It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

There. Be with that for a moment. I read that line in an insightful post from Marita Fridjhon, the CEO and Co-Founder of CRR Global. She wrote an eloquent piece called “The Case for Taking Space: A Bigger Picture Approach.” I am writing this article in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve found myself on auto-pilot when friends and co-workers ask, “How are you?” and I, on auto-response, say: “Good. And you?” No. Actually, I’m not good. I’m not ok. I’m getting by. I’m coping. I’m trying to find some semblance of control. I so appreciate when there is permission to not be ok, whether I give that permission to myself or it’s offered by someone else.

Here are some thoughts on being not ok:

Don’t rush.  Marita writes: “Let’s not rush through to the ‘everything is okay’ stage. Otherwise, the steam is going to continue to build and reactivity is going to direct our choices. Instead, we could take some time to be with this. To process what we’re going through and to grieve what is lost.” This resonates for me. I want to push through to get on to the next step. I don’t want to scrap a trip to visit my mother in her new home on the west coast. I want to wave a magic wand and make this all go away so I can get on an airplane (again) and just go. My absolute fatal flaw is impatience (inherited, ironically, from my mother). I want to skip all the chapters and get to the end of the book and see how this all ends. This is like pushing a rope, it’s frustrating and gets me nowhere closer. Don’t rush.

Feel the feelsThis is not the time for a stiff upper lip. I think of Marita’s analogy of continuing to build up steam. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of steam billowing out of people. The steam shows up as anger, frustration, tears, shutting down and stonewalling. Co-workers crying at work (virtually), managers popping off in knee jerk reactions, and directors passive aggressively ignoring urgent requests. Some of us are releasing the pressure while the rest try to keep it bottled up. Let the pressure go. It doesn’t need to be public but don’t be surprised if it is. I was taking a walk two days ago listening to a podcast and suddenly, there were tears streaming down my face. Marita wrote, “Take the pressure off yourself to be super positive and cheery so that you don’t end up feeling stressed about being stressed or sad about being sad. These emotions are understandable and taking space to honor them will help you to eventually shift them into something else.” Let go of the pressure and feel the feels.

You have permission to just process.  You have a hall pass on your exercise regime, starting your book, clearing out your closet, learning guitar, planting a garden, reading War and Peace, or painting. It’s fine if you do and it’s fine if you don’t. Take time to reflect on this experience and see what is present for you. It’s great to invite others to process as well. Marita suggests asking: “What’s been the most challenging thing for you about working from home?” I’ve tried this out and it can have humorous results from, “I’ll be a big fat drunk by the end of this” to “I had no idea my dog was so neurotic” to interesting insights like, “I like these four walls, I just want four different walls.” I need to give myself permission to be lazy. To process. To let go of expectations and be safe.

A step back.  Marita posited, “Before we innovate and create, we need to take space. If we create space to process reactivity, we can choose to respond differently. Instead of letting fear and worry drive the show, we can step in with the response pattern that will best serve us, and others, in the situation.” For me, this is about slowing down and letting things be. It’s allowing what will happen unfold and to be an observer. I let go of my inclination to be the fixer and to have the broom out in front of the mess before it happens. Taking the space to be curious instead of consumed by anxiety and dread. I wonder what career my daughter will pivot too.  I’m curious if my son will be able to compete in Korea in October. I’m curious if world travel will be as accessible going forward and how will my life change if does. It’s about stepping back and responding with an open mind and heart.

Annie Grace wrote an interesting quote, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay, We’re All Not Okay.” There is that comparative suffering where we feel guilt for not being in worse shape. Not exactly survivor’s remorse but close. It’s ok for me to suffer even as there are those who are suffering as well. Process this time in our lives and try not to skim through as fast as possible. Be present. Be safe. Be here right now.

Memories of My Lake House

This house has been home for over 17 years. My children grew up here. My parents built onto the house. My dog has fought tirelessly against squirrels and honed her fly catching skills (yes…she can catch a fly) in this house. My friends have visited to stand on the deck and take a selfie with the lake as a backdrop. My boyfriend has observed all manner of wildlife with his morning coffee while perched on a deck chair. I have documented and marveled at countless sunrises. It’s been home and the center of my life for seventeen years.

My last sunrise picture from the lake house

My son came home this past weekend to say goodbye to the house. We moved here when he was eight and his sister Natalie when she was ten. Their heights and weights are marked on a closet door. The slow evolution of my son’s height lagging his sister until a growth spurt propelled him ahead. It’s all there. Each penciled line and scrawled date. Years in the making. Time marches on and, so do my children. He is in Miami and she is in Seattle. My father passed away, my mother is on the West Coast. The boyfriend Roy is in Carteret County or as he refers to it: “God’s Country.” All that is left is me and my dog and the move to an apartment about 8 miles away.

Memories of our lake house:

Remodeling

The house was built in 1975 and for almost every minute I have lived here, it’s been in a perpetual state of remodel. When we first moved in the kitchen was completely gutted and I remember trying to feed a family of four with a microwave in the family room, a refrigerator in the dining room and washing dishes in the bathroom sink. I think back now, why the heck didn’t we just eat at McDonald’s every day? There was the porch and carport that eventually became a sunroom and garage. There was the three weeks of summer camp when we decided to surprise the kids by completely remodeling the second-floor bedrooms, bath and all (and yes, I actually painted). The dining room and living room remodel where my dog would not walk across the new floor for weeks (yes…she’s that neurotic). And the addition of the in-law unit and a front porch; my parents moved in six years ago. Finally, the reflooring of the first floor and a brand-new deck across the back of the house. The paint colors have changed, the seventies wood paneling is gone, and popcorn ceilings were scraped off, but the bones are still there. It’s the same steps my kids came down each Christmas morning to see what Santa left.

Games

My fondest memories are of playing games around the kitchen table. My son remembers Tripoly, using macaroni to ante up and dreaming of ending up with a huge pile of macaroni by the end of the evening. I remember playing Uno and prefacing each +2 draw card (a really bad card) with “I love you!” to try and soften the blow. I remember always wanting my Dad on my team for Trivial Pursuit, especially for the history questions and my Mom for all the science questions (Medical Technologists know a bunch of medical and scientific terms). I looked forward to every Christmas break when my college-bound children would come home and play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii. I can hear Natalie laughing and screaming at her brother as he always seemed to be charging ahead and taking advantage of his sister’s good graces. There was also the brief stint of playing with the Wii and having endless sword fights. There is a ton of laughter in these walls.

Boats

I remember when we bought this house and the original owner pointed to the boat slip and said, “You’ll need to get a boat.” Well, sure enough we did. This led to knee boards, beginner skis, wake boards, single skis, and a tube. You name it, we tried it. Benson was amazingly tenacious on an innertube as we tried in vain (most of the time) to kick him off banking the boat on a tight corner. I remember the one and only time I got onto an innertube behind the boat and I could not stop laughing from fear and exhilaration. My poor kids stared from the back of the boat forlorn yelling, “Mommy, are you OK?” I survived. Later there were kayaks and paddle boats. I have truly learned this lake from stem to stern. It’s an amazing eco system that changes from cormorants to martins to mallards in an endless cycle with the ospreys and herons being the only apparent constant. There are a multitude of memories in that lake.

Neighbors

For almost seventeen years we have had the same neighbors. I can remember the original owner, Pat Jones, pointing to the houses and saying, “Well, there’s Fred and Pete across the street and the Nuns next door.” I was a recent transplant from California and I remember thinking: “Wow, a gay couple across the street and catholic nuns next door…pretty progressive.” Of course, this was incorrect, “Pete” was Marilyn’s nick name and the catholic nuns were actually “The Nunns.” Terrific neighbors all. We didn’t need neighborhood watch because I’d get a text or call if anything out of the norm was happening in my yard while I was away at work. The best story that Natalie remembers is that the original owners let us drop the kids off at the top of the driveway to be picked up by the bus at the beginning of the school year (before we moved in). We had instructed the kids not to bother the owners and that we would swing by to pick them up. One time, Natalie desperately had to use the bathroom and she ran across the street to Miss Pete’s house. Natalie asked to use the bathroom and, of course, Miss Pete obliged. This started a family friendship that led to many shared gatherings and Thanksgivings together.

This week has been a week of lasts. The last loaf of bread baked in the oven. The last sunrise photo posted on Facebook. The last evening watching a lone Great Blue Heron pacing the lake bank searching for a fish. The last cup of coffee. The last shower. The last walk through the neighborhood. The last post written from my chair looking out at the lake. As Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Goodbye, Sweet House – thank you for the memories.

Avoiding the Second Arrow

This is a repost from before COVID-19 and the passing of my father. It still resonates for me and I hope it does for you.

I recently finished Dan Harris’ book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, wherein the concept of the second arrow came up. This Buddhist parable is explained by Phillip Perry: “In the parable of the arrow, sometimes called the second arrow, you picture yourself walking through a forest. Suddenly, you’re hit by an arrow. This causes you great pain. But the archer isn’t done. Can you avoid the second one? That’s the arrow of emotional reaction. Dodge the second by consciously choosing contemplation. It will help you avoid a lot of suffering.” I’ve been struck by second arrows my whole life. Wow. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid all that suffering?

Here are some ideas on how to avoid that second arrow:

Own it

The first is to realize that it is within you to control the second arrow. You never need to even release the bow. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of should-haves and could-haves. I think of my friend Angie who experienced a horrific car accident several months back. I can imagine that if it was me, I would have beat myself up for not leaving 5 minutes earlier, or working from home that day, or driving in the right lane instead of the left. Acceptance that something bad has happened and not trying to recreate history is the first step. I think of regrets about my now two ex-husbands, all the what if I had never married them? I would, of course, be living in Paris right now writing poetry and living next to the Seine. These day dreams are merely fantasy and have no reality. Getting caught up in the pain of regret is something you can control. Own it and accept it.

Blame Game

The second arrow shows up as self-recrimination for most of us. Our self-talk is far worse than anyone would ever say to your face. What are you telling yourself? I get on the scale and beat myself up for that brownie yesterday and only walking one mile. Can you imagine telling your child, your friend, your co-worker, heck even your enemy, the same thing? “Hey fatso, why did you have the brownie yesterday and only walk a mile?” I didn’t think so. Stop blaming yourself for everything that befalls you. This suffering is not helping you in anyway. It’s not going to change the trajectory you are on. Beating yourself up for losing your job, getting a divorce or losing money on Bitcoin isn’t going to change a thing and it will engulf you in suffering. Get off of the blame game.

Contemplation

There are many ways to get to contemplation. I like the fact that Dan Harris espouses that even one minute of meditation can be helpful. Most people are so afraid they won’t achieve perfection with meditation, yoga, or prayer; that they give up before they even start. There is an expectation that you will be able to empty your mind and sit peacefully for hours without a care in the world. That is unreasonable. That is perfection. I’ve been meditating for years and my head has yet to be empty of thought. So why do it? Because I have been able to control my response. I can discern. When I endure pain of the first arrow, I can respond instead of reacting. Contemplation brings discernment.

Feel the feels

I have learned this in coaching. We need to feel the feeling. We must experience it. Essentially, we must feel the pain of that first arrow fully. Name it (such as rejection, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.). Experience it fully (such as tightness in my throat, tension in my shoulders, upset stomach, etc.). Don’t numb it out (such as online shopping, drinking, gaming, etc.) or hope it goes away. Phone or grab coffee with a friend. Reflect on the emotion with someone you trust. When you try to go around the feeling, that second arrow takes over. The suffering takes over as you try and escape from the pain of the first arrow. You must go through and feel the feels, instead of trying to go around.

Gratitude

I wrote about my father’s recent medical issues and how he feels so fortunate because he is not as bad off as others. He told me to be grateful that I am in good health. This is the same take away from my friend Angie and her car crash that could have (and was so drastic, it should have) killed her. She is focused on the other driver and grateful that she was not in ICU. Counting your blessings helps you be grateful for what you have instead of looking and comparing what you don’t have (the second arrow). I might want a new car with Bluetooth and defrosting rearview mirrors, but I am grateful for not having a car payment and that my car is running just fine. I don’t need to suffer from the comparison I make with my co-worker and their brand-new ride. Gratitude stops the second arrow from launching.

The second arrow is a choice. I don’t have to experience the second arrow. Realizing that helps diminish the worry and catastrophizing, as I would have done years ago. I’m not perfect and I have been guilty of jumping ahead towards suffering, but it has subsided over time. How can you avoid the second arrow?

Traveling Up Mount Washington

This is a repost from last year before COVID-19, when my boyfriend was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Enjoy.

I spent almost every summer of my childhood in New Hampshire. I can see now how fortunate I was to be either near Lake Winnipesaukee or Dan Hole Pond for much of the summer, rather than in the heat and humidity of Wilmington, Delaware. My father was a schoolteacher and had the summers off to work at Camp DeWitt, which gave my family the opportunity to sail, hike, canoe or swim for endless hours. Mount Washington sits proudly at 6,288 feet in the Presidential Range (various mountains are named after presidents) of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I remember it was always a great landmark, much like the Empire State Building is in Manhattan. I would gauge where I was in relation to Mount Washington. Until a few weeks ago, I had never been on top of that mythical mountain.

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Me on top of Mount Washington and all those rocks!

If you spend most of your childhood summering in New Hampshire, you would figure you would have been to the top of that mountain at least once. The issue is getting to the top of the mountain with the time and money you have allotted to spend.

Here are the various ways up Mount Washington:

Hiking

My boyfriend Roy hiked up Mount Washington on Labor Day weekend while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. When thru-hiking, one must either put up a tent in an authorized spot, like Madison Hut or stay in a hut operated by the AMC, which can cost upwards of $120 (but includes a bunk, dinner and breakfast). One can hike up from the town of Gorham along Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which is 7.9 miles long, up 4,000 feet and is indicated as “strenuous” in all hiking guides. It is referred to as the “rock pile” and takes 8 or more hours to hike. Then, once on top of the mountain (if you manage getting there), you must descend the mountain. Hiking the mountain is only recommended for experienced hikers. Mount Washington has had 137 fatalities since 1849 and it also has some of the most dangerous weather on record. Having supported Roy on his thru-hike, I can tell you that the wind speed, weather and wind gusts varied greatly from hour to hour and elevation to elevation. It has the highest wind velocity ever recorded at any surface weather station at 231 miles an hour. Based on all these stats and my current level of hiking skill, I chose not to hike up Mount Washington. I am in awe of those, like Roy, who have accomplished such a feat.

Railway

Before Roy left on his thru-hike, I imagined meeting up with him, hiking up Mount Washington, and taking the Cog Railway back down. I imagined it. Once the reality of how strenuousness the hike would be set in over the months leading up, I realized what a technical hike it would be scrambling over rocks where every footstep could result in a twisted ankle. The Mount Washington Cog Railway opened in 1868 and travels up to the top of the mountain via cogs, not rails.

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Cog Railway on top of Mount Washington

It’s three hours round trip and is remarkable because the engine is in the back of the train as it pushes the single car (with the aid of cogs) to the top of the mountain. The Appalachian Trail goes over the rack and pinion railway as it meanders through the White Mountains. It is the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of 25% and a maximum of 37.5% (!!!). I ended up not taking the railway but it’s still on my bucket list.

Auto Tour

The road to the top of Mount Washington has been open since 1861. It is a 7.6 miles toll road that has always been privately owned and the road climbs 4,618 feet. When I picked up Roy as he ended his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to take the opportunity to go up Mount Washington while I was in New Hampshire. I figured I would drive up the road but, luckily, Roy suggested getting a van tour up the road. The vans that drive up and down the auto road offer rides to thru-hikers, and Roy had taken one of the rides a week or so earlier. He said that the tour was informative and interesting; that if we drove our own car, we would miss some interesting facts. Was I glad we took the tour! It was interesting but as my dad would say, “there was some hairy driving” on the way up the mountain.

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Roy next to the Appalachian Trail and one of the many cairns.

It is scenic and we had a beautiful cloudless day. This only happens about 40 days out of the year on Mount Washington. But hairpin turns above the tree line? Absolutely terrifying. I was squirming as we passed descending cars on the outside lane as the driver pointed out the sights and I prayed with each gesture that he would leave both hands on the wheel. The only ride I can think of that was more terrifying was a bus ride driving up to Machu Picchu. The view at the top? Tremendous. We were so fortunate that we went up on a cloudless day. There were the cairns to mark the Appalachian Trail, the cafeteria and museum to see the back packers and other tourists who took the far easier way to the top. If you have a choice and suffer any acrophobia, be sure to take the van instead of driving yourself.

I’m pretty sure that at least one of my brothers have submitted Mount Washington but I called my mom to confirm if I had been to the top of the mountain before. It was interesting my mom reflected: “Paying to drive to the top of a mountain is not a very Noice thing to do”. There is a reason my parents scrimped and saved and, therefore did not spend money to drive up a mountain, it was to send my brother and me to Ivy League schools. Odds are, it was my first time on top of that mountain. And the views from the top confirm that belief as I know I would have remembered those rock-covered mountains and deep-forbidding notches.

The Benefits of Living on a Lake

I have lived in my lakeside home for longer than any other place in my life. Seventeen years of watching the sunrise and the Canadian geese flying by in formation, headed to parts unknown. The fishermen floating by on Jon boats at 7 AM, a flotilla of ducks stopping by for an afternoon siesta and my beloved Great Blue Heron and its signature squawk as it leaps off its favorite tree branch and awkwardly manages to take to the sky. I imagine that it is the quarantine that has made me keenly aware of all the goings on out here by the lake. Day in and day out, I work from my chair with my laptop and gaze out my window to see what might float, swim, slither or fly by.

Sunrise from my lakeside home.

This is the first lake house I have lived in. It’s something I always aspired to own as my Uncle Jim had owned a house on a lake when I was a small child. And I had my summers at camp on Lake Winnipesaukee. The water has always been a draw for me. After all these years, I have a new appreciation for the lake and its ever-changing canvas as I step forward to moving on and downsizing my life.

The benefits of living on a lake:

Well-being

I have always sought out a body of water. I can remember my family’s annual pilgrimage to Camp DeWitt in New Hampshire; we made a game of being the first to catch a glimpse of Lake Winnipesaukee. I remember driving to Rehoboth Beach with high school friends in Delaware and wanting to be the first to stick my foot in the water. As written in Get Your Lake On, “Simply seeing a natural body of water can have a positive effect on your outlook. The beauty of water evokes a sense of awe that has been linked to an increase in positive feelings as well as satisfaction with life. This boost in mood can even produce stronger feelings of love and generosity.” Even in this time of COVID and having to stick close to home, I feel good. It’s the antidote to the uncertainty of “if and when” this will end. The lake is the center of well-being.

The Air

The air alone makes you feel better. As written in Lake Living Guide, “Research has shown that the air near a lake or sea is charged with negative ions. Although the ions are negative, they have a positive effect on your body. These ions work to balance the serotonin levels in your body. Serotonin is a chemical that is associated with mood and stress. This is why you feel a release of tension when at the lake. The ions also help your body absorb oxygen. Increased oxygen in your body improves alertness and also combats free radicals. Free radicals are organic molecules that are responsible for aging and tissue damage. In a nutshell, living by water can help you live longer.” This accounts for why my boyfriend Roy always takes his coffee outside on the deck next to the water. The lake is rejuvenating.

The Sights

Every day is a new canvas. The water is the canvas, the wind its brush strokes. There are days with white caps, there are days of complete and utter stillness when the sky reflects on the water like a mirror, there are tiny microbursts that dance across the lake. It is constantly changing. Schools of minnows swarming below the surface, turtles peeking out, the swifts who nest in my drain pipe every year and dart in and out, the Egrets that showed up for about a week and then moved on, the double-crested cormorants who congregate in mass in the Spring just off shore, the damn squirrel who will not leave my bird feeder alone and terrorizes my dog, the twenty story cumulus clouds that accompany a thunderstorm, and the startling glimpse of an Anhinga fishing in the middle of the lake with its long snake like neck never to be seen again. The dragonflies, wasps, butterflies, mosquitoes and buzzing hummingbirds fighting over two different feeders. The lake is an ever changing canvas that keeps me enthralled.

The Sounds

When I first moved here, I was struck by how quiet it was, especially at night. Part of the silence is due to my house being in the country but the lake occupies most of the space in the area. So, it’s mostly natural sounds at night. Yes, there is the jet ski or speed boat on a summer Saturday afternoon, but for the most part the rest is all nature. As written in Lake Living Guide, “Flowing water’s soothing sounds are often used in meditation, and we know that meditation is a renowned relaxation method. Moving water is likened to “white noise,” in which individuals may hear a different song. I know from experience how the soothing sound of water can give you an extraordinarily restful sleep.” I wake up to the honking of geese, the squawk of a heron or the coo of a dove and sound of waves crashing next to the sea wall. It is peaceful and centering. The lake lulls me into nature.

It is an idyllic place to have to isolate in. How fortunate I have been to enjoy this lake front home as the pandemic ebbs and flows. A place to be centered and relaxed while keeping the edge off the uncertainty. My wish is that this home finds its next family to enjoy its immeasurable benefits and make wondrous memories.

Enjoy Life in the Present

I posted this a year ago pre-COVID. It still resonates with me:

That sounds so easy. To be present in the moment, to not be dragging up the past or calculating the future. To be here right now. I have to say that this is much easier when you see it in someone else. A good friend and I reconnected in the last six months. It was a painful story of divorce, the “other woman” and too much alcohol. It seemed like a mirror that the universe had planned for me. It was my life on replay from two years ago. I can feel her pain, her uncertainty and her search for something concrete to land on. Her grasping for hope and certainty. It is the searching and grasping that causes all the frustration. It’s like being in the deep end of pool and not being able to find your footing. All she really has to do is grab the edge of the pool.

This is what Pema Chodron calls Shenpa. The urge. The trigger. The frantic grasping and spinning up all that is unpleasant. I think we can all go down that road. I bet it’s easier to rattle off everything that is wrong with your life rather than everything that’s right. If you really think about it, the list of all that is right is a LOT longer than what is wrong. It’s that we just focus on what is wrong and then dwell on it for minutes, hours, days and weeks. He left me. He left me. He left me. Which turns into I am unworthy. I am unworthy. I am unworthy. The secret to it all is to come back to the present. It doesn’t happen overnight. Heck, it doesn’t happen in a month. But I am here to tell you, it happens when you come back to yourself and be present right now.

Here is how to enjoy the present:

Perfection

Let go of it. Perfection, that is. It can’t be 75 clear and sunny every day of the year. Your hair won’t be perfect. Your weight. Your run. Your project. Your blog post. Your spelling. Your grammar. Your lunch. Your left knee. The moment doesn’t need to be perfect to be in it. The lighting, the temperature, the sound, the chair, the body, the thoughts, are all as they should be. Right now. Nothing needs to change to be able to be present. As my boyfriend Roy has said while he’s currently hiking the Appalachian Trail for over 2,000 miles: “Embrace the Suck.” It will rain. It will be too hot. It will be too cold. It’s all just window dressing on the moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect to enjoy the present.

Enough

This moment right now is enough. No more, no less. As Lori Deschene wrote for Uplift, “It’s true—tomorrow may not look the same as today, no matter how much you try to control it. A relationship might end. You might have to move. You’ll deal with those moments when they come. All you need right now is to appreciate and enjoy what you have.” Odds are the good far outweigh the bad even when you feel it’s all falling apart. There is more than enough right now in the present moment.

Complete

You and I are complete right now. A relationship, a car, a dog, a family member, a degree, a house — none of them define you. You are fluid. As Deschene wrote, “Define yourself in terms that can withstand change. Defining yourself by possessions, roles, and relationships breeds attachment, because loss entails losing not just what you have, but also who you are.” You are complete right not regardless of the promotion, the partner, or the trip to Aruba. When you are complete and acknowledge it, you can enjoy the present.

Friend

Be your own best friend. I think of the year after my husband left. I spent a lot of time just finding me. I had spent a lot of time and energy wrapped up in what made him happy rather than my own happiness. I needed to be my own best friend and to treat myself as my own best friend. I learned that I didn’t need to have company to be present and enjoy the moment right now. As Deschene wrote, “It will be harder to let people go when necessary if you depend on them for your sense of worth. Believe you’re worthy whether someone else tells you or not. This way, you relate to people, not just how they make you feel about yourself.” Be your own best friend to be present.

Now

In the year after he left, I kept shoulding myself. I should have left earlier, I should have tried harder, I should have known, I should have married David instead. All that “shoulding” kept me in the past, instead of the present. I have to say that getting sober makes now a lot clearer without any haze. Go for a walk. Call your mom. Send a text to your son. Sign up for a class. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Let go of the past and be here right now. Make it count.

Through

Pain, fear and love: they must all be experienced. We can’t numb it out and try and circumvent it. Well we can, but it just makes it linger and hurt a lot more. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the joy. Where do you feel it? The pit of your stomach; the tightness in your shoulders; the base of your throat. I have spent a lot of my life trying to escape feelings, to dampen it down, to be the dispassionate professional, while also being the rock-solid mother, daughter and wife. All of this avoidance just prolonged the pain. Be a human and feel the feels. Feel the present moment by going through instead of around.

My coach Tammi Wheeler recommended a book called Transitions by William Bridges when I was first separated. He talks about three stages of transition: endings, the neutral zone and the new beginning. I feel like I was in the neutral zone for practically eighteen months. I could not find my footing and I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I see my friend in this neutral zone as she navigates her new normal. The secret for me was to enjoy life right now in the present moment, neutral zone or not. What stops you from being in the present moment?

The Best Way Out is Always Through

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost.

This seems counter intuitive. Why go through if there is a faster, seemingly easier way around? Why not just avoid the gnarly, ugly problem, conflict, or ordeal? How about just escape? Perhaps just numb out? I am an expert at all of these attempts at avoidance and procrastination.  I have tried them all with little success. Like right now, I do not want to write. I’m forcing myself to “go through” as I want to get this written and…”it’s not going to write itself.” It is not that the writing is painful. It is the reliving of the grief, betrayal and suffering I’ve experienced that feels like picking at a scab. I reflect back on the last four years and it’s amazing how far I have come, but it was not easy and I can assure you that I “went through.” The hurricane, the end of a marriage, the decline and death of my beloved father, and the endless, costly fight over property with my ex. At every milestone, there always seems like there was one more hurdle.

I am not a professional at grief and betrayal, but I have learned a few things along the way. I am resilient and much more aware of what is important to me than I was a decade ago. Here are few things I have learned about getting out by going through:

Feel the feels

If I have learned anything, it is to feel the feels. I stuffed, drowned, ignored, and glossed over my feelings for most of my adult life. I was a temper tantrum adolescent. I can remember vividly stomping up the stairs in my childhood house and slamming the door when my parents either grounded or forbade me from some (at the time) life-altering excursion (say roller skating or going to an R-rated movie). I was, to say the least, a bit melodramatic. At some point, most likely in college, I found other ways to disregard my discontent. I numbed it instead of feeling it. Got dumped? Pour a glass of wine. Failed an exam? Bloody Mary’s with Julie. Parking ticket? Pitchers with the gang. To feel the feels is to acknowledge the feeling and pay attention. Accept the onset of what is going on in your body and feel it. Seems strange that I needed to learn this. As an infant, I’m sure if I was hungry, lonely or wet, I cried. I spent the next twenty years trying to ignore or avoid whatever ailed me. I let the heat rise in my neck, my stomach turn, the tension mount in my shoulders, I let it in. To go through, you must feel it.

Label it

This has been the most important learning for me. It is to not only feel the discomfort but to label it. It is the same as labeling thoughts while trying to meditate. By acknowledging and labeling the thought, it is easier to let it go. Name it and let it rise. I remember vividly being angry at my ex’s betrayal. I labeled it “betrayal”. So, this is what betrayal feels like: tight stomach, clenched shoulders, tears running down my face. It helped me be with the feeling but announcing it to myself as “betrayal” somehow let me observe myself.  So allow the pain and it will dissipate. The loss of my father and labeling it “grief” as I felt the heat on my face, the tears streaming and the shuddering of sobs. This is what “grief” feels like. It turns me into the omniscient observer as I watch the feelings rise and lift away once labeled. Going through you must label the path.

No judgement

This is the heart of it all to me. If I feel it, I will judge it and then hold on tight. The key is to not allow judgment in. People grieve. People get angry. People cry. All of us, if we let it, experience feelings. I can think, why is a 50 something grown ass woman crying for her Daddy or I can think, it’s completely natural to grieve. I have found that when I allow the feelings to rise and don’t try to hid it from the daylight, it passes more easily. It’s when I try to bury it, blink away the tears and stuff the feeling down so that I won’t be judged a cry baby that it lingers, sometimes for years or decades. August Gold wrote, “To enter the conversation with Life we only have to change one key word: We have to stop asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and start asking, ‘Why is this happening for me?’ When we can do this, we’re free.” Going through is accepting each twist in the path and seeing the gift in it.

Getting sober over three years ago was a game changer. Everything is available with clean edges. No longer muted by Chardonnay or Gin. Somehow numbing out only increased and prolonged the suffering. I feel an empty vessel that permits it in, acknowledge it and then softly, setting it free. The best way out is always through.

How to Accept Positive Feedback

I have been working with a development team as a scrum master for over two years. A few members have changed in that time but for the last six months it has been an intact team. We just did a Sprint Retrospective after a product launch that took about 6 months to deploy. It was a successful launch. I facilitate a retrospective for the team to acknowledge one another for strengths they brought to the launch. I had sent everyone on the team a deck of “At My Best” cards which had 48 cards with words on one side and a photo on the opposite side for my participants to use. I have used these cards several times in what is called “Quick-fire feedback”. I select one team member and ask everyone else to select a card that represents the strength that person brought to the team in the last six months. I then ask everyone to show their card one at a time and explain why they selected it. The outcome of this exercise is always surprising and heartwarming, but it is definitely uncomfortable for the person receiving the feedback.

Most of this team had done this exercise before either in person or in a conference room. They had never done this exercise via video but it was remarkable because the first receiver of the feedback, we’ll call them Mary, had put on a pair of sunglasses when the feedback started. This started a trend that, as each person was selected to receive feedback, they either put on sunglasses or turned off their video or, in one case, covered their eyes with playing cards propped in their glasses. I found this to be so remarkable that if we didn’t “see” the person giving the feedback, it would be easier. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to be seen themselves. This prompted me to think about how to accept positive feedback and what follows are some of my suggestions.

How to accept positive feedback:

Thank you

One of the participants, Bob, loves feedback. Good or bad. Constructive or blunt. I noticed that he would say “thanks” after each teammate gave him his positive feedback. He didn’t wear sunglasses, he didn’t hide behind the screen, didn’t cross his arms, he just simply said: “Thanks.” I find that several of my coachees in the past have had a hard time taking a compliment.  So, if I said, “I love that blouse on you,” Suzy would respond with, “This old thing? I got it on sale ten years ago.” This negates the compliment and makes me feel like I’m incorrect or have bad taste. I’m wary to give more positive feedback to Suzy going forward. As Jacqueline Whitmore wrote for Entrepreneur, “Any time you receive a compliment, reply with ‘Thank you.’ It’s a simple, but powerful phrase. The person bestowing the compliment will be most receptive to a humble response.”  It’s simple and straight forward and, in the end, calls less attention to the receiver without diminishing the positive feedback.

Credit

This entire exercise was about sharing credit for the product launch. Even as team members received the feedback, they were quick to credit other members for their help as well. If you are the manager of a team that did a great job, it’s so helpful to share the credit with the whole team and it diverts your attention from disclaiming the attention. As Whitmore wrote, “Some powerful executives reach a point where they no longer publicly recognize or give credit to those who helped them succeed. This is the quickest way to lose friends. Instead, share your positive feelings.” Sharing the credit is a great way to bolster others and acknowledge the team’s effort.

Question

If it is appropriate, ask a question. This can be a great way to start a conversation like, “Thanks. I am glad you liked the turnaround time for the project. What timeline do you have for the widget project?” As Katie McLaughlin wrote for Pick Any Two, “This one’s downright practical. When someone gives you kudos, see if you can get them to elaborate a bit; their feedback might be really useful for future endeavors.” It’s also a sign that you are truly listening to the feedback. 

Body language

It interesting that because everyone on that call last week was in their home, they could go run and get a pair a sunglasses. If they had been at work, that option would not have been available. It’s remarkable that many chose to hide behind sunglasses, or crossed their arms or turned off their camera. Trying to disappear from the feedback. And this was all positive feedback! As Whitmore espoused, “If you’re uncomfortable or nervous, your nonverbal cues may give the wrong impression. Don’t cross your arms or appear disinterested. Instead, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward and engage those around you with warm facial expressions. Enjoy your moment of praise.” I will say that my scrum team was having a great time giving the feedback and there was a lot of laughter although many members were clearly uncomfortable receiving the positive feedback. I did sense that the participants would try and be briefer with the feedback if the body language was obvious that they were uncomfortable. 

I have to say that I love this activity and I love that it works with a virtual team so long as they have the cards in hand. I ended the activity with everyone selecting a card to represent what they aspired the team to be going forward with the next product launch. Having closure with the team members receiving feedback about their unique contribution to the outcome is engaging and inspiring. Regardless of the discomfort some folks felt, the bonding and positive focus on strengths was engaging and empowering to the team as a unit and I’m glad I was there to experience it.

Endings. Letting Go of the Anchor.

I have been stuck for about 4 years now. It has likely been more like 10 years. I can blame the dissolution of my marriage on Hurricane Matthew but the downward spiral happened years before. I spent six years putting lipstick on a pig. I ignored the signs of an absent partner and spent my days “being love and light.” I sat on the same couch, I made all his favorite meals, I invited him on my business trips, I tried to shoehorn myself into his heart in all manner of ways hoping we would turn the corner. He left anyway.

The last three and a half years have been spent trying to get free of him financially. At long last, yesterday, I am free. I stood at the mailbox and cried as I held the document that released me. The deed to my home is mine. I am free to do whatever I choose, whenever I want. It goes on the market this weekend. So now is the ending. As William Bridges writes, “Transition starts with an ending. This is paradoxical but true. This first phase of transition begins when people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep. These may include relationships, processes, team members or locations.” So now comes the ending and making these critical decisions of what must stay and what must go.

How to embrace endings and let go of the anchor:

What must go

Clutter is a distraction and weighs me down. I am a huge fan of Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her series on Netflix is inspiring as well. Marie is a joyful, delicate person. She is in tune to the spaces she enters and is incredibly upbeat. She walks people through all their flotsam and asks the simple question, “Does this spark joy?” Or as I like to think of it, “It’s a hell yes or a hell no.” Three years ago, purging my life of all things of and with my ex was easy. Most of it was “hell no.” Now that we have a property division and I am curating my belongs, I am even more brutal about what must go. Now I think it terms of “do I want to pay for this to be moved to the next place?” It was easy to hold onto an old couch or sauté pan if I didn’t have to transport it anywhere else. Now that I would have to move it? It’s a hell no. Ending is letting go of what weighs you down.

What was

I am wrapped up in all the memories in this house. I am wrapped up in all the sunrise pictures I’ve posted on Facebook. I think of all the wild animals that have flown, crawled, slithered and walked their way into my view. I wait patiently every morning for the sunrise and whether it will be more magical than the last. I note the variety of birds that have flown by my lakefront backyard over the last seventeen years. The ospreys, Great Blue Herons, hummingbirds, Egrets, little blue herons, mallards, cardinals, woodpeckers and Bald Eagles. I reminisce and hope they will take one last bow before I leave, but treasure that I was here to experience it at all. There is the closet door that marked my children’s height and weight over ten years. The photos of holidays and celebrations over seventeen years. I am grateful that I experienced it all and so happy to have shared the memories with my children, friends and family. I am so happy that this home has sparked joy and I look forward to another family being able to create their own memories. Endings are about keeping the memories and moving on.

What will be

It was my coach, Tammi Wheeler, who wisely pointed out that I was entering “The Neutral Zone”. This is the uncomfortable place of stepping off a cliff and hoping for a parachute on the way down. Living with the decision that I am leaving this magical place. To be open to the possibilities of what will come. To trust myself that it’s as it should be and I will, as always, land on my feet in an even better place. As Bridges writes, “This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. They are in flux and may feel confusion and distress. The neutral zone is the seedbed for new beginnings.” I am preparing myself for the new patterns and processes. I trust the Stoics’ Amor Fati (love of one’s fate) and keep a curious mind as to what the next adventure will be. Endings create possibility.

As I reflected on this experience with Tammi last week, I said that this house had been an anchor for seventeen years and it was time to let it go. I am excited and apprehensive as I take hold of the tiller of the boat and head out into open waters and new beginnings.

Let Go or Be Dragged

This is a repost from last year when my father was succumbing to congestive heart failure. It feels like a decade ago and, in light of the current pandemic, it’s still applicable.

Let go or be dragged. A profound Zen proverb. My incredibly insightful friend Janine said this to me on the phone a few weeks ago. I was struggling. My father’s health continues to falter in what seems like a ceaseless spiral. My boyfriend Roy commenced his epic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail several weeks ago. A Rotary friend is suffering from ALS. A close friend’s mother passed away. When we talk about Letting Go for many, it is the letting go of the past. Or it is the letting go of regret, pain and rumination. I feel like I need to let go of control. I think back some 25 years ago when I had a leash on a 100-pound Labrador and a 45-pound Siberian Husky, and a dreaded cat showed up in our path. The dogs took off with me behind. I struggled. I tugged. I strained. But upon coming up to an enormous pond of water, I relinquished and let go. I was at the edge of being dragged, so I finally let go.

Lest you be dragged, here are my thoughts on letting go:

  • Clairvoyant.  You and I are not Carnac the Magnificent or The Amazing Kreskin. I was catastrophizing my dad’s recent move to a higher care unit. Oh my goodness, he’ll be alone. He’ll fall and be all by himself. He will think we all abandoned him. I was sure that Roy was going to fall and break something or freeze to death in his tent in the middle of the Smoky Mountains. I decided that my son would never be able to fly back to the United States safely from Nicaragua. Thus far, this is all unfounded. It was all a waste of energy and caused me needless pain. I cannot predict the future. Neither can you. Let it go or be dragged.
  • Path.  Stick to your own path and I’ll stick to mine. On the Appalachian Trail, this is called Hike Your Own Hike. Do you want to sleep under a tarp, in a shelter, in a hammock or a tent? It’s your choice. It’s your path. Don’t worry about someone else’s path. If Roy wants to hike through the rain, stop in a local town for a day, or muscle through a fifteen-mile day, it’s his hike either way. His path. My willing him forward will not change the path he is on. There was one day last week where I could see a rain cloud sitting over the mountains where Roy was hiking. I had the misguided belief that if I kept refreshing the radar, that the rain would move. It didn’t. Let go or be dragged.
  • Reframe.  I have several pictures that my children drew or painted some ten plus years ago. They were nice, but unframed. Pieces of paper with chalk and paint. Then I framed them all. They were much improved. And all it took was a new frame. I thought about this when my father was in the middle of his move to the assisted living section. I recalled how happy he was when he was hospitalized a few months earlier. He enjoyed the food, no commitments and being cared for. I put that frame around his move. I figured he’ll actually be more comfortable and the tension on my parents’ relationship will ease. Sure enough, that is what happened. Look at your struggle in a different light. Let go or be dragged.
  • Connect.  I was initially ashamed of my suffering. This changed dramatically when I connected with others. This might be a therapist, a coach, family or a friend. It’s incredibly powerful to have someone reflect back on your pain or struggle. That someone to hold a safe space to “feel the feels.” You are not alone. There is someone out there who wants to listen, pick up the phone or send a text or make an appointment. I am fortunate to have many people in my life including friends, family, and a coach. It’s amazing to connect with many people. My son, Benson doesn’t sugar coat, my daughter, Natalie holds a safe space, my friend Janine is a gentle, virtual hug and Roy provides an invaluable perspective from a caregiver’s stance. There are countless others. Connect with your network, it’s bigger than you think. Let go or be dragged.
  • Control.  It is truly amazing what little control we have in life. Who knew I couldn’t control the weather over the Appalachians or my dad’s failing health? The only person I can control is myself. My response. Heck, I can’t even control my body to a great degree. This is the Dichotomy of Control as written by the stoic Epictetus: “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” This feels like the precursor of the Serenity Prayer. It takes me back to the dogs pulling me perilously toward that pond. I could not control them. It was outside my power. Let go or be dragged.

Frequently, while being dragged, the scars that appear on the inside are not apparent, even with scrapped knees and soaked clothes. Oh, the weight of worry that we carry around. The preoccupation with predicting the outcome. When we let go, we can notice that we are alright, right now. What’s dragging you around?