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You Do Not Have To Take What Is Handed Down To You

If you’re anything like me you have probably wondered, “Why am I the way I am? And is the way I am set in stone? Am I destined to carry on my family’s legacies? Is that just the way it is?”

You note when you’re being just like your mother and maybe you cringe. You remember all the times that someone told you that you look just like her. You understand that, because your mother (or father) had cancer or heart disease (or addiction or mental illness or whatever), that you have a greater chance of having it too.

I know many (MANY) women who make a conscious effort to not be like their mothers because they want life to be different (better) for their children. And yet, despite all their conscious efforts, their children often seemed destined to make many of the same choices, decisions, and mistakes.

And in some cases, the mothers were just not aware of some of the patterns they were passing on.

My mother and her mother had a very rocky relationship and I KNOW that my mother didn’t want to be the same kind of mother her mother was. She said it out loud, and a lot more than once. And in many ways, she wasn’t. And yet…and yet…

I’ll never forget the time, when I was in my early 20s, my mother wrote her mother a letter, effectively “divorcing” her. And then there I was, 25+ years later, effectively doing the same thing, despite my mother believing that things were different between us.

After I became my grandmother’s legal guardian in 2011 and it became obvious that she’d no longer be able to live alone in her home, I moved her into a nursing home, cleaned out her house, and sold it. I found a series of letters that my mother and her mother had written to each other, from the time my mother was 18.

I treasure those letters because they give me such insight…and they mirror, almost exactly, some of the correspondence my mother and I have exchanged over the years. In some cases, just basic day-to-day observations and news, but other times they were filled with rage, hurt, accusations, and confusion.

I didn’t have kids of my own…the desire was just never there. Sometimes I congratulate myself for not passing down the dysfunctional patterns, but if I am honest, I understand that the patterns get passed on anyway, if I don’t consciously choose to change them in me. I saw the effects of those patterns in my other relationships, from my marriage, to my sister, to my stepkids.

And here’s the surprising part: I have discovered that all that stuff ISN’T set in stone. By being honest and aware of how, at first I chose to take was was handed down to me, then deciding that I didn’t want it, I released it, not just for me, but for my mother, her mother, and on and on. I don’t have a direct future generation related to me…but I can be a role model and set an example.

Mothers hand down more than just physical stuff; they hand down beliefs, DNA, mental illness, addiction, and dysfunctional patterns. Sometimes we’re aware that we’ve chosen to take them on, and other times we’re not…those beliefs and patterns are running in the background of our lives and we have no clue. We just know that we’re not as content as we’d like to be.

It’s not something to blame them (or ourselves) for, it’s something to understand, accept, and work on, knowing that we can do hard work without suffering…that it can be one of the most joyful, affirming things we ever do.

So even if you chose to take what was handed to you, you can also choose to let it go.

Doing this work heals, not just you, and not just in the present, but past generations. And it sets up a healing vibration that ripples out into the world.

World peace does indeed start inside each and every one of us (and I know how corny-beauty-pageant-contestant that sounds, but it’s true).

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Registration for Sweet Blessed Relief ends tomorrow at midnight. There are a few spots left and I’d be honored and thrilled if you joined us.

Questions? Here are some of the questions I’ve received about the class, and my answers.

Does my mother have to be alive in order for me to get something out this?

NO! To be honest, the class isn’t so much about the two of you as it is about just you and how you want to show up, not just in relation to your mother (whether she’s alive or not), but in general.

I don’t want to have to talk to/see/interact with my mother. Are you going to suggest that I should?

Absolutely not. For some women, choosing to not have their mothers in their lives is the very best choice. What I want for these women is to have made that choice from a loving, proactive, empowered place, not from a reactive, defensive place.

My mother was abusive and violent when I was a child. Am I supposed to forgive and forget?

This class isn’t about putting up with or approving of abuse whether it happened long ago or is happening now. It’s about learning how to tell the story about what happened in such a way that it doesn’t hurt you now, but rather empowers you. My job isn’t to tell you what to do; it’s to guide you in having your own back…in learning how to trust yourself implicitly when it comes to your relationship with your mother.

How many women will be in the class?

I’m keeping this relatively small and intimate…I envision 12-15 women participating.

What if I can’t attend the live calls?

If you can’t be on the line, no worries. I will be recording all of the calls and putting them up in our private forum within 24 hours. You will have plenty of time to ask questions and get individual attention from me in the forum.

Where is the forum?

We will join together for support, questions, and sharing on the Ruzuku platform, which allows participants to create their own profiles, keep track of their progress through the course, and share their writing, all on a confidential course website. I have taken several classes there myself and have found it super easy to use and intuitive.

Will you run this class again soon?

Probably, but I am not sure when. I actually have two, very cool related projects in the works, including an in-person workshop. I would recommend joining in for this round if you are feeling truly called to take part. If you have any questions about whether or not this class is for right for you, shoot me an email and we can chat…and no hard selling at all on my part. I am not here to force anyone to do anything!

The Big BUT When It Comes To Being Chronically Angry At Your Mother

“So, tell me about your relationship with your mother?”

Classic, right? It’s what every therapist I’ve ever seen, traditional or alternative, has (eventually) asked when I sought help for various issues (from weight loss to anxiety).

And then there are all the books I’ve read…books like “Mothers Who Can’t Love: A Healing Guide For Daughters” by Dr. Susan Forward and “Will I Ever Be Good Enough: Healing The Daughters Of Narcissistic Mothers” by Dr. Karyl McBride.

While I found great comfort in telling my story to therapists, and in realizing that I am so not alone when I read those books, none of it did anything to bring me true and lasting freedom and peace.

(Of course not, because freedom and peace can only come from within.)

Now, that’s not to say that therapy and books weren’t helpful, because they most certainly were. In fact, I’d say they were key parts of the process.

As I said, it was a relief to have an explanation, but I also found myself even more validated in feeling angry, sad, bitter, disappointed, and reactive. And for a while that was rather exhilarating. But what I didn’t realize is that, as a result, I went deeper in blame mode than I ever had before.

And that’s because I had a deep-seated unconscious belief: it shouldn’t have been that way. My mother shouldn’t have been the way she was, I shouldn’t have been the way I was, and all the bad things that happened in the past shouldn’t have happened.

I don’t know about you, but I have never found freedom and peace in shoulds and shouldn’ts. I just didn’t know any other way!

So while I didn’t like feeling angry, sad, bitter, disappointed, and reactive, those emotions were validated by therapists and books (and friends and family)…I thought had a “good reason” to feel them.

Besides, there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with feeling so-called negative emotions…it’s actually imperative that we DO feel them.

But here’s the big BUT (the one big sign that you might have unresolved mother issues): when we’re chronically angry, sad, bitter, disappointed, and reactive, we don’t perceive that we’re responsible for feeling those emotions – we believe that we either don’t have a choice or that we’re being made to feel them…by our mothers.

That’s where Sweet Blessed Relief comes in. If you’ve gone the therapy/book route and are still struggling to find peace and freedom in your relationship with your mother, I invite you to join me and the other daughters who have signed up for this six-week journey from defensive and reactive to empowered and resilient.

It’s time for true peace and freedom.

Questions, concerns, comments? Use this form to contact me!

What’s On The Other Side Of The Struggle?

I don’t remember a time that I didn’t struggle, on some level, in my relationship with my mother.

One of my earliest memories is of me sitting in my high chair crying with rage and shock because she’d dumped a bowl of cereal and milk over my head. Apparently because I was being stubborn and wouldn’t finish it.

A more recent memory: the time I smiled at her through an open window and she sneered and gave me the finger (yes that one).

Hopelessness.

Helplessness.

Anxiety.

Self-loathing.

Impotent rage.

Blame and shame. Oh the blame and the shame. Blaming myself, blaming my mother. Being ashamed for blaming.

‘Round and ’round it went.

(No, not ALL the time. My life hasn’t been a complete and total hot mess and I want you to know that as I type this, I am smiling).

Those emotions led me to do some pretty dramatic things like binge eat, look for love in all the wrong places (to put it euphemistically), spend money I didn’t have until I was significantly in debt, try to control others to the point where I nearly damaged important relationships, and, at times, lash out at people I love.

And on a more subtle, but certainly profound level, I held myself back from fully exploring, using, and sharing my gifts and talents.

Wondering who and what I could have been if only…or believing that so much of my time had been wasted “asleep at the wheel” of my life.

In an effort to NOT struggle in my relationship with my mother I finally cut her out of my life and actually found myself giving it MORE of my time, attention, and energy. 

And I can tell you right now, it didn’t feel good…not deep down inside where it matters.

I was not free. I was not at peace.

(And that’s not to say that, for some daughters, the very best, most freeing, peaceful thing to do might actually be to sever ties with their mothers.)

But I knew I needed and wanted something more for myself. It was time to heal on a deeper level (those of you who have known me for a while know that my first conscious healing journey concerned finding peace with food and my body).

Many of the same tools that served me then have served me as I do this deeper healing.

And so I did the work (and I will continue to do it)…I asked myself the hard questions, and more importantly, I answered them. And the answers have been profoundly satisfying.

For the first time in my life, I know what it’s like to…

…live my life without the constant negative thoughts about my mother

…live without thinking that she should approve of my life

…show up in the world as myself and not “in reaction” to her 

…not be afraid of her

Sweet blessed relief. That’s how it feels.

I’d love to help you do the same. I invite you to join me and other daughters for a six-week journey from defensive and reactive to empowered and resilient.

Questions, concerns, comments? Use this form to contact me!

When It Comes To Your Relationship With Your Mother…

…does it often feel like an all-or-nothing, either/or proposition?

You have to either be defensive, resistant, and protective of yourself, or you have to roll over and let her do and say whatever she wants.

Or maybe it feels like you either have to keep your conversations shallow and surface-y or go right into the emotional deep end.

And then there are times when you think you either have to shut her out of your life for good or allow yourself to be enmeshed with her forever.

And none of these options feel good…in fact just thinking about it wears you out.

Having felt this way in my relationship with my own mother, and having worked with other women on this very issue, I know it’s common to feel this way…and it sucks.

At the very least it’s slightly annoying or limiting, and the very worst it’s intense and can feel as debilitating as impotent rage. And underlying all of it is sadness…maybe even grief.

I spent years in either/or land. In fact, way back when, if someone had told me that it didn’t have to be this way, I’d have said, “You don’t know my mother.” It felt like an intractable situation with no pleasant solution.

But now I know better. I know that there are infinite choices available, not just all-or-nothing decisions. And there’s immense freedom, peace, and empowerment that comes with knowing that, and with finally being able to make choices that feel good and right (and when I say that, I don’t mean making choices for your mother’s sake, or for her approval).

So when it comes to your relationship with your mother, this I know for sure: you are not as powerless as you feel, and you can make choices that feel good.

I invite you to join with me and other daughters as we explore this and other mother/daughter relationship misconceptions in Sweet Blessed Relief: A Six-Week Course For Adult Daughters Seeking Resilience + Empowerment.

Questions, concerns, comments? Use this form to me!

P.S. The deadline for registration is Friday, September 12.

This + That: Kale Salad, A Question, A Poem

Grateful to women like Lucy Hilmer.

The best kale salad I’ve ever had (I make it about twice a month)

Registration is now open for Sweet Blessed Relief: A Six-Week Course For Adult Daughters Seeking Resilience & Empowerment

Something to ask yourself…

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe. ~ Albert Eistein

Something to remember…

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. ~ Mary Oliver

What Picking Up Other People’s Garbage Unexpectedly Taught Me About Compassion

“Many of us think that compassion drains us, but I promise you it is something that truly enlivens us.” ~ Joan Halifax

I was taking one of my nearly daily OBP 365 walks and I came across a McDonald’s bag, either tossed by someone from a moving car or perhaps left there by someone who had pulled over to eat (it was right near the private beaches on Pequot Ave. in New London, CT, where, no matter what time of year, folks pull over to take in the view, party, read, have lunch, or just be quiet).

I walked past the bag…and then stopped. I turned around, walked back, and picked it up, along with a bunch of other trash that was lying nearby. Bottles, wrappers, cigarette butts, etc. I picked it all up and continued walking, picking up trash as I went, and dumping it into various trash receptacles along the way.

I was not disgusted or angry. I didn’t have thoughts like, “people shouldn’t litter” or “people are such slobs.” I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement. I actually took photos of some of the handfuls of garbage I collected.

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There’s another part of this story…one that goes back 30 years or so. Back then I would secretly eat fast food in my car and then toss the garbage out the car window as I was driving, usually in the dark and (I was hoping) with no one else around.

Back then I was angry and full of self-loathing, although I didn’t know it at the time. Sure I knew it wasn’t right, but pain of the guilt of littering didn’t outweigh the pain I had inside.

And so perhaps, in the moment that I decided to turn around and pick up that McDonald’s bag on the side of the road, I felt the pain whomever had left it there. Because I certainly wasn’t doing it out of guilt or to make up for the times when I, myself, had littered.

And I choose to feel compassion rather than disgust.

In her TED talk Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax says that while compassion is present in all of us, that it is an inherent human quality, it needs to be cultivated and nurtured…that the conditions for compassion to be activated are very particular.

She tells us that compassion is comprised of the capacity to see clearly into the nature of suffering, the ability to stand strong and recognize that we are not separate from suffering, the desire to transform suffering, engaging in activities that transform suffering, and, most importantly not being attached to outcome (because being attached to outcomes deeply distorts our ability to be fully present).

I didn’t know this when I was picking up the trash the other day. In fact, I only came across Joan’s TED talk last night (thank you Tonia).

She goes on to say that the conditions for compassion to be activated in a person are particular. And that the enemies of compassion are pity, moral outrage, fear.

I know a lot about pity, moral outrage, and fear. I woke up to those qualities in myself about 10 years ago and I’ve been, by turns, rejecting and embracing them. That’s why I like to write about defensiveness, anger, lying, and shame.

Joan also says that neuroscience has shown that compassion has certain qualities. A person who is cultivating compassion feels suffering more deeply than those who are not, but is also able to return to baseline sooner.

This is resilience.

Compassion also enhances neural integration (meaning that it hooks up all parts of the brain) as well as immunity.

I’ve got tears streaming down my face as I write this because I’ve often wondered about my capacity to not only feel true compassion, but to act from that feeling.

That I can is a revelation and a relief.

It’s funny what the simple act of picking up someone else’s garbage taught me.

Have you ever learned an unexpected lesson like this?

 

On Denying Ourselves Pleasure

A month ago (exactly) I wrote about how I haven’t been blogging much, that maybe I was afraid to say what I needed/wanted to say, but that I wasn’t going to let fear hold me back.

I made a promise to myself that I would blog at least once a week, and I’ve barely been making that happen. I’ve been happy to share what others are doing in my This + That posts on Sundays, but I’ve barely been able to write much more than that.

Sure, I’ve had ideas…fits and starts of writing, mostly discarded.

And then this morning I had one of my beloved ah-ha moments.

Which, of course, didn’t come from out of the blue…I’ve been cogitating on this for a while now, and noticing how I’ve been engaging in old self-punishing behaviors (namely rushing through activities that are meant to be enjoyed, eating quickly, sometimes eating food that I know feels like crap in my body, drinking more than feels good, moping, distracting, etc.).

In writing about how it felt in my journal, I said: I am holding back, feeling like I am not sure what to say or how to say it. I start to write and then think it’s stupid or too…something. For years I was able to express myself often and beautifully. It came easily and joyfully, even when I was writing about “hard” things. And, for whatever reason, I no longer feel free to be me, at least not the way I used to. And it sucks.

So I was thinking about it some more and I asked myself, “Why are you holding yourself back from something you say you love to do? Something that brings you such pleasure and joy? Something that you believe saved your life several years ago? Why would you do that to yourself?”

Why indeed.

Two reasons:

1. On some level, I don’t think I deserve to have a pleasurable life (I KNOW I’m not alone on this one…).

Sure, intellectually I don’t agree with that, but the intellectual part of my brain isn’t always running the show.

AND

2. I’m really good at punishing myself when I think I’ve done something wrong (or have taken to heart the opinion of someone else that I’ve done something wrong, and that’s exactly what I did in regards to blogging).

(And so ’round and ’round it goes).

It’s funny because there have been periods in my life when I allowed myself guilt-free pleasure, sometimes for relatively long stretches. And when I allow myself that, I am sooooo much more productive, effective, and fun to be around (even if I am by myself).

So what gives? Why now?

Because it’s what happens.

Old, deep, limiting beliefs don’t, unfortunately (but really, fortunately), just go poof.

As we grow, evolve, and transform, we revisit them with a new perspective. Years ago, I would have been pissed at myself for having not learned my damned lesson the first time.

Now, I am grateful that I get to revisit these lessons and learn something new from them.

I imagine that there will still be some fits and starts as I engage my voice again, and that’s okay. For now, I am finding pleasure in expressing this.

What are your beliefs about pleasure? Do you deny yourself pleasure? In what way? Why?

 

 

This + That: Aim High, Indeed

“Flip your normal questions on their back. Walk curiously through the opening. (Hint: our normal questions are usually fear based when we’re in crisis mode. That’s the reason why we feel like it’s a crisis: ’cause terror’s taken over creativity).”

Rachael Maddox shows us how to ask ourselves better questions in Crisis Control Vs. Crisis Alchemy, and an Invitation to Show Up and Swing

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“Each of these four words addresses an issue of great importance for a woman, and what they all have in common is that they are keys to unlocking the door to our forbidden feminine power. And one thing you can count on is that each of these four issues will show up eventually if a woman seriously gives herself over to making her own art. Which is one reason that women often shy away from the creative process.

These words have extremely negative connotations for a woman and have been used to denigrate and control us for a very long time.”

Chris Zydel helps us take back ugly, fat, bitch, and selfish in Women, Painting And Power (it’s not a new post but I happened to come across it at exactly the right time for me).

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Check out Rise Above The Bully, an initiative by my friend and über-talented photographer Tara McKinney

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From the lovely Elizabeth Gilbert:

My lowest self says: “That person is acting like a total jerk!”

My slightly higher self says: “That person is acting like a total jerk right now only because he’s going through a really hard time in life, and his parents never taught him how to behave better, and he might have some sort of mild mental illness, and also he has a drinking problem…so I should try to be more compassionate and generous toward sad, tragic, miserable people like that.”

My even higher self says: “We are all just flawed and frightened human beings in an uncertain world, struggling to survive.”

Then finally my VERY highest self says: “Lord, please help me stop acting like a total jerk.”

…and that’s when it finally stops being about the other person at all.

I am aiming to aim high this week, what about you?

This + That (A Day Early): Random Thoughts + Ideas (And A Photo Of TCBITW)

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We are allowed to have preferences, to love what we love…to say “yes” or “no” without fear or guilt. It’s up to us to know what our preferences and loves are…and to honor them.

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Forgiveness means not making what someone else said or did mean something about us. Because why was it painful to begin with? Let’s forgive ourselves for having made it painful.

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The paradox of control: being comfy with a lack of control increases our ability to be more flexible and creative, which, in turn, empowers us (which is a lot more enjoyable than “control”).

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I can relate to this:

I have just been letting things happen (and mistaking that for some sort of spiritual woo fate crap) rather than taking the helm and guiding myself into my own chosen destiny. So I had a taste last night of things to come as my life evolves toward what I really want it to be versus what it just happens to be. ~ Christine Claire Reed, in her blog post, “Is Your Meaning System Working for You? And What the Heck Am I Talking About!?”

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If there was ever a weekly e-newsletter that always delights, Crys Williams’ Pinch is it.

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“It is not your job to police the world. It is not your job to show others what they did wrong or to take their actions personally. It is not your job to wield your life like a sword, using it to prove to others that they’ve injured you.

It is your job to thrive. It is your job to create the life that is burgeoning in your heart. It is your job to hide the Facebook posts [or anything else] that make you crazy and say no to the things that don’t fill you up. It is your job to be the tender steward of your life, curating the things around you with nothing but love in your heart.” ~ Mara Glatzel

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What I am bringing with me into the coming week…the emotion expressed on this amazing face (Grandson Finnian, aka The Cutest Boy In The World):

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This + That: Examples Of Emotional Resiliency

Sad Is Okay

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“There is so much to be sad about in this world. Because it is so uncomfortable, we immediately want to turn sadness into what we imagine will hurt less: anger, hopelessness, helplessness. When the wish to help is rooted in anger, it will only create more confusion. And of course, when we feel hopeless or helpless, we take refuge in non-action, which also creates confusion. When we allow sadness, action arises from love.” ~ Susan Piver

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In praise of Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War, by Ruth Crocker

A secret is revealed long after the battlefield death of a beloved and courageous army officer. His young widow, in an act of love, is inspired to climb to the treacherous north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps to find solace, only to discover years later that those who survived the war – his comrades devoted to keeping his memory alive – would bring the ultimate healing into her life. A compelling true story for those who seek to understand the sources of resilience and emotional transformation following heartbreaking loss and personal sacrifice showing the tenacious will of the human spirit to heal.”With thoughtfulness and grace, she reconstructs…the experience of grief. A moving exploration of widowhood.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

(I had the opportunity to interview Ruth for the cover story of the September 2008 issue of Grace magazine, while she was in the process of writing her memoir. Unfortunately the online archive does not go back that far.)

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More productive, less anxious (and so much more). Resiliency in a middle school classroom via Emotional Freedom Technique (aka “tapping).

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What I am bringing with me into the coming week…

Brazen = bold and without shame

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