Monthly Archives: February 2016

Week 80 – Little Bits of “What to Say”

Hi There, Celebrationists!

  1. I am grateful for the lovely, full, and energizing week off – and am excited to start rehearsing for Sondheim on Sondheim, tomorrow
  2. I am grateful to have some fantastic reading material on my hands at the moment. I’m working my way through Molly Crabapple’s Drawing Blood, William Seabrook’s Asylum, and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I’m usually a one-book-at-a-time kind of girl, but I’ve been cycling through all three of these with great interest and enthusiasm
  3. I am grateful for this wonderful recent gift – it’s an incredible collection, in every way

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Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “saying the right thing,when someone we care about deeply is going through a challenging time.

Do you sometimes find yourself at a loss for what to say, when a person you love is suffering? And perhaps at times this fear of saying “the wrong thing” keeps you from engaging at all?  Or engaging so unnaturally that you wonder if you’ve made matters worse for them, and then obsess over what might have been the perfect sentiment to have expressed?

When a friend, co-worker, or family member is struggling with:

  • A physical or mental illness
  • The loss of a job
  • Total aimlessness/loss of purpose
  • A break-up
  • The death of a loved one
  • Insert your own, here ___________________

Do you find yourself filtering through some of the following:

  • “Should I try to share a similar-ish experience, in an effort to make them feel not-so-alone?”No, I don’t want to make it about me, or for it to seem like I’m trying to take away from their pain and particular experience…but maybe it will HELP them…no. It won’t help them…
  • “Should I attempt to put a positive spin on their situation?”No, this could actually (without meaning to) be really insensitive, and the last thing I want to do is make light of their situation…but maybe a jolt of optimism would inspire them!…or send them deeper into a downward spiral…ugh
  • “Should I regurgitate every bit of potentially relevant inspirational material I’ve gleaned from the last twelve self-help books I read?” – (This is actually some version of my go-to, but can feel manic in the moment, and has wildly varying results)…ughh
  • “Should I allow myself to express emotion about their situation (as is my natural inclination) instead of holding back – showing them that their own emotions are valid, normal, and that I’m not scared to experience theirs?” No, because then they will likely feel the need to comfort me and calm me down, which is the opposite of the desired goal…ughhh
  • “Should I offer practical, un-emotional advice about how they might be able to help themselves cope in this situation?”No, because chances are they’ve already been through a retinue of options, are getting “advice” from everyone they’ve ever met, and I don’t want to insult their intelligence…or ability to research, or listen to their doctor…ughhhh
  • “I actually have some frame of reference for this terrible situation – should I tell them how much I understand, so they don’t feel alone?” – NO, because I’m not THEM, and I CAN’T understand fully, and it’s self-important to think that I could!…But there are these similarities, maybe it would help…NO, it WON’T help…Ughhhhh
  • “Should I offer one of those nice little trite but true cliches I’ve read on the internet, or that somebody told me at one point?” No, because they are trite for a reason. But…also  they are true for a reason…but does that make them meaningless and seem like I don’t actually care/am just reciting a thing I read? But I actually BELIEVE that one thing I read… Ughhhhhh….
  • The list goes on…

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So what to do?

I was chatting about this with a friend of mine who has been in remission for two years after a  tumultuous experience with breast cancer. One in two thousand women in their twenties are diagnosed with breast cancer, and she is one of those ladies (also, you should probably check out her blog – and by probably, I mean definitely). She offered some really interesting insight, as she dealt with many well-meaning humans who wanted to be present for her during a really awful time.  And – she just had to tell a lot of people, so she’s had plenty of practice dealing with reactions of all kinds, to this news. She said the responses that meant the most to her were from people who were able to stay themselves, and not change the nature of their relationship by reacting strangely and unnaturally. The people who were pretty bluntly honest in their reactions, as opposed to those who were precious about it. She offered that a response of “I don’t know what to say” is sometimes the best one, because it is the most honest.

The internet is filled with lists of “what to say, and what not to say,” right? When a person loses a loved one, when a person is in recovery, when a person has cancer…and well-intended as such collections are, I think the bottom line is that not one of these lists will be “right” for all of the people in all of the situations, 100% of the time. We are all beautifully complex webs of emotional wiring – it’s impossible that one method of coping will work wonderfully during all circumstances. This might seem like an obvious thing to say – something we all know on an intellectual level, but when we’re there in the moment with a person…what really is the best way to show that we care?

What I’m realizing is that possibly I’ve been asking myself the wrong question.

I think instead of obsessing over what is “the right thing to say,” it might be more useful to ask ourselves these kinds of questions:

  • Am I really listening to this person right now? Am I listening and observing in all the ways it is possible to? Clues in their body language, tone, their relationship to the words coming out of their mouths? Am I as fully plugged in as I’m able to be? Am I making it clear to them that I am listening, and have the appetite and eagerness to do so for as long as they have a desire for it?
  • Does it feel appropriate in this moment to ask thoughtful questions?
  • Why am I so uncomfortable? Is this making me question and ruminate on my own mortality, or planting other seeds of fear in me? What about all of this is making me feel fearful, in this moment? The sooner we can identify and get past our own discomfort, the sooner we can get back to being totally present in a way that is authentic and useful
  • Am I validating this person’s experience? Usually a decent indicator of this is, am I listening more than I’m talking? Am I offering acceptance of everything happening in this moment, without conditions? Am I reflecting their experience back at them in a thoughtful way?

And more than anything, I think it’s important to show up. We don’t have to be perfect to be there for someone. We don’t have to be an ethereal goddess of centered wisdom to let someone know that we support them unconditionally and validate their feelings of anger and sadness. We don’t have to be totally whole, ourselves. Being there, just as we are, can be enough.

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I’m also realizing that we are setting ourselves up for a hard time when we try to anticipate the needs of others in an obsessive way, because you know…I don’t know if we know what we need most of the time. Has somebody ever offered you a piece of advice, and you really take it to heart, appreciating and ruminating on it for awhile….and then a different person gives you the same advice in a different context and it feels hollow, or makes you want to fling something heavy across the room? We are changing every second. And especially in times of tragedy, we might crave a hug or sweet word in one moment, and find those things unbearable in another. So I think that showing up, preparing to be patient – with ourselves, with the situation, and with whatever comes up in our environment, is a great place to start.  Remembering that our love can be shown just as well in our silence as it can in our speech. That whatever words come out of our mouths – if they are from our most authentic self, there is nothing more “right” to say, than that.

And when in doubt, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you” might just be more comforting and normalizing than you realize.

Love to you all this week, Celebrationists xoxo

Also. I am now the owner of a deck of delightful affirmation cards. These are the two I drew for you this week, Celebrationists – enjoy them!

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Week 79 – Little Bits of Reactivity

Happy Monday, Celebrationists. Hope your week is off to a great start, already.

  1. I am grateful for the wonderful final performance of Our Town, and a lovely Valentine’s Day yesterday
  2. I am grateful for a dear friend who once taught me the best way to pack a suitcase or duffel bag, and ever since then, packing for any length of trip has been a DREAM (key: rolling, not folding)
  3. I am grateful for the music of Stephen Sondheim : ) And for the opportunity to do the musical review Sondheim on Sondheim, next!

Would you agree that many of us tend to be pretty reactive beings? That much of the time we respond immediately and emotionally to problems as they occur, instead of working harder and smarter to prevent them in the first place? That we are largely driven by our feelings about a thing, by outside circumstances, by whatever is going on around us – though intellectually we may “know” that we have the power of pause, and the ability to choose our reaction to any given situation, using logic, compassion, and our core values? Do you find yourself sometimes being more reactive than proactive? I think you’re not alone : ) It’s SO easy to be affected by our surroundings, and to respond accordingly. Grab your fuzzy slippers, stop beating up on yourself, and get comfy with me for a second.

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I’m not much interested in trying to write about how we transform ourselves into consistently proactive people. I think more than anything, it just takes a WHOLE MESS of practice and a willingness to “fail” over and over again. The ability to look ourselves in the mirror and remember that we have unlimited decisions when it comes to our response to any given situation, and that we don’t have to be slaves to our feelings, even if we have been for our entire lives and feel like it’s too late to change. That all sounds so nice on paper, right? But seriously, I think that like cultivating any new habit, it takes a great deal of time, and we just need to decide if we have the patience, and exhaustive desire to change…I really think that’s the only way it can happen. We have to want it bad enough. Our old ways of doing things are comfortable though – especially if many of the people around us live this way, too. I’m working on it right there with you, friends. But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is something with (I hope) a bit more levity. A bit more humor. Because if you’re anything like me, THAT’S what I need, when I’ve just been a reactive mean-head. If you’re having a hard time calling to mind the kinds of situations where you find yourself being the most reactive, it might be:

  • When in a disagreement with a loved one
  • Dealing with a coworker or superior, at work
  • When we learn about a conflict, illness, or unexpected setback
  • After any kind of criticism
  • After someone “ruins our day”
  • When we’re asked to do something we don’t want to do, or don’t feel like we should have to do
  • When we feel like everything is “getting worse” instead of better, despite our best efforts
  • When life feels unfair
  • You can probably add your own

After I have a reactive episode, the first thing that sets in for me, is guilt. A feeling of total failure as a human. A feeling of “I know better than this.” And yet, at the same time, though my brain is back on the right page, my body is still locked in that sad/angry/unpleasant emotional state. Have you ever experienced this? Where your BODY is just angry (or sad, or etc)??

Something that we’ve probably all heard before, but has been bringing me a great deal of peace lately, is the fact that nothing – including this negative feeling, our reaction to it, this moment…none of it is going to last. We’ve seen it time and again – an argument we obsess over for a week that barely matters in a month, or six months. An awkward situation with a friend or coworker that seems to repair itself in a matter of days…some things take longer, of course. Sometimes a resolution takes years. But mostly? So many of the day-to-day happenings that “set us off” will work themselves out so much faster than we expect. There’s a tiny bit of peace to be found in this kind of ephemeral nature of situations, isn’t there? As much as we might mourn the fact that certain beautiful, incredible, joyful parts of our lives won’t last forever, we can find peace in knowing that the unpleasantness won’t, either.

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The next time something makes steam come out of our ears, I wonder what would happen if we were able to remind ourselves, “This is passing. This is all passing.” I guess I just think about all the time we waste stroking negative narratives – the strings of moments spent stewing in negativity, sadness, or anger about something “the world (or someone in the world) has done to us,” when…how much time could we save ourselves by finding a tiny grain of good humor, and think about where we might be a week from now? If we remember that the very people who “hurt us” are probably, in all reality, doing the very best they can – and that we may have just been the recipient of something that THEY were reacting to. What if we were able to stop that chain of reactivity (because it really is a chain, isn’t it?) dead in its tracks? It’s like an emotional and energetic “Pay it Forward” system! The way we react to situations has a bigger impact on our fellow humans that we will probably ever fully realize. Don’t we all want to make that impact a positive one?

Have you ever seen the holiday classic A Christmas Story? For those of you who aren’t theatre-folk, this film was made into a stage musical in 2012, and the composers Pasek and Paul wrote a pretty fantastic (I think!) score, including this little gem of a song, that I often think about when I waste time reacting to something in an unhealthy or ridiculous way. Give it a listen, and also here are the lyrics.

Just Like That

Catch your breath and look around

There’s no monster waiting by

Nothing’s crumbling to the ground

Nothing’s tumbling from the sky

Notice how the world keeps turning,

Life goes on.

A moment comes,

A moment goes,

And just like that –

The moment’s gone.

If you slip and scrape your knee,

Think it’s never gonna heal,

In a day or two you’ll see

It’s just not that big a deal –

And you’re back to jumping,

Laughing

You’ve moved on –

The moment comes,

The moment goes,

And just like that

The moment’s gone.

So you felt like bursting

Somewhere deep,

Deep inside

And it overwhelmed you

So you cracked

So you cried –

But it passes in an instant,

Passes by so fast,

Don’t forget to remember these moments

Never last.

Notice how the world keeps turning

Life goes on

And just like that

The moment’s gone.

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Isn’t that lovely? Have a wonderful week Celebrationists!

Wek 78 – Little Bits of Worthiness

Happy Monday, friends.

  1. I am grateful for Richard Linklater films, and the good friend who is introducing me to them! If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, or Boyhood (I still need to watch Before Midnight… and everything else he’s ever created), I can’t recommend them with more enthusiasm!
  2. I am grateful for my upcoming short trip to NYC
  3. I am grateful for these two days off, which will be filled with a wonderful balance of work, theatre-seeing, book reading, long walks, Netflix watching, laundry-doing, and plenty of good coffee : )

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What’s been on your mind this week? This has been occupying a significant piece of real estate in mine…

The moments in our lives when we wish hard for something – put our desire out into the universe with all our being, do the work required of us (in whatever form it takes), and somehow “the thing” actually happens – but instead of reveling in relief, gratitude and wonderment, our dominant sensation is abject terror. Do you know this feeling? Maybe you’ve experienced it about:

  • a job (you get the offer you’ve been dreaming about for so long, or an even better one)
  • a relationship (you’ve specified for yourself the kind of partner you dream about, and then actually think you may have found him or her)
  • a health related issue (you’ve longed for healing, rehabilitation, or recovery and find yourself well on the journey)
  • some aspect of personal growth you’ve been striving for (you’ve been working at forming a new habit, and after some sweat, tears, and plenty of “failure,” you find that you’ve shed an unhealthy habit and formed a new one)
  • whatever you’ve been hoping for most

At some point or other we’ve all dreamt about some kind of good that we’d like to attract. And there’s so much to be said for that period of striving, working, and hoping, isn’t there? The anticipation. Probably there’s a fairly substantial part of us that wonders if “it” (whatever your particular and elusive “it” may be) will ever happen. So why the boot-quaking, when it does? Why can’t we just enjoy it?

I wonder how many of us actually believe we deserve the good we say that we want. So many people stay for years in:

  • jobs they hate
  • toxic relationships
  • unhealthy patterns
  •  “stuck” in some area of their lives

And why? For one thing, I think it’s at least comfortable there. And we spend a lot of our lives chasing one comfort or another, don’t we? I also think it can be hard to capture and believe fully in our own lovability, desirability, or aptitude/potential. I think it’s often easier to identify these these qualities in other people. I’ve started taking a hard look at the self-sabotaging I’ve done over the years, and have made a firm commitment to zone-in and give a hard look at my choices when I find myself walking down that familiar path. The path of doubt. The path of scarcity. The path of mistrust – of myself and the universe. Who knows what the “right answers” and “best, most effective methods” are, but here’s what I’ll be trying to remind myself, the next time I start rejecting the little bits of good in my world before I even have the chance to enjoy them:

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  • I really believe, deep down that the universe will only give us what we are ready for. If the universe is giving it to me – then I am ready for it.  When something seems too good, the happiness and excitement feels so positive that it’s painful, and I’m tempted to drift into a pessimistic cyclone of “Oh great, how am I going to mess this one up?” I’m going to do my best to cultivate a moment of pause, breathe, and remind myself – I am ready for this.
  • If I weren’t myself – if I were my best friend, how would I react to the situation? The new relationship, the job promotion, the growth? I would freak out with/for them in celebration! I would tell them how it’s been a long time coming. I would remind them of their hard work, fortitude, and lovability. Sometimes I think we could all stand to be a little better friend to ourselves.
  • When the “good thing” happens, spend some serious time in my gratitude journal, and explore the ways I can express gratitude for the new situation, in my daily life.
  • Continue the practice of cultivating joy about the accomplishments, beautiful relationships, growth, and little bits of good that others experience.
  • Remind myself that obsessing over whether or not I’m worthy of something good is, at its core, selfish and boring. I say that with kindness, and not with the harshness that it feels like to write. But think about it. It’s just as easy to think that we are as worthy as anyone else, as it is to engage with the self-important punishment that we are somehow unique, and the one human on the planet who is not worthy.
  • Throw myself into the new situation 100%. All in.
  • Gain some perspective. Consider the fact that the sensation I’m experiencing is not unique. That probably anyone who ever wanted anything and got it, has felt this same apprehension. I’m right where I should be, in my place in the universe of things.

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So join me, Celebrationists! Please join me in dreaming big, asking big, believing big – and then expressing big gratitude. Celebrating big. Remembering that this life is short, and we would be wise to grasp these moments of happiness and hang on for as long as we can, because everything in this life is temporary. And if we spend our time with these joys worryng about them,  they may be gone before we ever realize the beauty between our fingertips.

All my love, and celebration of whatever good you are most excited about in your world, right now!

Week 77 – Little Bits of Inspiration, Part 2

Happy Monday, Celebrationists.

  1. I am grateful for (and relieved about) a thoroughly pleasant (and cavity-free) visit to the dentist today. If any Florida folks are looking for a compassionate, gentle, open-hearted dentist in the Tampa Bay area, let me know – I will hook you up!
  2. I am grateful for having the evening off to watch/stay on top of the Iowa Caucus
  3. I am grateful for the discovery of a delightful new coffee spot, with really exquisite cold brew

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This blog has evolved quite a bit since I first started writing it. The earliest entries were primarily interviews with “GBDs,” good bit do-ers – people who are making a positive impact in their corner of the world, using their unique gifts and experiences to serve their community in some way. After a few weeks of this (when it became too difficult to secure a new interview each week), I began peppering in pieces like the ones you’ve become accustomed to – my own thoughts on topics like empathy, gratitude, insecurity, and tenacity. Now, the blog has morphed into mostly a collection of those musings. Sprinkled throughout, you might find a post that is basically a helpful (hopefully!) list, of sorts. Don’t you just love a list?

Week 5 featured a list of creative ways to reach out when we are feeling stuck in our own spheres, Week 31 shared 14 books that have had a significant impact on my life, that I hoped would resonate with you as well, and Week 50 was a collection of fifty ideas for being kind to yourself. I’m in a list-mood again this week, and am excited share what I’ve been gleaning inspiration from, lately. For those days or weeks where you need an injection of SOME kind of light, hope, and motivation. For when you’re feeling down-and-out about work, the political climate…whatever it is. When all your usual resources have run dry, and you’re looking for a new spark. Hope you’ll find some comfort and energy in a few of these : )

1. Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

This collection of quotes is a potent little dose of inspiration, created and compiled by the author of Wild, Torch, and Tiny Beautiful Things (all of which I love and recommend). This book is perfect for those days when you are bummed out and exhausted to the point where you don’t even have the energy or willpower to read a chapter of something. Or when you’re in a hurry and need a zap of uplifting, call-to-action food for thought.

2. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book, but even just looking at them does the trick in motivating me – I mean, this is pretty much everything….

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3. Buddhify

This app is marketed as “modern mindfulness wherever you are,” and it’s exactly that! A meditation tool for people on the go, and featuring short, well-crafted meditations for any situation:

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4. The Podcast Strangers

I’m grateful for the wise and compassionate soul who recently recommended this podcast to me. I’m devouring these episodes. Described as “an empathy shot in your arm, featuring true stories about the people we meet, the connections we make, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that WE aren’t even who we thought we were.” Totally drawn in yet? If you’re already a fan of the Moth Podcast and The Moth Radio Hour, you’ll love Strangers, without a doubt.

5. doTerra Petal Diffuser

I received this little beauty as a gift several months ago, and am so grateful for it. A few drops of one (or two) of doTERRA’s stunning collection of essential oils will transform your space into a peaceful oasis. I recommend the Holiday Joy – even in the off-season : )

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6. Adult coloring books

People joke about them, but I say don’t knock it until you’ve colored in one! I find these super-detailed kinds of books to be a relaxing, grounding, and meditative activity to occupy your mind and hands while engaged in something else (like watching the Iowa Caucus).

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7. Marc Maron’s interview with Patricia Arquette. Also his interview with Barack Obama

If you’re an artist – and especially an actor, check out this interview with Patricia Arquette for some deep, thoughtful, incredibly inspiring thoughts. If you’re a human on the planet, check out this interview with Mr. Obama. A class act, through and through.

8. Doing something on your long-term to-do list (finally)

Do you have multiple to-do lists? The items that you actually plan to do in the next couple of days, or weeks…and then a separate list for those “long term to-dos”? I frequently put those tasks off to the point where sometimes I just erase them entirely because I know I’ll never do them. The relief and sense of accomplishment you will feel this week if you actually make the time to check one of these items off is akin to a high, high level of your favorite caffeine source (for me, anyway).

9. Devote a gratitude journal entry to people

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of gratitude journaling. Consider devoting an entry to all the people in your life you are grateful for. The humans who inspire, motivate, and share their lives with you.

10. Letters of Note

“Letters of Note is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos…” – if you enjoy letters half as much as I do, and gain lots of inspiration through written word, there are some real gems in here. With over 900 letters in the archives, I recommend browsing by name, and choosing the people who excite you most!

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Have a wonderful week, Celebrationists!