Monthly Archives: March 2016

Week 85 – Little Bits of Self-Perception

Hi Friends. I hope your Monday has been really lovely.

  1. I am grateful for a super productive day off, and for having shared it with wonderful friends
  2. I am grateful for Warby Parker
  3. I am grateful for kind-hearted people who care. About things. About the people around them. About the impact they make on the world.

Every now and again, do you feel like there is a particular phrase that keeps popping into your life – something you find yourself saying to others, or that other people say to you with increasing frequency? An idea that becomes a common denominator between yourself and groups of friends who don’t even know each other? Then you happen to read about it in books, hear other people saying things related to this concept on the street, and find yourself meditating on the idea in a variety of situations? For awhile now, this has been one such phrase, in my life. If you spend any time with me at all, and struggle with self-doubt even remotely, you’ve probably even heard me say it:

“We never see ourselves the way that other people do.” 

This has been bleeding into my life in all sorts of ways lately, and I just want to tease it out in a way that might be meaningful for you, too.

Let’s say that someone were to ask you to talk about about the backs of your knees.

Who would you trust to give the most accurate description – yourself, or your pet dog (assuming we lived in a universe where dogs could talk, and that you are a human who wears shorts or skirts from time to time). Probably the dog, assuming they have good eyesight and a decent vocabulary, would be the better candidate to speak about the backs of your knees. They are part of YOUR body, of course, but you’re not really able to see them so well, not like the dog can, and does. I’m not advocating that we base our self worth on the opinions of others (though dogs are great, because they love unconditionally), or look to other people to tell us everything we need to know about ourselves, but I am saying this: maybe we would do well not to take our own own opinions of ourselves quite so seriously.  Maybe we would do well to remember that our view might be just a little bit warped.  And that ultimately, our inability to see ourselves accurately can serve as a great unifier, and one of those little things that can make us feel less alone.

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How often are you flabbergasted by the way a friend, family member, partner, etc. views themselves?

Pause a moment for this little exercise. To execute, or to just theorize about (because I’ll be totally honest – whenever a book or article has an exercise, no matter how much I love the book, I usually skip ahead and say I’ll come back to the exercises, and never do. So, do as you will – I won’t judge…)

  • Think about five of the most important people in your life right now, or the five people you feel closest to at the moment. Or just five people you’re fascinated by
  • What are the first five words you would use to describe them, without thinking too hard about it? The most immediate descriptors that leap to your brain
  • You could go and ask them for the five words they would use to describe themselves, or for a different angle on this exercise – think back in your brain about their self-talk. When they speak about themselves, what kinds of language do they use? Or just based on their actions, how do you think they would describe themselves?
  • How does it add up?

What are some of the most ridiculous things you’ve heard the people you love say about themselves? Maybe comments that seem to you totally off-base, about their:

  • Talents
  • Bodies
  • Performance
  • Laziness
  • Productivity
  • Worth
  • Some aspect of appearance
  • Voice
  • Generosity
  • Kindness
  • Ability in any manner of areas
  • Etc, etc, etc

How often do you note a major disconnect in their statements with the reality that you observe by spending time with them on the regular? So my theory is – if their perspective isn’t a totally complete picture, chances are that the same is true for us, about ourselves.

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And why does any of this matter? It matters because the language we use about ourselves is powerful. The more we feed the negative thoughts and perceptions we have about ourselves, the more that type of language becomes a habit. And the more it becomes a habit, the more it becomes impossible to look in the mirror (literally or figuratively) and recognize ourselves at all. And why waste valuable time and energy punishing ourselves over something that might not even be real?

It’s also problematic because once we’re in deep enough, all that negative thought starts having an impact on our actions. And then once those actions become enough of a habit, we run the risk  of becoming the thing we never actually were, but have turned ourselves into.

As in “Oh, I’m a terrible public speaker.” (This isn’t the truth, but we say it is/send this message to ourselves over and over). Over time, this thought turns into active anxiety, shortness of breath, clamminess, freezing up onstage – because we’ve started actually believing we are a terrible public speaker. After enough time, being a terrible public speaker becomes our reality. This is a gross oversimplification of course, but you get the picture.

So what to do.

Here’s what I’m going to be experimenting with, when struck by a bout of negative self-perception:

  • Remind myself that this is recycled language, talking. That the criticism I’m crucifying myself with is probably stuff I’ve used hundreds of times. It’s a habit, and nothing more. I can choose to observe it apathetically, and let it go before getting caught up in the emotional part of it
  • If I don’t succeed with this, reminding myself that the emotional part of the negative thought is a habit, too. That just because my body is having a strong response to this negativity, that STILL doesn’t mean it’s based in any reality
  • Try my best to have a better sense of humor when that mean little voice gets talking
  • Remind myself that at the end of the day, when I become obsessed with a negative thought about myself, the best answer of all is almost always to reach OUT, not in. Taking the focus away from the negative thought diminishes its power, and gives me a greater perspective on my very little place in this great big world : )
  • Most of the time when we criticize ourselves, it isn’t constructive. It’s just like a mean kid on the playground shoveling out dirt that isn’t helpful or meant to do anything other than harm. Name your kid. Send him to detention where he belongs
  • None of this takes away from the fact that most of us are striving to be self-aware individuals. And maybe some of us are, in certain respects. But I think the main thing is to recognize that even the most self-aware people are still subject to an inaccurate view of some parts of ourselves

Also, I really enjoy reflecting the good I see in other people back to them – because chances are, they don’t see it – not in the way that I do. Not in the way that you do. And sometimes just letting a person know what we see can bring a great deal of good. When we are caught up in ourselves, illuminating the beauty we observe in others – in a sincere way, reroutes that energy into something positive, and often healing. Be good to yourselves this week, Celebrationists – you’re worth it : )

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By: Brian Andreas, who I think is the best at making a person feel ALL of the things using as few words as possible : )

Week 84 – Little Bits of Blindness

Greetings, Celebrationists! Happy Monday.

  1. I am grateful for Trader Joe’s Sriracha Hummus
  2. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with some wonderful kids again this week, and help them create their own awesome plays!
  3. I am grateful for this day of “chilly” Florida weather. 60-something and sunny – sweater weather, will always be my most favorite

Today’s thoughts are less about musings, and more about a mission for the week.

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I’ve noticed kindness manifested in buckets this week. Thoughtfulness, all over the place.

Whether (for whatever reason) people have been feeling extra generous lately and more compassionate than usual, or maybe I’ve just had a heightened awareness recently, is unclear. But either way, I’ve seen so many little acts of good – some directed towards me, and some directed towards others, that I’ve happened to witness. Many of them totally (or seemingly) unrecognized. And I’m inclined to think that this wasn’t just some special springtime-week-of-random-kindness or something – I think it’s just that I was aware, for a change.

And it got me to thinking.

When we get caught up in the drama, ego, and neurosis of our lives (which might show up in the form of)

  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Frustration at the people or situations who/that drive us crazy
  • The sensation of being exhausted, spent, or overwhelmed
  • We have the “complaining” bug
  • Getting tangled up in fear, nervousness, or dread
  • Etc, etc – insert your own

it can be easy to overlook the little acts of love happening all around us. Sometimes we are stuck so deep inside ourselves that we literally don’t NOTICE the goodness, thoughtfulness, and generosity taking place right in front of our noses, and find it easier to focus on how selfish, hateful, inconsiderate, and ignorant people can be. We all do it –  I know I do it.  But in those moments where I get over myself and open my eyes, I’m often astounded. I’ve written posts about gratitude before…but how can we even get to gratitude until we are able to acknowledge what we have to be grateful for?

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These frequently overlooked little acts of kindness might come in the form of:

  • A friend, coworker, roomie, partner, or spouse taking the time to clean, fix, donate, or contribute something to the workplace, home, or some area of life – an act of generosity (of spirit, money, resources, etc)
  • A direct, purposeful, and sincere word of well-timed encouragement
  • Someone giving the gift of time despite their own busy schedule…and we may be so wrapped up with our own hectic lives that we don’t even think to ask, so we would never realize what THEIR life is actually like at the moment
  • A phone call, text message, or “check in” showing genuine care
  • Someone seeing a need (physical or emotional) and meeting it without being asked
  • A person who notices an insecurity, worry, or person who is beating themselves up and either verbally or non verbally squashes the fear before it’s even expressed aloud
  • Someone going out of their way to make your life easier in a specific and thoughtful way that shows emotional intelligence and intuition
  • A card, compliment, gift, coffee, or helping hand that is given for no “reason” at all
  • An act of love, in any form it may take

Maybe you feel like your life is void of such things right now. But if you make a point of looking, I think you’ll find that these things are happening. Yes, people can be ____________ (insert your most relevant negative word of choice) but they can also be incredible and loving. Choosing to focus on THAT might seem to some like “looking through rose colored glasses,” but I don’t see it that way. Sharpening our awareness of the “good stuff” doesn’t mean we have blinders on, and ignore everything else. It doesn’t mean we are choosing delusion and unrealistic idealism. What I’m saying is that the good is THERE already, we just aren’t always in the practice of seeing it.  And for as much as we notice the negativity, the least we can do for ourselves – and others, and the world, is to balance the scales, and enjoy the complete picture .

And then…what would happen if, once we did notice…if we responded with our gratitude appreciation, and affection? If we said “thank you” more? Acknowledged the kindness we see and used it as inspiration to be more thoughtful?

What if, when we feel dragged through the muck, we were able to keep our heads up just long enough to allow ourselves to be genuinely touched by… the fact that our friend reached out to another friend who was struggling – when we know that first friend is also struggling, but not saying a word about it? What if we worked harder to see what other people need, instead of complaining about what we need from other people?

Want to join me this week, Celebrationists? In

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Finding new, sincere, specific, well-timed ways to be thoughtful
  • Stretching the limits of my emotional intelligence and intuition
  • Complaining Less
  • Opening my eyes more

Have a great one, beautiful friends.

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Week 83 – Little Bits of “Just Say Thank You”

Hi there, Celebrationists. Happy Monday.

  1. I am grateful for an exhilarating and satisfying opening weekend of Sondheim on Sondheim
  2. I am grateful that my SISTER is coming to visit in two days!
  3. I am grateful for this lovely gift, which I’ve been using every day this week : )

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Do you have a hard time enjoying, celebrating, or acknowledging personal progress, accomplishments, or successes? Is it difficult to express whole-hearted gratitude when someone attempts to pay you a genuine compliment? Does “just saying thank you” make the tips of your ears turn a little pink, and you practically have to bite your tongue to stop yourself from saying something like “Oh, not really – I mean, you should see so-and-so or such-and-such, that’s REALLY something…”?

Why is it so darn uncomfortable to just say “Thank you so much” without any disclaimers, when somebody makes a positive observation about ourselves, and shares it with us? Why can’t we just take the compliment

There are hundreds of possibilities as to why we deflect compliments, reject them, ignore them, or re-route/turn the tables on them. Could be…

  • That we aren’t used to compliments in certain areas of our lives, and therefore they make us uncomfortable
  • On some base level we feel like the giver of said compliment just doesn’t see the full picture of ourselves accurately, and we feel like an imposter/liar for not correcting them
  • We don’t trust the motivations of the giver, consciously or unconsciously
  • Our people-pleasing natures make us feel an immediate need to repay the kind words instead of just taking in the gift of verbal generosity
  • We get in our heads about having the “right” reaction to such things
  • Perfectionism
  • A whole bunch of other who-knows-what

But the main thing I’ve been thinking about lately is that the why we do this is much less important than figuring out how we can make a new choice about this habit we’ve established. Because in addition to being an unhealthy habit for ourselves, it’s so much more destructive than that. Every time we refuse to take a compliment, we are basically making an aggressive statement that the kind-hearted, generous giver of said compliment…

  • has no taste
  • has no intuition/ability to see things clearly
  • has poor perspective
  • is an idiot
  • isn’t safe to be giving compliments and kind words in the future
  • has questionable observation skills

Horrifying, right? We’d never mean to send this message, but that’s essentially what we’re doing when we refuse to accept kind words with grace. And I know that none of us would want to make another person feel awful because of our own collection of insecurities – I know I certainly don’t. And there are so many ways in which we do this…

  • Downplaying
  • Turning/reversing the compliment/focus on the other person
  • Flat out rejecting their statement/feelings
  • Using humor
  • Using sarcasm
  • Self-deprecation
  • Sharing examples of people who have “done it better”
  • Making faces/staying silent/averting our eyes (a personal favorite…)

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Also, I think that when we deny our worthiness habitually – when we reject ourselves over and over again in this way, we send the universe the message that we aren’t open to receiving, in general. And then we don’t. And then we wonder why nothing good is happening for us.

At the end of the day, I think the world needs as many acts of generosity, kindness, appreciation, and lifting up of one another as possible. And something as seemingly small as “just saying thank you,” can help keep that energetic cycle of positivity going, instead of stopping it/putting a lid on the flow. If someone is being brave, compassionate, and vulnerable enough to express how our actions, talents, etc have had some kind of particular positive impact, what might happen if we were able to embrace these sentiments with thankfulness and joy, and then look a little harder at observing and lifting up the goodness in others? What do we have to gain by telling someone they don’t know what they’re talking about, when they offer a kind word in our direction? What does the world have to gain? And think about how wonderful it feels to GIVE compliments! The way someone’s face and heart lights up when we notice something they’ve perhaps been working really hard at? What beautiful cycle might begin if we shove our ego in the trunk for awhile and allow the kind folks in our lives the opportunity to give us a genuine compliment? And be generous in giving positive feedback, as well.

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As far as how to take the compliment, I think the answer is simple, but the habit will take practice and patience – just say thank you : ) And mean it.

Sending you love and best wishes this week, Celebrationists! Join me in noticing the little things that people do, and speaking up about it, if you like! : )

 

Week 82 – Little Bits of Dissonance

  1. I am grateful for a wonderful beginning to tech week, surrounded by such creative, patient, kind friends and coworkers
  2. I am grateful for the most perfect little hour-long break, today : )
  3. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working on a show filled with rich, challenging, glorious music by my favorite composer, Stephen Sondheim (If you aren’t familiar with his work, here are links to a few of my favorite songs he’s written. It would be impossible to pick a favorite…but here are a few, if you like…

Every Day a Little Death (Song starts at 3:43)

Anyone Can Whistle

 Johanna

There Won’t Be Trumpets

No One Has Ever Loved Me

Moments In The Woods

 Send in the Clowns 

 Sunday

There are many things I love about Sondheim’s work. One of them is that he enjoys writing “neurotic people,” which he explains in this way:

”I like neurotic people. I like troubled people. Not that I don’t like squared-away people, but I prefer neurotic people.” ”What ‘neurotic people’ means to me is people with conflicts. And that’s like saying I like to write about character. I don’t like to write about oversimplified people unless it’s for something like farce, like ‘Forum.’ Songs can’t develop uncomplicated characters or unconflicted people. You can’t just tell the sunny side and have a story with any richness to it. Good drama is the study of human passions.” 

His writing underlines the complexity of human nature in such a way that you could listen to one song over and over again, uncovering a new layer of meaning each time. Then you could leave it alone, return to it five, ten, twenty, forty years later, and find even more.

Would you agree that the characters we enjoy most in television, movies, books, and plays tend to be the kinds of characters he describes? People with layers? People with some internal dissonance?

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For as much as I think that this is the case – how often do we feel compelled to square off our own edges in some way? Become the cleanest, most streamlined version of ourselves – or at least paint that kind of picture for other people? Hating the parts of ourselves that aren’t pretty? And I don’t even mean pretty in the traditional sense – I mean, how often do we reject the aspects of ourselves that aren’t cohesive with the image we want to project to the world? I think that most of the time too, this rejection is completely unconscious. Stay with me a minute. Maybe you find comfort in being considered:

  • The “sarcastic, bitchy, self-assured one”
  • The “hyper-intelligent/intellectually untouchable one”
  • The “put-together, multi-tasking superhero”
  • The “emotionally indestructible one”
  • The “weird, mysterious one”
  • The “happy one”
  • Etc, etc.

Whatever your “thing” is – how often to you find yourself in a private little panic when the stark opposites (that exist in all of us) threaten to expose themselves? I think it’s normal that over time we develop some sort of baseline for “who we are” out in the world. But what I’m curious about is, why do we sometimes run from the parts of ourselves that don’t “fit in” with the rest? Most of us talk the good talk of “being a well-rounded person,” and “being a little messy,” …but for many of us, that’s still a very controlled, self-regulated statement.

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Sometimes we have little bits of internal dissonance that we enjoy. These can begin at the superficial, for instance, I …

  • Enjoy whiskey and teacups in equal measure
  • Love wearing sundresses and cuddling puppies, but also dumping hot sauce on everything. And if you’ve never arm-wrestled me, we should probably do that, soon
  • Adore terrifying movies and also Anne of Green Gables
  • (you get the picture – little opposites that are just kinda fun)

But then there’s the fact that I (to name a very few…)

  • Have a pretty high (I think) level of emotional intelligence, but really struggle with textbook learning
  • Can jump to the defense of a friend with no problem, but find myself afraid to speak up for myself, most of the time
  • Love trying new things, but also get embarrassed really easily, so sometimes I just don’t
  • Have an incredibly high physical pain tolerance, and a substantially lower emotional one
  • Am as patient with other people (most of the time) as I am impatient with myself
  • And this can extend to ALL sorts of things – we may have contradicting views within ourselves about anything – politics, religion, various sensibilities and inclinations, etc.

And the truth is, when it comes to other people, these things that “don’t make sense,” the “cracks in the plaster”… tend to be some of the things I treasure most. The parts of a person that fascinate and mesmerize me. But when it comes to myself, and we get to some of the deeper sorts of internal dissonance…I’m so much less accepting. In fact, I can be pretty judgmental.

Do you ever feel this? I’m not saying that our aim here is to relish in and glorify being troubled and neurotic people, or that we shouldn’t strive to overcome challenges in our lives. But I am saying that some of these things that drive us nuts about ourselves are also a really vital and sometimes lovely part of who we are. That we can be both sensitive and bold, angry and soft, wise and goofy…that giving ourselves permission to enjoy and allow all of it, could be a great gift, with a pleasantly surprising outcome.  That if art imitates life – and some of the best-loved art is far from sensible, far from explainable, far from cohesive…we might gain some wisdom there, and allow ourselves to be all of the shades of all of the colors. All the notes on the page – sometimes a balanced blend, and sometimes dissonant and strange. It’s all pretty beautiful, even if we can’t see it.

All things are beautiful, Mother. 
All trees, all towers, beautiful–
That tower beautiful, Mother.
See? A perfect tree.
Pretty isn’t beautiful, Mother.
Pretty is what changes . . .
what the eye arranges
is what is beautiful!

– Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George

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Week 81 – Little Bits of Control

  1. I am grateful for patient, generous, and compassionate coworkers and fellow artists
  2. I am grateful that my sister is coming to visit in about a month
  3. I am grateful for surprise mail, and for the kind-hearted people who sent hand-written magic my way in the last week or so

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Celebrationists. Do you ever have those weeks where you feel like the universe is testing you to the limits of what you’re able to handle? I know you do. Because it’s all a part of being a human on this planet.

You know the weeks I mean. When your work life, personal life, and everything in between are firing full-force with challenges – some welcome and wonderful, and some that make you want to stay in bed for three weeks and talk to no one (except maybe a puppy, which you don’t even have…)

Intellectually, I’m able to grasp the fact that life is always giving us exactly what we need to move through uncomfortable moments with grace (whether we choose to act on this wisdom is another thing, of course). That with enough creativity, intuition, and patience we can rise to meet challenges we never thought we were capable of handling. We see evidence of this everywhere, every day – in our own lives, and in the lives of all the people we know.

And yet, when we are in it, situations can feel “impossible” in a totally fresh way – as though we are the only people who have ever dealt with:

– a family illness

– a work challenge/being stretched in a new way

– a personal/friend/or romantic challenge

– A high volume of responsibility in many different areas

– etc.

Even though on a practical level we know that we’ve “been here before,” and that we know so many people who “have it way worse than we do, and we shouldn’t complain,” what is it in our physical bodies that makes us panic? The shortness/shallowness of breath, the doubt and worry, the sleepless nights? I think there isn’t any one answer, but I am interested in digging into one component of what might be going on…

I think many of us struggle with the discomfort that can come from feeling out of control. When we feel spread thin, even situations that are in our control can feel totally…not that way. But here’s the thing I’ve been unpacking for myself, about the idea of being in control, or “having it all together”….

We’ve never been “in control,” and we’re never going to be.

That can sound like a bleak, morbid, or hopeless statement, but I find it to be quite the opposite.

Think about a time when you felt the most in-control, really at the top of your game. Despite the wonderful high that can come from this sensation, the reality is that at any moment something could shift, and we could be back at square one. The rug could (and has, and does) get pulled out from under us, and suddenly we are totally groundless, all over again. We all know that there are forces larger than any one person that can dramatically impact a situation, at any time. I know, I know – still kind of depressing sounding, just stay with me.

Because if the above is true, that means the reverse is also true. That even when we are experiencing what we perceive to be a low moment or wildly challenging time, we are also just a degree away from something shifting. How many situations in your life did you not have any clue how to get through, and then something came sailing at you from left field, and you caught it in the right moment and “saved the game?” (I cannot believe I just made a sports analogy…clearly anything is possible…) But you know what I mean?

I think the important thing in all of this is that…in times of struggle, making peace with the groundlessness might be a key to something sort of magical.

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okay-ness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom — freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.” – Pema Chodron

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So how do we practice letting go? Here are some things I’m going to be experimenting with…

  • Releasing the need to feel the “appropriate” emotions about a situation: sometimes, if we just allow ourselves to experience anger, sadness, or anything else we’ve labeled as a negative or unattractive emotion, we will be able to move through it more sanely than if we deny ourselves the process our body wants to go through
  • I say this one a lot, about many things, but it’s so true – reminding ourselves that nothing lasts forever, good or bad
  • Find a friend with a great sense of humor, and spend some time with them. This. Helps.
  • Reminding ourselves that feeling uncomfortable doesn’t actually mean that anything is wrong. It doesn’t mean that the world is ending. I think we live in a culture that is constantly trying to hit the “reset” button, and that our “normal mode” should be this thing called happy. But I just don’t think that’s how life works. Telling ourselves that we are actually perfectly ok when we aren’t “happy” can be freeing, and that release of pressure can help us stay rooted in the present moment
  • A gentle reminder to ourselves that our pain, our sadness, our anger, our confusion, our desire for control isn’t exclusively “ours.” This stuff has been rolling around in the universe for centuries, we just happened to have caught and connected with a strain of it in this moment. In time, it will pass. And then we’ll find it again, over and over and over. And maybe, instead of that being a bad thing…maybe it’s really just the beauty of being human

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ” Pema Chödrön

Sending heaps of love your way this week, Celebrationists.

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