Connection

The urge to write is unbearable, yet the words, the arc, the pretty package is escaping me. So today, just the raw words. Credit card points are a beautiful thing. We thought we were clever when we paid for IVF with our hilton honors card, joking that we would use the points one day to sneak away for a night or two in chicago after our second baby was born. It is one of those things we have been fully committed to since Henry was born, we would find time for just us, preserve our marriage, our foundation. We wouldn’t look at the calendar one day and realize it had been 2 years since we got away. And thanks to my amazing mother in law and brother, we do get that time. We were certain we would have another baby and committed to preserving our time as a couple. Weeks later, we got the news we were going to have twins. The hotel would have to wait for a while.

We were thrilled and scared out of our minds, and we laughed, and we cried, tears of joy and absolute terror. Adding one baby at a time is daunting enough, how would we possibly prepare for two. We needed to buy a new car, make some changes to the house, and mentally and emotionally prepare and pave the way for extreme love and chaos.

As the months passed Twin A and Twin B transformed to baby boy a and baby boy b and then to Jackson and Finn. And we met them and held them and loved them so fiercely so immediately that my heart was bursting from my chest, and as they clutched our fingers with their tiny hands we whispered in their tiny ears that they were perfect and we would never forget them. And just like that they breathed their last breaths in our arms and were on to the next life.

A year ago today we did find ourselves in that luxurious hotel in Chicago, paid for with IVF points. We were home to celebrate my sister’s wedding, and to bury our baby boys ashes next to their grandfather and great grandparents, to be looked after, to honor their short lives in the place we both grew up. We sat in the hotel wrapped in each others arms, in a cloak of heartbreak, beauty and simplicity, in pure indulgence, just 54 days after our sweet boys passed away in our arms.

Amanda went for a run, desperately trying to transform her postpartum body back to the way it was. Sitting on the balcony, drinking my coffee and sleepily overlooking the city street below, my phone rang. It was my brother Mat, his voice shaking, “Hey, what’s up, I have Kristin here too. I don’t know how else to say this. They found dad. He’s dead. I love you.” Dead silence….”No. Way. When did he die, where did they find him?” “They found him dead in bed, covered in bottles of booze, in an apartment in Bangkok. Suspected suicide.”

I couldn’t breathe, my mouth agape, i shut down. “Ok. Are you ok? I love you both. I am so sorry.” It was his 63rd birthday, almost 20 years to the day that he disappeared.

We all have those moments in our lives, before and after moments, where things change forever, anchored by an event. While most of my life had been marked by the disappearance of my father, the birth and death of our sons marked an almost unbearable new line.

Most of my childhood and early adulthood years were spent in survival mode, and to accomplish that I shut down emotionally, compartmentalizing my life. To let any of the pain in would have shut me down, so I moved forward, head down, got shit done. My compassion and empathy for others overflowed, crying walking by a homeless person on the street. My empathy and compassion for myself was non existent. Marrying Amanda was the beginning of my exterior cracking, real vulnerability showing its face, slowly breaking down. Then Henry was born and my heart oozed, the foundation crumbling.

After his first 17 days of life, in great health, he almost died. 6lbs 9ozs and he had rsv. They told us to prepare for him not to make it. And I broke open completely, like i had never done before, feeling the full blast of all my emotions. Aching for the life we were going to have with him, that after 2.5 years was finally here and now we were losing him. And we stayed strong and let our friends and family in, to love us and care for us and help us believe he would be ok. And then suddenly he took a turn for the better, and he lived. He is our miracle baby, no doctor could explain his quick recovery, inches from death to a healthy, happy, nursing baby.

Jackson and Finn’s death ripped my heart out, i felt like I was walking around inside out. The depth of our love for them in the short time they lived was astounding. We held each other and were cradled and loved by all of our friends and family. And I was open, and in touch and not putting up the walls and the facade. I didn’t hold it together and I didn’t need to. I was finally the vulnerable person I teach others to be.

Somehow, the death of my father triggered me back to being 13 years old again. Feeling unsafe and compartmentalized. All the opening I had done, all the undoing of those habits, all the work, one instant shut me down again.

So hear I sit in our small town coffee shop, on the heels of my Dad’s 64th birthday and anniversary of his death, watching 9 month old twins scream in their stroller, yearning for that chaos. Tapping into my practice, my heart, my family, my foundation, trying to find my way back to connection, to wholeness.

CRAVE – Series 1 October 27th!

Join us and learn to uncover the habits that are getting in the way of the life you want. You will learn how and why we do the things we do, how are brains hold us back and how we can change them. You will learn simple techniques to cultivate greater self awareness and make the shifts in your life that will last.

October 27th
Subculture – 45 Bleeker Street
2pm – 5pm
Tickets below or at the door

http://sparkshift-efbevent.eventbrite.com

Stay

Escape, it is what saved my life, whether through thoughts or actions. I grew up in a house where each moment was unpredictable, my father was an alcoholic, my mother a pill addict, and they were young. They did the best they could at the time, they were both broken. I am the oldest of three kids and took on the parental role early on. My father externalized his anger and moods, screaming, yelling, our house was like one giant land mine. Though it wasn’t giant, it was a tiny bungalow that we all packed ourselves into, my brother sister and I all sharing a room, there was no where to escape in the house. We typically found ourselves outside, wandering the prairie path, climbing trees that weren’t ours, playing at friends’ houses, anything to escape the terror that was our house. We also learned to escape emotionally. I developed a habit of walking outside and counting my steps, it took me out of the moment of pain and suffering, I never stayed with an emotion for more than a few minutes before I transported myself to another world. I would walk through the neighborhood and look into other people’s homes. I created a perfect reality for them, their warm cozy house, dinner in the oven, mom and dad helping the kids with their homework and the dog curled up on the rug in front of the fire. Laughing, smiling, a sense of lightness, ease and safety. I imagined what it would be like to be in their family, live in their house, sit and have dinner, be hugged and loved and tucked into bed feeling safe and secure, unafraid.

I started calling my father Jeff at the age of ten, unapologetically telling him he didn’t get to be called dad unless he behaved like a dad. And then I would cringe, close my eyes and wait for the explosion. He just walked away. I was scared to death, but wouldn’t let him see it. I often would gather my brother and sister and leave the house when arguments would start heating up – his thundering voice trailing after us to get back in the house. We found our peace and our quiet, outside of the home.

My tactics served me in that I survived, I didn’t give in to drugs or alcohol and I lived my life as if I was just like everyone else. Sports saved my life, I lost myself in basketball, volleyball and softball year round. I balanced school and sports with taking care of my brother and sister, leaving no room to feel any of the emotions that come with living in a house that if it could, would swallow you whole and spit you back out into pieces. And I kept a damn good secret, I thought that no one in my Pleasantville like town (other than our immediate neighbors who heard the screaming and saw the police cars) had any idea what our reality was.

The trouble is, while the escape and the emotional Berlin Wall served me well and sheltered me through adolescence, I don’t need it anymore, but it still pops up. I am in a healthy place in my life, years of therapy later, happily married with a lovely son, a great job, and I have excellent boundaries with those in my life that are destructive. It is a constant battle to stay, when something comes up, big or small, not to smooth over it or move on, but to stick in. Whether we are talking about a small disagreement with my wife or trying to get my mother into rehab, I am trying to stay in the sticky discomfort that is life. And trudge through, going around just gets me back where I started. And after all, my house is the home I dreamed of, where it is warm and cozy, where we laugh and smile and hug and are safe and happy.

Pema Chodron captures this beautifully:
““The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic…getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.”

Excerpt From: Chödrön, Pema. “When Things Fall Apart.” Shambhala.

So that is what I am leaning into these day, staying with the shakiness, big and small and accepting life, love, feelings as they are, not as I want them to be.

What are you escaping from in your life? Is there a spot that you could stay, even just for a moment and open your heart – allow things to just be, as they are?

with love.

20130802-075326.jpg

Running

Stop running, for a moment. What are you hiding from? What feeling, experience, deed, relationship, obligation, responsibility, reality are you currently escaping? We are all doing it, in this very moment, even you, even me. Write down the first thing that came to your mind, even if you don’t want it to be that thing. Especially if you don’t want it to be that thing. Look at it, hold it in your hands, in your mind, in your heart. Feel the fear, shame, love, resentment, anger – where do you feel it. Look at it closely. Turn it over, look underneath. Peer into the tiny cracks and holes and ugliness and stunning beauty.

Are you still there? Good. You made through the first step – looking yourself in the eye, even for just a moment can open up the possibility of softening to the pain or fear.

See what happens with the rest of your day. Come back tomorrow for more.

Slowly crack the shell, one bit at a time and just be. Right here, now. There is nothing else.

Breathe.

With love.

Oh how we suffer

The idea that we create our own suffering is not new, yet we haven’t figured out how not to do it. Suffering becomes a self fulfilling prophecy very quickly. It isn’t because we are all martyr’s and masochists, it is because becoming aware of our thinking, noticing the ways in which we create our own suffering is damn hard. Harder still is cultivating the honesty with ourselves to admit it, to be as honest as we can with ourselves. And then if it is going to shift or change we have to act on it, which means constant awareness and deliberate thought and action. After all, this thinking of ours has become a lifelong habit, it doesn’t just go away because we know it’s there.

I, probably like you, have discovered a number of ways in which I have created my own suffering, none more painful or difficult to face than how I was contributing to the unhappiness in my marriage.

Just over a year ago, as alluded to in my post on Roman Ruins, I almost gave up on my marriage of 7 years. I had hit a point where my unhappiness was unbearable, and my habit was to look outside myself as to what the problem was. So I blamed and blamed and I collected my evidence that I was right. That our lives had moved in fast forward for the past 9 years, moving 5 times coast to coast and overseas and back again – that when we were finally in one place and things had slowed the unhappiness couldn’t be pegged on the change or impending change – the unhappiness was right here. Or in my case, over there, it was my wife’s fault. I my mind I had a list of things I needed her to do/change about herself before I would be willing to go to couples therapy. The problem with collecting evidence to support your own argument is that you resist the truth, even when it smacks you in the face. As we are on our path of collecting we aren’t going to pick up those ideas or examples that don’t serve us. So I found myself deep in the well of self deception, drowning in my own blame.

Resentment builds and resistance increases and with each attempt on my wife’s part to talk it through, to go to therapy, to look it in the eye and see it for what it was, I ground myself in deeper. And it continued in that direction for months until one day it didn’t. Her persistence endured and I begrudgingly agreed to one couples therapy session.

Showing up to that session I was certain that I would not budge from my position that was my was at fault, she wasn’t going to change, and maybe wasn’t capable of change. And then we got arrived, to a small office building in a town just north of Amsterdam. I sat down, crossed my arms and shut down. And then our very skilled therapist started asking questions – and my very well defended wall was by an objective third party. As I left the session I had to decide just how much I wanted to continue to build resentment and to resist my life. I had to take a serious look at how I was creating my own suffering. And stop looking outside myself.

The tibetan word Sem mean discursive thinking, it is the way in which we get in our own ways. Rigpa on the other hand mean wisdom mind, it is a way of cutting through things and seeing them as they are. For 14 years I had created this story and self image of me the mindful buddhist, and meanwhile I was just as self deceptive as the next person.

Pema Chodron says that being concerned with our self image is like being deaf and blind. It is like walking through a field a beautiful flowers with a black hood over our head. I decided to take my hood off. I hope you do too.

Seeking

It is only through enduring and going through, not around, the inevitable pain and suffering we encounter that we truly get to know ourselves. Through pain we can cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. Find your bodhisattva and spread compassion for we are all damaged and flawed, it is our human condition.

20130426-103917.jpg

Pursuit of Happiness

I was just perusing facebook when I can across a friend’s post, “Life can be amazing and miraculous one minute and horrible the next, here’ to waiting for the next amazing moment”. And it got me to thinking – We hear a lot about the pursuit of happiness and our right to it. What we fail to see is that it is precisely our pursuit of happiness that causes our suffering – and thus keeps us from that “happiness” we are looking for. I have spent much of my life in that same pursuit – barely tolerating the less than pleasurable experiences in desperate search of the next happy moment. When that moment comes I cling, and maybe you do too, not wanting the feeling or experience to change or dissipate.

I remember the day I gave birth to my son Henry. It was the mist intense experience I had ever had – anticipation, joy, pain, absence of pain and pure joy. I felt each emotion as if I imagine it would feel like if I were born blind and one day was able to see. The visceral feeling of each moment of that day will never leave me. And while I was very focused on the moment and appreciating each second (with the exception of the excruciating pain of the last stages of labor of course) I was terrified for the experience to pass. I instantly started worrying that my 12 weeks of maternity leave would not be enough – and I mean immediately, as in hours after giving birth I was crying and anxious. So I clung to each day as if it were my last – and I cried each day anticipating the day that I would have to leave my perfect little boy at home while I went to work. That extreme clinging to the moment and anticipation of the future took away from my ability to just enjoy and cherish where I was.

And then one day, a month into my maternity leave as I was rediscovering my meditation practice and study I read a paragraph from Mark Epstein’s “Thoughts Without a Thinker” that jolted me into a brief glimpse of awareness. Awareness that I was causing my own suffering. It was around the idea that the pursuit of pleasure leads to dissatisfaction as pleasure itself is not sustainable, primarily because we become content with what felt “pleasurable” initially, so we seek more.

“When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are made so that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution” – Epstein

It was an awareness that the contrast of my pain from labor allowed me to appreciate the absence of pain once he was delivered. And that if I continue to seek that moment, even if I have the moment again, it won’t be the same, it is not sustainable in a constant way. By yearning for my environment to not change I was not appreciating what I had in the now. So I slowly let go of clinging to the idea that this utopia we had created in Henry’s first few months would change, and pursuit of a constant state of anything only leads to discontent. We are not wired for contentment.

So if you are like me in any way, and are clinging to a moment, a feeling, a touch, anything – let it go and know that the next painful, frustrating, or even mildly annoying experience you have will only help you enjoy the next “good” moment that much more.

Nameless

The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name”

– Lao Tzu

Roman Ruins

I fell in love with the burden of my pain and rather than wallowing in my self pity I used it as a pulpit to preach and defend upon. In the end, I was not better off than having wallowed in self pity because I hadn’t leaned in and looked it in the eye. I told the story as a detached third person and masked it in self acceptance but it was fear and martyrdom.

I can hear the defenses before the alarm has been sounded – no one could call my shit because I had a story for everything – I better defended than the Roman Empire.

And the reward was great, my sad story guilted people into submission – I was left alone and revered for making it- for not becoming just like them. No drugs, no alcohol addiction, graduated high school and college, successful and in a big job, married with a child in a beautiful home.

And it worked until one day it didn’t. As I told the story and deceived myself into believing I had done the work – after all I meditated and had a therapist – my world began to breakdown – slowly at first. Like a small crack in a pipe, water slowly leaking, and suddenly it is hit, ever so slightly in a way it has been hit and cracked before, but this time in just the right way that it fully bursts. And I moved directly to blame and escape. I blamed my wife for all the things she wasn’t doing and took the high road – I latched onto someone who found me smart and interesting who liked the stories I spun and thought I was funny and wise – and I escaped to the false comfort of a fleeting intellectual crush. I was a distraction from the sad story – and she was a piece of the “make me feel special plan”. Along the way I crushed my wife and almost ruined my family – the solid city – the Roman Empire of the story I had created had crumbled.

How honest could I be with myself, could I look the raw truth in the eye and resurrect my life?

Looking outside of myself

I turned 35 yesterday.  Funny how some ages hit you and others don’t.  35 hit me.  I have always been an overachiever, trying to prove to everyone that I am different than my parents, that I won’t be a victim and that I can succeed regardless of my circumstances.  In most things I never had innate talent, just a will to be better than people thought I could be.  I measured myself on whether I was working harder than everyone else, because I assumed that was the only way to set myself apart.  For many years I was right.  I ended up playing Division 3 basketball, but not because I was talented, because I worked my ass off.  Unfortunately, once you hit college trying harder can only get you so far – talent in addition to effort will surpass you (and size).  So I was 6th or 7th off the bench when I was used to being the star of the team.  This was my first lesson what worked for me in the past may not work for me now.  Life changes, perspective changes and what you put in will not always get you the same results.

I am having a similar experience in my life now, turning 35.  I have always been the young one in my peer group at work, always.  It felt good, to exceed people’s expectations, to surprise them.  My gift has been my intuition for people, how to connect with them, how to motivate them, how to help them uncover their best self, and my insights. I live for the moment that I would be sitting in a room full of executives in some seemingly important meeting.   I would revel in the moment that I would wow someone with an observation or insight.  I especially loved the moment when someone was there that didn’t know me, and would make small talk after and ask me my age and the look on their face would make my whole day.  I felt special.  Wow, they would say, you are wise for your age, or you are an old soul, or, where did you learn how to do that at your age.  The point is, I felt like an overachiever, I felt different.  I stood out.

Now, I am 35, and for some time now the things I have accomplished are no longer special.  The job(s) or roles I have held are now what could/should be expected at 35.  So yesterday, more than any other time, it really hit me, I look to others to validate my success, my worth, my being.  Does being the age that others are make me any less.  No.

So it got me to thinking.  In what ways am I looking outside myself for validation?  So I did a sort of meditation on my life.  And thought through everyday experiences (big and small) such as my bike ride to work and whether or not I looked like a tourist or a local (I live in Amsterdam) compared to the person next to me, or to being at the park with my son and comparing myself to the other parents or comparing him to other kids, and to having friends over for dinner, what would they think of the wine, the food, was my cooking better or worse than theirs, was I serving better or worse wine, and when I am at work, do I find value in my work if others don’t praise it, or what if they are the same age or younger than me and doing a similar level job, do I feel less special or like I am less valuable?

You get the idea.  Once I catalogued all these situations in my mind, I stripped the outside people the “others” away.  I started to imagine each scenario without someone else to compare to or someone else to praise or criticize me.  And I found that in most of my life I am looking outside as opposed to inside.  The funny realization for me is that I felt like i have been doing this work for years, uncovering neurosis, building self awareness, following my intuition, having a strong sense of self etc…and have been coaching others to do it themselves.  I laughed.  Sometimes you can convince yourself you are living the work you do, but really you aren’t.  Awareness is everything, almost.

Clearly the journey is never ending, what we think we know we can know again, in a different way.  The uncovering of self and who we are with others never ends.  So my new practice these days is to visualize a situation in which no one else had an opinion or judgement, and it was just me.  What would I do then?  What would I think of myself if there was no one to compare myself to.  Who am I, really?  I pick one a day and journal about it or just meditate on it, or sit with my coffee and think alone.

I encourage you to try the same.  In what ways are you defining yourself compared to others?  Who are you when there is no one?

Now, I realize that this is the other extreme, it is just an exercise, to create more awareness, to create more space for other possibilities.

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”   Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Promiscuous Intelligence

Andrew Fitzgerald's blog

Blog - Capes Coaching

Uncovering the idiocyncracies of life and living each moment, one at a time

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

allaboutmanners

Just another WordPress.com site

Pollock of Light

Twitter: @lluisbusse

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

MindMedicine Blog

Professional Golfer & Mind Coach in Life & Professional Sport...

MindfulVision

My tribute to life with all its curiosities and miracles

Playing Your Hand Right

Showing America how to Live

Gotta Find a Home

Conversations with Street People

Grevillea Corner

Archive Writings of Stephanie J Mohan (Australia)

floreakeats

Food Writing. Fun. Home of The Food A--hole's Dilemma and other delicacies

cancer killing recipe

Just another WordPress.com site

The Adventures of Fanny P.

...because life is just one big adventure...