Monthly Archives: April 2016

Week 89 – Little Bits of Apology

Happy Wednesday Celebrationists!

Yup – I missed my first Monday in 89 weeks of writing, but I’m just gonna let that go and write to you on Wednesday. So here we are.

  1. I am grateful for a particularly brave, kind, deeply empathetic friend who continues to amaze and inspire me
  2. I am grateful for the opportunities life gives us to try things again
  3. I am grateful for the chance I had to hold this chicken. All. of. the. joy.

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Today I’d love to talk about apologies. I think many of us find ourselves getting tripped up by them because we fall into one of two camps:

– We find apologies so difficult that we just don’t make them. It’s always someone else’ fault

– We are racked with guilt and shame about our own “stuff” and over-apologize/say “sorry” for everything

I’m sure there are also many humans on the planet who do not have a complicated relationship with the idea of apology, but I’m writing today for those of us who do.

I fall into the latter camp of being an apologization station. A few days ago I said “sorry” when I bumped into the refrigerator. I wish that was a joke. This has been my natural way of moving through the world since I was a little kid – maybe not the inanimate objects part of it, but certainly the gut-response to apologize for anyone else’s discomfort, anger, or dissatisfaction. In the past several years I’ve become fully conscious of it, and have been chipping away at this habit with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment. But the older I get, the more aware I become of why this pattern is as harmful as it is, and why forming a new habit in this area deserves my time and attention.

  • Excessive apology might actually take away from the impact of a needed/deserved apology, when such a circumstance arises
  • The habit of over-apologizing, over time can lead to things like: being afraid to share ideas/opinions, being afraid to take risks, or putting ourselves out there in a variety of areas
  • After a certain length of time, we start reading a room totally inaccurately and assume that almost any person’s anger or discomfort must be our fault. This is also really self-important, unintentional as it may be. And half the time it isn’t linked to a thought, so much as a literal physical/full body sensation
  • Even though our desire in those moments of apology is to be thoughtful, we actually become the opposite, because we are putting other people in a position to want to take care of us, feel the need to comfort us, or tell us that it isn’t actually our fault…when it was never about us to begin with

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And these are just a few nasty side effects. So what to do? Clearly, after twenty-something years of the planet I haven’t figured it out – but here’s what I’ve gleaned from my own reading and experimenting, and am constantly trying on for size:

  • In many circumstances, saying “thank you” is a more appropriate option than “sorry.” When a friend gives you their time, and listens to you vent, for instance – instead of saying “I’m so sorry to dump all that on you,” forming a habit of “Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to me,” is just better for everyone involved
  • This is tricky and takes persistent practice, but cultivating a moment of pause seems so important in dealing with any habit we are trying to break. In the space of time where we might usually just jump to the apology, building in a tiny moment to check in with ourselves and ask “Does this really deserve an apology” is essential in being able to make a new choice
  • When we feel compelled to take unwarranted responsibility for another person’s feelings, instead of jumping to the apology/taking on their baggage in that moment, it might be more interesting and helpful to engage in a real dialogue about their experience. Ask questions. Listen. Express your understanding and appreciation for their feelings. Feelings which probably have nothing to do with you

I rarely experience the other side of this coin, struggling to make an apology. But I can say, from the receiving end of that kind of experience, that few things are as meaningful as a good, thoughtful apology when it is warranted. And that most people are more forgiving than we imagine they will be. They just want to hear the words. They want to know that the person apologizing cares. Isn’t that what most of us want, in so many circumstances – for someone to care? When we fail to make a needed apology, whether we mean this or not, we are essentially sending the message that the wronged person’s feelings are of no import to us.

Whichever side of the apologizing coin you fall on, I really believe that the following are helpful to remember:

  • Few things in this world make a greater impact than a real, deep apology when we have actually wronged someone
  • There is literally nothing positive about over/excessive/unwarranted apologizing
  • I very much believe in that old adage that people will rarely remember what we say, but will absolutely remember how we make them feel
  • Just because we struggle in some way with apologizing does not mean that we are totally broken disasters. We can work on all of this. We can heal. And we aren’t alone.

Be good to yourselves this week, Celebrationists!

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Week 88 – Little Bits of Transience

  1. I am grateful to be working on the outrageous and incredible piece that is Mr. Burns, a Post Electric Play
  2. I am grateful for my basil plant
  3. I am grateful for days off

I think perhaps there are moments in all of our lives where we become even more conscious than usual of how rapidly time is passing. How quickly we are moving through our time on this planet. This is something we all know about, but I’m talking about those moments when your breath gets knocked out of you for a second, and you feel it in your eyelashes. Where you have no idea where the last ten years went, and know it’s only going to go faster.

Tonight I watched Before Midnight, which is the most recent of the three Richard Linklater films starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  If you haven’t seen these films, I cannot recommend them with more enthusiasm. Each of them (Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, and After Midnight), follow these two richly drawn characters as they strive to find meaning, connection, and purpose in a world that is constantly reminding us how ephemeral each minute is.

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I think I used to be pretty judgmental of people who couldn’t commit to a clear picture of what they want out of life. Because I always did, or I thought I did. I’m pretty sure that I regarded “people without a plan” with moderate levels of sadness and definite confusion, and couldn’t wrap my mind around how any risk could feel anything less than completely worth it, as long as it had the potential to move you closer to your “dreams.”

But the older I get, the only thing I’m very certain of, is that I’m constantly learning how little I know. This continues to be humbling and terrifying. Grounding, and crazy-making. Joy-filled and thoroughly melancholic.

No matter what people tell me or what books I read, I feel like it’s impossible to adequately prepare ourselves for the reality that as we get older, and perhaps expect to find more answers, we only seem to find ourselves unearthing more questions, at least, if we’re hungry enough. For something.

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As my late twenties are coming nearer and nearer to a close, I find myself thinking a lot about the following. And while this is all deeply personal, I share it because maybe you’ll identify with at least one of these, and feel a little less alone. Though I suspect that it isn’t as purely altruistic as that. Maybe I’m looking to feel a little less alone, myself.

  • The choices I make in the next 5-10 years are very likely to set up the rest of my life. Not that we can’t make a change at any time, but in terms of decisions that potentially affect more people than just ourselves, the stakes are much higher
  • The above makes me hyper-conscious of how I do spend my time, and the guilt I experience when I feel like I don’t spend it “well,” doing something like “wasting” an hour feels like a much greater blow
  • I’m fascinated by/maybe a little obsessed with negotiating the balance between living with intention/having a plan, and taking my foot off the gas and just listening to what the universe has to say. And then I get anxious about just “waiting for something to happen,” and feel like I should “do more,” but then I’m not always sure what to do
  • I have bouts of sincerest angst that I’m not contributing enough in the world, but don’t know how to change this feeling through action, yet
  • I wonder if I really can have it all – a career, a family, a home, a dog. And if I can’t, what am I willing to give up?

I’m sure if I return to this post in ten, twenty years, there will be parts of it that I find very sweet and endearingly young, and also parts that may not feel much different. Intellectually, I know there are very few right answers, there are only the choices we make. But I have a greater sense of empathy lately for the people who feel stuck because they are afraid to choose. Afraid of loss, of heartache, of getting what they say they want and having it not be what they dreamed. The lower the risk, the lower the possibility of pain. There are areas of my life in which I’ve done this. Or do this.

I’m very much in the thick of it. But one thing I’m learning more and more richly by the day is that nothing is ever perfect. No person, situation, house, car, anything.  I think we often fantasize that perhaps when X, Y, or Z happens, then we’ll be happy. And I just don’t think life works that way. I also am want to believe that whatever choices we do make in life, the following things are pretty much always a guarantee:

  • We can always find a way to work with or against the choices we’ve made
  • We can endow anything with meaning, if we decide to
  • Nothing is permanent, even when it feels like it is
  • The world is a challenging place, and when in doubt, following what sparks joy inside us always seems worth it, to me
  • The answer to most challenging situations (and I’ve said this in other blog posts, in more specific ways) is to reach out. When we draw inward and focus harder and harder on ourselves, our world becomes so small
  • We can look at our transience here and let it depress us, or we can operate from a place of understanding that each interaction is a little bit of precious magic
  • If we lead with curiosity and compassion, even when we are at our most confused or groundless, we’ll always learn something – and isn’t that worth something, already?

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Have a great week, Celebrationists. One moment at a time.

Week 87 – Little Bits of Seed Planting, part 2

Happy Monday, Friends.

  1. I am grateful for a beautiful and truly magical day off, at Disney World
  2. I am grateful for friends who teach me more about the world, compassion, and myself, every day
  3. I am grateful to be launching into a big and bold new adventure:

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Nearly a year ago I wrote a post called Little Bits of Seed Planting.  The basic concept I was turning around in my brain is this idea that at any given moment we have infinite choices about the kinds of “seeds we are planting” – what we leave behind when we engage with any person or situation. Trying to own for myself the fact that we have serious decision-making power here, and have the ability to live with intention so that we plant things like compassion, empathy, and empowerment.

“… I think that in every moment we have a choice about what we are planting. Our choice to add aggression or peace to each moment. It might manifest as a smile or frown, our decision to leave a tip, cause a ruckus, create something new, thank someone or scold them, etc. – but we leave the seed behind, after we’ve gone. That seed is planted in the person’s day, and may grow or wither accordingly depending on how they water it. But we plant the seed, first.”

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot again lately, and wanted to dig a few inches deeper. Get beneath the soil a bit, if you will. Get my hands a little dirty.

I think our lives feel complicated to us, much of the time. Our brains are constantly buzzing with our “stuff” – our worries, hopes, fears, insecurities, dreams, drama…there’s a LOT going on up there. And when we feel consumed by all that buzzing and are in a totally tunnel-visioned, self-focused headspace, I think it can be dangerously easy to overlook/miss how our actions affect the people around us. And not only our actions. Our words, our attitude – all of it.

And I guess what I’ve been thinking about lately is that YES, I want to work harder to make sure the seeds I’m planting are seeds of service, seeds that are contributing positively to the world and the people around me…but of even more dire importance I think, is the fact that I remember that I’m planting seeds at all.

It can be so deeply and richly that we impact another person’s day. Week. Life. And so easy to forget.  And just because we’ve gotten in the habit of reacting to a situation in a particular way doesn’t mean we can’t make a different choice at any moment. What I want to remind myself of this week in a renewed way (and I hope you’ll join me if you’d like), is that we can do an incredible amount of good for one another just by CARING. Actually caring. Wanting to know. Asking the questions, and responding in a way that reminds each other that we are not alone.

I want to remind myself that I always have the opportunity to exercise a heart of service or a heart of selfishness. A mind of consideration and thoughtfulness, or a mind of carelessness. That I can plant seeds of compassion or judgment, but the fact is that I AM in fact, planting. Always. All the time.  When I have a great day and incredible luck, and equally when I have an awful day and feel like I’m failing at all of the things. And that those hard days don’t give me a special free pass to be a jerk-face. Or at least, I don’t want to give myself that pass. I want to challenge myself with the idea that it’s the times we are at our lowest might provide the greatest opportunity to reach out. It can be so easy to turn inward, and think the answer is there…I think it hardly ever is. As the most wonderful Pema Chodron says, “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder.”

I want to be accountable. I want to plant good things. I want to take care of each other. We’re beautifully flawed humans, so it’ll be a struggle – we’ll mess up for sure. But want to join me, and try?

Also, enjoy this delicious wall of sound, if you like – just seems appropriate : ) Make Our Garden Grow

Have a great week, Celebrationists. *HUG*

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Week 86 – Little Bits of “Better”

Hi there, Celebrationists.  Happy Monday.

  1. I am grateful for generous, patient friends
  2. I am grateful for these past two days of exceptional weather
  3. I am grateful for my bed

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past couple of days: sometimes, you need to just let yourself enjoy things.

Here’s what I mean.

I think some of us move through the world with a pretty decent amount of drive, work ethic, desire, passion – whatever that quality manifests itself as for you….and possibly some of us hold ourselves to a particular standard that can make it difficult to enjoy almost anything, because we know “it could be better.” We could:

  • Perform better
  • Look better
  • Teach better
  • BE better (in any number of ways – be more patient, compassionate, kind, etc)
  • DO better (at whatever “it” is)
  • Etc.

At the end of the day, this obsession with “better” can get exhausting. And for what? What are we gaining – or more importantly, what are we contributing/adding to the world by fixating on everything we feel like we aren’t doing? I’m not talking about letting go of the desire for self-improvement, or to put a damper on a sense of striving – I’m talking about that purely self-critical judgement that doesn’t empower us to work harder, but cuts us off at our ankles and makes us want to stay in bed for three days.

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I don’t know if you ever experience this, but in certain moments where you do feel somewhat satisfied with a job well done, do you ever experience guilt about…feeling good? Like, you feel the need to either keep your joy very private, or…even then, you feel as though the contentment is an illusion/you’re kidding yourself because the “reality” is that “it” probably wasn’t as good as you think, and “here’s why?” What an exhausting and silly way to live.

What would happen if we could let go of that? In those moments when we are most disastrous to ourselves, what if we could pause and say….”Stop. Just STOP. This is boring and selfish and useless.” And then…actually stop.  The thing is, I do believe that this is possible – I just wish there was a fast and easy method for how to do it. The only answer I can think of though, is simply, practice. Practice a new way of responding to situations until you’re bored with how many times you’ve reacted in this new way. The part that’s maddening is that it’s deceptively simple, and that it takes time. And knowing that most of us will definitely take many paces back before we move forward. But how cool really, the thought of cultivating a practice of just…enjoying ourselves. Enjoying. Our. Selves.

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What if we could make a practice of really appreciating:

  • Our performance in any given situations – ups, downs, flubs and all – enjoying it just the same because it happened, no matter what the end result is
  • Our bodies
  • Our ability to share and also receive information, because each of us has a totally unique way of doing this
  • Our quirks
  • Our efforts about anything and everything we pursue, because each time we put ourselves out there and bravely attempt something, we are learning. And what does it even mean for something to be a success or failure? To a certain degree, I think those are terms that we define for ourselves. Something doesn’t have to be a commercial success for us to find meaning and worth

What might happen if we could look at our perceived shortcomings with a greater sense of

  • Humor
  • Humility
  • Awareness that at the end of the day, so many outcomes don’t even matter/won’t be remembered
  • Awareness that all of us are a collection of incongruous bits and bobs, and that something you view as a shortcoming might be a treasure to someone else

So what happens when we let go of “better” and just embrace where we are and what we are doing right now? What happens if we make a practice of celebrating what is, instead of what might be? Life is awfully short, and if we spend all our time focusing on the “betters,” we might just miss out on what is already pretty wonderful.

Do something nice for yourself this week, Celebrationists – let yourself enjoy the internal and external things in your life that might bring you pleasure. When we deprive ourselves for any length of time, it can be harder to be generous in a genuine way. So be good to yourselves this week – and I’ll try to do the same : )

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