risk for you. Spending time in a new geographic location in your town might suffice. Walking an extra half mile or running during part of your walk might be it. Taking a new class at the gym or pulling out your jump rope/hula hoop/free weights and giving them a whirl might fit. Hit balls at a batting range, go to your local trampoline spot, do karaoke, or more...just give your body the chance to have a new experience.

Get in some eye contact. Gazing at, and being gazed at, changes us. There is something about eye contact that profoundly affects us. When the gaze is loving and gracious it has the power to heal. When it is harsh and critical it hurts. Either find someone willing to play along and gaze into each other’s eyes for 3 to 5 minutes without talking or grab a mirror and do the same with your self. It sounds goofy but it has the power to refuel and heal. Work to look past the initial criticism or self conscious discomfort and settle into truly seeing into the eyes of a body that is human and worthy of love and respect.

If you are in need of touch, find a way to get some (in healthy, consensual ways). Most cities have massage therapists, manicurists/pedicurists, and even reflexology centers where touch is part of the offering. My personal favorite is reflexology which typically includes an hour of fully clothed, acupressure treatments, foot soaking, and full body asian style massage for a very affordable fee. Other options include partner acro yoga (google search acro yoga jam and the name of your city and you’ll likely find listings for meetings in the park…all levels welcome), contact improv dance, dance lessons at bars or studios, or facials. The need for touch, for those who are kinesthetically inclined, is real. Seek it out in ways that are healthy and satisfying!

a short treatise on self love (with a call to action)

it’s february 14th, valentine’s day, aka one of my favorite days of the year, and i am sitting alone in a candle lit home gazing at my light box sign. on it i’ve lettered, “love is an active noun.” this is a summation of a favorite quote of mine penned by my hero/mentor/spirit animal, mr. rogers. his longer, and more descriptive, quotation reads like this: 

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

whenever i read this, i have to look at it over and over. i want love to be a verb (and it is) but it is also an action noun (described as a noun denoting action), falling into the “idea” category of “person, place, thing, or idea.” i guess it could also be a thing. regardless, it’s important. actually, it’s crucial. not only for directing toward others, but also for directing toward self. i’m pretty sure that mr. rogers (or, as my friend a.j. calls him, Saint Fred) would be o.k. with me suggesting this interpretation of his words:

love isn’t a state of perfect caring. it’s an active noun like struggle. to love one’s self is to strive to accept one’s self exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

if we ever hope to receive love from, or return love to, others we must first learn to love our selves. i am not speaking, here, about a self-agrandizing, narcissistic, overly inflated feeling of self importance. i’m not talking about “treating yo’self” to indulgences or to fostering a sense of denial about our weaknesses or flaws. what i am referring to is an honest relationship with our very sense of self. an eyes-wide-open acknowledgement of our strengths and weaknesses. an understanding of our personal agency. a gentleness regarding the injuries we have faced and a right-sized pride in our accomplishments, even if/especially when they are meaningful only to the self.

this kind of self love enables us to handle rejection and pain. it enables us to tolerate boredom and to creatively meet our needs. it affords us the ability to both stimulate and soothe the self. it seeks out spaces that allow for the flourishing of who we truly are rather than limiting us to contexts that box us in, shrink us, or cause us to squeeze into identities we were never created to be. to be honest, i believe that it is this kind of self love that enables us to experience genuine love from God and from others.

sometimes christians, in particular, question me about this. “it is not the relationship of self to self that is foundational,” they exclaim. “it is the relationship of self to God.” while i understand this, i have amassed a lifetime of being intimately connected to people that informs my belief that, unless one has an authentic and loving relationship with them self, their relationships with others (including Diety) are limited in health and driven by projection and self fulfilling prophecy. if we are relating to others, including God, out of who we are and who we are finds ourself either over- or under- worthy, over- or under- lovable, over- or under- deserving, we will find ourselves responding to the other from the position of narcissist or worm. neither is healthy and both create a kind of glasses through which we see the world and those we share it with. if we are worms, unworthy and unlovable, we see others as either idealized and unattainable or devalued and undesirable, falling prey to objectification due to our own feelings of unworthiness. if we are narcissists, we look only for how others can function on our behalf or for our benefit, tossing them aside when they don’t submit to our wishes. both of these end up creating self centered and self harming paths.

if we lack self love, we are insecure and need others to validate us (as opposed to wanting to be connected to who they as individuals actually are) and, regarding narcissism, i have previously written:

Psychologically, narcissism is born out of insecurity and emptiness. From a core that feels unlovable, unacceptable, or less-than the individual who functions from a narcissistic perspective looks outside of them self to find affirmation, confirmation, and security. The narcissistic self needs others to praise it. It needs intensity of response to it. The narcissistic self needs us to respond largely to it. Positivity or negativity is irrelevant…intensity is all. Where a more grounded self might say “I hope that my presence adds positivity” the narcissistic one might say “I hope my presence makes an impact.”

today, on this day of love, what might it look like to put away narcissistic attention seeking or worm-like assuredness that we are unlovable? how might we be gentler with our flaws while also being honest about them? how might our relationships flourish if we were able to communicate clearly what we need and want in places we discern to be safe and available? how might our vision of the world, others, and even God change if we were able to gaze deeply into our own eyes, past the flaws or inflated sense of beauty that we see, to engage the most authentic parts of ourselves? to take responsibility for our wishes, to work to discern healthy paths toward realizing them, and to ask others to join in with volition (as opposed to guilty driven, unconscious expectation or grasping assuredness that there is no one to rely upon)? to be willing to handle the consequences of taking small risks toward being an authentic self because we know we can soothe and care for our selves if we falter. to struggle not to become perfect or praised or promoted but to struggle simply to be, and, in that being, to accept, and eventually to love, who we are?

rather than waiting to feel loved externally or bemoaning the commercialized nature of this day, how about taking a turn in loving your self? where ever you are, grab a piece of paper. seriously, grab one. this will only take five minutes and will move you one step closer to the struggle of self love. it can be scrap paper or newspaper or the most lovely card stock you have on hand. fold it in half and tear or cut a half heart shape and open the fold. set a timer for 5 minutes. sit and ponder (sometimes lighting a candle and looking at the flame or gazing at a fire in the fireplace can help to focus the mind) a few things you appreciate about yourself and a few things that you wish were different. write the things you appreciate on one side and the things you know are true about you but that are less than what you’d like on the other. with gentleness and lovingkindness look at the things you wish were different. see them and try to love and be gentle with yourself anyway. accept that you are a work in process and that even in acknowledging these things you might move closer to changing them or accepting them if they are un-changable. turn the valentine over now and look at the traits you appreciate about yourself. again, with gentle lovingkindness express gratitude for these things and let them balance out the experience of acknowledging the difficult parts of your self. end by expressing love for your self and finding at least one small way of expressing that love. nothing fancy needed. a long drink of cold, clear water. an application of a fragrant lotion. a small taste of a food in your fridge. wrapping yourself in a blanket and pulling it tight like a hug might work. as might stretching or singing or listening to a beautiful piece of music or watching the steam rise from your diffuser. notice how it feels to struggle to know, accept, and love your actual self.

before we can love others deeply and well, unconditionally and without strings, we must learn to know our selves, to accept our selves, and to find ways of loving and living with her/him who is us. may you struggle often and well…

the personal cost of living on high alert: wringing out the sponge that is my self

I have a million things to do. Writing deadlines, research to review, thank you cards to write, parties to plan, news to catch up on, causes to research, and, and, and. It’s all a lot and it’s all things I’ve promised myself I’ll do or things I’ve promised others I’ll do or things I feel as though the-world-and-everyone-in-it NEED me to do. Seriously, there are so many needs right now. Needs that pull at my mind and my heart. Needs to feel and to process and to know and to act. So, a bit ago, I closed my laptop, went into my kitchen and roasted a squash. I went in to get a glass of water but the squash was right there and slicing it brought me close to the earth. While it was cooking I lit my favorite candles and got out old calendars to cut and fashion into valentines. I tossed some nuts and spices and quinoa in with the soft flesh of the roasted gourd and taped and glue sticked and sharpied the most rag-tag valentines ever made. I feel a lot better now.

More than any other time that I can personally remember, we are all on high alert. With the world feeling topsy turvy and fear, anger, and grief all around and within us, we stoke the fire of our overwhelm by trying to make sure that we are informed and active. We put ourselves to sleep with the news and wake up with it. We scroll through endless Facebook posts, finding ourselves falling down rabbit holes of discontent and disagreement, even though we’ve promised ourselves we’ll stop. Out of a sense of powerlessness and insecurity we buttress our weary selves by clinging to the few things we feel that we can control or we become hyper vigilant, being sure that our call is to attend to whatever need we see.

Let me remind us: The need is not the call. The call is the call.

What I mean by this is that every one of us has a unique part we are made to play in this world. We are who we are by intention. I choose to believe that came to be by a Creator in whose image ALL OF US are made. Even with radically different how-we-came-to-be stories, however, I believe that we can universally hold to the idea that each of us has specific and special resources that we are to invest in this crazy thing called life where ever we happen to live it. The trouble is, when we are tired, scared, overwhelmed, under-informed, in denial, or rushingrushingrushing from one thing to the next, we have no way of being with our selves intimately enough to hear what our unique call is. We know what we wish we were good or skilled at. We know what seems most important based upon that which is in front of us (or that which we put in front of ourselves). We attend to our surroundings and the news and our friends/family/neighbors in hyper vigilant ways, trying to ascertain what we should be doing or thinking or feeling in order to make change in the world/be liked/get by. So we keep researching, doing, acting but we never really feel we’ve arrived on a meaningful or sustainable path.

When we feel like this, and there is no break on the foreseeable horizon, it is likely time to step away from the information, the constant updates, the pull of everyone else’s voices, the gas lighting and fear mongering, and even the enticing call of numbness provided by our engagement with addictions of all kinds (to things, to money, to power, to chemicals, to attachmentless sex, to Facebook, to video games, to….). 

It is time to step away. For just a moment or two. The fear of the quiet and stillness is understandable. It is also manageable. It is time to step away.

I know how loud the world is right now. I understand the pull for your attention, the competition for your focus. Facebook and Youtube work diligently to keep you in their spaces (trust me, this is real). Algorithms created by every click you’ve ever made, combined with credit card purchases and gps location trails, lure you in with moremoremore of what you already can’t resist. Things are changing rapidly and values central to your core are being challenged or, perhaps, advanced, and you feel a need to be up to date. To be current. To not be surprised. Your mind keeps reminding you that this is happening there and the other thing is happening then there’s that article and that blog and that meeting and that action and and and…

I often think of a sponge when I think about living in this kind of climate. To be effective, a sponge needs to be damp, then wrung out, before going to work. After cleaning up a spill or two its saturation point is reached and trying to clean the third and fourth mess results in a much bigger puddle. When wrung out, however, after the second clean up, it’s ready for spills three, four, and five. The important part of the sponge’s effectiveness is in the wringing out.

We are all a bit like sponges.

The world (of information, needs, people, thoughts, feelings, actions, etc, etc, etc) today (and every day) will saturate us in mere moments.

It is time to wring our selves out. Time to step away. Time to roast a squash, light some candles, and cut some paper. Time to leave our phones in the car when we’re at home and at home when we’re in the car every once in a while. Time to take an hour (or two or twelve) away from media. Time to breathe fresh air and look people in the eye and find some quiet. Time to eat food and taste it, to look at art/beauty and see it. Time to take a nap or stare into space or sew or build something or write a poem or sing a song. Time to do anything but chase the needs. They will wait.

In times like these, where tensions and emotions are high, news shocking and plentiful, and communities split along highly conflicted lines, we need times of respite in order to discern our call from the more than plentiful needs. These times will not present themselves on their own. They must be made and, sometimes, fought for. They must be planned for and protected. Further, they require us to soothe ourselves as we step away. To remind ourselves that the news and information and need will still exist when we return but that if we don’t wring out, we’ll make a bigger mess when we act.

So, today, right now, how can you create and protect a time for wringing? Don’t believe the lie that it is impossible. In order for you to accomplish all you want/need to accomplish you must make space in the sponge. If this analogy isn’t working for you, in order to give withdrawals to the world, you must refill and reinvest in your self.

Find five minutes then commit to making it ten. Better yet, find an hour. Best of all, create an entirely new rhythm where you change a daily pattern that keeps you so saturated that you are a mess waiting to happen (not having your phone with you in bed might be the best new pattern ever). 

Start where you are with what you have. You don’t need anything especially pampering or distracting or new. In fact I’ll load you up with ideas below. For now, create the space. Make in happen within this day, better yet, within the next few hours. Turn off your notifications or power off your devices altogether. Use the ideas below or come up with something all yours but wring out the sponge. Tune in to the call*.

Some ideas for wringing out the sponge that is you:

Go for a walk or a run or a bike ride. Don’t worry about getting to the perfect place to explore just go for the outing.

Breathe deeply, inhaling through the nose (smell the roses) and exhaling through the mouth (blow out the candles). Lie on the floor and pretend that there is a penny on your belly. When you inhale the penny should rise, when you exhale the penny should drop down.

Color, draw, sketch, do a sudoku, or work on a puzzle. Make a collage by tearing pictures out of the catalogues or magazines in your recycle bin and tape. Don’t worry about the outcome. The goal is to let your mind rest and wander.

Use your coffee grounds from your morning pot of coffee to make dough and play with it for a while. Click here for the recipe.

Make a paper airplane and fly it. Make several and notice what works and doesn’t. 

Learn to fold an origami crane by clicking here.

Find a traditional foot reflexology place and try it out. Most of these offer full body, fully clothed acupressure/massage with special emphasis on the feet and very affordable prices.

Practice a mindfulness meditation or contemplative prayer. Click here and here and here for some good resources.

Prepare or purchase a food or drink item that is filled with smell and texture and color. Eat it slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the sites, smells, tastes, and feels of it. Indian food is my personal favorite for this kind of experience.

Find a paper book that has been pleasurable, comforting, or “escapist” for you. Read it. If you can, read for as long as you possibly can without tending to any devices.

Go to a library or bookstore and linger. At some point, make your way to the children’s section and look at a picture book or two.

Soak your feet in a tub of hot hot water or take a bath or shower that is longer than normal.

Put on a favorite piece of calming music. Position yourself between your speakers. Do nothing but listen. Lie on the floor and feel the vibration if you can or want to. 

Print a finger labyrinth here. Sit and trace your finger along the path, letting your mind release thoughts while you move toward center. When you arrive at center take several deep breaths and try to embody peace. Try to “take” the peacefulness out from the center with you.

 

*  The things that you are “called” to in life are things that you are meant to do. They are things that, while difficult or costly at times, give you life when you do them. They are things that make you feel as though you are “in the groove” or “in the flow.” Things in keeping with your call are things that fire you up, that interest you, and that pull your imagination and energy toward them. Some people find the phrase “Only do what only you can do” to be helpful in discerning a call. For instance, I often tell people that I’m happy to clean toilets, decorate, or emcee at their events…whatever they need. In reality, lots of people might like behind the scenes work or would be much better decorators from me but few folks are comfortable talking in front of a group.

giving embodied holiday gifts & experiences (because virtual reality is about to rock our world)

For months I have wanted to write a long and detailed piece on virtual reality (VR) in advance of the holidays. For the first time ever, VR headsets are available at nearly every price point and VR gaming systems, while expensive, are projected to be given as Christmas and Hanukah gifts in massive numbers. 

This is not that piece. It will come, in time, because I feel certain that the habits we fall into around VR use, just as with all tech engagement, will shape us profoundly. The more access we have to highly stylized, provocative, neuromarketing and neurodevelopment influenced, immersive VR worlds, the more likely we are to find the actual embodied spaces wherein we live to be found wanting. VR holds immense potential for greatness and personal/societal benefit as well as for dissatisfaction with our own bodies and limited physical environments.  For this reason, I hope that everyone who gives or receives tech gifts in general, and VR gifts specifically, will be mindful of the norms that they set BEFORE habits start forming. As any of you who have ever been with me when I’ve opened my mouth has likely heard, IT IS EASIER TO ESTABLISH HEALTHY NORMS THAN TO BREAK BAD HABITS. This means that healthy norms can make our tech use more fun and and less likely to cause harm if we create norms and set boundaries that keep our use at moderate levels with certain, less potentially harmful, platforms and content.

Most of us do not do this. We find a new tool, stumble upon a new game, or surf a new set of sites until we realize the ten minutes we intended to spend there has turned into an hour or more. We intend to spend less time staring at our screens yet find ourselves almost magnetically pulled to them to send that one last text, look up a recipe, entertain us while in line (or at the red light), “calm” us in bed when we can’t sleep, help us study for finals and more. 

All of this is leading us to be increasingly divorced from our bodies and our embodied environments. Simply because we can do so many things in digital spaces, we do do them there and I believe, and research is showing, that this has an impact. 

Holidays and the traditions that they bring with them can provide opportunities to encourage embodiment in the gifts we give and the spaces we offer that challenge or balance these tendencies. So, while this is far from the research based piece I had hoped to write, providing information about which platforms are best and safest and how to establish healthy use norms, it is a rallying cry for adding a few simple, inexpensive objects and/or experiences to your holiday weeks ahead. It is intended to encourage thoughtfulness about including our “embodiedness” in a month where we may be the recipient or giver of lots of tech. 

Since time is of the essence I’m simply going to bullet point some ideas. My hope is that you’ll add your voice to the mix on Facebook or Instagram, suggesting experiences or objects that you are offering to help people sink more deeply into their bodies (and them selves) and connect more meaningfully with their embodied spaces and the others they find there.

Around the table:

Pay attention to atmosphere and create a space that people want to linger in. Turn the lights down, light candles, warm the room up, play music that is quietly appealing. Change things up and put a card table or two near the fire to eat there or put pillows on the floor and eat from traysor coffee tables or make a low table creatively. If the space is chilly, have a basket of blankets that people can wrap up in before sitting down. Make the gathering more about the people who are assembled than about any kind of food or decor perfection.

Borrow my friend Judi’s wildly successful interaction encourager by scouring through your junk drawers or garage work bench to find objects that are obscure and unknown to those you have gathered. When there is a lull in the conversation, take one out, instructing everyone to come up with a description for what it is and how it is used. Pass each object with each person at the table offering an idea of it’s origins, identity, and use. You can either then vote for the favorite descripton, describe what the item actually is, or simply use the activity as a source of connection.

Place a lump of home made play dough at each person’s place and have simple cookie cutters, knives, and “rolling pins” (small pieces of pvc tubing work well) ready to put on the table. As people finish eating, clear the plates and encourage people to sit and create together. The same could be done by putting a big bowl of legos in the center of the table.

Make simple (SIMPLE) place cards by folding construction paper or using large note cards. Place a cup with markers in the middle of the table. At the beginning of the meal tell people that part of dessert will be affirming each other (giving sweetness). As you clear the plates encourage everyone to grab a marker and begin passing the placards to the right with each person adding affirmations, blessings, valued character traits about the person whose name card they have. Pass until everyone has a full name card. 

Do a simple examen. After (or even during) the meal, light a candle to demarcate some sacred space. Offer the opportunity for each person at the table to recount something that gave them life/energy/contentment this past year, something that took life/energy/contentment away in the past year. If you'd like add something that they look forward to in the coming year. Encourage people to be authentic, to not feel a need to be articulate, and to go with what comes quickly to mind. A simple way of remembering this practice is by recalling a "rose" (the thing that gave life), a "thorn" (the thing that took life), and a "bud" (the thing that is anticipated). If you feel like being really fancy, have everyone write themselves a short note about what they hope for the coming year. Pack these up with the holiday decorations and mail them to each person when you unpack the decorations next year.

Gifts:

Give small handheld, manipulative games or creative tools. Many of these are available at mass retailers or specialty toy stores. Give these to adults and children alike! Some of my favorites are Rush Hour, Cool Moves, Etch a Sketch, Magna-doodles, Rubics Cubes, number tile puzzles, pattern/shape blocks. Puzzle and word game books are also fantastic gifts as well as potent brain and body builders.

Similarly, creative supplies are a fantastic gift for all ages. Homemade play dough, pipe cleaners (now called chenille stems in case you want to order them), embroidery floss and simple friendship bracelet instructions, wood burning kits, water color pencils and a water filled brush, crocheting or knitting supplies are all fantastic gifts that are easy to get at any craft store.

Skill building, body reliant offerings are more important than ever. Luna Stix, Perplexes Balls, Yo-Yos, Diabolos, jump ropes, hula hoops, jacks, marbles, and simple foam balls which can be played with freely inside the house are wonderful. Drum practice pads and sticks plus a short instructional video can also be great for the person who needs opportunities to be active. My current favorite embodied item is a small piece of wooden board on top of a pvc tube to make a balance board. These are fun for all ages.

Give the gift of experiences. Consider an activity or event that you might gift a person with. Think creatively and boldly and specifically about the individual you are giving this to. This does not need to be an expensive (time or money) offering. It might be for a winter walk with hot cider or star gazing and hot chocolate. It might be an evening of listening to their favorite pod cast and you bring the dinner. You might offer a picnic in the summer at a free outdoor concert. Perhaps you give a few nerf guns and a gift certificate for a whole house nerf war. If you know of something that a person has wanted to try and not felt “brave” enough to do so, offer to do it with them. Take a ballet, yoga, or art class, take a music lesson, donate blood or platelets together. The goal is to give the experience and make it such that the person you invite gets to simply show up. Make a gift certificate to give and get a date on the calendar right away. I had a friend once give me the gift of space. She had me put a date on the calendar and told me to dress comfortably. She picked me up and handed me a journal, pen, water bottle, and bag of snacks. She drove me to a labyrinth, an abbey, and a bookstore telling me to take all the time i wanted at each and to simply text her five minutes from when I wanted to be picked up. She did all the work and I got all the space.

At your holiday gathering:

Printer paper and scissors placed around the house with simple instructions for snowflake cutting is a hit! Add fishing line and tape so that people can hang them as they are made. As the gathering continues you’ll be creating a winter wonderland.

Include a craft area. Either have a pre-planned easy to accomplish craft, or simply supply a bunch of materials and let people go wild. This is one of the highlights (so I am told) of gatherings at my house. When people have something to do with their hands they don’t feel as uncomfortable sitting with new friends. Conversation flows more freely and silences don’t feel so noticeable. My favorite for a craft area like this is to cut out simple prayer flag shapes from cracker and cereal boxes. Add a stack of catalogues or magazines, glue sticks, a bunch of sharpies, and a hole punch and string and encourage people to make prayer flags/collages for themselves or others. Beads(they don’t need to be fancy…cheap ones are fine) and string or Fruit Loops and yarn are also popular choices.

Fill your coffee tables with items that encourage embodied interaction and play. Bins of legos can be left out and about, bowls of Kinetic Sand or tins of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, a checker board and checkers, an incomplete puzzle, origami paper, or coloring pages and colored pencils will all be played with…I promise. You may feel silly at first, leaving these things out for a party of adults but you will be amazed at how many people love playing with them!

Invite people to participate in unique ways then take your hands off the controls and let things happen in wild ways. Tell everyone you will be making a huge pot of rice or pasta and encourage them to bring whatever toppings they want. Do not manage what people are bringing and let it happen. Groups come together in creative ways when they are faced with a communal task. We have friends who have a baking party every year and offer their oven, mixer, and cookie sheets. All of us participants bring the ingredients we need to make a treat of some kind and the kitchen is filled to overflowing with people working to time things and share resources well. It’s a highlight.

If hosting at your home feels overwhelming, invite others to join you at a pizza parlor (every town has at least one old fashioned pizza parlor…hopefully with a fireplace) or bowling alley for a no host, all fun gathering. Add silliness to a get-together like this by offering up odd times or dress code ideas. Suggest a 9:00 p.m. decaf and slice of pie gathering in your pajamas at a local 24 hour diner or a 5:30 bowling happy hour where everyone comes in business casual.

responding to surprising times (responding to the election)

I have worn a bracelet, given to me by my friend Cathie Jo, for 20 years. If I’ve ever removed it, I can’t remember when. On it is written some of the greatest words of comfort ever penned. “You can never go down the drain. Mr. Rogers.” I’ve been clinging to this promise as the swirling forces of unrest and the ambient pressure of cultural upset have invaded every corner of this week. In surprising, unsettling times it can be easy to grasp at whatever is graspable in order to avoid going down the drain of despair, of anger, or, even, of glee and gloating. I want to share, today, some thoughts about how we might stop grasping and start grounding. How we might survive the bath even when it scares us. Even when there is real reason to be afraid. 

I have been on a media fast since Tuesday night at 10 p.m. I have not read or watched any news coverage. I have switched my car radio from NPR to the local classical music station. Not a regular Facebook user, I have logged in to my professional account once this week to post a status encouraging folks to put their devices away. I have not engaged social media at all. I chose a similar response pattern following the crisis of 9/11. Knowing that I did not personally need images or editorialism to help me connect emotionally to the situation, I chose to use any time that I might have consumed media to simply hold the victims and their families and all parties making decisions about our national responses in the Light and Love of God. I am choosing that approach this week because I want to be clear headed and open hearted as I deal with the initial fall out of a situation I cannot control.

In a dedicated effort to put only meaningful content out in the world have written draft after draft of this post. I have written the political version, the therapist version, and the gender and race based versions. I have written the version filled with swearing and the version filled with tears and stunned silent spaces. I started a theological and faith based version and ended up deleting the whole 4 pages in a fit of utter frustration. I am choosing to post this version, filled with what I want to share with my niece and nephew, the thousands of young adults I have been blessed to interact and make friendships with in the last two years, my own kids and my “extra” kids, my clients and my friends about how we might best respond when faced with situations that make no sense, are largely out of our control, and spark fear or concern in our bellies and our hearts. 

It feels important to share that the events of this week’s election coincide with the end of 17 months of travel (for speaking, research, and writing) for me wherein I have had my most profound, prolonged “Come to Jesus” moment about privilege, bias, and what Walter Wink refers to as “the Powers that Be.” I have made friendships in parts of my country heretofore unknown to me. I have been in Ferguson, Missouri (thank you Chris), affluent, gentrified, and hurting parts of Philadelphia (thank you Gage, et al), Ivy League Princeton (thank you Mackenzie and Mark), rural Western Pennsylvania, Nashville (thank you Heather),  rural Arkansas (thank you Tracy) and in many other urban and rural parts of the West, Midwest, South, and East. I have pushed myself into experiences on all points of the religious, political, and cultural continuums in order to try to understand where people are coming from and what drives them. I have born witness to the devastation of racial discrimination, I have witnessed (and experienced) bullying, and I have heard stories of countless young individuals who have experienced all manner of shunning and shaming simply for being who they were born to be. If I, a middle aged, cisgender, straight, resourced white doctor, feel overwhelmed by what I have witnessed and learned, how can I hope to imagine what is has been/is like to experience all of life in this country as part of a marginalized or misunderstood community?

This year stretched and re-organized me and I was emerging from it, long before last Tuesday, determined to fight elitism, heirarchy, and domination in as many ways as I can. Believing that I was put on this earth to help individuals findwhat George Fox (the founder of the Quaker movement) referred to as “that of God” within them, after this year I am more confident than ever that we are created equal, that every single one of us is intended to live rich, complex, fiery lives, that we deserve attachment and safe community, and that our humanity has created a system that privileges some individuals and oppresses others. I believe that we all contain immense light alongside plenty of dark and I believe that no one is immune from this, especially me. While everything in me wants to call out the dark in others, I feel more strongly called to the struggle of determining how to effectively and actually live out what I say when I say that Love must win out over hate.  

This life and this year have changed me. I am no longer able to live comfortably surrounded by people just like me. I must be a celebrator of diversity. I must set a table at which everyone is welcome. I must work to acknowledge my privilege and the powers that work actively and passively to oppress others. I must live in such a way that justice and Love are siblings. As my friend Tyler says, if I believe that there is that of God in everyone then I NEED everyone’s voice and presence to understand God and to experience the fullness of life.

This means I need to love those I disagree with. It means I need to find a way to respond non-violently to even my “enemy.” This week, and this year, this is difficult for me.

When things feel topsy turvy, don’t make sense, and feel as though they are sucking me toward the drain I have several options in response. I can become reactive, spewing my insides and acting out. I can become paralyzed, isolated, and afraid, reinforcing my fear by the simple response of inactivity. I can become overwhelmed and depressed or manic and out of control. I can also, however, choose to respond from a place of centeredness and calm. This is the response I hope to encourage with the following thoughts, ideas, and reflections. So, if I were given the opportunity to suggest five things to do in response to this week’s election to the people I care deeply for, they would be the following.

Find your center and work to function from an internal locus of control.

While there are understandable needs to be informed and aware (especially for certain people), there is likely nothing to be gained right now from listening to one more inciting news story, reading one more editorial, or scrolling yet again through one’s Facebook feed. Put down the phone, turn off the laptop. Drive in silence. The news, social media, and the noise can wait for periods of time while we find our center and experience our core. Our dependence upon and preference for hyper-connectedness does not serve us well when we, and those around us, are reactive and affectively dysregulated. Even if we are using media to stay safe or to organize, we will be most effective if we do so from a very grounded center and a filtered receptivity.

Most of us currently live from what I refer to as an External Locus of Control (with the word “locus” meaning “center”). We have acclimated to living life at such a hyper extended range and accelerated pace that we rarely take time for the kind of stillness required to be able to assess our emotional, intellectual, and physical well being. Unable to tolerate focused quiet and bereft of experience with the messy feelings we experience therein, we crave distraction or hand holds outside of our selves. This creates a vicious cycle where we feel dysregulated (sped up, anxious, depressed, manic) by the occurrences around us but incapable of stepping away to find our center. Instead we seek to be well-informed, well-entertained, or well-distracted which turns us back toward forces outside of our selves rather than within.

When we are our healthiest we live from a deeply developed sense of self and a well established internal locus of control. We seek to understand our thoughts and feelings and to give them voice or to resolve them as needed. We can look to our own selves to find strength and determination as well as comfort (a good nap, a long cry, screaming in the car), empathy and humility. We can be in relationship to others as whole inter-dependent individuals without being dependent upon them to validate us. We can attach and detach from others and from information sources without anxiety or fear, knowing that we are solid in and of our selves.

This is why I choose to fast from media in times of unrest and crisis (and I recognize that my privilege allows me to do so). I want to make my own assessments before I listen to others. I want to wrestle with my own emotional reactions so that I can come to the information I will receive in less unconsciously biased and reactive ways. I need to get grounded and regulated before I engage with a world of others who may or may not have done the same. While I need to be informed about and prepared for what will happen in the days ahead, my ability to be fully present to the moment I am in is of immense importance. I have very little control over the world at large and huge control over how I respond to and live within it. I choose to do so from a grounded center and an internalized locus of control.

Some simple ideas for finding your center:

Do a brain dump. On a piece of plain paper write everything that comes to your mind for five minutes. Try to release it from your mind as you write. Leave it on the paper. Take some deep breaths and re-enter your day imagining a clean slate from which to start.

Find a physical center. Standing with both feet hip width apart and firmly on the floor, feel your feet and imagine flattening them to make a very steady base. Slowly and with your eyes closed, rock gently back and forth and side to side while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Move your body in circles, experimenting with where you feel most centered. When you find that space stretch your head upward to lengthen your spine. Experiment with grounding your feet and lengthening your body, breathing deeply and feeling centered and stable.

Practice some mindfulness meditations. Some of my favorite of these can be found here. If you are a person who experiences a relationship with Divine Presence/God/a Higher Power there is a meditation for you on my website which can be found here.

Find appropriate and safe outlets for your strong emotions & practice self soothing.

I believe that we, as a culture, are easily provoked to strong feelings and have done little to develop skills of working with and through them. Further, I believe that we have bought into the lie that we are soothed by what are actually distracting forms of stimulation. We turn to mmorpgs, the news, social media, Netflix, whatever online game we are currently playing, YouTube, or a thousand other places when we need to “come down.” We tamp down our feelings with food or drugs, spending or excessive internet surfing or we rant and rage, pouring them out onto those in our path.

What I believe we really need is a developed ability to express our emotions in safe and appropriate ways, to have witnesses to our affective realities who can hear us and hold space for us, and to develop skills that allow us to soothe ourselves. Mr. Rogers frequently said, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.” What I believe he meant by this is that the simple act of speaking our emotional truth makes it such that we can begin the hard work of managing it. If I forego a mentionable recognition of my feelings I am apt to act upon them or project them onto you unconsciously. This happens frequently in social networks where reactive emotional interactions rule the day. Instead of attempting to rid ourselves of our strong feelings by trying to convince, “school,” or rail at others, how might it look and feel if we simply named our feelings to our selves and, possibly, a trusted other. “I feel so horrifyingly angry right now!!” “I feel so powerless that I cannot imagine how to move forward!” and other such statements actually connect us to our selves and our experiences. From there we can determine what we need to actually soothe and “calm down” the strong feelings inside of us. This, in turn, grounds us and makes us healthier humans and better neighbors more capable of responding with truth to power. *

This way of “mentioning” also forces a pause from which we can find ways of actually soothing our selves. Different from distraction, self soothing aims to calm and regulate the self. Actions like deep breathing and prayer or meditation may work for some of us while others may prefer creative exploration (making something, listening to music, playing an instrument) or physical activity like stretching, yoga, or walking. The goal is a sense of stability not necessarily a sense of perfect calm. When we soothe ourselves we are able to trust we can care for ourselves or at least know what would be helpful to ask fro from others. This makes us capable of handling the difficulties we are facing and allows us to escape from the tyranny of expecting other people or things outside of ourselves to care for our selves. It also makes us calm enough that we can begin to hear our deepest longings, needs, and concerns. When the body is deactivated from threat it can step into the place of experiencing the stress as a challenge to manage effectively.

Some simple ideas for dealing with strong emotions and practicing self soothing:

Do a feeling dump. On a blank piece of paper write as many of the feelings as you have had this week as you can remember. Spend no more than five minutes doing this. Look at the list and circle the strongest of these emotions. Consider what you need to express and release these feelings? Do you need to run/walk/swim/stretch/do something with your body? Do you need to sing/play an instrument/pound on a drum? Do you need to draw or journal? Do you need to talk? Do you need to create a ceremony of some sort to release the feelings? Do you need a sacred space to contain you? Find these avenues and pursue them. If you can’t find them, ask for help to do so.

If you have a safe friend or two and you’d like to practice “mentioning,” set aside a time and place that is quiet and free from distractions. Allow for at least 10 minutes per person attending. Tending to quality eye contact give each person 5 minutes to answer the following prompts. “I feel…”  “I wish…” “I need…” Set a timer for each 5 minutes and respect it. At the end of each person’s sharing take a minute to simply hold their sharing in the space between you. No comments or feedback, just holding the attention toward the person’s words. Move to the next person and do the same. At the end of the time find a way to affirm and validate each other as people.

* If we are bereft of safe places to process or trustworthy witnesses to our difficulties, there are some reliable places to look. Therapists are obvious choices (and exist in every shape, color, and “creed,” some even offering free or low fee services). So are pastors, priests, imams, and spiritual directors. Support and therapy groups exist aplenty in most cities and can be accessed by a call to county mental health agents or local churches, synagogues, and mosques. The key is to find someone who listens more than speaks and who directs you more to finding your answers than to converting you to theirs.

Be the change.

While we can never actually go down the drain there are many people and groups in our country that live in near constant threat of doing so. Many of these humans have been specifically threatened and mocked very publicly these last 18 months. While we all have reason to feel afraid at times, the repeated labeling, belittling, and direct threats toward people of color, Muslims, individuals with different abilities, women, trans, and gay individuals has had a large scale impact on feelings of worthiness and safety within these communities. We all have the ability to to make small inroads into restoring these individuals’ sense of worthiness and belonging. Without seeing ourselves as saviors (see note below about owning our privilege) we can reach out to those who are hurting in respectful, sensitive, and honoring ways, always listening and learning before acting. In order to do this we must begin with acknowledging the ways in which we are part of the problem and then seek out ways to be the change. 

In terms of more systemic and large scale ways of being the change, it is important to give ourselves plenty of time and space to effectively discern where our efforts might be best utilized and with whom we might most efficaciously partner. Sometimes, when tensions are high and unrest is great, we leap ahead of ourselves and over-commit to too many efforts or sit paralyzed not certain where to invest ourselves. It would benefit all of us if we each worked hard to push through this reactive over- or under- response. While we are discerning which larger causes to give ourselves to we can take small with actions that cost very little. We can make eye contact or small financial contributions. We can write letters to people of influence. We can seek balanced, reliable information and data in order to be well informed. Above all we can take steps to understand our privilege, working to remove the log in our own eye that blinds us from the way in which our system of domination, heirarchy, and elitism favor some and pull down others. 

Answer children’s (and other vulnerable populations) questions & honor their experience and needs.

Children and vulnerable people groups are particularly acquainted with the dynamics of power differentials and bullying. They have well developed truth and sincerity meters and, on certain points of the developmental continuum, are literal in their thinking. Whether you acknowledge it or not, children are watching, listening, learning, and internalizing the behaviors they see enacted by the grown people in their lives. They overhear our conversations and our off handed comments. They are privy to our most candid and unfiltered selves. They grow within the greenhouse of our bias and beliefs and encounter those of their peers’ parents on the playground, at rehearsal, church, and class.

When a person in a position of authority is repeatedly given free passes by other grown people to bully, ridicule, and treat others in inhumane ways, children notice. Some children will be empowered to act in similarly empowered hurtful manners, feeling certain that this previously disallowed behavior is now approved. Others will be confused and still others will be frightened. They take what they see literally and fear that the vitriol they see enacted in the media might, at any point, turn toward them. They have reason to fear this. 

What we grown people DO speaks much louder than what we SAY. This means that we need to live with thorough intentionality and care. If we say that a person’s behavior is inappropriate but act in ways that support that person with no requirement of accountability, a child is learning from our unconscious modeling. For this reason and many more, those of us who interact with children need to tend to the first three points in this essay heartily. Children need us to be clear about our blind spots, honest about our bias’, and active about trying to do good in the world. They need us to be truth tellers with our words AND our actions and when we simply cannot be, they need us to be honest that our inconsistencies don’t make any sense. To be told one thing, and shown another is crazy making. Children need to see us cry AND laugh. They need to know that strong feelings are manageable and that they are safe when they come up against their own or ours.

Children need a range of safe adults to talk and walk with and they need to be invited to talk. By simply inviting the questions (e.g: “Hey loves, please ask every question that comes into your mind. There is no question that is un-askable.”) we tell our children that their fears are welcome and that we are available to help them cope with them. In addition, children learn, from their primary communities (families, churches, schools, classes, neighborhoods) whether differences are good and manageable or bad and to be avoided. The world will offer them opportunities to perpetuate these learnings time and time again. It seems to me that giving them the opportunity to experience relationships with grown people who are grounded, confident, and empathic enough to tolerate differences rather than be threatened by them can do nothing but make the world a better place. Children also need us to help them understand that there will always be people who will have different ideas and values than them and that learning to live with these people rather than tearing them down is the healthier path. To this end, helping children develop critical thinking and conflict management skills and then providing opportunities for application and practice is more important than ever.

When interacting with children, adults often passively disrespect the intensity of children’s feelings and lived experiences. In order to help children (and anyone, really) through swirling “bathtub” moments we must first be willing to be attached to them. We must listen as much as we talk, and truly “be with” as much as we “live along side of.” We must come toward a child’s questions or actions or emotions from a place of willingness to engage, speak their language, and answer them honestly. One of the primary reasons for my utter love for Mr. Rogers is his embodiment of deep respect for the experience of each individual child (and person). He took things seriously and did not shy away from difficult topics simply because his audience was young. We need to be these kind of adults in the lives of our children and vulnerable communities. We must be honest and humble, owning our own stuff and making space for the real stuff of the child and their world. For one of the most potent examples of this I offer this clip of Mr. Rogers addressing children and their parents the night after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Speak (radical/ruthless) l(L)ove to narcissism.

Part of the universal appeal of Mr. Rogers is that he seems capable of doing that which we all wish we could do: Advocate for the immense worthiness of each individual without putting any other individual down. In so doing he has engaged in what Quaker Civil Right’s activist Walter Wink refers to as “the struggle to overcome domination without creating new forms of domination.” He sees people, values them, and loves them with power attempting to match to the hate they have been served. 

The kind of love I am referring to here is one that is far from shallow or permissive. It is love that involves struggle (as the most intimate love does) to make space for those it seems impossible to love. It means being committed to love even when hate is the easiest alternative. It is neither coddling nor co-dependent. It isn’t whimpy. Speaking Love to narcissism means doing no harm but taking no shit (a line stolen from my favorite magnet). It means I work harness the power of my strong reactions in order to use the resulting energy proactively. It means I cannot use the very methods I abhor in my enemy but, rather, must find a way of counteracting the powers of self interest and hatred. It means I must work to keep my attention on what I can do to change the reality of those who hurt rather than squandering it on those who simply seek the intensity of my reaction.

Psychologically, narcissism is born out of insecurity and emptiness. From a core that feels unlovable, unacceptable, or less-than the individual who functions from a narcissistic perspective looks outside of them self to find affirmation, confirmation, and security. The narcissistic self needs others to praise it It needs intensity of response to it. The narcissistic self needs us to respond largely to it. Positivity or negativity is irrelevant…intensity is all. Where a more grounded self might say “I hope that my presence adds positivity” the narcissistic one might say “I hope my presence makes an impact.”

In my own experience I have come to believe that the best response to narcissism is one of radical compassion toward the heart of the individual acting in narcissistic ways and radical disinterest in response to their efforts to win the intensity of my attention. If this is an option, one way we might move forward would be to engage in efforts to redirect our attention away from the provoking attacks and attention seeking behaviors all around us and toward pro-active, hope driven, tangible actions that confront hatred with the kind of Love that can’t not change things.

Where do we go from here?

Late at night on the 3rd of July I was flossing my teeth. Half way round the top I tasted something funny and heard a “ping” in the sink below me. It took less than a second for me to realize that my front cap was rounding the bowl of the sink, inching it’s way down to the hole at its bottom. The panic I felt as I realized that I’d have no front tooth if the cap went down the drain was real as, in seeming slow motion, I remembered that the next day was a holiday (the dentist’s office would be closed) and the day after that I was leaving for Ireland. Panic upon panic fueled my focus as I calmly covered the drain and captured the tooth. 

I think that many of us, regardless of our political leanings, feel a weird sense of slowed down/sped up panic and fear in the face of the vacuous unknowns that are pulling at us this week. We also know that we will be required to manage these feelings (and help those around us manage those feelings…especially the children and vulnerable amongst us) into the months and years ahead. In the coming days I am choosing to use some of my focused energy to encourage an active attack on narcissism along with a corresponding attempt to inspire empathic empowerment. I cannot single handedly turn the tide nor remove the fear of the drain altogether but I can function from a calm center, taking responsibility for my bias, privilege, and feelings, working to change the systems of domination one small and focused action at a time. 

I’d love if you’d join me in this pursuit. Each day for the next several weeks I’ll be posting a ten minute “speak (radical/ruthless) Love to narcissism” activity. These will be self contained experiences, each lasting approximately 10 minutes. I’ll be posting a link to sign up for daily emails tomorrow, otherwise, check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram beginning Friday to take part in this experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

responding to surprising times part 3 (ideas for responding to the election)

This is part 3 of a 3 part series. For parts 1 and 2 see the previous two blog posts. If you'd like a copy of the bog in its entirety, email me at doreen@doreendm.com.

Answer children’s (and other vulnerable populations) questions & honor their experience and needs.

Children and vulnerable people groups are particularly acquainted with the dynamics of power differentials and bullying. They have well developed truth and sincerity meters and, on certain points of the developmental continuum, are literal in their thinking. Whether you acknowledge it or not, children are watching, listening, learning, and internalizing the behaviors they see enacted by the grown people in their lives. They overhear our conversations and our off handed comments. They are privy to our most candid and unfiltered selves. They grow within the greenhouse of our bias and beliefs and encounter those of their peers’ parents on the playground, at rehearsal, church, and class.

When a person in a position of authority is repeatedly given free passes by other grown people to bully, ridicule, and treat others in inhumane ways, children notice. Some children will be empowered to act in similarly empowered hurtful manners, feeling certain that this previously disallowed behavior is now approved. Others will be confused and still others will be frightened. They take what they see literally and fear that the vitriol they see enacted in the media might, at any point, turn toward them. They have reason to fear this. 

What we grown people DO speaks much louder than what we SAY. This means that we need to live with thorough intentionality and care. If we say that a person’s behavior is inappropriate but act in ways that support that person with no requirement of accountability, a child is learning from our unconscious modeling. For this reason and many more, those of us who interact with children need to tend to the first three points in this essay heartily. Children need us to be clear about our blind spots, honest about our bias’, and active about trying to do good in the world. They need us to be truth tellers with our words AND our actions and when we simply cannot be, they need us to be honest that our inconsistencies don’t make any sense. To be told one thing, and shown another is crazy making. Children need to see us cry AND laugh. They need to know that strong feelings are manageable and that they are safe when they come up against their own or ours.

Children need a range of safe adults to talk and walk with and they need to be invited to talk. By simply inviting the questions (e.g: “Hey loves, please ask every question that comes into your mind. There is no question that is un-askable.”) we tell our children that their fears are welcome and that we are available to help them cope with them. In addition, children learn, from their primary communities (families, churches, schools, classes, neighborhoods) whether differences are good and manageable or bad and to be avoided. The world will offer them opportunities to perpetuate these learnings time and time again. It seems to me that giving them the opportunity to experience relationships with grown people who are grounded, confident, and empathic enough to tolerate differences rather than be threatened by them can do nothing but make the world a better place. Children also need us to help them understand that there will always be people who will have different ideas and values than them and that learning to live with these people rather than tearing them down is the healthier path. To this end, helping children develop critical thinking and conflict management skills and then providing opportunities for application and practice is more important than ever.

When interacting with children, adults often passively disrespect the intensity of children’s feelings and lived experiences. In order to help children (and anyone, really) through swirling “bathtub” moments we must first be willing to be attached to them. We must listen as much as we talk, and truly “be with” as much as we “live along side of.” We must come toward a child’s questions or actions or emotions from a place of willingness to engage, speak their language, and answer them honestly. One of the primary reasons for my utter love for Mr. Rogers is his embodiment of deep respect for the experience of each individual child (and person). He took things seriously and did not shy away from difficult topics simply because his audience was young. We need to be these kind of adults in the lives of our children and vulnerable communities. We must be honest and humble, owning our own stuff and making space for the real stuff of the child and their world. For one of the most potent examples of this I offer this clip of Mr. Rogers addressing children and their parents the night after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Speak (radical/ruthless) l(L)ove to narcissism.

Part of the universal appeal of Mr. Rogers is that he seems capable of doing that which we all wish we could do: Advocate for the immense worthiness of each individual without putting any other individual down. In so doing he has engaged in what Quaker Civil Right’s activist Walter Wink refers to as “the struggle to overcome domination without creating new forms of domination.” He sees people, values them, and loves them with power attempting to match to the hate they have been served. 

The kind of love I am referring to here is one that is far from shallow or permissive. It is love that involves struggle (as the most intimate love does) to make space for those it seems impossible to love. It means being committed to love even when hate is the easiest alternative. It is neither coddling nor co-dependent. It isn’t whimpy. Speaking Love to narcissism means doing no harm but taking no shit (a line stolen from my favorite magnet). It means I work to harness the power of my strong reactions in order to use the resulting energy proactively. It means I cannot use the very methods I abhor in my enemy but, rather, must find a way of counteracting the powers of self interest and hatred. It means I must work to keep my attention on what I can do to change the reality of those who hurt rather than squandering it on those who simply seek the intensity of my reaction.

Psychologically, narcissism is born out of insecurity and emptiness. From a core that feels unlovable, unacceptable, or less-than the individual who functions from a narcissistic perspective looks outside of them self to find affirmation, confirmation, and security. The narcissistic self needs others to praise it It needs intensity of response to it. The narcissistic self needs us to respond largely to it. Positivity or negativity is irrelevant…intensity is all. Where a more grounded self might say “I hope that my presence adds positivity” the narcissistic one might say “I hope my presence makes an impact.”

In my own experience I have come to believe that the best response to narcissism is one of radical compassion toward the heart of the individual acting in narcissistic ways and radical disinterest in response to their efforts to win the intensity of my attention. If this is an option, one way we might move forward would be to engage in efforts to redirect our attention away from the provoking attacks and attention seeking behaviors all around us and toward pro-active, hope driven, tangible actions that confront hatred with the kind of Love that can’t not change things.

Where do we go from here?

Late at night on the 3rd of July I was flossing my teeth. Half way round the top I tasted something funny and heard a “ping” in the sink below me. It took less than a second for me to realize that my front cap was rounding the bowl of the sink, inching it’s way down to the hole at its bottom. The panic I felt as I realized that I’d have no front tooth if the cap went down the drain was real as, in seeming slow motion, I remembered that the next day was a holiday (the dentist’s office would be closed) and the day after that I was leaving for Ireland. Panic upon panic fueled my focus as I calmly covered the drain and captured the tooth. 

I think that many of us, regardless of our political leanings, feel a weird sense of slowed down/sped up panic and fear in the face of the vacuous unknowns that are pulling at us this week. We also know that we will be required to manage these feelings (and help those around us manage those feelings…especially the children and vulnerable amongst us) into the months and years ahead. In the coming days I am choosing to use some of my focused energy to encourage an active attack on narcissism along with a corresponding attempt to inspire empathic empowerment. I cannot single handedly turn the tide nor remove the fear of the drain altogether but I can function from a calm center, taking responsibility for my bias, privilege, and feelings, working to change the systems of domination one small and focused action at a time. 

I’d love if you’d join me in this pursuit. Each day for the next several weeks I’ll be posting a ten minute “speak (radical/ruthless) Love to narcissism” activity. These will be self contained experiences, each lasting approximately 10 minutes. I’ll be posting a link to sign up for daily emails tomorrow, otherwise, check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram beginning Thursday to take part in this experience.

responding to surprising times part 2 (ideas for responding to the election)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. If you'd like to read the series in its entirety, email me at doreen@doreendm.com and I will happily send it to you.

Find appropriate and safe outlets for your strong emotions & practice self soothing.

I believe that we, as a culture, are easily provoked to strong feelings and have done little to develop skills of working with and through them. Further, I believe that we have bought into the lie that we are soothed by what are actually distracting forms of stimulation. We turn to mmorpgs, the news, social media, Netflix, whatever online game we are currently playing, YouTube, or a thousand other places when we need to “come down.” We tamp down our feelings with food or drugs, spending or excessive internet surfing or we rant and rage, pouring them out onto those in our path.

What I believe we really need is a developed ability to express our emotions in safe and appropriate ways, to have witnesses to our affective realities who can hear us and hold space for us, and to develop skills that allow us to soothe ourselves. Mr. Rogers frequently said, “Whatever is mentionable is manageable.” What I believe he meant by this is that the simple act of speaking our emotional truth makes it such that we can begin the hard work of managing it. If I forego a mentionable recognition of my feelings I am apt to act upon them or project them onto you unconsciously. This happens frequently in social networks where reactive emotional interactions rule the day. Instead of attempting to rid ourselves of our strong feelings by trying to convince, “school,” or rail at others, how might it look and feel if we simply named our feelings to our selves and, possibly, a trusted other. “I feel so horrifyingly angry right now!!” “I feel so powerless that I cannot imagine how to move forward!” and other such statements actually connect us to our selves and our experiences. From there we can determine what we need to actually soothe and “calm down” the strong feelings inside of us. This, in turn, grounds us and makes us healthier humans and better neighbors more capable of responding with truth to power. *

This way of “mentioning” also forces a pause from which we can find ways of actually soothing our selves. Different from distraction, self soothing aims to calm and regulate the self. Actions like deep breathing and prayer or meditation may work for some of us while others may prefer creative exploration (making something, listening to music, playing an instrument) or physical activity like stretching, yoga, or walking. The goal is a sense of stability not necessarily a sense of perfect calm. When we soothe ourselves we are able to trust we can care for ourselves or at least know what would be helpful to ask fro from others. This makes us capable of handling the difficulties we are facing and allows us to escape from the tyranny of expecting other people or things outside of ourselves to care for our selves. It also makes us calm enough that we can begin to hear our deepest longings, needs, and concerns. When the body is deactivated from threat it can step into the place of experiencing the stress as a challenge to manage effectively.

Some simple ideas for dealing with strong emotions and practicing self soothing:

Do a feeling dump. On a blank piece of paper write as many of the feelings as you have had this week as you can remember. Spend no more than five minutes doing this. Look at the list and circle the strongest of these emotions. Consider what you need to express and release these feelings? Do you need to run/walk/swim/stretch/do something with your body? Do you need to sing/play an instrument/pound on a drum? Do you need to draw or journal? Do you need to talk? Do you need to create a ceremony of some sort to release the feelings? Do you need a sacred space to contain you? Find these avenues and pursue them. If you can’t find them, ask for help to do so.

If you have a safe friend or two and you’d like to practice “mentioning,” set aside a time and place that is quiet and free from distractions. Allow for at least 10 minutes per person attending. Tending to quality eye contact give each person 5 minutes to answer the following prompts. “I feel…”  “I wish…” “I need…” Set a timer for each 5 minutes and respect it. At the end of each person’s sharing take a minute to simply hold their sharing in the space between you. No comments or feedback, just holding the attention toward the person’s words. Move to the next person and do the same. At the end of the time find a way to affirm and validate each other as people.

 

* If we are bereft of safe places to process or trustworthy witnesses to our difficulties, there are some reliable places to look. Therapists are obvious choices (and exist in every shape, color, and “creed,” some even offering free or low fee services). So are pastors, priests, imams, and spiritual directors. Support and therapy groups exist aplenty in most cities and can be accessed by a call to county mental health agents or local churches, synagogues, and mosques. The key is to find someone who listens more than speaks and who directs you more to finding your answers than to converting you to theirs.

Be the change.

While we can never actually go down the drain there are many people and groups in our country that live in near constant threat of doing so. Many of these humans have been specifically threatened and mocked very publicly these last 18 months. While we all have reason to feel afraid at times, the repeated labeling, belittling, and direct threats toward people of color, Muslims, individuals with different abilities, women, trans, and gay individuals has had a large scale impact on feelings of worthiness and safety within these communities. We all have the ability to to make small inroads into restoring these individuals’ sense of worthiness and belonging. Without seeing ourselves as saviors (see note below about owning our privilege) we can reach out to those who are hurting in respectful, sensitive, and honoring ways, always listening and learning before acting. In order to do this we must begin with acknowledging the ways in which we are part of the problem and then seek out ways to be the change. 

In terms of more systemic and large scale ways of being the change, it is important to give ourselves plenty of time and space to effectively discern where our efforts might be best utilized and with whom we might most efficaciously partner. Sometimes, when tensions are high and unrest is great, we leap ahead of ourselves and over-commit to too many efforts or sit paralyzed not certain where to invest ourselves. It would benefit all of us if we each worked hard to push through this reactive over- or under- response. While we are discerning which larger causes to give ourselves to we can take small with actions that cost very little. We can make eye contact or small financial contributions. We can write letters to people of influence. We can seek balanced, reliable information and data in order to be well informed. Above all we can take steps to understand our privilege, working to remove the log in our own eye that blinds us from the way in which our system of domination, heirarchy, and elitism favor some and pull down others.

responding to surprising times (ideas for responding to the election)

I have worn a bracelet, given to me by my friend Cathie Jo, for 20 years. If I’ve ever removed it, I can’t remember when. On it is written some of the greatest words of comfort ever penned. “You can never go down the drain. Mr. Rogers.” I’ve been clinging to this promise as the swirling forces of unrest and the ambient pressure of cultural upset have invaded every corner of this week. In surprising, unsettling times it can be easy to grasp at whatever is graspable in order to avoid going down the drain of despair, of anger, or, even, of glee and gloating. I want to share, today, some thoughts about how we might stop grasping and start grounding. How we might survive the bath even when it scares us. Even when there is real reason to be afraid. 

I have been on a media fast since Tuesday night at 10 p.m. I have not read or watched any news coverage. I have switched my car radio from NPR to the local classical music station. Not a regular Facebook user, I have logged in to my professional account once this week to post a status encouraging folks to put their devices away. I have not engaged social media at all. I chose a similar response pattern following the crisis of 9/11. Knowing that I did not personally need images or editorialism to help me connect emotionally to the situation, I chose to use any time that I might have consumed media to simply hold the victims and their families and all parties making decisions about our national responses in the Light and Love of God. I am choosing that approach this week because I want to be clear headed and open hearted as I deal with the initial fall out of a situation I cannot control.

In a dedicated effort to put only meaningful content out in the world have written draft after draft of this post. I have written the political version, the therapist version, and the gender and race based versions. I have written the version filled with swearing and the version filled with tears and stunned silent spaces. I started a theological and faith based version and ended up deleting the whole 4 pages in a fit of utter frustration. I am choosing to post this version, filled with what I want to share with my niece and nephew, the thousands of young adults I have been blessed to interact and make friendships with in the last two years, my own kids and my “extra” kids, my clients and my friends about how we might best respond when faced with situations that make no sense, are largely out of our control, and spark fear or concern in our bellies and our hearts. 

It feels important to share that the events of this week’s election coincide with the end of 17 months of travel (for speaking, research, and writing) for me wherein I have had my most profound, prolonged “Come to Jesus” moment about privilege, bias, and what Walter Wink refers to as “the Powers that Be.” I have made friendships in parts of my country heretofore unknown to me. I have been in Ferguson, Missouri (thank you Chris), affluent, gentrified, and hurting parts of Philadelphia (thank you Gage, et al), Ivy League Princeton (thank you Mackenzie and Mark), rural Western Pennsylvania, Nashville (thank you Heather),  rural Arkansas (thank you Tracy), rural Kentucky (thank you Sarah and Clint), and in many other urban and rural parts of the West, Midwest, South, and East. I have pushed myself into experiences on all points of the religious, political, and cultural continuums in order to try to understand where people are coming from and what drives them. I have born witness to the devastation of racial discrimination, I have witnessed (and experienced) bullying, and I have heard stories of countless young individuals who have experienced all manner of shunning and shaming simply for being who they were born to be. If I, a middle aged, cisgender, straight, resourced white doctor, feel overwhelmed by what I have witnessed and learned, how can I hope to imagine what is has been/is like to experience all of life in this country as part of a marginalized or misunderstood community?

This year stretched and re-organized me and I was emerging from it, long before last Tuesday, determined to fight elitism, heirarchy, and domination in as many ways as I can. Believing that I was put on this earth to help individuals findwhat George Fox (the founder of the Quaker movement) referred to as “that of God” within them, after this year I am more confident than ever that we are created equal, that every single one of us is intended to live rich, complex, fiery lives, that we deserve attachment and safe community, and that our humanity has created a system that privileges some individuals and oppresses others. I believe that we all contain immense light alongside plenty of dark and I believe that no one is immune from this, especially me. While everything in me wants to call out the dark in others, I feel more strongly called to the struggle of determining how to effectively and actually live out what I say when I say that Love must win out over hate.  

This life and this year have changed me. I am no longer able to live comfortably surrounded by people just like me. I must be a celebrator of diversity. I must set a table at which everyone is welcome. I must work to acknowledge my privilege and the powers that work actively and passively to oppress others. I must live in such a way that justice and Love are siblings. As my friend Tyler says, if I believe that there is that of God in everyone then I NEED everyone’s voice and presence to understand God and to experience the fullness of life.

This means I need to love those I disagree with. It means I need to find a way to respond non-violently to even my “enemy.” This week, and this year, this is difficult for me.

When things feel topsy turvy, don’t make sense, and feel as though they are sucking me toward the drain I have several options in response. I can become reactive, spewing my insides and acting out. I can become paralyzed, isolated, and afraid, reinforcing my fear by the simple response of inactivity. I can become overwhelmed and depressed or manic and out of control. I can also, however, choose to respond from a place of centeredness and calm. This is the response I hope to encourage with the following thoughts, ideas, and reflections. So, if I were given the opportunity to suggest five things to do in response to this week’s election to the people I care deeply for, they would be the following.

Find your center and work to function from an internal locus of control.

While there are understandable needs to be informed and aware (especially for certain people), there is likely nothing to be gained right now from listening to one more inciting news story, reading one more editorial, or scrolling yet again through one’s Facebook feed. Put down the phone, turn off the laptop. Drive in silence. The news, social media, and the noise can wait for periods of time while we find our center and experience our core. Our dependence upon and preference for hyper-connectedness does not serve us well when we, and those around us, are reactive and affectively dysregulated. Even if we are using media to stay safe or to organize, we will be most effective if we do so from a very grounded center and a filtered receptivity.

Most of us currently live from what I refer to as an External Locus of Control (with the word “locus” meaning “center”). We have acclimated to living life at such a hyper extended range and accelerated pace that we rarely take time for the kind of stillness required to be able to assess our emotional, intellectual, and physical well being. Unable to tolerate focused quiet and bereft of experience with the messy feelings we experience therein, we crave distraction or hand holds outside of our selves. This creates a vicious cycle where we feel dysregulated (sped up, anxious, depressed, manic) by the occurrences around us but incapable of stepping away to find our center. Instead we seek to be well-informed, well-entertained, or well-distracted which turns us back toward forces outside of our selves rather than within.

When we are our healthiest we live from a deeply developed sense of self and a well established internal locus of control. We seek to understand our thoughts and feelings and to give them voice or to resolve them as needed. We can look to our own selves to find strength and determination as well as comfort (a good nap, a long cry, screaming in the car), empathy and humility. We can be in relationship to others as whole inter-dependent individuals without being dependent upon them to validate us. We can attach and detach from others and from information sources without anxiety or fear, knowing that we are solid in and of our selves.

This is why I choose to fast from media in times of unrest and crisis (and I recognize that my privilege allows me to do so). I want to make my own assessments before I listen to others. I want to wrestle with my own emotional reactions so that I can come to the information I will receive in less unconsciously biased and reactive ways. I need to get grounded and regulated before I engage with a world of others who may or may not have done the same. While I need to be informed about and prepared for what will happen in the days ahead, my ability to be fully present to the moment I am in is of immense importance. I have very little control over the world at large and huge control over how I respond to and live within it. I choose to do so from a grounded center and an internalized locus of control.

 

Some simple ideas for finding your center:

Do a brain dump. On a piece of plain paper write everything that comes to your mind for five minutes. Try to release it from your mind as you write. Leave it on the paper. Take some deep breaths and re-enter your day imagining a clean slate from which to start.

Find a physical center. Standing with both feet hip width apart and firmly on the floor, feel your feet and imagine flattening them to make a very steady base. Slowly and with your eyes closed, rock gently back and forth and side to side while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Move your body in circles, experimenting with where you feel most centered. When you find that space stretch your head upward to lengthen your spine. Experiment with grounding your feet and lengthening your body, breathing deeply and feeling centered and stable.

Practice some mindfulness meditations. Some of my favorite of these can be found here. If you are a person who experiences a relationship with Divine Presence/God/a Higher Power there is a meditation for you on my website which can be found here.

(I hope you'll check back in later today for more ideas for how to handle surprises.)

an open letter to anyone who has ever texted me (or who ever plans to)

dear friend/family member/colleague/or other person who has ever texted me,

i just finished aziz ansari’s fantastic book modern romance and am feeling both enlightened and horrible. enlightened because he brilliantly illuminates what it’s like to be a young adult in the world in 2016 and horrible because i’ve been blind to potential messages i’ve been sending simply by receiving your texts. while i knew that many of you might have expectations regarding texting etiquette, i had no idea that i was, very likely, triggering all sorts of assumptions given my haphazard way of using my phone.

to put it plainly, i was clueless that you might be making assumptions about your relative importance to me based upon the length of my responses and/or the time it takes me to respond at all. 

i. was. clueless.

here’s the deal. i don’t always carry my phone. sometimes i leave it in my backpack unchecked for hours at a time. several days in a row, recently, i forgot it at home on the counter next to the coffee pot. while i remembered my coffee cup but not my phone when i left the house, it truly doesn’t mean that my coffee is more important to me than you are. i have not forgotten YOU. you matter to me. regardless of how long it takes me to respond or how short my response might be. 

since i don’t check my phone when i’m with people or writing or walking or driving or eating or doing any number of things, when i do reference it i often have many (many many many many) more texts and voice mails than i can meaningfully respond to right away. in addition, as a person to whom communication matters a great deal, i tend to want to respond to all incoming messages with intention and meaning. it truly never occurred to me that the ratio of my words to yours or the lag time between them might communicate more loudly (or at least as loudly as) the words themselves.

now, however, i’m realizing that we may think very differently about that. you might prefer speed and carefully considered text length ratios over everything else. you might actually be feeling uncared for/disregarded/or (the worst ever) manipulated by my response time or text lengths. for that, i am sorry.

being aware of this has made me empathic in all kinds of new (and stretching) ways. now i understand more clearly why some of you respond to incoming texts even when we’re in the middle of a deep discussion, therapy session, walk in the park, or ordering our dinner. i get it now. i still may not love it but i get it. i also have increased empathy for those of you frustrated at my (or your grandmother’s, boss’, gardener’s, or whomever’s) lag and/or brevity in responding. we might not connect entirely on our philosophy about and engagement with communication via text but at least i understand the issues at play and the way in which the disconnect might play out.

so, thank you for being connected to me on this bizarre, beautiful, and bountiful journey that is life in 2016. i’m glad, actually, that we have texting as a way of communicating and want to use it effectively. when my version of “effectively” and yours don’t match and you begin to wonder what i’m thinking, where i’ve gone, or what i mean, please ask. i’d rather speak truth than have you wonder and truth is that you matter a lot but that my phone doesn’t as much. as a result, i’m likely holding you in my thoughts far more than holding my phone in my hands. and, when you can’t (or don’t) ask, read this as my default response whenever you need:

thank you for your text. i’m glad you reached out. it may take me a while to reach back simply because of my weird relationship with my phone and the pace at which my life is moving these days. please know that you and this message matter to me. if you need an answer (beyond this) more quickly than you receive one, please please reach back out and tell me that. otherwise, assume that i am holding you in light and love and hoping for you tangible reminders of your immense value and that i will respond in kind in time.

it may not be quippy, short, or clever but it’s my truest intention and one i hope you’ll receive and trust.

you matter (to me and to the world). please know that to your core.

doreen

 

a quick p.s. to everyone (even those who never, ever text me):

i think this disconnect in communication styles, expectations, and preferences might be happening a lot out there and i want to help us all be informed about this. awareness and open communication seems better than a whole lot of folks sitting around feeling frustrated at either too quick or too slow response times or too many or too few words. for this reason, why not suspend your assumptions when someone doesn’t respond or when someone you are with responds to the texts of others in your presence? why not talk face to face (or at least voice to voice) before assuming that you are being played or ignored? if you are a person who doesn’t stay close to your phone why not let those who text you know this? when beginning a texting relationship with someone it might be worth addressing how you each use (or don’t use) your devices to prevent misunderstanding. it may seem laborious but i believe it’s less so than laboring under false assumptions. communication is difficult regardless of how it is dispensed. working to make it clearer and better is always worth work in my mind. how about yours?

offering what you have (becuase it is likely [more than] enough)

i love sending packages to kids at camp (or adults on extended vacations, at rehab, or, anywhere, really). this year, in my frantic race to get parcels mailed to four campers, i made some kind of crazy grave error and all four were returned to my own mailbox for an assortment of reasons. last year i was more successful when my nephew came to oregon for camp knowing no one and having never been to over night camp. wanting my packages to be interactive, i placed items in them that he could share with his cabin mates and new friends. ethan is people smart and loves sharing so i pictured him receiving these silly items and excitedly passing them out amongst his fellow campers. this fell at the beginning of the stick-on mustache craze and the package i was most tickled with had bubble gum and a ruler (for a bubble blowing competition) and two packages of stick-on mustaches. toward the end of the week i realized i was disappointed that i hadn’t spotted a single mustache in any of the photos that the camp staff had posted throughout the week. a day or so after he was home i asked him if he’d had fun passing them out. he looked at me incredulously but with complete sincerity. “i didn’t give them to anyone.” he said. surprised and confused i asked, “why not?” “because no one ever asked me for one” he said as though this was as obvious as the nose on his face.

to him this matter was crystal clear. since no one had expressed desire for a press-on mustache all week, why in the world would he offer them one? i, on the other hand, could only think, “why in the world would anyone think to ask you for a press-on mustache?” wehaven’t spoken of the incident since but i think about this interchange often as it highlights a dynamic i encounter nearly every day. 

there are so many things that get in the way in regards to our giving. the most obvious of these is our imagining that what we have to offer is only meaningful/valuable/desired if it is asked for. since ethan’s own reaction to receiving mustaches (something he himself had never even thought of asking for) was one of ambivalence he didn’t perceive them as having value and never even thought of offering them to others. this happens all the time in small and subtle and huge and obvious ways. the only commodity someone has is time but they assume that what is most needed is money or a specific skill. a person is gifted at doing “behind the scenes” tasks yet feels certain that an “up front” person is what is needed so never offers up her “gift.” a community member makes a killer tuna casserole but assumes there is no one in the world that needs another one of those. 

since no one is asking, deliberately, for what we have to offer we make no offer at all.

this holding back because we aren’t actively asked happens for a myriad of reasons. at the root of most of these is fear. fear of risking the offering. fear of looking foolish. fear of rejection. fear of not finding the PERFECT place to give our gift(s). fear of not having the “right” thing or gift or commodity and being judged or dismissed as a result.

with some distance i can see ethan’s perspective. he’s at a camp with a couple hundred 10-13 year old boys, a demographic not known for their relational graciousness, open mindedness, and creative and out of the box thinking within a group. on day four of camp, as his cabin mates are preparing for archery, fishing, adventuring of all kinds, and meal time “who can eat the most (fill in the least nutritious offering they can find at the table) today” competitions, ethan approaches them and asks, “might i interest you in a press-on mustache?” i can totally see this offering falling flat at best and being met with obvious “what the heck does that have to do with anything and why in the world would i want one of those???” and “you are one bizarre kid” confused responses at worst. it makes sense that he made no offers.

the longer i live the more i believe that life is richer when i actively seek out opportunities to contribute. this is true regardless of the size or nature of the contributions. offering what i have in order to benefit another/others engages me with my community, contributes to feelings of value, and pushes me outside of myself. 

contributing/giving need not always require me to offer what i do not have already. in fact, with a bit of deliberate thought and some creativity, i can typically find ways to meaningfully offer that which i already have or that which is easy for me to give. sometimes all that is required is a bit more thought and investment of time and energy. a few examples to illuminate my point:

i always have a few items of clothing that need to be passed along. i keep a bag in my closet and force myself to fill it, over time, with things i wear that i realize i don’t feel great in. when it’s full, rather than simply dropping it at the nearest goodwill i have found two organizations that gift clothing to families in need. it takes an extra 10 minutes to get to these locations but the pay off, which is a result of using what i have (research skills to find the organizations, a few extra minutes a couple of times a year, and clothes i need to pass along), is beyond worth it.

referring back to ethan, as a people smart kid his best and easiest gift to give is his ability to interact with people. realizing this, my brother and sister in law got him involved with the red cross when he was very young. he would volunteer at blood drives by handing out cookies and juice and often loaning his blankie to individuals who had just given blood.

my friend jack is an amazing musician. for years, he and his family vacationed at the same beach town with a group of friends who spent their evenings gathering and playing music together at whatever home they had rented. having gotten to know the residents of this coastal town, jack and his family and friends came to greatly respect a local resident who hosted an elaborate hot dog stand every summer to fund his foundation. this organization (the mudd-nick foundation) helps children in the area by funding enriching experiences, college visits, and providing leadership opportunities and mentorship. jack and his family (sue, katy, and emma) joined with their friends and began playing music at the hot dog stand, hoping that it might increase traffic and funds for jim’s foundation. this has become a summer tradition and, this past summer, jim announced that the muddogs (the name of the always morphing group of talented musicians who set up each morning and play mind-blowingly good music on their make shift stage) had not only brought joy to the summer stand routine but had also raised almost $4000 in tips that have gone to the organization. in using what they have and offering it creatively, a community of talented musicians and some sound equipment, the buddecke’s make an important and valuable contribution. this particular offering gives not only to the foundation but also offers some of us who have chosen non-music based paths an opportunity to perform with a band in a supportive and fun setting (last week, while playing in an urban fountain in portland, i was approached by a family who identified me as the singer from the hot dog stand band...that was a very cool moment!). we all both give and get gifts in this scenario. (in fact, jim mudd, who spent his professional years in sales and now runs the foundation, steals the show in the best possible way every summer. you can see him do so in the video below.)

my sister-in-law’s mother is a talented quilter. realizing that the families of still born babies get only a tiny bit of time with their precious ones and that that time is forever all they have, janet makes blankets for these wee ones to be wrapped in while they are being held by their grieving parents. her gift is generous beyond words and grows from a skill and talent that is natural for her.

another sewing friend found a community of immigrants who had no access to clothing familiar and comfortable to them. she found a location willing to offer her weekly space and began teaching simple sewing classes. over time she has gathered donated sewing machines and fabric and has expanded to more lessons each week. she gets to teach a skill and offers others the opportunity to give what they have (machines and fabric) plus contribute greatly to a group who can increasingly support themselves.

there are thousands of examples of this kind of “offering what you have boldly, bravely, and creatively” giving. there are people who keep a flat of water bottles or box of power bars in their passenger seats to hand to people who need them. there are dedicated folks who send encouraging mail to prisoners, the troops, and kids in the foster care system. there are others who spend time each week reading with kids at their local schools or to residents at nearby retirement homes (some employers actually offer work time for such volunteer efforts). there are musicians who play music during meals at nursing homes and on hospital floors. their are folks who mow ailing neighbors’ lawns. one powerful human i know recently organized her church community in fully furnishing a home for and helping with the arrival of a refugee family of seven from syria. she has mad administrative and relational skills and offered them beautifully and generously.

so, ask yourself the following questions and find what is easy to give. push past the fear and offer your creatively considered and presented gift. the world may not realize that it needs your version of the press-on mustache so many never ask for it but, in reality, who couldn’t use exactly what you have to offer?

some questions to help you on your way:

what are the things you love to do or that are easy for you to do? 

what do you have an excess of or easy access to? time? money? energy? possessions? a specific skill?

what do you see as trash/unnecessary that could actually be used by another? (classic examples of this are the “box tops for education” that get recycled but that could be saved and sent to a school aged child to bring in to their schools and the ronald mc donald house pop tab collection program which should absolutely be checked out by everyone. click here)

how might you enhance the gifts you already give by doing just a tiny bit more research or outreach? (e.g: rather than dropping donations at the easiest spot, seek out a shelter program that gives your donations to displaced families/individuals. or, to make a bigger impact, invite others to participate with you in your giving.)

what stops you from offering? how can you address this and move past the fear to making an effort to give? (i find that a huge issue here is the fact that we now have more places to do research than ever. in our efforts to find the perfect organization or opportunity we end up using valuable time we could have used to just give within. push yourself to do “good enough” research and to then just get on with the giving. truly. sometimes just doing the thing is better than continuing a search for the perfect thing.)

if you can’t think of how you might offer what you already have, who is a creative and observant person in your life who might be able to help you determine what gifts you have to offer and who might be open to receiving them?

 

re-naming the normal & re-making the mundane (or, how to honor your self & neighbor)

I’ve never been a fan of the word “normal.” We use it both to build ourselves up (“At least I’m normal”) and to tear ourselves down (“I’m so average/normal”). We apply it to all manner of people, things, and events in our lives to completely bland effect. Too often we use it to dismiss important passages or accomplishments and this carries a cost.

With so many of our experiences falling genuinely into the category of “normal” it seems important to me that we develop competence in the magic of elevating, at times, the mundane and monotonous. What better super power to develop than that of re-naming or converting the normal into something of recognized value? Of infusing meaning into the every day experiences that are too often passed by. 

I recently ordered spiced watermelon seeds at a tea shop. They arrived in a beautiful tiny ceramic bowl with an accompanying bowl in which to discard the shells. Having been soaked in a cardamom, anise, and green tea brine the instructions were to suck on them, shell them, and eat the insides like sunflower seeds. It struck me how elevated this typically discarded part of the melon had now become. Rather than being the thing I avoided while digging in to the sweet red fruit, these seeds were now center stage and shining. Somehow this changed how I will eat watermelon forever. That, to me, is a beautiful effect of re-naming the normal.

When we look for ways of repurposing our ordinary experiences, of elevating normal moments in order to add zip or spice or energy to our days, we give life the opportunity to teach us and bless us now and in the future. We can do this in ways large and small. We can send a text to someone affirming who they are as a person or thanking them for some amazing action they put out into the world. We can write and mail a letter to the same effect. We can buy a 99 cent poster board, a sharpie, and some fishing line and make a sign announcing to the world a wonderful trait about a friend and hang it in a tree outside their residence or work (Thank you neighbor Lynn for this amazing idea and for hanging “honk if you love doreen” signs on my tree every year on my birthday). We can surprise someone with a cup of coffee or tea with all the traits we love in them written on the cup. We can simply look someone in the eyes and tell them exactly why we are glad that they are in the world. We can honor them for simply getting out of bed or for whatever other grand things they have survived or surmounted.

Or we can notice the ordinary and normal things we, ourselves, are moving through. We can take actions from the silly to the sublime to mark these accomplishments and honor our selves. What about writing, in washable marker, all the things that you carry that are difficult or stressful all over your arms and legs, paying attention to how much effort you exert each day just to carry your responsibilities. Once you have validated and affirmed the great burden you carry, take a shower or bath with an amazingly fragrant new soap to honor all that you are carrying and to symbolize some moments of relief? Why not sit down and write out a certificate of honor, thanking your very own self for the ways you have cared for a person, task, or cause? 

It’s not so much empty or one-time praise that I am wanting to emphasize here. Instead, I’m referring to paying attention to the human need for affirmation and the spiritual need for ceremony and “markings” of all kinds. Without consciously recognizing the many small (or huge) accomplishments and milestones we navigate through in the course of our every day existences our lives can become monotonous at best and seemingly meaningless at worst. 

When I turned 13 my dad rented a tux, gave me money for a new dress, borrowed a friend’s fancy car and took me out for a nice dinner. My mom did the same for my brother when he turned 13. My husband and I continued this tradition when our kids hit 13 and added an element borrowed from my friend Judi, inviting important adults to stop by the house in 10 minute increments to offer blessings and/or words of affirmation to each. My nephew, Ethan, just turned 13 and I had the honor of being a part of his day of blessings. As I witnessed this through the eyes of a 13 year old boy I was struck by how rare and completely beautiful ceremonies of this kind are in today’s economy. Let me explain.

In the hyper-connected and commented-upon world that we inhabit we are more hungry for being seen, for eye contact, and for meaningful embodied connection than ever. We are also entirely squeamish at the thought of these things. Time moves quickly and asynchronously. We watch everyone’s meaningful moments in a never ending Facebook or Instagram feed but rarely stop to really let what is happening sink down deep into our consciousness. We hardly ever stop to validate or honor rites or passage or every day “normal” accomplishments in ways that don’t include a camera and hashtag.

When my brother revealed to my nephew what the “surprise” on the calendar consisted of, Ethan was pretty disappointed. He had imagined an exciting event, not a stream of people coming over to talk to him. Knowing he is people smart, we all assumed he’d be over the moon and were a bit caught off guard by his disappointment. After the second 10 minute FaceTime session and before the first in-person honoring, however, Ethan was quite literally bursting with joy. “I LOVE this!” he declared. Come to find out, having people tell you what they appreciate about you or taking some action to honor you is good for the soul. Even the soul of a 13 year old boy (perhaps especially for a 13 year old boy). His pastor came and gave him a blessing, a friend Skyped in from Sierra Leone Africa, his former teachers told him what they saw and valued in him, his little sister wrote a beautiful letter to him. A peer did a magic trick as a symbol for honoring a trait in him. People took time to stop and recognize a person. All for a normal event… that of entering into adolescence.

While honoring someone in the way that Jeremy and Judy honored Ethan takes some pre-planning, there are many ways that we can re-name the every day accomplishments of our selves or those we live among. Here are some ideas, gleaned as I witnessed Ethan’s day of honoring, that might guide us.

See and grab hold of the opportunity in every day happenings (aka Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, instead, use the present one):

We “sleep walk” through momentous occasions every single day. We make it through grief stricken anniversaries, we get promotions (or we don’t and we still go to work), we move up a grade (or back one), we have landmark birthdays (or the ones in between), we get through another day of sobriety (the ones that aren’t marked with a coin or special noticings), we give up a habit, add a mile to our run, or tackle that closet/desk drawer/room that has been screaming to be de-cluttered. Re-naming the ordinary or normal infuses the difficult things we do every day with the meaning that is deserved. Don’t wait for some monumental opportunity. Instead, look for what you or someone you care about has managed today and find a way to honor it for what it is.

Working with what you have:

In between those that were physically present or who Skyped in to Ethan’s day of blessings, we showed him videos or read him letters that had been contributed by individuals who couldn’t be present that day. One was sent by my friend Judi. As I opened it I noticed Olympic rings and immediately wished I had a medal stand, a medal, and the Olympic theme music at hand. Rather than stopping the flow in order to seek out and physically add these elements to make it “perfect” I simply scanned the environment for a raised surface and instructed Ethan to stand on it. Once there I loudly sang the Olympic anthem and proceeded to read the letter (which was about Ethan being the youngest ever recipient of a gold medal in People Smartness) as though Ethan was winning the most prestigious honor ever. I used a loud announcers voice and my brother and sister in law played along, snapping photos and cheering. Sure, we could have stopped the process and dug up a medal, purchased the song off of iTunes, and constructed a medal stand but we didn’t need to. As long as we are willing to play things up, to possibly look silly, and to lean into the honoring boldly, what we have is all we need. We don’t need props, we just need a belief in the power of elevating the moment.

Consider the recipient:

In elevating Ethan’s birthday, the plan to involve others was intentional, given his extreme people smart strengths. Even still, before the day began he felt disappointed. In his mind, the special day marked on the calendar was filled with all kinds of things. Disneyland and an iPhone were chief among these dreams/wishes. We could have been angry with him when he seemed disappointed. We’d put all this thought into a huge plan and he was not reacting as we’d hoped. In hind sight I wish we would have thought about the fact that, even though he would love it as it happened, building it up as a surprise wasn’t in keeping with his 13 year old self. The event was perfect in the long run, the presentation at the start was less than ideal. It’s important to be aware of our audience and also to be ready to have things flop. When we hold our own efforts loosely and have the recipient’s best wishes and self in mind we will actually enjoy the experience even more, knowing we are moving past our selves and deeply into the other.

When we are determining a way of honoring someone in our life it’s important to take time to consider how they communicate and receive love/care. Are they a word person? A gift person? Do actions always speak louder than words to this person? Would they prefer to receive the honoring in private or would a public display be meaningful? In what ways do we need to move past our own preferred forms of expression to speak effectively to this other. Keep in mind, however, the point above and work with what you have. Don’t over-think it to the point of talking yourself out of taking action.

Just do it:

If you are new to the idea of using creativity to infuse energy into the every day it might be easy for you to think, “This is all too much.” Try to push past this and find your own small (tiny even) way of re-naming a normal experience for yourself or someone else. Keeping the 3 points above in mind doesn’t mean obsessing or working toward perfection. The goal here is “good enough,” taking small risks, and being willing to try something new in honoring rites of passage and small, every day, normal accomplishments. It’s not to plan or execute a huge event. It’s to usher in a new way of seeing and honoring those you live amongst (including your self).

This time of year is rife with opportunities to elevate the normal. Children, adolescents, young adults, and teachers are starting back to school. Many business people are ending fiscal years. The days are shortening. Gardens are peaking. If you find this post at a time other than summer, whatever time of year you are in is also rife with opportunities. Below are some questions that, when engaged, might help you find a person to honor and some ways in which to do that. If the person is you, that’s o.k. too.  We all need recognition. We thrive when we realize the mighty in the mundane tasks we tackle every day and when we validate our efforts in meaningful ways. 

Finding the honoree:

Who, in your life, has experienced a transition of some type in the last several months? Think of those who have changed homes or jobs, lost an important person, overcome an unhealthful habit, created a new healthy way of life, or some such transition.

Who, in your life, has traits about them that are counter cultural and, thus, not always valued by those they live amongst?

Who, in your community, is the person who you find always doing all the celebrating of others? This person hosts all the gatherings, brings meals, babysits, coordinates, and does all of this with very little recognition. 

What, in your own life, have you overcome, walked through, or accomplished that is in need of being recognized?

Finding the method of honoring/re-naming the normal:

Consider a meaningful (words, actions, shared time, gift) way of recognizing this person keeping in mind not obsessing, taking small risks to recognize the other, using what you have (rather than stopping because you don’t have something or you want it to be perfect), and what will be meaningful to the recipient.

Set a date that doesn’t allow you to back out or obsess or put more into this than you can afford. Remember, the goal is to make this a new way of living, to fit it into your everyday, not to resent your self or the other for the effort you extend.

Carry out your plan and celebrate your own accomplishment in doing so!

 

Ethan being honored and blessed by Cami in Sierra Leone Africa

Ethan being honored and blessed by Cami in Sierra Leone Africa

what i learned at summer camp (part 3)

I believe that we have much to learn by serving on teams and in communities, especially if those teams/communities are comprised of people who are different from us, who we have been placed alongside by (beautiful) chance rather than by (hand-picked) choice, and who come together to work toward a shared intention. Over the years I have gotten to serve on these kinds of teams as a staff member at summer camp. Each time I have offered a summation of the things that I have learned because I believe that we all have much to gain from sharing our experiences. 

This summer I was honored to have the opportunity to travel to Northern Ireland to experience camp with a community of beautiful, unique, creative, authentic, engaged, and deeply loved young adult Quakers. These individuals welcomed me authentically and taught me much. They included me, encouraged me, and allowed me to speak love/Love/LOVE into their midst. While I could write for days about the inexplicably deep relationships created during those days, I will simply highlight some major learnings that I feel could benefit the world. May some of these inspire you to find your own team in which to invest and then to share your learning with those of us who need it to grow. For some visuals to go along with the words, check out my drdoreendm instagram account. The photos and videos of the "It's a Knock Out" competition alone are worth a peek.

1    There exists a community of youth and young adults who can be still and silent (for significant lengths of time), create meaningful community, and live side by side free of the distractions of digital devices even when they have access to them. Campers at Moyallon spend a portion of their first evening coming up with a set of community guidelines to affirm. Very early in the process (right after Jonny suggested “No Malarkey” which was my personal favorite of them all) someone suggested limiting the use of digital devices in order to be present to each other. There was clear community support. Over and over throughout the week I noticed a marked absence of cell phones even though campers and staff had full access to them. Beyond this I found an ease in the stillness and quietness that this group shared. The hour long time of silence on Sunday morning was free of fidgeting and nodding off. Each evening, before bed, the assembled group sat in spacious silence together. In the community gathering around the fire on the final evening, a full 30 minutes of rich, deep silence commenced before anyone felt led to speak. During these times people looked both up and around, comfortable with eye contact even during intense silence. No one giggled or interrupted the quiet out of discomfort. They simply let it be and from it came insights and connection that could be found no other way. Communal silence is important and can be achieved. Even with/especially with youth and young adults. We are all benefitted by facilitating and creating these kinds of spaces and experiences.

2    Bigger is not always better (and less is sometimes more). After a year of speaking in large banquet halls and auditoriums I felt real anxiety when I learned that the campers and staff at Moyallon together numbered under 40 and ranged in age from 14 to 50. It’s a very different thing to garner and hold the attention of 1,000 demographically alike individuals than to do so with 40. With a big room and a large audience, charisma can fill in the cracks. With asmall room and intimate participant group, authenticity and genuine care for both your subject and the people you’re sharing it with are required for any kind of effectiveness. Smoke and mirrors, glitter and concealer won’t work. The only way to hope to create a compelling space for learning with a small group with whom you will be living for a week is to enter in authentic, humble, and human ways. 

I can’t help but think that this applies to much of the way that we interact with others in all of life these days. A status update intended for hundreds is different than a conversation between myself and a trusted other. So much of our lives online (and, many times, off line as well) are weighed and measured by the size of our “audience.” This often leaves us relying on a carefully curated public persona to keep our followers interested and coming back for more. I wonder how it might change our way of being in the world to focus more on authenticity, on being known for who we genuinely are rather than as who we present ourselves to be and on seeking to know others for who they really are rather than for who they feel they must present themselves as being. To tackle the unconscious message that more is better by concentrating in deliberate ways on the smaller groups to whom we belong and matter than to the larger groups we amass may be vulnerable but may be important for keeping our relational needs truly addressed. 

3    The desires to know one’s self honestly, to understand one’s unique gift to the world, and to feel grounded are universal. Regardless of age, station in life, community, gender, or any other personal identifier, all of us long to feel centered, to be able to live from a place of balance, to have the courage and opportunity to know both our strengths and weaknesses, and to feel capable of working with both. Every day we are given the opportunity to live from what I refer to as an internal locus of control, functioning in accordance with our deepest values and calls. We can be true to who we are meant to be and what we are meant to do in this world or we can allow our feelings and beliefs about ourselves to be driven by others. The truth is, however, that living from a place of informed self knowing awareness is hard work and requires space, teaching, and the presence of a community who will accept and value who we genuinely are. Places like Moyallon provide these components, offering spaciousness for personal exploration and re-setting and for the point that follows.

4    Seeing others for who they genuinely are, looking them in the eye, and telling them that they are recognized and valued has the potential to change both the see-er and the seen. It blows my mind how meaningful it is to have someone look me in the eye and recognize something truly honest about me. Further, I am struck by how few natural opportunities the world provides us with to do this. At Moyallon I sought intentional ways of creating this kind of encounter and noticed the ways that others did the same. The “cuppa,” Northern Irish for sitting down with a cup of tea for a chat and rest, was one such recurring time. Using the time to affirm those I sat with blessed me more than them I am sure. It gave me the opportunity to find things in each of them that inspired me to be a better person. I could go on and on about what each of them inspired in me (and will in another place).  In an attempt to offer an American version of the cuppa for the campers and staff, I offered to apply temporary tattoos that fit the theme I spoke on to anyone who wanted one. It became an opportunity to sit, face to face with each person while the water worked its magic, adhering the tattoo to the skin. I decided to use this time to name unique traits and gifts that I saw in each person and I cannot tell you how deeply meaningful this was for me. It felt as though I was getting to be part of sacred moments of intimate connection and grace. If I could repeat a single time at camp, it would be this one where I got to thank each person for gifting the world with them self. I tell you, this is worth doing in whatever way you can as often as you can. If you can’t think of a way of doing it face to face then do it in whatever way you can: writing, singing, texting. Just do it. It is humbling, uncomfortable-in-every-good-and-stretching-way, connecting, squirm-inducing, and simply the best thing ever.

I have written, in the past, about my graduate school professor who wisely told me to begin all interactions by finding something to agree on with the person I was encountering. How might our interchanges with others be transformed if we began each one by agreeing about each of our basic need to be fully ourselves? If I said to you, “I come to this encounter feeling called to bring all of who I am and I am guessing that you feel called to do the same. We may feel called to different ideologies and conflicting opinions or beliefs but I will do all I can to respect your need to be true to you and hope that you will do the same for me.” This shifts encounters radically from being focused on bringing you over to my side toward being about me doing my best to hear what matters to you and treating you with respect. Hearing you shouldn’t threaten me. In fact, hearing you might just be my best way of seeing you. Seeing you is respecting you. From there it’s hard for me not to just love you (and I really really love those folks at Moyallon and so many people in so many other places).

5    Play along (especially when doing so is a stretch).  Getting out of my comfort zone is growth inducing. No. Matter. What. To become be a part of a community, I will be asked, at times, to do things that I would prefer not to do. For me that often involves playing games. Doing so, however, allows me to connect with the feelings associated with risk taking and makes me more empathic to how it feels for others when I ask them to take risks to connect in ways meaningful to me. If I don’t participate in team building games because I am uncomfortable, I have less “right” to ask others to participate in ways I find meaningful. So, at Moyallon, I played ping pong, ran through the camp during wide games, and donned a frozen t-shirt for a game of football (yes, soccer to you Americans). Taking this lesson even further, the camp auntie, Pleasaunce fished for grapes in a bowl of flour with her teeth, made her way back and forth on a slip and slide covered in soap, made an amazing save in the football game, and more. Her willingness to enter in with her community was nothing short of gorgeous.

At Moyallon I spoke about how blacksmiths learn to monitor the fire required to re-shape metal. Using a color scale that ranges from Red to Orange to Yellow to White, they know that the Orange/Yellow heat is optimal for making metal malleable. Red heat isn’t hot enough and White heat melts the metal entirely. If we only expose ourselves to experiences that are comfortable to and for us we miss opportunities to be shaped in important ways. Especially when wanting to be a healthier person who can exist flexibly in vibrant communities, we must be willing to get wet, dirty, and uncomfortable literally and figuratively. We must expose ourselves to experiences that offer Orange/Yellow heat.

(An accompanying truth for me, that is related to this point, is that hierarchy has a price. Being doreen instead of Dr. Dodgen-Magee is an intentional choice for me in my life. If you are a person who clings to knowing your place and staying in it, I encourage you to wonder about that a bit and to experiment in healthy ways with allowing others to move from their prescribed places as you do the same. I have never had this fail to teach me.)

6    Cultural/Personal Bias is real. It is easy to unconsciously assume that those who share a skin color, language, and faith community share my worldview, values, and beliefs. This is a dangerous and limiting assumption. I learned this lesson time and time again while at Moyallon. In encountering these precious souls who looked so much like me it was easy to assume that their lives were much like mine had been half a world away. What I kept being reminded of, however, in ways large and small, was that I limit other’s ability to be truly known and encountered when I assume that their experience in the world is the same as mine. When I approach others hoping to know them authentically, allowing for space and committing myself to listening well, however, I get to find out how truly unique every person’s experience really is. I usually also learn how much I don’t know, how much my bias impacts my experience in the world, and how self centered I am in both conscious and unconscious ways. To be honest, this is not always comfortable. It stretches me to be a witness to another’s truth. It requires open handed hospitality and open hearted graciousness, invites differences of opinion, and demands respect amidst those differences. It will also change the world.

7    Bullying is real and leaves lasting wounds. People who are mistreated suffer not only from the actions of others but also from the sense of shame that accompanies interpersonal mistreatment. Neither the inflicted wounds nor the internalized response of shame just disappear. They need tending to. Often, as we grow into adulthood, we lose track of how much bullying the children, adolescents, and young adults among us are experiencing. Untreated demeaning, de-humanizing, or directly abusive experiences live in most of us and cause us to be fearful, defensive, or reactive in triggering situations. In my time at Moyallon I was struck time and again by hearing of terrible treatment toward people who I saw as intensely smart, beautiful, unique, and valuable. Stories of relational aggression of all kinds came from the mouths of the most unlikely individuals and my heart ached for how alone bullying can cause a person to feel. If each of us were to ask a few of the people in our lives about the mistreatment that they have faced, simply bearing witness to their pain and being with them in it, perhaps healing could begin. Conversely, finding safe people with whom to share our own stories of mistreatment can help us begin to overcome the unconscious hold they may have over us and invite recovery.

8    It’s important to remember, every now and again, that I am not central to the functioning of the world. A sad and untimely loss the week before I was scheduled to leave, a shocking death that occurred while I was in transit to Ireland, as well as excruciatingly complex realities being dealt to several friends and clients made me wonder if I should back out of this speaking commitment and stay home to serve my community. In discerning that I was to go and be present to this new community I learned some very valuable lessons. First, others, who may not have had the opportunity to step up at home had I been there, got to do so and thrived. They got to have new and powerful experiences and forge connections previously un-deepened. Second (and likely more importantly) I got to learn that, while important, I am not the only person who can help others. This keeps me humble and open and that benefits everyone. Third, I faced the truth that I need to back away sometimes in order to re-calibrate and practice what I preach about self care. Whenever we hear ourselves saying “I can’t take a break. It’s impossible. I’m mandatory to the functioning of the world.” we likely need that break and the world likely needs us to take it. 

In Closing: We all have much to learn and contribute. We also live in a time when we are flooded with opportunities for serving and giving. Sometimes we allow this to stop us, waiting for the “just right” opportunity to present itself. I feel called, more than ever, to challenge us to look less for the perfect opportunity and more for the simple and grand experiences before us that will allow us to affirm others and to be affirmed. Your simple, authentic, unique presence, when offered graciously, healthily, and in accordance with your gifts and talents, is rich with potential. May you find those places to invest and in so doing be rewarded with learning that is rich and deeper than you ever imagined. And for those of you at Twin Rocks (who are too many to name) and Moyallon*, whom have taught me so well, thank you f(F)riends.

 

* So much love and LOVE and more goes to Heather, Oliver, Michael, Harry, Peter, Daniel, Anna, Liam, Nadia, Karl, Finn, Alex, Sarah, Heather, Myron, Hannah, Victoria, Claire, Sarah, Jonny, Stephen, Mark, Judith, Kathi, Lydia, Hanna, Pleasaunce, Carolyn, Christine, Janet, Aoife, Orla, Leanne, and George for welcoming me into their hearts and community. More than I can say….

 

facing fears

My husband and I recently caught an early flight home after a long weekend away. Exhausted and hurrying to make our next commitment, we race-walked through the airport, hoping to grab our bags and get our car unhindered. As we approached the primary mode of transport to baggage claim we noticed a large knot of people stopped at the top of the escalator. I was frustrated and stressed. We had no wiggle room if we were going to arrive at our event on time. 

Stepping up to the gathered assembly we found that one of the two moving staircases was completely stopped; orange caution cones blocking its entrance. The other, while running, was empty. A good sized group stood at the bottom, laughing and waving and calling out directions in Spanish while the group up top stood completely still in a palpable and agitated silence. In the middle of this upper knot of humanity was a woman who stood, firmly planted, at the very center of the last piece of solid ground in front of the moving stairway, looking down. 

While I could only see her back, it took only two seconds for me to realize that this person was in unfamiliar territory. A thick black braid ran down her back and pointed to what appeared to be intricate South American needle work covering her dress. Her beautiful handmade sandals planted her firmly to the ground. Around her stood the aforementioned crowd of people, most of them different from her in every way. Shifting back and forth, they all looked at each other, at her, and then down to the bottom of the escalator in rotating fashion. Most of them donned puzzled looks but a few were clearly annoyed and angry. A white woman weighed down with luggage and standing near the solitary visitor spoke loudly and firmly, pointing emphatically over the woman’s shoulder. “There’s an elevator over there. Get on that if you don’t want to get on this!”

I only heard this because, for no real apparent or thought-through reason, I stepped right up to the frightened woman. It wasn’t as though I made a plan or consciously chose to help, my body simply propelled itself toward this embodied visiting soul. Without thought, I grabbed the beautiful woman’s hand while asking, “Can I help you?” Then we just stepped. The crowd below smiled and cheered, excited for her to join them. She never looked at me. Instead, she stared straight ahead with a solidly unaffected gaze. Nearing the solid ground below, she squeezed my hand. When I counted “Uno, dos, tres,” and we stepped off the escalator she said, “Gracias” in the quietest of voices. Then, we parted ways, she into the huddle of those she belonged to and me to my bags and a busy day. 

Bags retrieved, my husband and I headed back toward the escalators. From this new vantage point we saw two things: first, several EMT’s bandaging a person’s head and second, that the closed staircase was being cleaned not serviced. Very likely someone had just fallen and injured themselves on the very same mode of transport that the woman above was jeered at for fearing. Whether she witnessed this fall or not, her fear suddenly seemed more palpable and nuanced. I wondered if anyone who had been with her up-top had been willing to make space for the complexity and gift that this moment held.

Everyone, at some point or another, fears the unknown. Everyone.

Some of us live in a state of constant fear. This happens when we’ve been through trauma or crisis or when we struggle with anxiety as a constant companion. In this kind of reality, our very cells hold memories of terrifiying and, often, powerless experiences that keep us confronting our fear or running from it at all times. This is not the kind of fear I am talking about here and is complicated in ways that run deeper than the suggestions I bring forth will likely touch. If you face fear of this nature and need help finding a trustworthy guide for working through, email me. 

What my escalator moment made me aware of, however, is the other, less constant, kind of fear that touches us all: the fear of the unknown or unmastered experiences that confront us. Each of us is afraid in more every-day/moving staircase kinds of ways at some point in our lives. Sometimes catchy slogans (“just do it”) and motivational pep talks are just what we need to overcome these kinds of anxieties. More often than not, however, our fears are rooted in deep and largely unconscious spaces where they are protected and nurtured to ensure their existence. Inspirational memes do little to move us off these kinds of fears because these anxieties are complicated and complexly woven into all sorts of internal places we know little about.

The more true this is, the more likely we have unconsciously and unwittingly bought into the belief that our fears protect us and keep us safe. “I could fall off that roller coaster therefore I will never go on it.” I’ve been hurt by that type of person in the past so I must avoid all of those kinds of people in the future.” “Planes crash. I must never get on one.” “I suck at test taking so I should avoid all learning that includes tests.” “There could be something wrong with me. Avoiding the Dr. until I get a bit healthier is the best choice.” While some fears do, in fact, protect us, many times they hold us back from important learning and growth.

Complicating things, when we aren’t being sure that our fears keep us safe, we are likely spending our energy judging our anxieties. We are especially prone to judging the fears of others. “What a stupid thing to be scared of!” “What a wimp!” “Seriously?? I’m/you’re scared of (fill in the blank)! That’s ridiculous!” When not judging we may work to understand the fears. Are they defensible? Do they have merit? Who planted them within us? Sometimes, the acts of judging and understanding make us feel as though we are working to overcome our fear when they are simply ways of avoiding. We could interview the woman about her fear of escalators all day but at some point such questioning simply steals energy that could be put toward working through. Similarly, judgement and the shaming that often results from it, rarely serves as an effective foil to fear. 

We, as people, simply are who we are. Our beings are complex and messy and beautiful and unique and deserve to be honored. We have come to be who we are as a result of all sorts of experiences and all manner of genetic predispositions, influenced further by the abundance or scarcity of resources available to us. We are shaped by both our nature and the nurture provided (or not) by the communities in which we have been raised. The cultures of family, faith, education, vocation, nationality, and more have played their parts in developing both confidences and fears in each of us.  And so, our fears have roots that require attendance if we are to take steps to move through them. Which brings me to the greatest awareness that my escalator moment brought me.

Shouting down fear in our selves or those around us is one option. Rarely, however, is it the most effective. Instead, when facing our own fears, receiving help can be life changing and, when confronted with the fear of another, offering help offers a gift to both the giver and receiver. Receiving help and kindness in the tender and complex places that fear reveals helps us feel less overwhelmed by that which scares us. It teaches us that we are lovable and acceptable even when afraid which, in and of itself, boosts our confidence and calms us down. Giving kindness and connection to someone who is experiencing fear helps us become humble, empathic people. Reaching out to someone when they are afraid requires us to overcome our assumptions and judgements about both fear itself and that which is feared and causes us to be more gracious global citizens. 

Next time you find yourself at the top of your own personally terrifying moving staircase I wish for you the creativity to know where to look for help and the courage to ask for it. I hope that you will put yourself in spaces where you can reach out toward hands that reach back. Hands that will be reliable and loving, non shaming and non judging, and firm. Especially firm. And may you receive such offered help, letting it seep into every nook and cranny of the darkness that has been your fear. May the assistance of another speak to the certainty and rigid harshness of your anxiety and the aloneness that it ushers in. May you trust in discerning ways in the confidence of your helper and let it empower you. Regardless of the terror you are confronting, may you always say gracias. That simple thanks gives the gift right back to the giver in more profound ways than you realize.

Equally importantly, next time you encounter someone in the grips of their own personal moving staircase nightmare, may you be those hands. May you whisper and not shout. May you resist the impulse to avoid the possible reaction or rejection, boldly offering kindness and connection instead. May you lunge to the front of the line knowing that a gift awaits all those who partner with Love to help cast out fear. May you offer boldly. If refused, may you take joy in having offered. If accepted, may you act with grace, kindness, and love and, in this way, inspire freedom from fear in us all.

Daylight (Using Mindfully) Time

This weekend holds a special event for those of us living in the Unites States. Regardless of one’s feelings about Daylight Savings Time, beginning Sunday the light part of American’s days will be longer. Yes, we’ll “lose” an hour of sleep Sunday night but we’ll gain some daylight every evening thereafter until we fall back next Fall.  As dwellers within a culture that rewards productivity, empowers a 24 hour news cycle, and enables (via largely available internet access) vocational and recreational investment on the same 24/7 model, we live with a constant pressure to perform and conform. With an extra hour of daylight it is my guess that we’ll feel an increased pressure to pack our lives even fuller than they already are. 

Fed a never ending stream of information, we fear missing out on the one (or one hundred) piece(s) of data we think we really need to perform and achieve. Faced with a constant stream of our friend’s whereabouts, status updates, and responses to our own posts, we scroll our social networks to ensure we haven’t missed anything of import and to feel a part of something larger than ourselves. We rarely put time parameters on such activities or consciously assess how we feel after immersing ourselves in these spaces. Information simply presents itself so it is consumed, updates automatically come flooding in so we keep up with them, our work/school email is forwarded to our phone and we can respond so we do, and on and on and on.

A culture that prizes productivity, espouses multitasking as a positive trait, and encourages self promotion over self knowing awareness and communal health drives us to use the hours in our days rather than to experience them. Anymore, our best way of squeezing the most out of every minute is to harness our digital super powers to make us super performers. This means that passing a new level of Candy Crush while waiting in line feels more “productive” than simply waiting. It also means that having instant messaging, social media, and our favorite news sources up and available on our screens while we work makes us feel less anxious than we do with a single work window open. It means we binge on podcasts in formerly quiet moments and watch entire seasons of shows in one sitting because it makes us feel as though we’ve accomplished something. It means we count every step and rely upon our personal fitness trackers to tell us whether we’ve moved enough in a day. It means that our digital meditation guides and apps reward us for the minutes we spend meditating with badges, stickers, and stars. All of this filling and measuring of our time and output, this prizing of “production” over “boredom,” this indulgence in data consumption due to the fear of missing out or coming up short cannot be considered simply benign pursuits.

A primary result of this immersion in our digital spaces in order to feel and measure our productivity is a decreased engagement between our embodied selves and the fully physical world around us. Don’t get me wrong. The worlds of ideas and information can be compelling and beautiful, digital measurement and reporting can be helpful, and relational, vocational, and recreational pursuits deepened by digital contact can be intensely rewarding. There are, however, costs to investing only (or even primarily) in these spaces. These costs include a diminished comfort in one’s own skin accompanied by a lack of familiarity with the message indicators of one’s own body and mind. Decreased ability to tolerate stillness, silence, and boredom, and agitation or anxiety are also frequent costs. Finally, a diminished capacity for focus and a lack of experience with meaningful self soothing are also potential outcomes. 

Generally speaking, the more we employ technology to make us productive and to measure our accomplishments, the less experience we have with our embodied abilities to do the same. The more we rely on our fitness trackers to tell us if we’ve moved enough, the more removed we are from our own mindfulness and physical indicators of health and wellness. The more we engage our devices in times of stillness or silence, the less comfort we are likely to build with both. The more we rely on our devices for stimulation and soothing the less capable we are at providing either in and of ourselves. *

With a new and expanding length of daylight, we have the opportunity to decide how we might engage it. We can use the hour as a motivator to lengthen the productive part of our day, filling it chock a block full of getting more done, or we can re-think our ideas about productivity and our relationship with our devices and our selves. Might this extra hour of daylight provide us opportunities to day dream once in a while, to look at clouds, to practice tolerating boredom, to ask ourselves if we’ve moved or meditated or engaged other humans enough in this day and then respond appropriately? 

Any time we are presented with opportunities to consider the habits by which we live and convert them into norms with the power to lead us to be more whole, healthy, and content people, why not grab hold of them? Why not use this re-set of our clocks as an impetus to re-set our relationships with time itself and the way in which we use it? Why not leap forward into spaces of discomfort for the sake of growth and depth, spaces of newness in relation to our selves and others, and space for spaciousness itself? 

 

 

*This is not to say that we should not employ technologies that help us get started in producing outcomes we desire to achieve. Personal fitness devices can help us tailor an effective exercise regimen by giving us important data. Apps which track our food or meditation or study time can also provide effective motivation. Online communication gives us an opportunity to practice when face to face communication is a challenge. The goal is always to make sure that we have a balance of motivators and measurement tools...some online and digital and some within ourselves alone.

 

on returning to facebook (guest post by joseph tatum)

the following post was written by joseph tatum. joseph is a 24 year old designer (he's behind, in, and through my  new website), artist, ridiculously compelling story teller, and all around wonderful person. he is originally from the south and now hails from portland, oregon. his blog post reflects a trend i am encountering with many young adults across the country who are deleting their social media accounts, reverting to flip phones, or taking other measures to regain healthy relationships with all things digital. it is my hope that you will find his honesty encouraging to you as you consider your own relationship with the social networks of which you are a part.  you can find more of joseph at josephtatum.com and his blog at josephtatum.com/blog  (and, if you need a good designer...he's your man).

On Returning to Facebook

February 17, 2016

I deleted my 7+ year old Facebook account last November. It was terrifying. It was silly that was so terrifying. It was also not silly that it was so terrifying.

I started my Facebook Account when I was 15 or 16 years old and my profile was a documentation of a big chunk of high school, of my entire my entire college experience, and all of my adult life up until November 2015. It was difficult to remember a life where I didn’t use it everyday.

I realized I’d had an active Facebook account for 8 years, which is 1/3 of the entirety of my existence. That isn’t something one easily tosses out the window. I realized that Facebook had become this quietly monolithic thing that had infiltrated every aspect of my life. It was how I kept up with college friends, high school friends, even some friends here in Portland. These aren’t bad things, and Facebook seeping into all the corners of my life wasn’t bad; per say.

But all of those things weren’t the unhealthy part for me. Facebook is a great tool for those things. The darker side is when you kinda start to fall more and more into the dualistic lifestyle social media provides us. Since entering post-grad life and starting over, Facebook had given me an outlet to really easily live in the past. I could sit in my apartment in Portland and relive my past lives because they were all so well documented. Photographs, statuses, old messages from 2009, videos I’d made of friends in college, their profiles, and even ridiculous things I’d written as a 17 year old allowed me to take cover in a space outside the physical. Feeling scared about where I am in life? Facebook. Don’t want to deal with some project I’m working on? Facebook. Miss my college buddies and just want to transport myself back to the college days? Facebook. 

In social medias defense, this is something people have always done. Plenty of folks have photographs and videos of their childhood that they look through every now again. But “every now and again” is the key phrase in that sentence. It got to the point that I realized I had a Facebook tab open for 8+ hours per day. It was the first app I opened in the morning and the last I closed before going to bed. I was spending all my time living in the past instead of meeting new people. Not that I wasn’t meeting new people at all; but Facebook was noticeably throwing my life out of balance.

Last November I was telling my friend Darcey about all of this. I decided I wanted out. Not that “deactivate your account” bullshit; though. I wanted it gone for good. So I deleted it and didn't really think too much about it. It later hit me that I had obliterated 7 years of my online existence. I didn’t back one single thing up. It was exhilarating, terrifying, and relieving all at the same time.

4 months on from the demise of the core of my virtual reality and I feel a lot better. It helped me embrace my physical reality a hell of a lot more. I feel a lot better not having constant access to the minutia of the thoughts and feelings of the past 7 years of my life. It was a massive purge. But we live in a technology driven world. I work in technology. Things like social media are mostly unavoidable. How can we maintain a balance of the physical and the virtual? We live in a time where both of those things are just as real as the other and it’s neigh impossible to exist without a virtual presence of some kind. I want to give Facebook a space in my life. Facebook is an incredible line of communication and it gives one the power to have a reach with a lot of folks; even those they don't know. When I publicly came out, Facebook was key in getting my story into the world. I got Facebook messages from strangers that were some of the kindest I’ve ever received. There isn't another platform that would've given me the kind of reach Facebook did. I feel ready to embrace it again with a sense of cautiousness.

I encourage you to consider the same things. How does your virtual world affect the physical relationships you have and vice-versa? I’m back with a fresh account. As long as I feel healthy about it, I’ll keep it around.

If you have question. Ask away. Being healthy online is something people should talk more about.

regards,

joseph w. tatum

PS. My Oregon mom, Doreen Dodgen-Magee talks about these kinds of things all the time. I guess she's rubbing off on me. You should watch some videos of her talks. They're amazing, inspiring and incredibly informative.

february's daily 💡 a ❤️ 🔥 challenges, part 2

february is past it’s half way mark and it’s time to complete the light a heart fire challenges. whether you’ve participated daily, sporadically, or not at all, i invite you to stretch yourself and your capacity for love of self and other each day for the rest of the month. each challenge is intended to be undertaken in ten minutes with little to no preparation. if you can, however, increase your engagement to 15 minutes, you’ll get even more out of each activity. if you’d like to post about your experience, consider adding the #lightaheartfire tag to your post.

day 16:  give your body a break. find a quiet place where you can either stretch or simply lie down and rest. begin by taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth and see if you can let go of significant amounts of tension from your body. if stretching, lengthen each movement for maximal release. if resting, try tensing each muscle group from the feet up toward the head in 3 second intervals, followed by focusing your attention on the warmth and “heavy” feeling that results after tensing. from a place of relaxation, thank your body for it’s work in carrying you through each day.

day 17:  affirm yourself today. take two of your ten minutes to identify several traits or abilities that you value in yourself. these might be things like your intellect, your relational predisposition, or your skill in a particular area. try to keep your insights “right sized,” neither inflating them nor engaging in false humility. once you have identified several things that you appreciate/value about yourself, work them into affirmations which are simple statements of validation. for instance, if you value your ability to extend hospitality, an affirmation might be: “i am a person who welcomes people boldly.” write these down and say them to yourself. now take two to five minutes identifying a trait or ability you’d like to grow more deeply into. form this insight into an affirmation, write it down. for example, if you’d like to grow in your ability to be more organized you might create the affirmation: “i am becoming a person who is more organized.” repeat this affirmation to yourself several times and commit to using it in the coming days.

day 18:  affirm someone else today. identify a person in your life who could benefit from some affirmation. using the skills you applied yesterday, identify traits and/or abilities that you see and value in that person. take a few minutes to write these down. use positive statements that affirm these insights. for example, “i see you as a generous person” or “i recognize a strong tendency toward graciousness in you” or “you are kind.” once you have several statements prepared, share them with the person either in writing or voice to voice. 

day 19:  give yourself a gift today. find a way to lavish generosity on yourself. think past the automatic “go to’s” such as food or time or money expenditures. those are fine if they are not your typical ways of gifting yourself. if they are, however, try to find other, creative, ways to give yourself a gift. give yourself time to read a pleasure book, apply a richly scented lotion, take a ten minute nap or stare into space. if food is the gift, eat it mindfully, noticing fully how it tastes and smells. if purchasing something, have it gift wrapped or, at the minimum, receive it from yourself as you would a gift from someone who is expressing care and love toward you.

day 20:  find someone or something to extend active care toward today. be creative in your thinking. this may be a plant that you have neglected which could use repotting, treatment of the soil, or pruning. it could be an animal at your local shelter or pet store that could use 10 minutes of your petting and care. perhaps it is your neighbor whose driveway you might shovel or sweep or an aunt who would be tickled by a phone call or letter in her mailbox. whatever you choose, pay attention to how it feels to be active with your loving kindness.

day 21:  be silly for 10 minutes today. engage an activity that makes you smile or laugh. preferable, engage something that is not screen based. yes, youtube is hilarious, but there are other, more embodied forms of fun to be had. blow bubbles with bubble gum. play hop scotch. turn up your favorite dance music and dance til you sweat. write a goofy note to someone and leave it on their desk or doorstep and doorbell ditch. paint your nails a whacky color. eat dessert as a meal. have a stare off with a friend or play “if you love me honey, won’t you please please smile.” try, as much as you can, to be fully present to fun and light heartedness as you spend this time and energy.

day 22:  give someone a valuable coupon whose redemption will stretch you. we all have people in our lives who “put up with” our proclivities. these are the people that we live, work, or volunteer with. they are our neighbors, our faith communities, our co workers, our roommates, or our families. identify someone who you can give a valuable coupon to, make one, and deliver it either digitally, through the mail, or vocally. some examples might be: “i will wash the dishes in the office sink,” “i will cover call for you for a day,” “i will let you win the argument,” “i will honor your choice of movie/restaurant/free time activity,” “i will forego my desire to be ‘right’,”  “i won’t complain when you suggest i attend a meeting i don’t want to attend,” or more. determine to respond lovingly when the coupon is redeemed.

day 23:  give your mind a break. find a quiet place to spend ten minutes in quiet, restful alertness. set your timer for ten minutes. take a few deep breaths, noticing how the air feels entering and leaving your body. it may help to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. try to let your attention stay with the simple act of breathing. when thoughts enter, see if you can let them float by, watching them as they go and then drawing your attention back to your breath. if they are important, they will return. don’t stress if most of your time is spent watching the thoughts float by. instead, be glad if you can draw your attention back to a sense of calm a time or two. if you’d like to explore this more, the mindfulness meditations found here can be very helpful.

day 24:  extend loving kindness to someone who you radically disagree with. as on day 12, identify a person that you can find very little common ground with. this might be a person that you know in your day to day life or one that you may never meet personally. once you have identified this person, spend ten full minutes wishing them well. if you are a God person, pray for them. if not, expend energy meditating on goodness and kindness toward them. find qualities of their humanity that you can honor even if it is difficult and send them loving thoughts and wishes in your mind. notice what it feels like to be generous with well wishes even when the recipient is someone who is difficult for you to appreciate or respect.

day 25:  love yourself richly. on a piece of paper write the words things i love about myself. spend ten minutes identifying qualities about your self that you appreciate and value. don’t keep track of things that you do, instead focusing on finding the words that express who you are. your mind will likely easily identify actions that you take or roles that you fill. try to move past these to ways that you are. for example, do not write down “i am an amazing accountant” but do write down “i am thorough and careful about details.” do not write down “i take good care of people” but do write down “i am caring.” try to focus on who you are, not what you do. sit back and try to take in a real love for who you are apart from the actions and roles you take on.

day 26:  thank someone who you consider a loving person. take time today to write a note of gratitude to someone who you find to express love well. this can be a person that you know or a person that you admire but haven’t met. use creative means to get this communique to the person. beyond just thanking this person for their example, express your care and deep good wishes for them as well.

day 27:  attend to your physical heart today. do something that gets it beating. don’t over do but don’t play it too safe either. walk just a few steps faster or farther. jump rope until you feel your heart beat. if you have a stethoscope, listen to your heart or feel it in your pulse. consider, with intention, the miracle that is your physical body with all of its integrated systems. think of the way in which your blood flows and your heart pumps it. use the awareness of your physical heart as a jumping off point for gratitude toward your body for being the conduit for all of your efforts toward giving and receiving love.

day 28:  express care, love, or (at a minimum) tolerance for a part of yourself that you dislike or wish were different. we often try to beat ourselves and/or our bodies into submission. we wish that things about ourselves were different so we either ignore or punish them. today, identify something about yourself that you don’t particularly like or welcome. it might be a body part, a habit, a personality trait, or an emotional or cognitive state. work to understand it’s place in your life and invite it into open communication with you. try to care for it. if it hurts you, ask it what it needs to quiet down or to diminish.  be gentle with your self today.

day 29:  do an examen. on a piece of paper make two columns. title one column “things that gave me energy/expanded my heart” and the other “things that depleted energy/diminished my heart.” take a couple of minutes to look over your february calendar, recording activities or incidents in each column. with a few minutes remaining, look over these lists, identifying themes and patterns. determine how you might plan the coming months in such a way as to advance the expanding of your heart. make some notes about how to do this and place them where you will bump up against them in the coming months.

 

february's daily 💡 a ❤️ 🔥 challenges

welcome february’s light a heart fire challenges!

a few weeks ago a dear friend gave me the generous gift of a few days at her unbelievably stunning beach home. i used the time for some much needed solitude and writing, sitting at a wall of windows looking out over the oregon surf. when the sun set a fire in the fireplace was all i wanted. trouble was, i’d never learned to build a fire and i had no kindling with which to work. after a flurry of texts from my friend, the viewing of multiple youtube videos about fire starting, and several failed attempts, i finally reverted to “presto logs.” over my 3 night stay i came to learn that using these logs strategically, placing them on top of “real wood” that would catch the flame over time, made for a beautiful, long lasting fire. 

february is a hard month for many. on the heels of multiple holidays and in the midst of the damp and dragging winter, the frilly hearts of valentines day leave many cold. making things worse, in the u.s. we face the ramp up to an election season that is sure to fill the airwaves of the internet and the hallways of our offices and homes with contention and name calling. 

it’s time to take the month back. time to do whatever we can with whatever we have to build a fire in our own hearts and let the warmth spill out to those around us. to that end i offer some simple, humble ideas of how to use what you have to build larger flames of love and compassion. just like i used presto logs to build a “real” fire, the suggestions here utilize creative invention and techniques to help stoke the love that’s already aflame within you (c’mon...you know it’s in there!).

below you will find 16 challenges, on february 16 13 more challenges will be offered to get you to the end of the month. they are written to be under-taken, one a day, for the month of february but can be used in whatever way works best for you. each challenge requires at least 10 minutes but most can be expanded if you’d like. some will involve setting an intention of sort in the 10 minutes and then acting out the action throughout the day. the only supplies you will need (on some days) are a writing tool and paper. if you want to get fancy you might like to have a white board marker or washable marker and a few notecards or paper you’d write a special note on. don’t stress over these things. just use what you have. the whole goal is to expand your heart, grow your compassion for your self and others, and kindle the fire of love in all its forms...a great place to start is in employing a “good enough is good enough” attitude about the entire enterprise.

if you want to post comments or photos about the heart fire you’re stoking on instagram, mark them with #lightaheartfire and/or tag me (instagram: @drdoreendmtwitter: @doreendodgenmfacebook: doreen dodgen-magee, psy.d.) if you’d like. 

the challenges:

february 1:  write a love note to your mind and/or brain. thank it for the ways that it has served you. ask it what it needs to be more healthy while at the same time expressing compassion for it’s limitations.

february 2:  use your digital super powers to do research on non-profits or ministries that are doing loving things in the world around topics/people groups/causes that you care about. read some stories of how they express care. find inspiration in the wild and bold ways that they take risks to show love actively. let your mind wander about how you might stretch yourself in the coming days to love a bit more boldly specifically in the areas that call out to you.

february 3:  make a list of activities of experiences that make you feel alive. list at least 20 of these, making sure that the list is diverse. some items should require planning (e.g: go to a movie) and some should be able to be carried out spontaneously (e.g: apply a therapeutic muscle rub or aromatherapy lotion), some should cost (e.g: eat at a restaurant i love) and some should be free (e.g: spend an hour in the library reading magazines i would never buy myself). post this list where you can see it and commit to utilizing it several times a week.

february 4:  give something away today. if possible, make it something you own but don’t use but that you know that someone else might love and be blessed by. it could be a coat to someone sleeping outside or a home decor item you know your friend has eyed. it might be a treat you bought yourself or a book you’ve loved that someone else might enjoy. if you can’t think of something you already own, make or purchase something (small...it’s not the price or size that matters). notice how it feels to give something of yourself to someone else.

february 5:  write a love note to your emotions. ask forgiveness for the ways you misuse or ignore them. thank them for the ways that they educate you. express empathy for those among them that are often experienced as being too much or too strong and ask them what they need to be able to quiet down or feel attended to.

february 6:  honor someone with words. tell them you love them by brainstorming the character traits and other facets of their personality that you appreciate. don’t think too hard and don’t omit silly thoughts. write them down, doodle around them if you want, then either give them the piece of paper, take a photo of it and text it to them, or call them and tell them voice to voice the things about them that you love.

february 7:  come up with a mantra or meaningful phrase that you can repeat to yourself when you feel discouraged, lonely, or low. one flavor of such statement might be: “feelings are a state of my being, not traits of my being. i will respect them and i will also move through them.” another flavor might be: “i have what it takes.” and, yet another might be: “drop and give me 30. i am strong and WILL get through this.” quotes from others might also work. some of my favorite are: “you can never go down the drain.” mr. rogers “I have not given you a spirit of timidity but, rather, one of power, love, and self control” the bible and “it’s always darkest before the dawn. the sun WILL come up tomorrow.” you get the drift. practice this phrase, write it a bunch of times, commit it to memory so that you are ready to be compassionate with yourself the next time you might lean toward self loathing or defensive poor behavior toward self or others.

february 8:  with a white board marker or a washable marker, write the an expression of love, compassion, or care on the mirror that you most look at yourself in. either write it big enough that it takes up the entire mirror or specifically placed so that it covers the space where your face or body rest on it. some ideas: “love,” “you matter,” “you are important,” “show compassion toward object in this mirror.” stand in front of this mirror and gaze at yourself for the rest of the 10 minutes. practice shifting your attention from your own image to the word you have written and practice taking in the affirmation to your core.

february 9:  practice sending loving kindness to the world. take a 10 minute walk around your block or in the neighborhood you live, work, or go to school in. with each step look up and around, noticing the sites and sounds around you. in your mind and with your emotions engaged as much as possible, imagine yourself actively wishing for or sending care, love, and grace to all the living things you are seeing. these may be people, animals, or plants. you may even encounter businesses or corporate presences. to each of these, practice reaching into the love that you have within you and scattering handfuls of it about you as you walk. (this sounds crazy but is a deeply powerful experience if you give it the space to be. you are basically being a presence of love in the space where you walk.)

february 10:  write a love note to your body. thank it for all the ways it serves you. find ways of being compassionate with the parts of it you dislike. express empathy for its pains and limitations.

february 11:  greet people that you meet with intentional welcome and grace. spend a few minutes right now setting the intention to make eye contact with as many people as you can today, smiling and greeting them with a warm welcome. even if you say nothing you can communicate a great deal of love and warmth with eye contact and a smile. go from this intention setting time into the world and see how much warmth you can share throughout the day.

february 12:  write a note of respect to someone that you radically disagree with. at the end of this exercise you can toss it, save it to read when you feel particularly frustrated with this person, or deliver it to the person. for now, however, just try to find at least one thing that you can agree with this person about and three things that you respect about them in particular. write these down in list form if you just can’t make a narrative work. 

february 13:  learn to soothe yourself. take a few minutes to think about a time in your life when you have been or felt hurt. imagine as many details as you can about this time and the feelings that it birthed. now turn your attention to being your present day self and reach back to the hurt self and offer it soothing and comfort. how do you best receive comfort and care? lean into this as you give it to the pre-existing hurts of the past.

february 14:  get grounded. take your shoes off and stand somewhere where you can feel the earth beneath your feet. if it’s too cold or wet outside, step into your bathtub or sit on your counter and put your feet in the sink and let just enough water fill the bowl to let your feet feel it. focus on how it feels for your feet to touch the earth or elements. breathe in love and grace while also imagining the very ground where you stand sending sturdiness and groundedness to your being. literally breath in fresh air through your nose and take in solid rootedness from the ground. let yourself be loved in this way today.

february 15:  light a candle (or, if you don’t have access to one in your embodied space, you can light one online here). while gazing at the candle imagine a people group or part of nature that is hurting. it might be an entire country or a specific family that you know personally. it might be a place or an animal species that is facing hardship. using the candle light as a focusing spot, pray for or meditate on send love to this hurting entity. if you are a God person, hold this hurt before the Light of God. if not, send love toward and to it. let your heart connect with the hurt of your identified group or object, feeling the pain it feels. 

february 16:  surprise someone with appreciation. leave a note of gratitude for the server or dishwasher in your coffee cup when you leave your table at the cafe. use sidewalk chalk to make a welcome mat outside of someone’s car door in a parking lot. use your washable or whiteboard marker to write “you’re brilliant” on someone’s car window or the mirror in your office bathroom. leave a note on your roommate’s pillow or sneak one into your office mate’s bag. do whatever simple thing you can to make someone’s day. if you can make this spontaneous, even better. don’t plan too much. just commit to doing this today and let the right opportunity present itself.

 

name calling (in honor of martin luther king jr day)

I caution everyone who reads this to be careful what you wish for. This, of course, is not original to me. People say it all the time with varying levels of sincerity and differing intonations. I say it, today, from my own experience of having wished, for the last year, for something that has brought me to a place of tenderness that is surprising even to me. Let me explain. For the last year I have dedicated myself to deepening my contemplative experience in order to feed a hoped-for growth in my ability to greet the world with non judgmental awareness and radical acceptance. There are many motivators of this quest for me. Some are deeply personal and others professional. Some are related to my faith and spirituality and others simply to my humanity. I fail often in my efforts. In fact, for every inch of forward movement toward these goals I face ways in which I am entirely failing. Sometimes it can be discouraging. 

There are a few outward markers of mu journey. I try to write, now, with capital letters because I have come to know that it makes reading easier for people who are dyslexic. My language has (mostly) changed to (hopefully) reflect my attempts to listen better and not let my bias’ render me deaf. Mostly, however, the reality of what I’ve wished for has changed me deeply inside. This is not without cost. I’ve had to ask for a lot of forgiveness for things I’ve said or done in the past. I’ve also had to ask for a lot of grace as I try to learn and catch up and listen. I’ve developed a keen ability to bite my tongue and excuse myself to catch a breath before responding and, possibly more than anything else, I’ve become incredibly sensitive to name calling and stereotyping. Everywhere I look I see these behaviors in spades. In mass media, on Facebook, in tweets, from pulpits and street corners and stages. Certainly in presidential debates. Name calling and stereotyping are some of our best skills as Americans, it seems. 

Recently, a friend recounted an encounter he had with a person who launched a conversation with “I don’t know why poor people don’t...” My friend was perplexed and disappointed. Lumping a massive demographic into a title like “poor people” and then stereotyping their choices doesn’t leave much space for empathic connection. And yet we do it every. single. day. over. and. over. and. over. “How can those stupid liberals...?” “Why don’t those entitled millennials...” 

A billboard near my house says, “If you know the answer, ask bigger questions.” I had a gazillion questions I would have liked to have posed to the person my friend was talking with. Do you mean poor in relation to money? Are there other forms of poverty in your world view? Can you direct me to some sources that inform your claims about this group of humans? Do you know anyone personally who is part of this group you are speculating about? Can you help me understand where you’re coming from?

Whenever we refer to people in terms of their association with a named group we reduce them to whatever our own knowledge or stereotype of that group is. I know about this because I’ve lived from this space. Like so many of us, I emerged from my childhood with some deeply destructive and horribly divisive beliefs about several groups of people that weren’t like me. These beliefs lead to fear which caused me to stay away from meaningful interactions that would have the power to break through my lump them and judge them mentality. As I moved through life and pushed past my fear I began to find my way to the complicated reality that my own privilege and bias’ had prevented me from seeing the inaccuracies of my assumptions. In the more recent past I have come to see the many ways that I do this even today. I assume that my values are the most important ones and judge others accordingly. I am attached to my own world views and find it easy to write off those that disagree as ill-informed, poorly intentioned, or worse. These are the patterns I am wishing to change and this wish is deeply reforming me. While it is incredibly disruptive to consider people and their ideas in an open-hearted, respect- worthy, and love-read way, I believe that the disruption is worth it. Seeing others (especially those others that I most disagree with or who are least like me) for the beautiful and vulnerable souls that they are makes for a messy, deep, meaningful, rich existence. 

In the fall I had the distinct privilege of spending a day in Ferguson, Missouri with my friend Chris. Chris grew up in Ferguson and returned to nearby St Louis after college. He is a person whom I love and also one I admire. He works for justice and peace even when it is costly and uncomfortable. Chris has spent the last year investing a huge bulk of his time in his community, working to raise awareness of the injustices and oppression faced by the black community there. As we walked through the city I was deeply undone by the reality of the racial and economic divides I witnessed and by the utter care he communicated for everyone we encountered (and we met up with people from all sides of the issues). As a gay, white man raised in the Southern Baptist tradition he has every reason in the world to feel entitled to judge and rail. To lump and judge. To name call and react. He, himself, has been stereotyped. He has been called names and been judged and responded to as a member of a “group.” Instead, he simply pushes forward, committed to loving and to working for others to be freed from the oppression they experience at the hands of those who have conveniently compartmentalized them out of their awareness. The way he loves is by asking bigger questions and by pushing into uncomfortable spaces. 

Later, Chris encouraged me to visit Creative Reaction Lab's IMPTXDESIGN, an interactive exhibit in St. Louis where the themes of oppression, segregation, violence, stereotypes, and fear were explored. Creative Reaction Lab is a non profit whose mission is cultivating creative leadership to improve the human experience. In one particularly powerful installation, cookie cutter people forms filled a blackboard. Instructions were given to use chalk to demarkate your own person, listing first “3 ways in which you are stereotyped” followed by “3 things that are true about you.” The stories told in those images and words were profound. While all kinds of assertions filled the fist set of lines the second set was filled with emotional realities. Fear, sadness, insecurity, confidence, wishes, dreams, and more. The stereotypes shut down awareness and the truths opened them up.

I am inspired by this. It’s the opposite of name calling. When we reduce someone to a simple name or assumption about them (often prescribed in impulsive or less-than-thought-through ways), it is frighteningly easy to turn and walk away from them. We call them a name, declare that status as “other” than ourselves, and run. “I’m not like them.” “People like that are all alike.” “Those (fill in the name of the group) are all (fill in the name calling).” When they are so easily dismissed, we are so profoundly let off the hook of doing the hard work of making the world a more connected and, therefore, peaceful place.

The easiest way to live is one wherein our assumptions rule our sense of truth. We assume that everyone is well treated. That everyone has the same opportunities and simply stewards them well or not. That all people have access to the same resources that we do financially, socially, emotionally, and more. It’s simple if we imagine that racial bias doesn’t exist, that privilege applies to all regardless of skin color, political or religious ideation, or sexual orientation, and that every person receives fair treatment in all circumstances, no matter what. The world seems equally simple when we imagine that all members of certain groups are exactly the same. It’s easier to relate to others based on who we stereotype them to be than to see them as the real and complex individuals that they are, facing all manner of difficulties that we have never even considered. From this perch we can decide whether they are all in or all out. ‘Nuf said.

The other day I happened upon a difficult and painful story from a major, trusted news outlet. It was an incredibly well presented assemblage of stories about how Muslim parents talk with their children about hatred and extremism. It was deep and rich and thought provoking (click here to read it). It set off in me a deep (and inconvenient) sadness for all parents who have to find ways of talking about the many horrific complexities that exist in our world with children who deserve peaceful communities and spacious love. I found myself wishing that everyone on earth would read this piece and mull on it, letting it break through any stereotypes it could for the purpose of greater respect of the complexity of life. This article cut through the kinds of stereotypes which end up keeping us from having to think and stretch, from needing to work at respecting others for the full global siblings that they are to us. Name calling, and the compartmentalizing it leads to, keeps us from every having to think past our selves and stretch into healthier co-existence. Exposing ourselves to new truths about those we have compartmentalized does the opposite.

To grow into the mature people we wish to be we may need to risk the uncomfortable spaces of not being so sure. It may sound ridiculous, but it’s important that we face that not all blondes are dumb. Not all skiers hate snow boarders. Not all engineers are recluses. Not all gun owners are ill informed. Not all police officers use unneccessary force. Not all Christians are loving nor are all Muslims violent. There is no such thing as a “female” or “male” brain. All families whose stories include divorce are not “broken.” The person you consider overweight is likely not lazy. Some artists are not flighty. A person’s affiliation with a political party does not define their intellect, faith, or integrity. In reality, no person can be reduced to their identification with a group or the names we are tempted to assign to them. When we allow space for these truths, and all the others like them, we can no longer live from an “I am right/good” and “They are wrong/bad” mentality. Instead, we open the door to a wider consideration of our shared humanity with the very people we are tempted to reduce to names and/or stereotyped groups. It’s harder to dismiss someone out of hand when we actually stop and realize that, underneath our assumptions about them, lies a person with a beating heart, a complexity or spirit, and a mother. A person who, ultimately, needs love and connection and grace.

On a day where we, in America, honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., what might it be like for us to commit to moving past name calling?  To stop judging others and to, instead, start asking more questions? I came across a tweet once that stated “Would the day be different if I said, ‘Look, Here comes an Image Bearer’ about every person I meet?” Said another way: How might our day be different if we said, “Look, YOU are a person, worthy of respect! We are both humans in need of connection and grace” to every person that we meet? What if, instead of assuming we have the answers, we ask bigger questions. Big enough questions to grow us and our chances for getting past our judgments and moving toward peace-leaning openness with our local and global neighbors.

When you hear yourself saying “Such and such is an idiot!” “So and so is clueless!” “All ‘people that are part of X community’ are completely ridiculous!” or “There is no space for those people at my table!” take a moment and ask yourself the following questions:

What has this person said or done that stirred a response in me?

What leads to the intensity of this response in me? What is my history with this topic or person?

What are my stereotypes about this person and the categories or groups of people to which he or she belongs?

What have I done to ascertain whether my stereotypes or ideas about this person are accurate and/or inaccurate? Have these efforts to understand been undertaken with an openness or a pre existing certainty that I am right?

How might I respond to this person or speak about them in ways that resist name calling and stereotyping? If I feel a strong leading to engage this person, how can I do so in such a way that i maintain respectful treatment of both myself and them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in a (wal)nut shell

i was part way through a long walk this evening when i passed a walnut shell. it was a perfect half, clean cut where the seam had been and hollowed out pristinely. i was instantly taken back to my childhood when my mom would take me to the hobby store and let me choose tiny trinkets to put in walnut shell halves. i’d build little worlds (hearts and cupids drowning in elmer’s glue for valentine’s day, deer and tiny trees amongst moss for winter, chicks and eggs in grass for spring...you get the idea) in the nut shells then attach ribbons to the outside and tie them above so we could hang them off hooks in the house. my favorite walnut shell world consisted of a blue satin fabric scrap, tucked tightly in the shell and holding a teeny tiny naked baby. i gave it to one of our family friends at her baby shower and felt proud every year when she hung it on her christmas tree.

the hardest part of making these creations was fastening the ribbon so the shell world would hang right side up. when i didn’t master this element, the tiny universes became utterly precarious. sometimes, if i hadn’t attached things well enough, we’d find deer and chicks and cupids lying on the floor below. when this happened, i’d find myself worrying about the baby.

for some reason, as i walked by that shell tonight, the thought hit me that we all feel as though life is precarious from time to time. no matter the size or toughness or gender or whatever other identifier of the human, everyone faces the fears and realities of falling at times. we don’t always feel securely attached, grounded, or certain of our standing. life is challenging and we are aware of the instability of our places upon the earth.

yes, there are soft surroundings and safe landings. yes, there is beauty in the actual precariousness that is life. yes, there are things we can do to make sure that we are growing in healthy, attached, secure ways. there are Higher Powers and Love that hold us tight no matter what. these things are not, however, what i want to point us to today.

what i want to direct us to is the fragility that we all face as humans. regardless of our awareness or expression of it, there are times when each of us feels afraid, untethered, and vulnerable. like that baby in the walnut shell hanging on my friend’s tree, we face times where we know that all it would take is one person to brush the branch in the wrong way and it’s game over. while it’s important not to treat our selves or others more gingerly than is called for, there are times when nothing relieving and grace giving than naming the precarious nature of the branches that we all sit upon.

i received a beautiful etsy order * today. the artist threw in a gift to compensate for the double shipping i had unwittingly paid. “be courageous and be kind” is the message hand scripted on the card. receiving this felt like further reinforcement of the message the walnut shell reminded me of. it takes courage to be kind. to be bossy, certain, right-every-time, or indifferent in relation to others is easy. it takes bravery, however, to extend open interest to another, to own that we have absolutely no idea what kinds of difficulties others have faced, and that the burdens others bear may be completely invisible to us. kindness says, “because we are human i know that we are both ‘sitting in a walnut shell and hanging by a string,’ so to speak. due to this precarious reality, i will do my best to treat both my self and your self with care. we may not agree or sit together with ease, but we each have a place and that place is held best when we are all right side up and intact, with no one having fallen, left alone on the ground.”

as we live into a year of politics and self promotion, virtual landscapes offering real relationship and social networks that can harbor love or interpersonal violence may we keep close at heart the shared fragility of our neighbors and friends. may we relate to all out of mutual respect, remembering to be courageous and, mostly, be kind.

* check out the prints i ordered here, here, and the card she included here. thanks, laura, from youdolldesigns!