Tag Archives: find the joy

Throw Back Thursday. . . Remembering the “IT” Moments

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There’s this app called Timehop.  Have you used it?  You install it on your device, then authorize it to cull through your photos, Tweets, status updates, Instagrams, etc.

While staying mindfully present in the present usually helps me stay sane, sometimes it is a fun diversion to take a trip back in time.  We live in an era where we capture every good meal, each wacky moment, and any new make up trick or hair-do on digital devices, so there is no shortage of memories at our finger tips.  My Timehops take me back over the past six or so years I’ve been on social media, and treat me to photos and status updates regarding my children and family–  usually the highs and lows of parenting, but sometimes the perfectly mundane.

This morning, Emily and I are hanging out at home, waiting to leave for her well-child physical which for reasons I can’t recall, I scheduled in the middle of the morning on a work/school day.  Whatever.  It is nice to be able to take a few moments off from “life” to cuddle and play with my bubbly three year old doll.

My phone prompted me to check out my Timehop, and so I did, while Em watched Curious George operate a subway train.

Modern technology treated me to two of my all time favorite family photos and memories this morning, and they were of a couple of those perfectly mundane moments that are the exact stuff a good life is made of.

They were both “selfies”.  The first was one of my children, my husband, and me from a snow day last year.  We were all rolling around and playing on the floor, and I happened to hold up my phone at just the right moment.  I captured us all looking a bit wild and messy, smiling so hard we were all almost squinting at the camera.  It was just a perfect moment.  We were all so happy, cooped up in the house on a stormy day, but at that exact moment, getting along with one another.

For what it’s worth, life as a working mom in our society is far from perfect or ideal.  We do our best, but there are still so many moments of struggle, confusion, and a deep sense of inadequacy.  I never feel like I am doing anything right or “good enough,” or like my kids are growing up happy or well-adjusted.  I’m not around enough for them, and when I am, I am usually exhausted, overwhelmed, and frazzled.  But this. . .  this was such a sweet moment I caught with my stupid, distracting phone.

It only lasted a couple moments, and was most likely chased by moments of frustration with the children fighting, and me losing my cool.  Yeah, that happens often enough that I could break the internet if I posted about every single one of those moments.  I’m so glad I captured this moment because it was just pure love.  And in the end, that is the important stuff.

The other Timehop offering that delighted me this morning, was a picture from three years ago today that I snapped of me and Emily.  We had found a cozy moment after nursing and were taking a nap together.  I happened to hold up my phone and got a photo of our profiles, nuzzled together in repose.  It is actually a photo I keep on my desk at work, so I see it every day, but it never fails to make me smile and sigh.  It was one of the most peaceful and lovely moments of my life with my darling little daughter, snuggled safely in my arms, her tiny tummy warm and full with mama milk.

In the end, Timehop is really “the highlight reel.”  You know, the photos that reflect all of the great stuff and make our Facebook timelines look like we all have our shit together?  I have a weird resentment for highlight reels that tend to taunt us into thinking everyone else’s life is going so much better than ours, like everyone else is eating better sushi, enjoying bigger cocktails, getting better presents, and riding in nicer cars.  It is interesting to me how we chose to present ourselves on social media, and how we measure ourselves by the presentations of others. . .  but according to Timehop, I do it too.

And my highlights are pretty freaking sweet.

So, it kind of makes me feel like, hmmm, I guess I have it pretty good and should be happy with what I have, rather than envying the good stuff of others.  In a weird way, it brings me back to the present, and helps me to feel grounded and thankful with where I am.

It also makes me realize, shit, this time goes FAST!

I’m sure our obsession with our phones and snapping photos every two seconds will come back to bite us all on the ass.  I have a lot of photos that I wish I hadn’t taken because I wish I had just been more present in that moment, and actually LIVED it as opposed to merely RECORDING it.  You know what I mean?

But these two moments are ones I am glad I got physical proof of.

Do you use Timehop?  How do you feel it affects your sense of your life, and being mindful in the present?  

I. Don’t. Like. You.

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Sometimes the universe reminds me why mindfulness is so important.  I also get reminded not to take myself so seriously.

One of these reminders came in the form of a client’s mother telling me she didn’t like me.  Without giving too many details (confidentiality and all), a mother called me to request a change in clinician.  When I asked for a little clarification she stated, “Because I don’t like you,” annunciating each word so there could be no mistaking her reasoning.

Taken aback, I let her know she was within her rights to request a change, but I would love to meet with them again to see if we could work through things.

No dice.

“You’re just not nice,” she told me.  I let her know I understood and that I would be in touch after I transferred her case.

I hung up the phone feeling wonder and confusion.   I mean, I consider myself to be generally pretty likable, especially to the kids and parents with whom I work, since I am always on my best professional and most engaging behavior.  But as a therapist, I have firm boundaries and set rules in my office with children and their parents.  I suppose that could come across as prickly or “not nice” in some cases.

Who knows?

I wasn’t hurt or offended at all, just kind of dazed.  I felt good that the mom had the guts to advocate for her child.  We don’t all like one another all the time and that’s okay.

A few days later, I was driving home from picking up pizza for my family and the situation came up in my mind again.

I realized that mom gave me a gift.  Without even realizing it at first, I started tuning in to how I connect with my clients.  Over the days following my conversation with that mother, I found myself much more mindful during my sessions, aware of where I was in relation to the family physically, emotionally, and professionally.

When I tell people what I do for a living they react by saying, “Wow, that must be so rewarding!”  or, “Wow, that must be so hard!”  While I would love to tell you it is really rewarding, it would be much more honest to tell you it is mostly hard.  I work with a really difficult population of families with severe and persistent mental health issues who live in pretty stark poverty.

Progress is measured in millimeters.  We don’t have “Eureka!” moments on a couch.

I sit with people who suffered traumas worse than anything Stephen King could dream up, and while I am often humbled by their resilience, there are also many times I am frustrated by limitations–  lack of basic needs for the poor, lack of understanding by other systems, lack of funding by insurance companies, and also the limitations that trauma has inflicted on the people with whom I attempt to work.

There are also times when it is really hard to put my own life on the shelf to deal with the crises of others.  Times when my own children are sick and I have to leave them at home to go to work.  Times when someone in my own family is suffering.  Times when I am just plain tired or hungry or have to pee.

So, I’m not always sitting there finding the joy in my craft, and I’m not always 100% mindful.  While I consider myself professional, I’m sure there are days when maybe I am less than present.

Those days of mindful awareness during my sessions were nice.  I realized that when I can be present in the moment, I am a lot closer to the joy because I am free of the other worries and frustrations.  It might not always be attainable, but it is something to reach for.

My gratitude goes out to that mom who doesn’t like me.  I thank her for letting me know in such a clear fashion.

Did you ever have a time when what could have been insulting turned out to be a gift?  

 

Joy

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“I had focused on coming to terms with the unpleasant, unacceptable, embarassing, and painful things that I do.  In the process, I had very subtly forgotten about joy.” 

—  Pema Chodron, from Awakening Loving-Kindness, page 49. 

Find the joy.

This is my new motto.

After writing my posts about financial struggles and my frustration facing the expensive holidays, I happened upon a chapter about Joy in my itsy bitsy Pema Chodron primer, Awakening Loving-Kindness.  If I could, I would copy and paste the entire chapter into this post.  Since I do not want to be held responsible for copyright infringement, I will just talk about a couple of the parts that really resonated with me. 

Pema Chodron tells the story about a woman being pursued by tigers.  She ends up going over a cliff, and barely hanging on, she notices a little clump of strawberries.  “Tigers above, tigers below,” Chodron writes (page 52).  “This is actually the predicament we are always in, in terms of our birth and death.  Each moment is just what it is.  It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat.  We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.” 

I have a feeling this statement might be easier said than done.  In fact, I know beyond doubt it is easier said.  However, I also know opportunities exist where I can choose pleasure or despair. 

I’ve been focusing a lot on how much I suck, then grappling with self acceptance.  While this has been illuminating and helpful for me, I sort of want to shift my focus a bit.  I want to make a little more room for joy. 

I’ve started by simply repeating to myself, find the joy, whenever I think of it.  I also try telling myself to find the joy when I am feeling frustrated, bored, annoyed, or worried.  For example, I tried it the other night when Jack was being a nudge about something or other.  Instead of talking things out, he started to bawl, went into his room and slammed the door.  With a wry smile, I told myself find the joy.  Before I knew it, I had switched from feeling frustrated about my challenging child, to feeling proud of his strength and intensity.  I was able to remember all the things I loved about Jack without bringing myself down for that one moment of not being able to reach him. 

It had worked!  Go figure.

I’ve also started trying to pick up on the moments when I feel a fleeting sense of joy, and try to stay with it.  Sometimes I actually feel myself struggling against joyfulness.  What is that all about?  There are times when my kids are silly and laughing and instead of joining in the fun, I feel myself tighten up with stress that things are going to get out of control.  Would it be easier, I wonder, to just give in and smile and laugh too?  What stops me?   Why can’t I enjoy my children’s artwork strewn around the house instead of worrying about mess and clutter?  Why can’t I sing along with my son instead of rushing to hush him? 

What on earth could be so threatening about joy? 

Many months ago, Emily and I were in line at Trader Joe’s.  There was a tiny plant with yellow flowers on the counter by the cashier.  Emily admired it, so the clerk gave it to us for free.  It was a nice gesture.  I took the plant home and we enjoyed it until it wilted, then tossed it out onto the porch where it quickly became scorched in the summer sun.  But then we watered it, and it bounced back!  It actually grew and bloomed again! 

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My husband transplanted it from its tiny plastic pot into a mosaic planter a friend had given me decades ago that had been long empty.  The plant grew and flourished.  Now it resides on top of my fridge, thriving in that pretty pot. 

I get a jolt of pleasure every time I look at it, thinking about the day Emily and I were given the plant in a random gesture of kindness, of my friend who gave me the pot it is in, of the thoughtful gesture of my husband transplanting it, and of how resilient the silly, little plant has been.  I try to be mindful of this pleasure-jolt, and to stay with it for a few moments in the midst of the daily flurry.   

I want my kids to grow up and know joy.  I want them to choose to see the light and love and happiness in things, and I know my example in this matter is of utmost importance. 

The tigers are always going to be there.  Money woe.  Work stress.  Sleep deprivation.  Time constraints.  Worrying about my children.  Bickering with my husband.  Anxiety.  Depression.  General household frustration.  These things are always there above and below me, threatening to sink their teeth into my heart and soul.  It is not always easy to look away from these riveting rivals to find joy in a little plant, in a drawing from my son, in the sounds of laughter or song. 

But maybe it should be easier. 

Pema Chodron says, “You could connect with your joyfulness.  You could start right now.” 

I think I will. 

What brings you joy?  Do you ever struggle to feel joyful?  What stands in your way of joy? 

Moments Flash

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In the morning we all bustle around the house, doing our own things, getting ready for the day.

Jack eats pancakes at the sticky dining room table.

Emily shuttles her baby doll back and forth across the living room floor.

My husband checks his email and shakes vitamins out of a plastic bottle for Jack.

I’m in the bathroom, lining my eyes with black and blowing out my frizzy, blonde hair with the dryer until it is straight and smoothe and shiny.

Somehow, on this one morning, we all found ourselves for a few moments gathered around the dining room table.  I put on socks and shoes, and listened to Jack chat about what he would taste like if he were a food.  “I would taste like tacos!  I would taste like tacos!” he sang.

Emily toddled over and pointed to the sock puppet in the middle of the table.  “Ockah.  Ockah,” she chirped.  I handed her the puppet.  She put it on.  Her chubby arm was engulfed in the grubby-looking, white athletic sock that my husband had transformed with button eyes and a pom-pom nose into the creature, “Sockthing,” when my son was younger.

When Jack was two or three, Sockthing could get him to do things that Mommy and Daddy could not.  Things like taking a time out, eating one more bite of dinner, getting ready for bed, or putting on his shoes.  Sockthing could sweet-talk Jack into just about anything.

Jack would hug my husband’s Sockthing-covered arm to his chest and bleat, “You’re my best friend, Sockthing!” (Of course it sounded more like, “best fwiend Sockfing.”)

Sometimes Sockthing would be the only person to whom Jack would talk about his four-year-old feelings, or five-year-old frustrations.

Even now at six, Jack still requests time with Sockthing at bedtime, or to play hide and seek with Sockthing.  It was only recently he randomly announced to us, “Sockthing’s voice is really Daddy.”

On this particular morning, my husband appeared also, and suddenly there we were, all four of us, around the dining room table.

My husband put Sockthing on his hand and made him grab Emily’s pacifier.  Emily squealed and grabbed her pacifier back by biting it directly out of Sockthing’s mouth.  Then she gave it back to Sockthing, and he sat there sucking on Emily’s pacifier with a smug look on his face.

We all laughed, even Jack, who is almost never amused by his sister’s antics.

I hope if my life ever flashes before my eyes, moments like this one are what I see.

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