Category Archives: Thursday Truth

Thursday Truth: The Secret to Happiness

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words to live by- meme by Charlotte Porter

words to live by

My favorite teacher of all time was my English teacher my senior year of high school.  Ms. Lee.

She was strict and had very high standards, but she also had a patient, soft side.

When I was in the throes of deep teenage angst over the end of my first relationship, she sat with me for many hours, talked to me with genuine interest and compassion.  Something about her suggested that maybe she too had a tortured side, and this was how she could understand without any judgement.

She was quirky and a little mysterious and paid me compliments for random attributes like my knees and eyebrows.

Her presence in my life made me feel worthwhile, intelligent, beautiful, and like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

She took time with me that no one else did.  I had a very small social circle at the time, and felt alone.  I had a tendency to shut down and isolate, but Ms. Lee helped me feel connected and conscious.

I kept in touch with her for a while after graduation, through letters and the occasional tea.  As so often is the case, we lost contact with one another.  A few years back, I tried to search for her on the internet, and also by calling my former high school.  I never found her.  It has crossed my mind that she would be elderly now or possibly no longer on the planet.

One thing I learned from my high school English teacher, Ms. Lee, was the secret to happiness.

Ms. Lee had a banner up across one of the walls of her classroom.  It was printed out on one of those dot-matrix printers that now seem so old timey.  In grey pixilated letters, it read:  The secret to happiness is having something to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.  

Over the years, these words have rung true time and time again.  Note that they do not say “someone” to love or look forward to.  They encourage self reliance and self esteem.  They encourage a person to develop a strong sense of self, to connect with inner strength and confidence.

Over the years, that “something” might change.  It has for me.  In high school and college, it was dance.  Then, in my twenties, I went for a time when I didn’t have a “something” and sort of floundered in depression and weirdness.  Grad school and social work definitely gave me something to love, do and look forward to.

And these days, I have my children and family.

I remember a moment so long ago when I thanked her for her kindness.

“Along the way, people have been kind to me, and this is my way of returning the favor.”

In other words, she was “paying it forward” nearly two decades before that saying was en vogue.

I think of her words often.  I like to think that in some way I am repaying her when I sit with my clients.  Many times I repeat her secret of happiness to them, and think fondly on Ms. Lee.

What do you think are the secrets to happiness?  

Ps, I made the meme at the top myself–  my very first!

Thursday Truth– Put That Woman Down

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It has been a couple of weeks since I wrote a Thursday Truth piece for my blog. I’ve been stressed, and you probably all know that stress is the stuff of which Bloggers’ Block is made.

I did post last Thursday about my rampant anxiety.

After I wrote that post, my husband and I watched a couple episodes of Fringe on Netflix. We are obsessed with this show, and despite its dark and twisty themes, it is a nice way for us to sit and decompress after the day.

The show ended and I told him about the exchange between my acquaintances where the best they had to say about someone was, “she wasn’t really that much of an asshole.” I wondered aloud to my husband if that was the way that people talked about me behind my back.

“Well, if that is the way they talk about people, then that is their problem,” he stated, in his typical concise manner.

“Yeah, but I don’t understand why people have to be so judgey and mean,” I replied.

“You need to put that woman down,” he said.

“Huh?”

“I was just telling Jack the story about the two monks who have a fight. A few hours later, one of the monks is still angry at the other monk. The other monk says, ‘Oh, you’re still carrying around that woman? I put her down an hour ago.'”20130704-074107.jpg

It seemed awfully simple. I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. I laid there chanting Om Shanti, and doing some Reiki on myself. My solar plexus and heart were particularly hot as I moved my hands over my torso. I still couldn’t sleep, so I got up.

My husband was folding a basket of laundry in the living room. Squinting in the sudden light, I asked if I could have a hug. He gave me one and then I went back to bed. I slept, although not that well. My weird, anxious funk persisted for another 36 hours, and then it stopped.

During those 36 hours, I chanted, forced myself to smile, and did my affirmations.  I am a good person. I am a nice friend. I am loving and kind and thoughtful. I am smart and dedicated. I am worthy of respect and compassion.

Through my affirmations I was able to put that woman down. Carrying that burden was tiring and uncomfortable, but putting it down seemed a Herculean task.

It makes me wonder, why is it so hard to put the woman down?  What makes us hold on to despair and difficulty and drama with such force?

Meh…  I’m in a decent space right now, so I don’t want to think into it too deep.  If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment on it!

I am feeling heaps lighter this week, and I hope you are all doing well too.

Happy Fourth of July, and Momaste ya’all!

Thursday Truth– Sleep

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The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying:  “Sleep is the best meditation.”

I could not agree more.

This week has been insane in the membrane, insane in the brain!  Poor, dear Jack has had a stomach bug that turned into a intestinal issue and has plagued our home with late nights, loads of laundry, and random runs to the pharmacy to purchase anti-emetics, anti-diarreahals, and gatorade.  Pleading contests to get him to drink sips of ANYTHING have ensued as he was dehydrating and, truth be told, I really did not want to have to pay the hefty co-pay to bring him to the ER and have him hydrated.

“Well,” my husband said, “If it is a matter of life and death. . .  we shouldn’t think about our deductible.”

“It’s not a matter of life and death!”  I snapped.  “It’s a matter of he needs to drink some goddamn juice!”

Sigh.  I’m tired.

As you can imagine, it has left very little room for time to myself, other than when I am asleep.

OMG, I just want to sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep right now.  Unfortunately, for me these days, anything past 6:00 a.m. is basically considered “sleeping in”.  Emily is quite the early bird.

And I hope that my desire for sleep is not an indication that I am getting sick.

I think it is really just my need to get some rest and be with my own subconscious and no one else.  Although some of my dreams have been pretty funky lately.  The other night I had a dream that a client came in to see me in my office after drinking bleach.  She then proceeded to whip out a bottle of whiskey and swig from it while trying to light my office on fire.

It is not often that I dream about work.  And I don’t really interpret my dreams.  The Dalai Lama was also quoted as saying something to the effect of “If we spend so much time interpreting our dreams, there would be no time left for dreaming.”  I read something like that in a Dalai Lama calendar once, and I can’t remember the exact quote, but I took it to mean, be here now, don’t worry so much about figuring out every detail about your dreams.  It’s all good.

Meh.  I’ve never really been a fan of dream interpretation anyway.  What I do know is that when I start dreaming about work it means that I am tired and overwhelmed and working too hard, even in my sleep.

So, this rambling stream-of-conscienceness post is basically saying, good-night and sweet dreams.  I’m going to go to bed a little early tonight and, er, meditate.

Momaste and big love, ya’all!!

Thursday Truth– “Fix it with a hug!”

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20130606-135210.jpgThere are many things I have done differently as a mother with Emily than I did with Jack. Part of this is because the second time around, I am a more seasoned, educated, and confident mother.

Another part of this is because the two of them just have such totally different personalities.

Emily is an easy-going baby, but we expected that she would have her developmentally appropriate “moments”. Around 14 months, she started to assert some of her toddler independence. She had started walking, and seemed to know where she wanted to go and what she wanted to accomplish. Some of her desires were contrary to what I, as a loving and protective mother, was going to let her do.  For example, No, Emily, you can not run straight into the ocean in the middle of March.  

And just like that, we switched from Placid-Baby-Mode into Toddler-Mode.

When I needed to guide or deter my little yearling, I was met with growls, scowls, and tears.

So, I started doing this goofy thing. I would scoop her up, hold her to my chest and say, “Fix it with a hug!”

To my surprise, she accepted this with open arms.

Pun intended.

We have done it so consistently that now, at almost 19 months, when she gets frustrated or angry she will come to us and nuzzle up against our leg or put her arms up to be embraced. And after a quick hug she gets on with her life.

There have even been times when I pick her up to put an end to her monkey-business and she will start to yell and swat at me with angry little paws, only to then melt into my arms and hug me.

I so wish I had started this when Jack was little. Poor Jack! As a first time mom, I tried so hard to do everything perfectly with him. In my zeal to be the perfect parent, with the perfect child, I was rigid and really struggled with him. Gosh darn that background in behaviorism!  Sometimes life is more than antecedent, behavior, consequence.  Yes it is.

Oh, if only I could go back and be more accepting!

The biggest difference between Me-as-a-mom-with-Jack and Me-as-a-mom-with-Emily, is my acceptance.

Before Emily was born, I did a lot of reading on the benefits of Baby-Wearing. I learned that in countries where babies are consistently worn in a pack on the mom (think papoose), there is considerably less colic and “witching hour” behavior. So, I went out and spent a small fortune buying a top of the line baby carrier.

I made a conscious choice that I would radically accept that Emily would need and want to be held and nursed 24/7– something I really fought and resisted with Jack.

When Emily was born, into the pack she went like a baby kangaroo. I wore her doing dishes, sweeping the floor, watching TV. I also wore her during shopping expeditions or on walks when she could have been in a stroller.

Maybe this was my very beginning of “fixing” with a hug or sorts.

I have a lot of mommy-guilt that I didn’t do this with Jack.  I remember trying to put him down and he would scream his head off.  I would think, Why won’t he just sit there and shut up like a NORMAL baby?  I’ve got to do the laundry!!

Turns out he was a totally “normal” baby.  I was just not in the know on a baby’s need for constant contact with their mother.

I don’t know if it was all the wearing, but we had a lot less fussiness with Em than with our poor Jack who was colicky, had reflux, and was just generally tempermental. As she has grown, she has been delightfully easy to redirect with hugs.

I’ve tried a similar technique with Jack, where I hug or love on him when he is having a bad time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. Sometimes he is being so ugly that it is really hard to bring myself to hug him. But when I offer to hold him on my lap, stroke his hair and cuddle him, it does seem to deescalate things more quickly than standing over him and offering consequences for his nasty behavior. It seems that in some way, accepting Emily has allowed me to have an easier time accepting Jack for where he is at and who he is.

When I was a dancer, I had a professor who would tell us, “Don’t muscle it and just breathe!” when we were trying to stick a move or turn. In other words, if you don’t hold on so hard and just let your body go, you will find the right move by using a lot less effort.

With Jack, I was all muscle. And with Em, I have let go.

I’m trying really hard to work my way back around to my darling Jack now that I am out of the throes of cluster feeding, nursing trauma, and sleep deprivation.

I think that fixing it with a hug pertains to other areas of life too, where I need to practice a little more breath and a little less muscle.

As a mom, I have done an awful lot of fumbling around. With Jack, I thought if I was super-consistent and quick to discipline that he would turn out great. I think I might have just challenged his strong will, or made him more anxious. Who knows for sure? So, I am pretty proud of “Fix it with a hug.” It works in such a simple, graceful, loving way.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Thursday Truth- Self Acceptance

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“Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”

–Pema Chodron

Kwan-Yin, the bodisattva of compassion

Kwan-Yin, the bodisattva of compassion

It seems like every other Facebook status I read is about someone’s fad diet or insane exercise regimen.  Paleo diets where all you eat is bacon fried bacon.  Crossfit exercise sessions where you do sit ups until you vomit.  So many people seem desperate to shed pounds and are willing to do anything to meet their weight loss goal.

I can’t help but wonder, why?  Are we giving too much weight to weight-loss?  Is it really about health and fitness or some bizarre obsessive compulsion?

I realize I am over-simplifying both Paleo and Crossfit, and if you are participants in either of these and take offense to my scrutiny, I apologize.  If you are happy, I am happy.  But, damn!  I am sick of hearing about  shake diets, juice fasts, cleanses, epic bowel movements, and the like.

Since I gave birth to Emily, I have been working away quietly on my weight loss.

I am proud to say I lost 15 pounds in the past five months doing nothing other than eating mindfully and trying to stay moderately active.

Dairy, carbs, and the occasional greasy fry are still things I enjoy in moderation.

Sure, I am still probably 30 pounds overweight by conventional standards, but I am strong, healthy, and my vitals are beyond reproach.  More importantly, I am more at peace with myself where I am right now in this  moment than I ever have been in my life.

I could easily slip into berating myself for not being “swim-suit ready” or having a six pack.  But when I really think about it, these are not even close to being my goals or priorities right now.

It is not something about which I talk frequently, but when I was in my teens and twenties, I struggled with highly disordered eating.  I would starve myself for months and drop down on the scale to the point where my hip bones were jabbing anyone who dared to hug me.  I never binged, but was no stranger to purging.  I was emaciated, but I felt fat.  And because I felt fat (for some supposedly deep-seated-subconscious reason) I was not happy.

Diet and dance consumed my life.  I did not talk about it.  I lived quietly on a handful of animal crackers or half an apple.  Then one day, I just got bored of being that way, and I changed.  I got married and I had kids.  I gained weight.

Those last two paragraphs are the story of two decades of eating disorder in a nutshell.  There is a lot more to the story, with which I will not bore you (weird body fur anyone?).

I did not shed my food/body image neurosis easily.  I am sad to say for a while, I actually regretted giving birth to my son because of the havock it caused my body, and the profound sense of loss I experienced of my pre-pregnancy shape.  That was a painful time.

Pregnancy and parenthood made me work harder on myself than anything else in my life.  When I say working on myself, I mean my whole self– body, mind, spirit.  I have worked to become more calm and centered.  I have prayed to become more sane so that I might help others become more sane in this troubled world of ours.  Not that I was ever insane.  But there was a horrible unhappiness that came with my inability to accept myself.

I am not a perfect wife, mom, or person.   That is okay.

Pema Chodron talks often about accepting our own neuroses, being mindful and accepting of our own flaws and foibles so that we can be accepting of others.

In her book, Start Where You Are:  A Guide to Compassionate Living, Chodron says, “Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself.  It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways that you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways.  You can know all of that with some sense of humor and kindness. . .  Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.”

Kwan Yin with a baby

Kwan Yin with a baby

It makes me really sad that it took me so long to love myself for who and what I am in this moment, rather than who or what I would like to be in some future moment.  My mom used to tell me I should enjoy my body while it was young and lean, but I never did.  Now, I am aging.  It is much harder to lose weight.  My back hurts if I wear any shoe other than a clog.  My memory is impaired from lack of sleep.  My plate is so full that I get stressed and I  lose my temper with my husband and children in ugly ways that mortify me from time to time.

But it’s all good, and getting better and better all the time through the practice of mindful awareness and self acceptance.

All I can do is be here now, with myself.  The fact that my self is 15 pounds lighter is nice, but it is not everything.

The fact that I can be here with my self and not compulsively need to starve, eat bacon, do Crossfit, Zumba, Shakeology, or be the Biggest Loser-  THAT is everything.

Thursday Truth- “Don’t Worry About A Thing”

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“This morning I woke up singing “Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna’ be alright,” in my head. It is a lyric from the song, “Three Little Birds” by the late, great reggae super star, Bob Marley. One of my all time favorite musicians and songs.

When I got in the car to bring Emily to daycare, I plugged in Pandora and on our Laurie Berkner station the song came up! We also got treated to the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin.

It felt like kismet and made for a happy commute.

It has been a tough week. I’ve had low energy because of a nagging respiratory virus since Mother’s Day. It isn’t a big deal, but it makes balancing work and family pretty draining when physically compromised.

Then yesterday, I got a call that my identity had been stolen. Someone was writing cash advance checks on one of my credit cards. For thousands and thousands of dollars. Plus interest.

The funny thing is, I didn’t really sweat it. I mean, I felt violated, got a little freaked and went down to my branch to make sure that the proper authorities and credit bureaus had been notified. But then the crisis passed and I got on with my life.

I’ve been really trying to live this mindful thing. Part of my rationale for my blog is that it holds me accountable. In some way, it makes me feel more devoted to practicing what I preach.

Some friends of mine at work are reading this wacky book called “The Magic.” This is a book about abundance and gratitude with a bunch of exercises in it that will supposedly cure cancer and make you a millionaire. I was intrigued, but after reading the first couple chapters felt like it was a “result driven, dumbed down CBT/Mindfulness exercise for the sheeple.” That was my blunt way of telling my co-worker that it was not my cup of tea.

I did write a list of ten things for which I am very happy and grateful. Putting my blessings on paper was a valuable exercise. I started saying “thank you” in my mind for every random thing that happened. For example, “Thank you universe that my client is ten minutes late so I can catch up on those progress notes.”

Sometimes I was sincere, but mostly I was pretty sarcastic.

Some of it felt down right ridiculous, but being able to smile about it shifted something in me. Kind of my own version of another slogan, “Fake it till you make it.”

Opening up to gratitude made it easier to sit with my clients and have genuine empathy, and it made it easier to have patience with my family. It also made it easier to get over the little and big trials and tribulations of the week.

I have always been a tense, neurotic worrier. When I get into high anxiety mode about finances or the kids or work, my husband will say, “Will worrying do anything to help the situation? If the answer is no, then why worry?”

I always say this to myself, and I actually say it to some of my clients too, but it wasn’t until this week that I was really able to put it into practice th.

It felt/feels really good to be in a positive head space, despite my head cold. I do not think that telling the stars that “I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to wait in traffic because it means one more NPR piece” will make me a millionaire, and I do not think I will be formally participating in The Magic, but whatever.

“Don’t worry, be happy.”

“Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna’ be alright!”

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Why worry?

Thursday Truth– Tomorrow- Wisdom from Scarlett and Mister Rogers

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the classic movie poster of Rhett and Scarlett

Momaste to all my blog buds out there!

I am trying to be faithful to my decision to do a weekly post on Thursdays, attempting to write this before darting out of the house to take Emily to daycare, and go to work myself. Whew. I don’t know how you other mamas blog daily or on a schedule– you all seriously rock!

Today’s Thursday Truth is the saying, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Hmmm, that doesn’t exactly fit with the “Be here now,” mindful in the moment theme of my blog, does it?

And yet, I have found this saying to be very true and important.

When I was in middle school I became obsessed with the classic movie Gone With The Wind, and with its Southern-belle protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara. I had the video and every book ever written on the movie, including several editions of the Margaret Mitchell classic on which the movie was based. (And yes, I read the book before seeing the movie, but loved both equally.) I even had GWTW dolls!

“Tomorrow is another day” is one of Scarlett’s mottos that she would say whenever something devastating happened to her. As a 12 year old I accepted these words as a simple line in a movie and nothing more. Over the years, I have come to understand that this is actually a pretty profound sentiment, and many times it has helped me feel a sense of peace and serenity.

For example, no sooner had I written my last Thursday Truth on Compassion, I had a total meltdown with my family. I was anything but compassionate, and felt fairly fraudulent for my earlier post. Angry and frustrated with my family, I left for work after saying some pretty terrible things that made me feel awful and ashamed. For the better part of the day I felt dark and in a soft state of despair.

But then I went home, we all ate pizza together, hung out, and everything was fine. The next night my husband and I went out for dinner and talked things out. All was well.

Part of the whole Buddhism thing is that we live in a state of impermanence. So, as soon as something happens, it is over and gone. I’m not sure if I accurately understand this or anything else about Buddhism clearly, but I will say that I have gained enough perspective on life to know that things come and go pretty quickly. When I was younger it always seemed like intense and uncomfortable feelings would last forever. This sense led to feelings of depression and anxiety that things would never change or be “better.”

As I write this post, an old Mister Rogers song is singing itself through my head:

Tomorrow, tomorrow, we’ll start the day tomorrow with a song or two.

Tomorrow, tomorrow we’ll start the day tomorrow with a smile for you.

Til then I hope your feeling happy. Till then I hope your day is snappy.

Tomorrow, tomorrow it soon will be tomorrow and be our day

we will say, a very happy tomorrow to you!”

My hero, Fred Rogers

My hero, Fred Rogers

This was the song that my personal God, Fred Rogers, ended all of his shows with when I was very little (in his later shows he used the “It’s Such a Good Feeling” song). I sometimes sing this song to my kids at bedtime, and it still makes me feel happy and hopeful. As a small child, I loved Fred Rogers as passionately as I loved GWTW as a teenager. The end of his show was sad for me because I never wanted it to end! But when he sang this song, it was comforting, reasurring that he would be back the next day.

I hope you all have a beautiful day today!

Be here now, because tomorrow is another day, and you won’t get today back.

Do not despair, because tomorrow is another day and we will have fresh starts.