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.

All we need

I recently had the honor of contributing to the naming ceremony and bris for dear friends of ours. While I found many beautiful buddhist prayers and writings, none resonated like the heart inspiring yet simple words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Adapted by me and read by my heart centered friends to their newborn son;

“We will love and support you to be aware of your innate goodness.
The seeds of love, compassion, generosity, patience and wisdom already exist in your heart and mind.
We will help you to cultivate this aspect of your true nature.

We will cultivate a self confidence in you that is not based on transient, superficial factors, but on a deep awareness of your own inner goodness.”

If only every child could start out in the world with parents that start from here.

Fear and truth

As leaders we have been brainwashed into thinking that acknowledging or showing fear is a weakness.  The pack will smell your weakness and expose it.  Naturally, because of this, when fear comes up most of move away, sometimes all out run away. We all know that feeling, whether your mouth goes dry, your hands get clammy, you get a knot in your stomach, our brain is registering fear and we move into fight or flight, it is how we are built. If our instinct is to run away, to avoid, we are often missing a big opportunity. To learn something about ourselves and to potentially dissipate that fear by meeting it head on.  Pema Chodron says that “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”   Our fear, whether it is a big presentation coming up a work, having to give someone difficult feedback or that spider in the corner, is telling us something we need to pay attention to. As leaders showing vulnerability, admitting to fear and overcoming it is way more inspiring and impactful than pretending it doesn’t exist. Next time that feeling creeps in, stop, take a breath and sit with it, even for a minute. Examine it, lean into it – is it real or perceived?   What is the worst case scenario, play it out and you may notice the closer you get the farther away it feels.  Experiment with sharing that fear with others, showing your human side.  By opening and sharing people can sense your authenticity and trust increases.

Open to life as it is, not as you pretend it to be.

Do your shoes fit?

It is January 6th, the true first day of the new year for me. For three years I contemplated quitting my job, dreaming of working for myself, doing the work that I was confident would really make a difference in peoples lives and in the success of organizations. The constant lists of pro’s and con’s, the time spent shopping my ideas around, looking for validation some days and rejection others. My wife patiently rode the roller coaster with me, cloaking her fear when she knew I needed reinforcement that it was a real possibility. Fear and desire. If I strip away all the peripheral emotions and feelings that motivate my behavior I can sum it up with these two beauties. As time passed I realized I was looking for someone to make the decision for me, to tell me it was all going to be ok, that I would find clients who wanted real change and would pay for it so I could avoid putting our young family in the position of going into foreclosure and eating ramen noodles. I trudged through my job, day after day waiting for the answer. If you have read this blog before you already know how this ends, or in a way, begins. I left my job and started my own Company, today, is my official first day self employed. This however, is not the point.

I began to reflect on how I arrived at my decision and why I was waiting for others to make it for me. I found it was a habit of needing validation and recognition. Of not trusting my intuition. In a way we all do this – we look for someone or something to tell us what to do – our bosses at work, tv ads tell us what to watch, commercials tell us what to buy, magazines tell us what to wear and what to listen to. We even base our New Year resolutions off of what we ought to do rather than what we truly want/need to do. I realize I am generalizing a bit, but think about it…do you really want to lose weight or are you doing it to fit in? Do you really want to stop eating sugar or does it seem like something you should do? Are you really motivated to stop drinking starbuck’s everyday and instead make your own coffee? The answer may be yes. But what if the real change we wanted to make was a little deeper, a bit more vulnerable? What stops us from making those changes could be we don’t want to say them out loud, and so we say all the other peripheral things and we allow the perception or judgement of others to influence our livelihood. Or maybe we really do need and want to lose weight, but we don’t take the time to dig deep to understand what led us to being overweight to begin with. What emotions drive our behavior?

As my teach Lama Surya Das says, “no one can tell you if your shoes fit”. No one can tell you what will make you happy, what you need to change or what you are afraid of. Dig deep inside and trust yourself, make a decision and don’t look for recognition or validation, know it in your heart. Feel scared, embarrassed and excited. And commit to yourself.

My new year resolution is to admit that I want recognition and I want to have the answer in order for others to think I am smart and competent. Admitting those things will help me to work on shutting up once in a while, not having the answer, not trying to prove what I know and trusting myself. This will allow me to be kinder, less competitive, less defensive and a better listener. I may even learn something. The work is looking into where those habits come from.

Take a minute, look at your new year resolution, is it the change you really want or need? Are you expecting someone to tell you if your shoes fit?

Step back to step in and look at things as they are.

with love.

www.spark-shift.com

Moths to a flame

We are all like moths to a flame, looking for happiness. Tempted by the feeling of fleeting relief only to further embed our bad habits. My tongue is all too pleased with the sting of a hot, salty french fry, satisfying in a primal way. The trouble is the next bite isn’t as good as the last, but I believe in the promise of the possibility, so i burn my tongue and add to my girth with another. And on I go, chasing the familiar relief of the first bite that can’t be matched. Only to further embed the habit loop, the well worn path in the deep recess of my brain that tells me this is going to provide relief.

Less obvious are relationships. A relationship begins, the intensity of the courting, the lust, all the firsts, they enrapture us and we are in the pleasure vortex. The phone rings and our heart races, we can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Researchers say that falling in love is akin to being addicted to a drug, in the way our brains respond. Dopamine is released and that state of pleasure feels endless. And this goes on, in some cases for as long as 2 years. That is the point at which scientists say we have psychologically adapted to that state of being. We are an adaptive species after all, and are hard wired for variety. The first kiss, the discovery of all we don’t know thrills and drives us, and when the passionate love transitions to compassionate love we mistake it for loss of connection. The spark is gone, we feel like the relationship is “work,” sex changes, is more predictable. Somewhere along the way we were told that true love is easy – or at least I was. The key here is to stick in, to create variety and surprise, in order to stimulate our brains and keep the relationship fresh. It would be impossible to maintain the state of being of the first six months of a relationship, we would never get anything done much less be able to raise families. After all, it will be the same adventure with the next person, it is biologically determined that the lust will wear down, if not off. So revel in each moment accepting that feelings ebb and flow – where there is compassionate love there is a future. You just have to work at it a bit more.

For most of us this state of being is relatively harmless as long as we catch ourselves. At least it is relative to drug addicts and alcoholics, however it still gets in the way of our general sense of happiness.

So what? Is life then hopeless and happiness not a realistic goal? I don’t think so, for me it has been about accepting what comes at me, knowing that the pain and suffering, the crappy tasting meal or the bad cup of coffee all allow for the next moment to be appreciated. Without contrast we cannot feel happy or content.

The key for me has been awareness, cultivated through meditation. Catching myself in the moment, of chasing the pleasure and recognizing its futility – fully being able to appreciate an extraordinary moment for what it is and letting things come and go.

The next time you have a bad meal or are bored with your partner, let it be the foundation of contrast in order to enjoy the next moment.

“When any situation is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made 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.”
~ Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Standard Edition

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

Bigger than this

I often live my life in a bubble, bumping around into other people’s bubble’s. My world is saturday morning pancakes and the smell of coffee breath tainted with last nights one too many beers and cigarettes from the commuter next to me, little dump trucks and dirt boxes, big city offices and the hum of white collar workers with low morale, toddlers crying because underwear must be worn and there hasn’t been time to practice liking the sound of the vacuum yet, hands in flour water and yeast yielding warm bread and hot garbage stuck to my shoe.

Maybe you are like me in that you float around in your life, mostly seeing things from your bubble, feeling the grind of your job more than the person next to you, your back pain hurts a little more than your neighbors, the rain even makes you a bit more wet than everyone else? And we all bump into one another, holding our breath and hoping the bubbles don’t break. Comforted by illusion of safety and warmth of the blanket of our self deception.

And then, if you are lucky, there are moments when your bubble bumps into someone else’s and you are breathing the same air, having to look at things from the space of their bubble, and a glimpse of real life tip toes in.

Life is bigger than this, we are bigger than this. My bubble had the opportunity to collide with so many at once that my reality exploded in an instant. Nothing makes this reality more clear than moments of birth and the process of death.

The danger is, that the moment trails away, the grief lessens it grip, the joy of birth turns into sleepless nights and spit up and the bubble slowly starts to reform. I am a better person, better off than I have been before for this moment that has lasted longer than the others. Suffering is universal, and it is experienced in degrees, if we can see suffering as a collective ailment, share in the pain, we can share in the glory, in the breath of life, it gets a little easier. There is so much more space and air in a bigger bubble, more room for freedom and happiness and for sharing in the unavoidable pain of life.

It takes practice, you may not be ready to burst your bubble completely, maybe start with joining one or two other bubbles, share in their pain, see life from their hearts, and slowly expand. The key is to be aware as often as possible as to where you are in relation to the rest of us – and make a choice, don’t float in your bubble obliviously.

Stolen with love from Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and words changed for the purposes of my intentions:

When I walk beside them
I am a better person
When I look to leave them
I always stagger
Once I built an ivory tower
so i could worship from above
when I climb back down to be set free
they took me in again

there’s a big
a big hard sun
beating on the the big people
in a big hard world

There’s a big hard love
that is bigger than us
in this big love world

Go on, go do it.

Intersection

my mind turns inside out and my heart unravels, an invitation to let go and just be – she is there and then gone, so willing to see – the truth that is exposed, warning and free – leaning in i hold her, whispering all i know – follow your breath, in your nose and out, follow it all the way, don’t look back, you will be ok. The pain will stay behind and the love will follow, lightness and ease – she relents and resists, banging her fists, tears streaming – why are you doing this to me, you promised.

Its ok baby, you can go now, don’t let the burdens of the past hold you here

the pain can flow like wind through the trees

the cancer overtook her – no hope for a cure, no treatment, just left to live the last moments void of pain. This beautiful woman, strong, gentle, vibrant mother of two – The intersection of suffering and pleasure is life, you can’t escape the reality. We sit with her, breathing and hold space for weeks…

5 bright sunny days pass and the rains began…

Just this

How often do we do just this, just this very thing we are doing right now, just this moment, for the sake of that thing only. For me, not often enough. I have the habit of doing whatever it is I am doing for the sake of something else, or anticipating the next thing. I ate breakfast this morning barely taking a moment to put my spoon down, eating so fast you might have guessed someone was about to take it away. I ate breakfast purely to get to the next moment, which happened to be leaving for work, as quickly as I could. There was no moment for me, I was already in the next place.

I, maybe like you, love to go on vacation. I especially love the anticipation of it. We spend time planning and crafting the perfect getaway, detailing where the best places to eat and sleep are, finding the quintessential experiences. And then I slug through the next month or two until said vacation arrives, spending much of my time talking about the upcoming vacation, pushing through the moments of life that are getting in the way of me and this vacation. And the day comes, and we wake up and it is vacation! and i am so worried about relaxing quickly enough to really enjoy the vacation, and what if it goes by too fast? I agonize over what to order for breakfast, because if I order the wrong meal I have wasted this special vacation meal that I won’t get again. You get the picture, maybe you are in the picture.

This is the ultimate cause of suffering. Nothing is ever just what it is, we are constantly anticipating what is next. This last vacation was somewhat of a staycation, we didn’t venture far. And for the first time, maybe ever, I was just in each moment, most of the time. I let myself be at the museum with my son staring at dinosaur bones, trying to feel what he was feeling, see what he was seeing, being no where else. I enjoyed our walks and meals just for what they were. And it was a beautiful thing. Time stood still at moments and I was totally relaxed. I realized it is because I wasn’t throwing moments away, I was in each one, a full participant.

If you have read this blog before you know that I am a practicing buddhist, and even being mindful of breathing and being in the moment my habit of anticipation takes over. I am working on being more present, more mindful in what i do. This morning I took a shower and didn’t plan for my day. I just felt the water streaming down my back and enjoyed the sensation of scrubbing shampoo into my head. I just showered. What in your life are you rushing through? When was the last time you ate a meal and only ate? Didn’t read, talk, think about what was next, but just chewed and swallowed and enjoyed? What is your habit that takes you out of the moment?

We practice so that each moment of our life becomes real life. When we eat, we just eat, when we walk, just walk, when we love, really love, breathing into each moment. That is really all there is, a collection of moments, and if we let them pass us by life will end one day and we forgot to live.

with love.

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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.

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