Grateful for the struggle

At the risk of overselling the power of mantras (I am no big fan of The Secret), practicing my three mantras has really changed the emotional tone of my days. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and speaking these to myself throughout the day has done something pretty marvelous to my sense of peace, calm, and humble confidence:

  1. I am open to and able to handle anything that comes my way today.
  2. Anything that happens to me today (externally or internally) is all for my own perfection.
  3. I am only responsible for what I need to do today; nothing more, nothing less.

The second one, in particular, has transformed the way I emotionally process the struggles of my life. Seeing the struggles — the anxiety, the depression, the episodes of doubt, the injustice, the logistical complications — as all having potential to be used for my perfection, for my ultimate betterment as a person, has added an element of gratitude that is now layered over the pain these circumstances bring.

Today, I am particularly grateful for my struggles with self-loathing. Had I not struggled with self-loathing, I would not know what it feels like to find nothing you like about yourself, to believe you deserve nothing good, to find no hope in your future. Knowing what that feels like, and how easy it can be to accept those false and insidious beliefs, has made me more compassion and considerate to those struggling. To those who cannot yet see themselves the way I see (and love) them. It has given me a better sense of how I can be supportive, loving, and helpful through the darkness. It hasn’t given me all the answers, but it has given me a deeper, more intimate perspective that, I hope, ultimately serves to makes me a better friend — advancing my own perfection in that way.

At the risk of overselling the power of mantras (I am no big fan of The Secret), practicing my three mantras has really changed the emotional tone of my days. I've always struggled with anxiety, and speaking these to myself throughout the day has done something pretty marvelous to my sense of peace, calm, and humble … Continue reading Grateful for the struggle

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Finding the sweet spot for challenging our friends

There is such beauty in those friends who think well of us enough to believe we have the potential and ability to be better than we are. Friends who exhort us to be better, not in a shaming spirit (“you are not good enough as you are”) but in the way that sees what we’re capable of and out of a desire to see us achieve as much as we can — whether that be in the realm of accomplishments, virtues, or relationships.

A friend “exhorted” me to run a half marathon many years ago and now I’m addicted and my next race I will run with the memory of that judgy kid behind me haunting my steps. I EARNED THIS SHAVE ICE BUGGER OFF

I am very, very sensitive to criticism, and have tended to shy away from people who are forthcoming with their criticisms. I have a hard time seeing past the comments to the spirit in which they’re given, and to consider seriously the merits of the criticism. I wish I were more objective about assessments of my character; alas, I am not. But I do have some thoughts about how I can better offer loving challenges, and hopefully those will help me receive them better.

I think the best exhortations take into consideration three variables: the person, the delivery, and the time. Not everyone is the right person to offer a criticism or an exhortation. We inhabit different roles with different people, and we need to honor the nature, and limitations, of those roles. I take more seriously and objectively the work criticisms of my supervisor because that is quite literally her job — to assess and advise me in my professional life. I take seriously the character exhortations of my husband — he knows me better than anyone, loves me more than anyone else does, and we have a deep foundation of trust that makes any comments land more softly (though I am not always happy to receive them…). Choosing to deliver an exhortation to betterment should only come after we seriously consider our “rightness” as deliverer, and a serious thought to the possibility that we may not be the right person. I don’t think anyone is the right person in all circumstances to deliver all the exhortations any one person needs or deserves. Our roles with others are never that total.

Delivery also matters. Challenges to be better can be delivered with harshness or with tenderness, and with any balance of the two. As with all communication, audience matters. The best delivery is the one that takes into consideration the person we are speaking to — how they respond, their relationships and relational background, their emotional tapestry, and their surrounding circumstances. Sometimes bold words are needed; at other times, for the same person, a soft approach is necessary. Sometimes an intimate lunch is best; sometimes a letter suffices. If what we truly care about is the other person actually becoming better (rather than simply caring about being seen as right and morally superior — to ourselves, to them, or to our deity), we need to consider the method of delivery out of respect for the complex and rich person of the one we love.

Finally, timing. Timing can be everything. My heart is not always ready to receive challenges and exhortations, even from my husband. Sometimes a matter of hours is all that is needed for me to go from stone to sponge. While we can’t perfectly judge the receptivity of another person, I think it behooves us to consider what else is going on the other person’s life and, if we have decided we are the right person for the exhortation, to find an appropriate time for the exhortation that takes into consideration the other events and responsibilities of her life.

I am so grateful for the loving exhortations (and lighthearted ribbing) my husband has given me over the years to exhort me to be and think better, and I feel that it has all been for my benefit. I am smarter, kinder, humbler, and better because of him. I’d like to be more open to having that “challenge borne of love” in other relationships, and to offer any exhortations I feel responsible to offer more sensitively, thoughtful, and lovingly. Perhaps another blog post for another time.

There is such beauty in those friends who think well of us enough to believe we have the potential and ability to be better than we are. Friends who exhort us to be better, not in a shaming spirit ("you are not good enough as you are") but in the way that sees what we're … Continue reading Finding the sweet spot for challenging our friends

In-Between Thoughts 2.13.19 — strengthening others against shame

Lifting update: I’m still seeing improvements and am consistently getting my strength back, a little at a time. Slow and steady works!

Aaaaaand onto thoughts…

On Tuesday Diane and I published a podcast episode on shame/guilt, and it was such a satisfying one to record because I struggle so much with shame. As such, I had a LOT of thoughts. (Thankfully, Diane is a fabulous and ruthless-in-the-awesome-(make-me-not-sound-rambly)-way editor!)

Besides the general motivation Brené Brown provides to be gentler with ourselves and to refrain from giving any particular act of ours too much weight or significance regarding our self-worth, rereading and talking about shame made me deeply grateful for those in my life who don’t add to my sense of shame. For those who practice grace towards me, loving me in my weaknesses and faults while also challenging me to be better. To do more good. To think (about myself and the world) more clearly and lovingly.

How it will look will be different for each relationship, but I think one of the best things we can be for others is an extra defense against shame. To join them in their struggle of seeing themselves clearly and to aid them by reminding them of the good, desirable things that make them who they are. The things about them that make us love them. The more we remind people of the good things they are, the more ammunition we give them against the shame that continues to assault them with the wrong message that who they are is unworthy or undesirable.

Perhaps I was particularly primed for these thoughts because of my recent musings on the environments we help create for others.  This post is perhaps just a more intimate, more personal kind of reflection. I think we have a real opportunity, if not responsibility, to help those we love build up defenses against shame.

At the risk of giving advice where it is not wanted, or speaking rashly on things I don’t know perfectly, I have a couple thoughts on ways we can create shame-free environments for others.

1. Tell people the specific things we love and appreciate about who they are.

This is probably the most fun one! I think it’s one of the most fun and satisfying aspects to friendship to communicate the things we love about them. I also think it’s important to refrain from making our compliments all about actions, but to make a point to acknowledge the person behind the actions. “I love how generous you are,” rather than “I love that you give me gifts on important days.” “I love how insightful you are about career issues” rather than “I love the podcast you put out.” (BUT PLEASE DO TELL ME IF YOU LOVE OUR PODCAST I MEAN IT’S TOTALLY NO BIGGIE WHATEVER I’M SUPER CHILL BUT DO YOU LIKE ME DO YOU LIKE ME DO YOU LIKE ME)

The more specific we can be, the better, I think. What are they insightful about? What is unique about their curiosity? How does their sensitivity manifest in their life? What do they show you about the world through their creativity?

2. Generously forgive.

I have a whole other post about boundaries and forgiveness to write one day, but for this post I just want to say that we cannot prevent ourselves from even inadvertently shaming others if we do not practice and demonstrate forgiveness. Forgiveness tells someone, “You did something hurtful, but I love and value you more than any single action you take. You are more to me than any one of your actions.” Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily restore the relationship back to where it was, but it does make it possible for the relationship to be restored between two imperfect people. In doing so, forgiveness reminds the other person that the relationship, that they and their worth to us, is far more than the hurtful act. Being generously forgiving is one of the best ways to shore our loved ones up against shame.

3. Guard our mental thoughts towards others.

What comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what goes on in our heads. We have to practice not shaming others internally in order to make sure we don’t express shame towards them.

4. Guard our mental thoughts towards ourselves.

This is probably the harder, more insidious one. What I shame myself for becomes what I shame others for. The standards and values I set for myself are those I measure others against, as well, even if not consciously. It’s not enough to put on gracious thoughts towards others; I need to put on gracious thoughts for myself to guard against harsh, unfair valuations of others. Practicing targeted gracious thoughts towards ourselves helps us inadvertently practice gracious thoughts towards others which then manifest grace in the way we treat others.

5. Learn others’ stories.

The more we learn about people of all walks of life, the more we understand the specific nature of their struggles and get a clear view of the reasons people “act out,” the less we’ll be prone to judge them. Understanding the environments shaping others helps us form more realistic expectations about what we can expect of others and about the wounds we should try to help them heal.

The shame we aim towards ourselves is intimately connected with the shame we aim towards others, instinctively or intentionally. Thinking graciously is so hard when the culture at large tells us every moment that we are not worthy “until/unless,” but I believe we owe it to ourselves and to all others to do the hard work. Also, on a selfish note, it simply makes our lives more enjoyable, less anxious, and more self-accepting. Whether thinking of others or thinking of ourselves, defending against shame is a worthwhile practice.

Lifting update: I'm still seeing improvements and am consistently getting my strength back, a little at a time. Slow and steady works! Aaaaaand onto thoughts... On Tuesday Diane and I published a podcast episode on shame/guilt, and it was such a satisfying one to record because I struggle so much with shame. As such, I … Continue reading In-Between Thoughts 2.13.19 — strengthening others against shame

Against anxiety: how I’m practicing the present moment

As I mentioned in my post on holiday reading, I end/start every calendar year by reading The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. It is one of the most profound in-the-daily-living sense books I’ve read and reading it always stills me and gives me a sense of peace in my midst of my near-constant anxiety.

I decided this year to be more focused about taking this book’s teachings with me throughout the year, and I have to say that January 2019 has been pretty wonderful so far. Wonderful mentally-speaking. I wanted to pull out and examine some of my favorite passages since I’ve made three of them into mantras that I speak to myself daily.

Mantra 1: “I am open to and equipped to handle whatever today brings.”

Every morning as I wake up or move through my morning, I speak this to myself. It’s amazing how calming the effect this mantra has on me. I am no longer in a constantly defensive mental state, trying to anticipate and set up defenses against whatever threats may come my way. It has also helped me to accept arising conflicts or challenges a little more detached, as they are just part of my day. Those challenges are not reflections of me and my lack of worth or ability, but are simply part of life and part of what today brings to me that I need to deal with. It’s a tough mental habit to break, but I’m getting so much better at not freaking out or instantly doubting my ability to solve issues when they arise.

Mantra 2: “I am responsible for only and all of what I need to do today.”

“[Those who live in the present moment] are active in everything needed for the fulfilment of their duty to the present moment, but passive and submissive and self-forgetting in everything else; only meekly waiting on the divine will.”

I tend to get very stressed out when I have a list of things to do that can’t be accomplished in one day. I try to get as much done as possible as early as possible in the day or week or weekend to try to ward off anxiety. While this is a generally good and productive strategy, I tend to get very anxious if some tasks pass over to the next day. This mantra both helps me focus on the day’s tasks (rather than looking at the whole of what I need to do) and reduces stress as the tasks I focus on are all able to be taken care of today. If they turn out not to be, then they weren’t part of today’s tasks.

Mantra 3: “Anything that happens to me today is part of my perfection.”

“You seek perfection and it lies in everything that happens to you.”

This is probably my favorite one. Christian mystics talked a lot about being “perfected,” but not in the perfectionist, unattainable way. For them, perfection was becoming more and more aligned with God and maybe even achieving unity with God (something only a few devotees and practitioners were able to attain). To me, perfection means something akin to that, but mostly in the realm of authenticity and betterment. This mantra reminds me that everything I encounter either presents a challenge that, when I overcome it (a la Mantra 1), I will be stronger and better equipped for the life ahead. It also reminds me that every day has an opportunity for me to use the gifts and talents I have to make the world a better place.

Making a habit of speaking these to myself at the start of every day and regularly throughout has made me more centered, more focused, and more clear-headed. While there are some external reasons for this (IN A MUCH LESS TOXIC WORK ENVIRONMENT WOO HOO!), I really do credit my practice of these mantras and my putting on of these general attitudes to boosting my mental well-being. As Eviatar Shulman describes a basic claim in early Buddhist philosophy, “mind is conditioned to experience reality in a particular way; mental attitudes forge the very structure of experience.” (108) (Mindfulness, or how Philosophy Becomes Perception)

Of course none of these are magic bullets, but honestly, having these mental attitudes has made my life significantly easier. I’m not nearly as much in my own way. In some ways, I think these are not just new mantras, but reversal mantras. I think I’ve been speaking the opposite of these to myself every day for years, without realizing I was speaking such negativity and doubt into my life. The messages we take from others, from the world, and from our own doubts are perniciously hidden and destructive sometimes. It takes work to have a healthy, positive, happy mental life (especially towards our selves), and I’m grateful for this little book that has given me some tools for tackling my mental traps and toxic self-beliefs.

As I mentioned in my post on holiday reading, I end/start every calendar year by reading The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. It is one of the most profound in-the-daily-living sense books I've read and reading it always stills me and gives me a sense of peace in my midst of my near-constant anxiety. I decided this … Continue reading Against anxiety: how I’m practicing the present moment

In-Between Thoughts 2.4.19 — Simple, not easy

HOW IS IT FEBRUARY. HOW. I keep seeing people expressing relief at the end of an interminable month, but frankly, January zoomed by for me. I’m sure it probably helped that I started a new (great!) job and had my in-laws visit for 10 days — lots of good and fun things that made January 2019 unusually enjoyable. But nonetheless, one month down, only 10 more until Christmas season!! (I kid, I kid. Ish…)

Today as I was squatting and deadlifting and grunting, I was thinking of how many things in life are simple but not easy. Going to the gym consistently. Losing weight. Communicating with spouses. Fundraising. Living within a strict budget. Being vulnerable.

Maybe there’s a sense in which the most important things are the simplest, and the simplest things are also the hardest.

Is there something to the idea that we are biologically geared to be selfish, but, due to our deeply relational world, we are forced (in a good way!) to act selflessly, against our nature, so much of the time? It’s the easiest, most natural thing in the world to think and act selfishly. Maybe the heart of relational difficulty is thinking of others and acting as if they are as important to us as we are to ourselves. We have to work at that. For most relationships, that is not a biological imperative.

Compounding the biological difficulty is the empirical difficulty: we just don’t know others like we know ourselves. We can’t experience other’s emotions, see the stream of their thoughts, encounter their memories. As such, we are never really sure that what we’re saying or doing is what they need to understand our intent. We never really know who others are, in a rather profound way. Others are forever out of reach.

And what about the difficulties around the things we want to accomplish for ourselves? It turns out we also have a hard time communicating with ourselves because we have so many conflicting beliefs. We want to lose weight but we also want to eat as much pizza as our tummies can hold. We want to work on our newest writing project, but we also want to rest our brains and watch the new Dumpster Fyre Festival documentary (SEE WHAT I DID THERE). We have all these beliefs about what will make us happiest at any particular moment and we are too limited to do them all. We have to choose. It’s hard to properly order our non-moral desires and drives, to communicate clearly within ourselves in the way necessary to make the best decisions.

With others, we know too little to feel comfortable communicating clearly. With ourselves, we know too much.

Communicating clearly to ourselves and others and properly ordering our desires and motivations is so. freaking. hard. It requires abundant thoughtfulness, humility, and grace, all of which we have to choose because none of them come all that naturally to us. As I write this, I realize those might be my favorite three qualities in a person. I am very fortunate that I happened to marry someone who lives those qualities on the daily.

HOW IS IT FEBRUARY. HOW. I keep seeing people expressing relief at the end of an interminable month, but frankly, January zoomed by for me. I'm sure it probably helped that I started a new (great!) job and had my in-laws visit for 10 days -- lots of good and fun things that made January … Continue reading In-Between Thoughts 2.4.19 — Simple, not easy

In-Between Thoughts 1.28.18: Creating environments

Finally shredding some of that holiday/prolonged guests-and-playing-and-eating-like-a-tourist fluff! Very slowly. Because #wine and #cheese and #carbs are too beautiful to forswear entirely. But I definitely had some wonderful times and eats the last few months, and those memories and times make me happy, just as getting back into my regular shape is making me happy.

The opportunity to see this is worth the extra fluff. No question.

And now on to our regularly-scheduled musings-on-life. I am amazed at how much better I am feeling now that I am no longer in a super toxic, condescending, obstructionist, sexist work environment. Seriously, I feel like a new person. I can concentrate again, I am excited to do the work, and I feel empowered to use the skills and talents I have to do my job well. I am stunned by how much better I feel and by how deeply I was affected by the shitty environment I was in.

It’s been an interesting transition, with me learning just how deeply I am affected by my environment. The Buddhists and Stoics may say that I need to work on separating the state of my well-being from the always-shifting condition of my environment, and while I agree, that will take a lot of mental revision and time and I am just not there yet. (Seriously, virtue may be its own reward blah blah blah but it’s not nearly as satisfying as being wrapped in a fuzzy blanket sipping red wine on a chilly night so get out of here with that hard-core asceticism ish.) Until I fully embrace my zen, here I am thinking about situations and environments and what enforced suffering does to people.

We have a certain amount of control over the environments of other people. Environments affect the well-being of other people. That means that we bear responsibility for the well-being and even virtue of others. Perhaps “share” is a better word than “bear.” Nonetheless, it’s ludicrous to expect the same level of performance or virtue from someone in a supportive environment than someone in an oppressive environment. (At least, in a general statistical sense — some people are really good at transcending their experiences, but I also imagine this has come after years of mental practice. And probably therapy.)

Of course this extends to all systems and to all expectations of human behavior. We need to take seriously the environments we create around us as individuals and those larger ones we create through participation (elections included). There is nothing more important than the well-being of other living creatures — the well-being of people most of all — and if we take this seriously, it will deeply affect everything we do. Absolutely everything. If my new work environment can make me feel this much better and is already enabling me to do more good work, then just imagine what the world would look like if we were committed to making healthy, well-being-conducive environments for all our fellow beings.

Finally shredding some of that holiday/prolonged guests-and-playing-and-eating-like-a-tourist fluff! Very slowly. Because #wine and #cheese and #carbs are too beautiful to forswear entirely. But I definitely had some wonderful times and eats the last few months, and those memories and times make me happy, just as getting back into my regular shape is making me happy. … Continue reading In-Between Thoughts 1.28.18: Creating environments

Kicking off AOV podcast season 4: Emotions

I’m so excited for the 4th season of And/Or/Versus! Diane and I are going to be tackling a subject very near and dear to my heart: emotions. Specifically, emotions as entry points for understanding ourselves and how we see the world.

Listen here: Episode 21: Feeling/Reason

We kick off our season with Episode 21: Feeling/Reason by taking a look at Martha Nussbaum’s neo-Stoic stance on emotions in her article, “Emotions as Judgments of Value and Importance” from Relativism, Suffering, and Beyond. In the article, Nussbaum tackles the often-drawn dichotomy drawn between reason and emotions. It has been fairly common in Western philosophy to praise humans as reasoning creatures and to denigrate our emotional side as a holdover from our less-evolved, animalistic days. Nussbaum does a beautiful job of showing, through the example of her deep grief at her mother’s passing, that emotions, far from being irrational impulses of little value, have reasons in them and are in fact products of the ways we are subconsciously and consciously analyzing the world, making things important to us, and assessing how different situations, people, and things impact our well-being. Emotions are the embodied results of our reasoning about the world.

Oh yeah, and we dig into eudaimonia. Get excited for THAT.

This episode set the stage for how we will be looking at emotions, and we’ll spend the rest of the season looking at specific emotional experiences. Next week we’ll be talking about anger/compassion and have topics such as shame/guilt, pride/pride, fear/anxiety, and jealousy/contentment on the docket.

I hope you will take a listen and let us know your thoughts! If you have a particular emotion or aspect of emotional experience you’d like us to discuss, please do let us know. I think this area is really exciting with lots of opportunity for deep discussion and introspection, so we would be thrilled to talk about something you see in the emotional life that is worth digging into.

Header image from PBS.org.

I'm so excited for the 4th season of And/Or/Versus! Diane and I are going to be tackling a subject very near and dear to my heart: emotions. Specifically, emotions as entry points for understanding ourselves and how we see the world. Listen here: Episode 21: Feeling/Reason We kick off our season with Episode 21: Feeling/Reason … Continue reading Kicking off AOV podcast season 4: Emotions

Best new recipes from my 2018

We’re still ok to have a little 2018 retrospective, yeah? Good.

2018 was a delicious year. It was the year I got really comfortable with the sheet pan dinner, the year I almost ran out of smoked paprika (THE HORROR), the year I learned how to figure out the right texture for different kinds of dough, and the year I got more playful with my flavors and tweaking recipes.

I made a point to try several new recipes over this past year, and these were my favorites, and the ones I’m taking with me into 2019.

Tortellini vegetable soup with garlic veggie broth

From Gimme Some Oven

I was looking for a vegetarian soup that would appeal to meat-eaters, as well, and this soup was a big hit. I doubled it for a party and it fed a good 12 people with some left over. Big win for those few windy, wintry Honolulu evenings where a sweatshirt isn’t uncomfortable.

Pork chops with apple cider and cream sauce and caramelized apples

From Good Life Eats

Oh. Yum. This was my attempt to diversify from our dependence on chicken for dinner, and I am so glad I did. The pork cooks up nice and juicy, the sauce is delicious, and the caramelized apples are the cherry on the sundae. My husband even made it one night and provided me with some hilarious commentary. “Man, this lady loves her some butter.” “WAIT. I was supposed to start caramelizing the apples 10 minutes ago!!” **some odd little excited bouncy dance move when everything started to go well** Dinner and a show. It doesn’t get better.

Kale salad with butternut squash, pecans, goat cheese, and craisins.

From, again, Gimme Some Oven. Apparently this is my new go-to recipe website.

In an attempt to eat more veggies and find a lunch salad that I can prep a couple days in advance, I found this salad and haven’t looked back. It’s perfect. I don’t even include the couscous and it’s still hearty and filling. This will be my go-to lunch salad for at least the first part of 2019.

Bacon jam

From A Simple Pantry

Honey, honey, honey. If you like bacon, you need this in your life. It is divine! I ate it on everything over Christmas and can probably credit bacon jam with my current state of tightened trousers. #worth

Ina Garten’s Homemade ricotta

From Just a Pinch

Who knew ricotta cheese was so easy to make?! And so much better homemade. It was creamy, lush, and perfect for pastas, tacos, and enchiladas. Lean into it. Lean face-first into it.

Sheet-pan sausage and roasted veggies

From Chelsea’s Messy Apron

This is the second favorite roast pan dinner we made over and over this year, in part because it’s so flexible. We’ve used Portuguese sausage, chicken sausage, and all manner of available veggies depending on what is at risk of expiring in the fridge. I cut way down on the oil and season according to whatever it is we are using. Usually a healthy sprinkle of garlic powder and smoked paprika. Seriously, get you some smoked paprika and use it on almost everything savory. I can’t get enough.

Teriyaki Chicken Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Pear Salsa

From Carlsbad’s Cravings

Of course I had to include a new taco recipe, and of course it had to have pineapple in it! This is a little time-intensive, but the flavors are fantastic.

Chestnut pasta

I didn’t take a photo (oops) and I used a recipe from Marc Vetri’s book Mastering Pasta so I don’t have a recipe to link, but this pasta was fantastic. The dough turned out nice and silky, the chestnut flavor was subtle and kind of meaty, and, paired with homemade ricotta and sausage and tomatoes, chestnut pasta made for a perfect Christmas Eve dinner.

I have some recipes pegged to try this year, so I look forward to sharing the winners with you over the year and at the end of 2019. I hope you try something of the above, for your own tummy happiness!

If you have any recipes to share, please post below so I can benefit from the delicious discoveries you found (or created!).

We're still ok to have a little 2018 retrospective, yeah? Good. 2018 was a delicious year. It was the year I got really comfortable with the sheet pan dinner, the year I almost ran out of smoked paprika (THE HORROR), the year I learned how to figure out the right texture for different kinds of … Continue reading Best new recipes from my 2018

In-Between Thoughts 1.14.19 New Beginnings, Old Battles

It’s the start of the busy season! For the gym, that is. So far I haven’t had to wait for any piece of equipment nor has anyone hit me in the face (accidentally or on purpose) with a dumbbell, so I’m happy to welcome the 2019 resolutioners to the awesome-for-your-body work that is weight lifting.

It’s also officially the start of a new semester. I started fundraising for a new unit and am entering my third semester of graduate school. I’m taking an Indian Buddhist philosophy class and a class on Hume, and yes, it’s only been a week, but I am in heaven. Such great literature and ideas. Both will present their unique intellectual challenges (some challenges born of the material, some challenges born of my own familiarity — or lack of — with the texts) so I imagine it will be an interesting, good, fulfilling, tough semester. I am excited to have some kind of mastery of these ideas once I’m done.

Unfortunately, my excitement at all these good new beginnings has been tainted by a huge bout of fear. I had a pretty extended period of anxiety over the holidays. All this change was staring me down and, turns out, I am deeply afraid I don’t have what it takes to succeed or make a happy life for myself. That fear is deep. Rooted. Characteristic of much of my life.

I’m so tired of battling myself in this way.

How odd is it to be fighting against ourselves? To be such complex beings that we have different personas, different beliefs, different sets of perspectives that can’t, or don’t want to, coexist.

And what is it about beginnings that bring out my own particular fear battle? Well, I suppose that’s obvious. The unknown. The unknown means I will be faced with things I’m not prepared for, situations, challenges, and relationships I haven’t had a chance to vet or properly “gear up” for. But I shouldn’t be scared. I have faced harder, more obscure challenges before and emerged… something. Stronger? Better? I wonder how many times I have to prove myself to myself in new situations before I just assume I can handle a new situation. Before I believe in myself.

I have been working hard in cognitive behavioral therapy to fix some of the wrong beliefs I have that are negatively affecting my life and relationships. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the beliefs most needing correcting are beliefs about myself. What I believe about my value, my abilities, my well-being affects what I believe about pretty much everything else. For better or for worse, but certainly inescapably, I am the center of my perceptual world. I cannot remove myself from how I see the world, so everything is essentially, in my perception, rooted in its relation to me. So, with me and with my beliefs about myself is where I need to start.

Today that looks like me reminding myself of all the times I have faced a challenge and came out stronger and even successful on the other side. And then to repeat over and over to myself that I am capable and competent. Repetition turns into belief over time. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but as it turns out, Hume tries to answer this very question. Coincidental and fortunate for me.

It's the start of the busy season! For the gym, that is. So far I haven't had to wait for any piece of equipment nor has anyone hit me in the face (accidentally or on purpose) with a dumbbell, so I'm happy to welcome the 2019 resolutioners to the awesome-for-your-body work that is weight lifting. … Continue reading In-Between Thoughts 1.14.19 New Beginnings, Old Battles

Reunited with my first love

So…. something big happened. Huge. Life-changing. Life-affirming. Joy-inducing.

MY HUSBAND GAVE ME A WEIGHTED KEYBOARD FOR CHRISTMAS.

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For those of you who don’t know, piano is my first love, the thing I wanted to do and play for the rest of my life. I even entertained the notion (briefly, until my piano professor disabused me of the notion my first day in college) that I would be a concert pianist. My professor’s cold truth-telling, along with my realization that, oh yeah, performing makes me anxious and nauseated, made me realize that I was destined to love playing piano but not do it professionally. It’s been my safe, happy place ever since.

But since college, I haven’t had access to a piano. I have tried. Believe me. But we’ve been moving around and pianos are expensive to ship (especially overseas). Then we moved into a long-term apartment, but it is 37 floors up, 750 square feet, has no storage, and we live in an open-air situation in a humid, windy, warm climate. The thought of hauling a piano up, squeezing it into our space, and trying to protect it from the elements made me want to take a huge nap. Also, they are really expensive and we couldn’t afford one in the first place. I’ve been really bummed not to have a piano for the last 15 years, and was simply looking forward to 3 years from now when we will be able to settle and I will finally be able to get my hands on a gorgeous instrument.

When I unwrapped the weighted keyboard over Christmas, I cried.

I was also really nervous. What if the last 15 years have eroded my hard-earned skill and nimbleness? What if I couldn’t remember how to play, or could only play the most rudimentary of pieces?

It was one of the most relieving and happy realizations of my life to find out that my finger muscle-memory is way, way stronger than my brain muscle-memory. I certainly don’t have the skill I had at my peak, but I can still play Chopin, Liszt, and some Rachmaninoff. My fingers remember the pieces I learned years ago. The pieces feel familiar under my fingers, like catching up with old friends.

I don’t know that there is a big lesson or message here, other than me being really happy to reconnect with something that meant so much to me over my most formative years, to know that maybe the best, most sincere, most meaningful things are those you don’t lose. I can finally play the piano again and I am so, so grateful.

So.... something big happened. Huge. Life-changing. Life-affirming. Joy-inducing. MY HUSBAND GAVE ME A WEIGHTED KEYBOARD FOR CHRISTMAS. For those of you who don't know, piano is my first love, the thing I wanted to do and play for the rest of my life. I even entertained the notion (briefly, until my piano professor disabused me … Continue reading Reunited with my first love