Love song

February 28, 2011


Today is the last day of February, and the last day of my month-long orbit around love. Thank you all for your heart-felt comments this month, and, to those who’ve watched from the sidelines, for your quiet presence. Both have meant the world to me and made me feel a warmth in this space that’s truly caused my trust to grow. I hope the same has been true for you, too!

I want to close this month with a love song that I wrote for you. Though musically inclined, I have never self-identified as a singer, and, as you will hear, have no vocal training (let alone training in recording technology!). But I feel so much love for all of you that I’ve found myself singing this to you in my mind all month. The words are these:

May your fears find rest
May your body know peace
May the things you need [in order] to heal, draw in near

May it be so!!

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With so much love,

 

 

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On opening the heart

February 26, 2011


This whole month at Trust Tending has been focused on love. I’m not sure about you, but for me, maintaining that focus post-Valentine’s Day has felt a bit like holding a tough yoga pose: the far more natural instinct is to shift to something easier. Something like slippers and sweats after a day in fussy clothing (or after an early February dripping with hearts and sweets and sentimentality…).

I’ve been learning something this month, though, that makes that very analogy – the one of a tough yoga pose – perfect, and altogether trust-inducing, for love.

Historically, I have been both slow to trust and enormous-hearted. I haven’t trusted easily, but once I have, I’ve TRUSTED. Which of course has set me up for enormous disappointments, since TRUSTING – expecting a person or thing to forever be everything (and more!) you want them to be – isn’t fair to any person, place, or thing. Buddhists say all is in flux, and I really think they’re right. People and things will change – will evolve and devolve, will delight and disappoint, will prove more predictable and more puzzling than ever we imagine they can be. And, given enough time, our perceptions of them will change, too.

So the disappointments that my TRUSTING caused made me guard my heart more and more carefully. They made me assume that soft-and-unguarded-heartedness were actually synonymous with naivete, at best, and stupidity in all other cases. A set-up for being hurt and scandalized, both.

I’ve had a slow dawning this winter, however, of a radically different view of soft-heartedness (the flux strikes again!), which crystallized during my interview with Rachael Maddox. Rachael and I were talking about how to move from being hurt and holding a grudge to a place of softness again toward the person (or, I might add, group or institution or divinity) that did the wounding (that segment of the interview begins around the 9:30 mark). And at one point we asked the question: How does it feel to hold the grudge? Does that feel better than the alternative?

Something about asking that question ran cracks through the wall I hardly knew I’d constructed around my heart. It introduced into my understanding of love a brand new possibility that changes so much for me: maintaining a soft heart, no matter what, because it feels better than the alternative.

But this isn’t just any sort of soft heart. To go back to that yoga pose analogy, there’s a lot involved with this one.

Here are some things that this type of soft heart isn’t:

  • An expectation that the person or institution you’re directing it toward will be safe or trustworthy or kind.
  • A type of payment that obligates the recipient to be grateful or respectful or soft-hearted back.
  • A willingness to be used or walked on.
  • A free pass for the other to treat you poorly without consequences or tension being held right back by you.
  • A force field that keeps you from getting hurt or disappointed.
  • A numbing out or suppressing of your anger or frustration.

And here are some things that it is:

  • An intentional and repeated holding down/peeling back/unbuilding of the wall that instinctually wants to form around your heart when you’re hurt or afraid or angry.
  • A visualization, repeated often (as necessary!), of your heart being soft, open and receptive.
  • An awareness that all people and all institutions will disappoint and frustrate you. Period. If they haven’t yet, give them time and they will.
  • In light of that awareness, a shrinking back of judgment, condescension, and feelings of indignation when a person or institution angers or disappoints you. (Of course! This is one of the things that people and institutions do! I have and will do these kinds of things, too!)
  • An acknowledgment of life’s perpetual flux, which can include the surprise of something or someone who has hurt you changing, growing, evolving into something new. And your perceptions of them, too.
  • A visceral remembrance of grudges you’ve held in the past, of times when your heart was closely guarded, of times when your heart itself felt (or still feels) like a fist: tight, rigid, ready for a fight. And a growing ability to compare what those things feel like with the feeling of a soft, unguarded, receptive heart.

I’m not sure how to express the profundity of this pose. How much it changes how I feel toward other people. How much less dependent it makes me on things outside myself to get to the kind of inner peace for which I long.

This heart? This unguarded one that can say no and that hurt me and I can’t let you do that around me again in the very same breath as I love you and I’m open to hear what you think; this heart that can beat freely and unscandalized in the face of meanness and hostility; this heart that requires no apology or promise of change to stay open; this heart that begins to “get”, in an ever deepening way, what compassion is, and love, and being truly, deeply at ease: it feels so good. Almost too good to be true, but for the fact that I’ve been feeling it a lot this month. Practicing the pose. Testing it out in a number of relationships and discovering – to the surprise of the parts of myself that have always advised more, rather than less, bricks to be added to the walls around my heart – that instead of opening me up to greater hurt, it’s actually healing my greatest hurts. Instead of making me more vulnerable to life’s inevitable punches, it’s giving me a kind of suppleness and flex and strength, that can handle life’s punches far better than any wall or tensed-up fists-up ever could.

My TRUST, with its all-or-nothing, ultimatum-laden graspingness is turning into a deeper, more open-handed trust as I practice maintaining this natural, unnatural pose. Me, who, truth be told, has never tried yoga once.

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Betting my life that it’s true

February 23, 2011


What if there’s nothing else you need to do
And nothing else you need to change.
No amount of therapy
or yoga
or mediation
or sleep
or prayer
or income generation
or productivity.
And no amount of reading the right books
or writing the right books
or having the right friends
or losing that extra weight
or lifting those sagging parts
or lifting your sagging spirit.
And no amount of cleanliness in your home
or fullness of your social calendar
or greater or lesser focus on other people
or kindness to your dear ones
or vegetables consumed
or healing of the conflict with your kids or partner or friends

- what if there isn’t any alteration or endeavor whatsoever
that could make you any more lovable
or holy
or miraculous
or dear
than you actually already are?

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Tending trust after hurtful episodes

February 21, 2011


Last week I posted a reflection on a story about losing my cool with my kids. For me, tending trust is a lot about situating stories like those within a broader context of growth and discovery – panning out to see such stories as single chapters in a much richer, more beautiful tale.

Toward this end, I thought it’d make sense to describe the kind of trust-tending that happens in our household after the drama of mommy or daddy expressing anger in less-than-constructive ways. If you don’t have kids – and even if you do – I’m thinking these moves could work well no matter what the ages or relationships of those involved in such experiences.

So here are some of the things my husband and I try to do:

Apologize. Once we’ve cooled down enough to do so honestly, we say we’re sorry. We try to be specific about what it is we’re sorry about.

Take responsibility. Kids often internalize blame when things don’t go like they should, and we try to help our kids understand that it’s our responsibility as parents to practice self control, no matter what they do or say. We own that we’re still working on self control, and that we’ll keep working at it.

Debrief with the child toward whom our anger was directed. We ask our daughter or son what the event was like for them. We try to say as little as possible, and when we do talk, to get into their shoes as much as we can. (I wouldn’t like to be talked to that way. What was that like for you?) We’ve found that even when a child acts like they aren’t bothered by what happened or doesn’t initiate any further conversation about it, when invited to talk, and particularly in a setting conducive to one-on-one conversation (for us, this means bedtime) they have big feelings about what happened, and things they’d like to say.

Debrief with the child who was merely an observer of the episode. It’s easy to focus all our trust-tending efforts on the child who received our wrath, but angry moms and dads and exchanges between them and siblings can be fearsome for other siblings to watch. As above, even when the witnessing sibling doesn’t initiate conversation about what happened, we’ve found they actually have big feelings about it, and have healing and processing they need to do as well.

Get conscious of our triggers. It’s easy to want to move on from our anger completely, but we’ve found it really helpful, once we’ve cooled down, to take some moments getting conscious of what actually triggered it. Was it really about our own fatigue, hunger, or illness, or was there a telltale recipe beyond that that triggers us all of the time? My anger flares most predictably when I feel helpless in a situation where I know something really needs to happen in a timely way (i.e. we need to leave a park before we all get ravenous; we need to get to school on time). Understanding why we got angry is a HUGE move for us toward figuring out how to avoid hurtful exchanges in the future.

Strategize how to avoid getting triggered again and what to do when we see we’re heading that way. Sometimes there’s no getting around triggering situations. But even in those instances, the triggers can often be made slightly less potent with a little bit of forethought. For example, I can always have some kind of snack in my bag to give myself or the kids when I know it’s possible we won’t get home by mealtime (something I didn’t do last week). In the case of our park time last week, I’ve noted that no matter how good I feel when we head out for the day, if I’m still a little bit sick, I need to set a timer for an hour and round up the troops once that hour is through. No waiting until I’m ready to keel over completely before trying to get kids and so much stuff back to the car.

And in the case of what to do when I can feel myself already getting triggered, I’ve decided I’m going to try something new the next time. I’m going to see whether it’s possible, once I’ve noticed my anger beginning to flare, to pull outside of myself a little bit and watch myself and my child/ren as a third party observer who isn’t so personally involved in the situation. What if I pretend I’m watching as a grandparent with all the advantage of decades’ distance from early years of parenting? What if I pretend I’m someone surrounded by love, like in this ritual? I don’t know what will happen, but I’m imagining that having at least part of my consciousness not fully enmeshed in the here-ness and now-ness of whatever it is that’s making me angry couldn’t help but cool me down.

Try to avoid trigger-rich situations altogether for a few days. After displays of intense anger, everyone is a little bit tender. We’ve found that having some days of relative peace afterward is a good way to boost the rebuilding of trust. And if some of the reason for such displays is about ongoing sleep deprivation or illness, chances are high that such displays will happen again in trigger-rich situations. For me, this means having extra modest goals when it comes to outings and errand-running. It means not trying to do anything beyond super simple meal-prep, since dinner time is notorious around our household for everyone being on edge. It means starting the process of getting ready to leave the house for school well before it’s time to actually leave, so that mama doesn’t need to turn into drill sergeant.

Constructively redirect guilt and shame. Rather than tell my child/ren more often than usual that I love them, or give them special treats in the days following a blow-up – both things that guilt and shame and a child’s vulnerability/distrust can make us want to do, and that seem to elicit less, rather than more, trust in the long run – we try to put our love for our kids into practical action. How can I get more sleep or maintain my blood sugars so that I’m less grumpy? How can I be more present to my kids when I’m actually with them? How can I tune my expectations of my kids’ impulse control, conflict management skills, and coping mechanisms to the ages they actually are, rather than the ages I sometimes wish would correspond to their skills in such things?

Cut everyone extra slack. It’s hard to be a kid and it’s hard to be a parent. Heck, it’s hard to be a human being most of the time! Navigating fear and guilt and shame are things everyone in a family or relationship will have to do after hurtful episodes, and such seas are rarely smooth sailing. Expecting choppiness and adjusting expectations accordingly can be one of the biggest expressions of love any of us could give or receive.

******************

I would love to hear any ideas any of you might have to add to this list. And leads to other helpful resources are likewise welcome!

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Ready in the wings

February 18, 2011


Six weeks into the life of this blog, I’m continuing to experiment with voice: how much or little do I put myself into what I write here? How many words do I use to convey an idea? How practical do I get, or, conversely, how flowery?

I’m very much interested to hear your thoughts on such things (comments or emails greatly welcome!).

I say all of this, though, now, because it feels a little bit like the universe is conspiring against anything other than me telling you exactly what I’m learning about trust as I learn it. So I’m going to try to honor that tonight and jump right into a story I’d rather not need to tell.

It has four parts:

Part 1: Prologue

I’ve been sick this week. Full-body aches, throbbing head and ears, sore throat, low fever. Nothing to keep me in bed all day, but enough to make me feel lousy.

My sleep has been really chopped up lately, too, with my own illness and kids having bad dreams and congestion and one deciding that 5am is a good time to be done with a night.

And the kids have been fighting constantly.

And I’ve had PMS.

Part 2: The Mud

Both my kids attend the same preschool – a play-based coop that encourages as much hands-on, tactile learning as little ones can handle in a morning (for us, a great thing).

Yesterday I arrived for pick-up to find my 5-year-old covered from head to toe in mud. He exuberantly showed me the mud-based contraptions that he and his buddy had been working on all day, and then proceeded to fiercely resist any suggestion that now was the time to go home. His buddy joined the resistance with a dirt clod thrown at my head.

On a normal day, pick-up involves wrangling the following things from school, down 1 or 2 blocks, to my car: 5-year-old, 3-year-old, 2 lunch boxes, two grocery sacks of clean or soiled clothing (one for each kid), muddy boots (if used), and various and sundry art and/or building and/or mixing plans.

On a normal day, this is a challenge for me (I laugh at the understatement of that). And I’ve learned that the challenge is made far greater if my 5-year-old has forgotten to eat his lunch.

Yesterday, with prologue pulsing through my veins, the need to get mud cleaned up enough to not destroy our car, and a dear boy who was enjoying what he was doing, had a friend who wanted to see that he continued doing it, and a case of plummeting blood sugars, it pushed me over the edge.

By the time the boy was in his car seat, scratching at his sister who promptly dumped his open container of fruit onto the sandy floor of our car – a move that ensured the boy wouldn’t get one ounce of the sugar I knew he needed in his system – I lost it.

I took my car keys and threw them hard at the passenger seat. I got out of the car, slammed my door as hard as I could, and picked up his fruit to the tune of something like, “I’m sick of you two fighting, and sick of you wasting your stupid food (yes, I said “stupid food”), and sick of [I can’t remember what all else. Much more was said. None of it pretty.]” I slammed his door as hard as I could, got the 3-year-old buckled in and slammed her door as hard as I could and steamed home, a fire-breathing dragon.

Part 3: The Pee

5-year-old wets his bed at 4:15am this morning. Something he only ever does when he’s anxious.

Part 4: The Park

So today we enjoyed a really nice time at a park. I’m still not 100% well, but enough to get out. It rained yesterday, so there was mud again, and there was a boot lost in it, and a little girl with muddy socks, and her muddy boots, and two scooters, and two helmets, and our day bag, and of course my 5 year old to wrangle back to the car by the time the day was through.

And all of that made it to the car but the boy. Who sat playing in the sand, surely testing whether mom could anti up with self control after so much processing about it the day before.

I sat in the car with my daughter – feverish, frustrated. I honked my horn a couple of times to get his attention. Didn’t get a glance.

So I ran to where he was, picked him up, told him how sick I felt and how frustrated and how much I wished he could come when I needed him to come. How running back for him and carrying him made me feel even sicker. He has a soft, soft heart, and felt bad, and asked me to put him down so at least that part of it wouldn’t add to things, and I put him down roughly. He said that hurt his arm. I hissed, “You hurt my whole body.”

I drove home accelerating to the speed limit after each stop by flooring it.

Questions for (rhetorical) discussion:
1. How old am I, exactly?
2. How many years of therapy have I had?
3. How many psychology books have I read and how deeply, is it, that I trust and believe in non-violence?

**********************

Both days, after cooling down, I had good conversations with Eli about all angles of these events. I know, though, that no matter what was said afterward, my anger and my harsh words hurt him. Threads between us were damaged. We will have a few days or more where he oscillates between trying to be extra helpful and “good”, and testing me more fiercely than his normal heart-centered self ever feels compelled to do. There might be more bed wetting. The sibling spats could flare.

And I know all of this from experience.

From one perspective, this would be an excellent moment to dig a nice shame pit and think comforting thoughts like: Wow, look what you’ve done. That may never heal. or Couldn’t you dig just a little deeper here, Kristin?

But here’s what I’m thinking instead: This love thing? And trust? I’m in. I’m so completely in. Which means that when I fall on my face, and lose my control, and do real and lasting damage – on any front, parenting and beyond – I’m committed to standing back up when I’m able. To asking for forgiveness. To owning my limitations. To listening to my son, and anyone else that I’ve hurt, tell me about how they feel, and what they need, and what they really don’t want any more of. I’m committed to sharing the same things with them when they inevitably hurt me.

There is a buoyancy to love and trust that gives me so much hope. A resurrection power. Constant feel-good emotions and trust-filled action, in my experience, aren’t part of their deal. But given enough cool-off time, and whatever other time a person needs, there they are, waiting in the wings. Ready to be tended again. And again. And again. And yes, yet again.

This says nothing of whether the people I’ve hurt or who’ve hurt me are ready to engage again. But, when I’m ready to engage it, my trust that it’s okay to be who and what I am is. And, too, my connection with a love that, without judgment or scolding, invites me to live into ever more Life (wholeness, connection, soft-and-unguarded-heartedness, self control…).

Love and trust cannot stay dead. Maybe they can’t ever die. Maybe they’re only ever hidden behind my ego, and once I can soothe her and calm her and catch a glimpse beyond, I see that love, and therefore every reason to trust, are really all there is.

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Love notes

February 16, 2011


If this is your first visit here, welcome! I hope you find something useful on these pages! The Featured Posts section in the sidebar and these sketches are both great places to get a feel for what this site is all about.

Also, I’m honored to be featured at Zen Family Habits today with a post about a book that changed my life (you don’t have to be partnered, married, or with kids to connect with this book, too!). Zen Family Habits is a sister site to Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits, and a really wonderful resource for practical, hope-filled articles related to all things family.

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Love: a how-to

February 14, 2011

1. Press “pause” on your ego. This will cause a number of things to temporarily fly away.

2. Think about, look upon, or converse with yourself or another.

P.S. If #1 is too difficult to do all at once, try one small pause at a time. Over time, your ability to give and receive love will grow.

P.P.S. If P.S. is too difficult to do just yet, try tending trust, each day, in some small way. That’s what these sketches are for. And this entire site!

Right now I’m working in the P.S.-P.P.S range. And my report as of now: totally worth it.

 

*****************
This post is part of the Love Sparks Blogging Festival. Go take a look at what many thoughtful bloggers are saying about love. And if you’re inspired, join the festival with your own love post, too!

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The gift of being a wreck

February 12, 2011


My most trusty tool for learning to live beyond fear is mindfulness – practicing getting conscious of what’s happening inside and around me. This week I was conscious of the stars aligning perfectly for a vulnerable, freaked-out inner world, and true to form, my inner world delivered. I was a wreck for a good couple days.

Being on the other side of those emotions now, I’m noting a couple more things.

First, I feel ashamed when I feel really vulnerable and afraid and ashamed (yes, shame about shame!). Or at least part of me does. There are parts of me that trust deeply that all my emotions are fine and that it’s normal, in fact, to experience fear and shame and vulnerability. But parts of me are convinced that I should be able to apply these very beliefs in a more sweeping, feel-good way all the time.

Which of course could only work, as far as I can see, by suppressing a lot of what goes on inside.

The other thing I’m noting is a type of fertile ground in being-a-wreck-ness. When people come to the end of their rope, to the end of what they know to do to help themselves, to the end of their logic-mind having any say in how they feel, sometimes there’s a vulnerable humility that happens. A surrender. A release of all hope of control.

I hardly have words yet for what I’m intuiting here, but something about this place of raw humility strikes me as holy. Maybe the most sacred thing there is. A ground so fertile for trust to grow that I want to bow before it.

This is where we see our most raw need. This is where our hopes of paying for, or performing for, or being clever enough for, or achieving enough for, or being mature enough for – of having our sh*t together enough for – love are crumpled up and folded back enough for us to see the real heart that pulses underneath: the wish to be loved just as we are.

This is where the potential arises, too, to turn our eyes outward to recognize the unearnable, unloseable, unbearably real lovableness of everyone else, too.

However briefly our efforts at earning love stay crumpled, and whether these crumplings are met with recognizable love from others or not, I wonder whether it could transform our lives to see them not as evidence of failure or weakness or immaturity, but as moments of pure gift. Cracks in a facade that’s not nearly as lovable or relateable or hope-inducing as the vulnerable, helpless, bleating heart at pulse beneath.

*******************

This Ben Taylor song, Surround Me, could be sung by such a heart.

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Loved: A Ritual

February 8, 2011


*For an introduction to this category, click here.

It’s been a long day for me. A long few years, really. This parenting gig is more of a challenge than I ever imagined it would be. And when sleep is getting chopped up by it and by my sense of calling to and love for the work I’m doing here, it only gets harder. I find myself ashamed and disappointed, on one level, by how exhausted and sparkle-less I often feel, and by the ways this effects my cushion for dealing compassionately and humorfully with normal 3 and 5-year-old behavior.

All that to say, I’ve been planning to write up a ritual tonight that focuses on loving our bodies more, as shame around our physical selves is such a deep shadow around our ability to love ourselves and others well. But I think I need to expand this ritual to include other aspects of our beings, too, including the parts of us that are exhausted and beaten down and wishing we could somehow “rise above” more often than we do.

So here goes:

Picture a part of yourself that you find hard to love. Maybe it’s your skin, your breasts, your cellulite, your wrinkles. Maybe you’ve never liked your hair or the shape of your ears or the size of your belly or thighs. Maybe it’s every fat cell on your body, or a cancer you want to survive.

And maybe, like the paragraphs earlier describe, it’s a quality that’s been with you for some time: the way you get cranky on too little sleep, or depressed, or nihilistic. Your tendency to fear a certain thing. Or everything. Your biting sarcasm. Your self that rages at people that you love, or withdraws from them, or shuts completely down when connection and closeness are what you want most of all.

Whatever it is, imagine that part of yourself as somehow floating a distance away from yourself. You might need to personify it to make this work, so maybe you picture your exhausted, cranky self that has a hard time going to bed early even when she knows she needs to (a-hem) as an actual character, complete with crazy hair, baggy eyes, and an unbecoming expression. Maybe you picture your own thighs this way. Or your nose, or that mole on your forehead.

If personifying doesn’t feel right to you, you could imagine that part of yourself symbolically as a colored ball.

Okay, so you’re picturing this part of yourself that’s hard for you to love floating some distance from your body.

Now imagine that part of yourself completely surrounded by love. Don’t worry – you don’t have to be the one extending the love; that very thing is what’s so hard, right? Just imagine that part of you being surrounded by the purest sort of love you can dream up.

Maybe you can even imagine a love so pure that there isn’t any judgment in it whatsoever. There’s no edge of sternness at what you’ve done or not done to get this part of you this way. There’s no assumption that this part of you should have been different or otherwise or nonexistent. There’s no vicarious shame at how ghastly or unappealing this part of you is or expectation that you repay any of its kindness.

All there is is complete acceptance, warmth, and compassion.

Imagine this love like a warm cloud around the part of you you find so hard to love. Picture this cloud whatever color feels most safe and love-like to you. And imagine your unlovable part softening and leaning into this embrace – smiling or actually crying at how good it feels to be loved, how odd and unexpected and unasked for.

Now. Whenever you feel critical of or impatient with or downright nasty toward this part of yourself, take the pressure off yourself completely to love it at all. Don’t even try.

Just go back to your image of it being held by a love that you’re not personally generating – a love you’re only imagining is there at all.

And go back to that image.
And go back to that image.
And go back to that image.
And go back to that image.
Whenever you’re damning or wishing that part of you away, go back to that image.

I’d love to hear what happens if you do.

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Shadow light

February 6, 2011

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