Early bloomer? Late Bloomer? Just right where you are?

Rhodedendron May 2017

Look at this picture of a rhododendron in the Arboretum. On this particular day, this plant had everything – tightly wound buds with but a tiny hint of pink, a cluster of blossoms with one flower section bursting out and the rest still closed, a bunch of blossoms nearly fully in bloom, and everything in between. Is this plant an “early bloomer?” A “late bloomer?” The more I studied it, the more I felt nurtured by its multi-faceted presence. It held everything – all the stages of blossoming – just like us. “Early” and “late” have a qualitative connotation – one is deemed as positive and the other as at least slightly negative. Looking at this plant the other day, I could not imagine judging any single part of it – it simply was responding to the particular mix of sun, rain, soil, and other conditions in its own unique, beautiful way. The first buds to blossom were no more deserving of attention, admiration, and nurturing, than the ones yet to come. I felt compelled to embrace more deeply the fundamental truth that we are all “mixed bags.” Different parts of us mature at different times — and just as we can hold in wonder a baby’s first steps – at nine months, one year, or seventeen months, we can offer ourselves and each other that same tenderness.

I have always been responsible, “mature for my age.” At least that’s what I thought. I took care of my younger siblings, did lots of chores, read early, marched through all the expected academic stages steadfastly and well, provided emotional support to my parents, and didn’t “cause any trouble.”

However, I entered my 20’s without many skills in the area of relationships, especially romantic relationships. I was scared, selfish, and unconsciously reacting from a trigger-ready bag of hurt and confusion. It took years and years before I truly understood my behavior and before I could have a healthy, mutual, unconditionally loving, life partner relationship. On the other hand, I was a fairly mature mother right from the start; I had a lot of skills and understanding about parenting. At the same time (on the third or fourth hand?), I had plenty of missteps, was unskilled in certain areas of mothering, and am in an ongoing, unending learning process, as I continue to grow as a parent of young adult children.

Along the way, I have felt ashamed of my immature parts. I have wanted to hide them, and spent way too many years judging myself and castigating myself for my imperfections. As I sit with people now, friends, clients, and family members, I often hear this same judgment. “Why am I still struggling with self-doubt at 37 years old?” “I can’t believe that I am still so angry at my parents; I am 45 years old!” “I still feel so embarrassed that I married that person, and we have not been together for more than ten years!” “We have been together for twelve years, but my wife and I have never talked about this part of our relationship. What’s wrong with us?”

What is this arbitrary map we set for ourselves? The things is, we are all beloved  – exactly as we are right now. There is an overflow of love, acceptance, and unwavering hope for each of us. Our human nature is perfectly in tune with nature itself. Some parts just starting to bloom; some parts not yet ready to flower, some parts needing some pruning or extra nourishment, and some parts in full, blossomy glory.

It takes courage, persistence, grace, and support to understand ourselves, to hope, and to change. It is not a linear path, and it is fraught with many obstacles of vulnerability, loneliness, and confusion. Gentleness is key. I celebrate the ways in which I have been able to heal, to let go of limiting beliefs, to forgive myself and others, and to feel alive and bursting with optimism. I am touched every single day by the people I sit with, who are willing to be honest about their path and are tenderly taking even the tiniest step forward towards fully loving themselves. Their blossoms – just like the mystery of each individual petal, leaf, and twig are an incredible teacher and inspiration.

May your own “mixed bag” nature continue to grow into the most magnificent expression of yourself.

 

mixed bag 1

Anger

Anger: a definition from The Oxford Dictionary: “The active feeling provoked against the agent; passion, rage; wrath, ire, hot displeasure. (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/7498?rskey=eCgelq&result=1#eid)

Even writing those words activates the part of me that feels anger. It is an uncomfortable feeling for me – mostly in the “unpleasant” category, even though sometimes there is a swift sort of “high” when the hot energy of anger courses through me

Using the experience of anger, I have been reflecting on how one sits with/observes emotions. In meditation, we are instructed to “watch” mind states arise and to observe those same mind states subsiding or floating away. It has been useful for me to also notice the physical sensations and judgments or evaluations that arise as I observe this particular mind state.

As I notice anger arise, if I let go of judgment and just notice the intense increase in breathing, heart racing, words crowding in my mind that want to explode out, I can then pause and choose to keep breathing and keep noticing and to feel “underneath” those sensations. Often I notice that anger arises because of an underlying fear – that I am being judged or that my sense of myself is being threatened or perhaps even a physical fear of being harmed. If I notice the fear and just name all the thoughts and feelings that arise, I can sometimes let go of anger and include the person(s) or situation inside my heart instead of pushing them away or holding them at a virtual arm’s length.

Recently, in the presence of someone yelling, the above practice brought about a state of calm. I wasn’t conscious of breathing at first, but since I had connected with my heart, I was in a somewhat effortless state of presence in a way that I have not experienced in the past. I felt like a warrior, and I felt peaceful. Strong, gentle, clear, and loving – but not from a place of will or effort or self-consciousness or self-righteousness. Another time, when the accusations were directed straight towards me, calmness did not arise, but continual breathing did, and I was able to hear the pain the other person was in and to let go, again and again, of the accusations, and hold love. Both times I felt the moment of choosing – to breathe, to imagine what the other person was feeling/needed, to know my inner self was safe.

I am grateful for these angry situations, as they are reminding me again that there are really so many more possibilities than we at first realize….and that these possibilities become more apparent when we pause and reconnect to our basic purpose and a sense that there is a much bigger reality than what we can see in front of ourselves. It is painful to have to face that even in relatively benign situations it is often very difficult to choose love instead of anger/reactivity. This experience brought home how regular practice can change us inside and out so that each time we actively choose love we are strengthening our ability to choose it, even when activated by fear or anger. We can set limits, take care of ourselves, and separate from unsafe or difficult dynamics, and this can be done peacefully. This practice – such a great word – will surely arise hundreds of times. I hope that I will continue to lean into the possibility of connection even in very unpleasant circumstances.

 

“Warrior” Parent

The Balance of Humility and Fortitude

Whether or not you have ever held the “Warrior Pose´ Virabhadrasana, imagine the feeling of having to make a decision for and with your child that is unclear. “Should” you push him to sleep in his own bed? Is it time to stop using a bottle? Is that tic a sign of stress or a deeper anxiety disorder – does she need a therapist? Is there a better way to “discipline” than timeouts? Is this or that behavior outside of the norm? Can your child stay home alone for a half hour? Have a cell phone? Go to sleep-away camp? How can you support them when they are afraid?

In my opinion, these questions have no right answer. Each parent, each family constellation, has to walk the bumpy road of decision-making in their own unique way. At the same time, there is an underlying thread in this process that does connect us and that we can support in each other.

How does the image of the “Warrior” capture this thread? In the steadfast gaze that is able to discern the next step. The flexible back that can hold many realities at once. The humble bowing that surrenders to the unknown and the feeling of doubt. The formidable stance that both protects the child from others’ judgment and believes in the child’s ability to manage the next level of development.

Whether or not you do yoga, I offer these images to encourage you to pause the next time you have to make a difficult decision. Let go of finding the “right” answer, and let yourself touch into your strength and your doubt. Sit with the indecision and know that you are not alone – we all have sat there and will sit there again.

Experiment with literally standing in different positions – upright, bent over, arms raised in supplication, eyes shut, eyes open, holding still, swaying back and forth. Notice your breath. See if new information arises about the decision you are trying to make or about your child or yourself. Breathe deeply. Trust that your inner wisdom can rise and that you can be both steadfast and humble as you move forward, able to recalibrate if the decision ends up leading to more imbalance.