Self-Control

I am supposed to be working.

And if I am not working, I should at least be finishing the job application that I keep procrastinating on.

And if I am not working on my resume, I should be doing anything other than staring at the sight of three huge, frosted cupcakes at the table next to me.

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“Get in my belly now!” Says everyone but the elderly Zen master.

Get this: the three elderly people sitting in front of three frosted cupcakes in Starbucks of the Barnes and Noble have still not taken a bite of their cupcakes.

They are slowly sipping coffee. While NOT eating the cupcakes. Just sipping and talking and not devouring them like heathens.

TEACH ME YOUR WAYS.

UPDATE #1: I literally just reread my post to check for typos and several minutes have passed. The elderly male has eaten his cupcake. The elderly woman within my line of sight has still not taken a bite. Is she a Zen master disguised as someone’s white haired grandmother?? Omigod. Now she is flipping through a magazine and not consuming the cupcake.

Speaking of self-control . . . I should get back to my paid work. Or the resume. Or something other than this.

UPDATE #2: Elderly woman has peeled the cupcake liner away from the cupcake but has not taken a bite. It is seven minutes and counting.

Facing Anger (And Reluctantly Admitting My Husband Was Right)

Every window in my house is currently steamed up. (No, it’s not what you think! Jeesh, don’t make me blush.) The reason? I live in Florida. It is summer. The humidity is higher than Donald Trump’s bangs.

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high hair, high humidity. (photo source)
I just returned home to this heat from 

vacation in the cool, humidity-free Northeast. No matter. I am loving the all-consuming stickiness.

At last: the outside world is matching my inside world.

As vacation ended and some unpleasant realities of life creeped back into my consciousness, anger began seeping out in all the ways that Oprah would advise against. Projecting onto my husband. Snapping at my daughter. Scowling about towels left on the floor and muttering loudly under my breath.  A tiny voice within squeaked, hmm you seem pretty CHARGED UP about this…perhaps something else? To which my ego (angrily) replied, NO! Really, I  AM this angry over my husband whining about needing a nap after he slept ten hours last night! (Yes this really happened. Normally I would I would chuckle and lovingly mock him and tell him to shut his pie hole. I would not be full of PRIMAL RAGE.)

I was full of PRIMAL RAGE.

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Who knew? A google search for “primal rage”returns this fantastic image from an early ’90s video game.
I’ll spare you the details of the who and what that led to my anger. It isn’t necessary. What I will share is how surprised I have been at the depth and fierceness of the anger—and my unwillingness to simply name it for what it was.

Why, I wondered later, is it so hard for me to just say, “I AM ANGRY AT X AND I NEED TO JUST SAY IT OUT LOUD!”

Many wise souls have pointed out how resisting what is is the source of our suffering. Certainly it was the source of the suffering between my husband and myself, as he threw his hands up and said, “Whoa, why are you so upset with ME? I know this isn’t about me, this is about x! Stop projecting!”

He even predicted that ten minutes later I would be back, apologizing, and admitting he was right.

Damn it, I hate when he is right.

I think it all has to do with anger being a secondary emotion.

I read the term “secondary emotion” for the first time a year or two ago. I had this major “AHA” moment. I had been lumping anger as an emotion with all the rest. Turns out, anger is special. It is just the first layer of a delicious cake of emotions. Perhaps it is the crispy charred caramel bit atop a Crème brûlée. You have to poke through it to get to the creamy, smooth center, the meat of the thing.

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If only anger tasted as delicious. Image source.
Which, in my case, turned out to be sadness. So. Much. Sadness. Once I finally admitted to my husband that he was right (sigh), that I was not actually angry at him, I crept into a spare bedroom and wrote a little. The tears started flowing and they wouldn’t stop. Streams and streams of tears. I hadn’t cried like this in a very long time. I let it run its course but it took an awfully long time for my eyes to dry up.

No wonder I was hiding behind the anger. Who wants to unearth all that hurt and sadness?

I’d love to carry my metaphor forward about the dessert and crème brûlée, something trite about how sweet it is to finally break through all the flavors and eat the gooey custard middle. But that is not the case. There is nothing fun or delicious about resisting anger, feeling anger, and then crying for twenty minutes.

For me, the closest I can come to that happy ending is through my writing, which always helps me unpack what I’m feeling and find some self-compassion in the process. Not as tasty as a French dessert, but I’ll take it.

 

 

Starting the New Year(ish) with a Gratitude Practice

Anyone want to join me in starting a gratitude practice for 2016?

(And yes I know it is January 4th. It is ok! I give us permission to start on whatever damn day we feel like. Isn’t it fun pissing off the inner perfectionist?)

Last year I started a daily(ish) walking meditation practice and I am STILL hooked. (By the way, walking meditation is just a fancy way of saying that I took a walk, breathed in and out, and paused to express gratitude.) It has become integral to my mental health. I’m more centered, calm, and I certainly yell less at my kid. Win-win-win.

I wasn’t thinking of adding an additional gratitude practice this year…but then I saw Elizabeth Gilbert with her big ol’ jar of gratitude (see below). Sweet Moses, how fun would it be to read through those at the end of the year?!

It got me thinking that there might be other neat ways to practice gratitude. Here is a round up of some simple ideas I came across. As for me? I think I’m going to do a variation of the gratitude jar. Needless to say mine will not be made of glass. (Oh, just imagine how quickly my kid would shatter that lovely jar!)

FUN GRATITUDE PRACTICE IDEAS:

1. Gratitude Garland

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Photo from http://www.wildfeatherswellness.com/the-gratitude-garland/

Wildfeatherswellness provides instruction for creating a Gratitude Garland. You write thoughts of gratitude, remembrance, inspiration or refelction onto your garland and hang it where you can see it and be reminded of it.

What a beautiful way to remember a loved one or simply make visible the moments that fill your heart.

2. Gratitude Jar, courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert:

3. Gratitude Journal

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Raven + Lily’s Uzma Recycled Cotton Travel Journal (Available Here)

Simply write down your thoughts in a journal as you see fit. (I like this one, this one, and the one at left from Raven + Lily, a company that helps employ over 1,500 marginalized women with the goal of alleviating poverty among women.)

Or, if you prefer modern convenience, consider using a gratitude app for your phone!

Any other gratitude practices you want to share? Please feel free to comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.

An Ocean of Tears Larger than the Four Oceans

It has been a heart-wrenching couple of days.

On Sunday, my husband found out that his colleague’s wife and son were in a horrible car accident. This morning we received word that his son passed away from injuries sustained in the crash.

It is hard to type that sentence. It is an unthinkable loss that no parent should have to endure. I hardly know this family, and I am stunned and silenced by this grief.

I have cried so many tears these last two days. To the point that I wondered out loud to my sister, What is wrong with me? The kind soul that she is, she gently reminded me that as a mother, of course this loss would shake me. But she also reminded me that I have been steeped in grief these last few weeks. And this just stirred up the grief pot in a major way.

Of course she is right. Once I was able to step back from it, I could see that the steady stream of tears from the last few days is but one part of what has felt like a waterfall of grief. Grief after grief has poured forth over the last two months.

If I had to describe the theme of this autumn, it would be, “Sarah tends to unattended sorrows.”*

It makes sense why this grief has come on so strong. After two years of huge life changes (birth, moves, new house, new jobs), it is only recently that I have felt rooted and grounded enough to tend to the loss of my mom, who passed away two years ago. But what I wasn’t expecting was that a lifetime of unattended sorrows, losses, wounds and pains would come rushing in.

The Buddhists, ever on-top of this human condition stuff, have a term for this pouring forth of grief. They say that when you open the heart and tend to its needs, sometimes all the unattended sorrows are released. The result is “an ocean of human tears larger than the four oceans.”

So here I am, swimming in four oceans of tears.

Tears for this little boy. Tears for his mother who is recovering from her own injuries. Tears for his father. Tears for his sibling. Tears for my mother. Tears for my grandmother. Tears for my father. Tears for my childhood traumas and innocence lost. Tears for every damn loss I have ever felt. (Ok, that last one is probably an exaggeration, but that is how it has felt.)

I am (still) angry at death. Why is it so unjust? Why must a child die? Why must so many kind, loving people experience so much pain and suffering? It seems senseless. And seriously, I am sick and tired of these grief tears. I’d like only the happiness tears from now on, OK universe?

And yet, as I stomp my feet and blow into tissues, I know that the universe is like, sorry kid. You want to be “whole?” Well, that means you get the sad tears with the happy tears. Not one or the other. Both.

Healing and becoming whole is sneaky like that. Painful grief cracked my heart right open. But what I didn’t know was that in doing so it also provided more space for love, compassion, and yes, even joy.

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Nope, I’m not the messenger of any profound life lessons. – Lisa Frank’s Unicorn

(I hate that about grief. Why can’t all our profound spiritual growth come packaged in Lisa Frank unicorn/kitten/rainbows instead of personal tragedies? Clearly I am not in charge of the universe.)

For now, I am taking comfort in the fact that this too shall pass. Until it does, more tears.

More than four oceans of tears, to be exact.

 

* The name of my autumn theme is basically lifted from Stephen Levine’s book of the same name, which if you haven’t read you should check out. It is amazing.

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