How to follow your heart… Como seguir a tu corazón

follow_your_heartThis question comes up a lot in my work with clients. People want to know how to connect to their inner guide, how to listen to and follow that quiet voice of wisdom that can tell them how their life is best lived. As someone who has sometimes followed my heart and sometimes hasn’t, I know what both feel like. I can tell you what works for me.

  1. Connect to your body. When you are not listening to your heart and thus, not living according to your values, your body will tell you. My body told me that going to the Mormon church was not good for me. Every Sunday, by the time I left church I had a terrible headache and after getting home I would collapse into bed and sleep for hours. Your body will also indicate when something or someone is right for you at this time. You will feel a lightness, expansion, and a brightness like someone just flicked the light switch on inside of you. Develop an awareness of the sensations of your body throughout the day. Sometimes it can be difficult in the moment when you are with someone to know how that person affects your heart because you are focused on the conversation or your own image. However, take a quick body sensations inventory once you are alone again. What was the impact of that person on your body? These physical sensations will tell you a lot about how that person affects your soul. This is not about logical analysis with your mind. It’s a different kind of knowing. You can do this same kind of body sensations inventory with projects you are working on, books you read, foods you eat… Really, with any choice you make regarding how you live your life. It seems like the most obvious of things to say that in order to follow our hearts, we first need to connect with them, and we do that through our bodies. However, in today’s world we are so used to trying to figure it all out with our minds, we forget about the body’s wisdom and we disconnect from it.
  2. Let yourself obsess. I just heard a wonderful podcast about the topic of learning to be your own guide which so fully reflects my own experience, I have to share. I went to the website to see if there was a transcript so that I could more easily quote from it. Interestingly, there is not a full transcript, but the few quotes from the podcast shared on the website are exactly the ones I was looking for! The producer and I are on the same wavelength. Here is what writer Steve Almond says in the podcast about returning to a more instinctual state: “Children come into the world obsessed — they care about things too much, and that obsession gets socialized out of us. We beat down the voices that care about things too much and that feel too much, and part of the artist’s journey is to say ‘Screw that. I do care about it too much. I am too invested in it. I’m obsessed with it, and I’m going to be honest about that obsession rather than try to lead a safer, more conventional, ‘approved’ life.’ But it’s an emotionally and psychologically inconvenient arrangement.” What does this have to do with following your heart? You may not consider yourself an artist, but guess what? You are, and your life is your masterwork. If you are reading this, you probably care about and want to follow your heart. Following your heart requires obsession which Steve Almond so truly defines as caring and feeling too much. It’s not socially acceptable and it’s not convenient. Most likely, you’re not going to get a pat on the back for it. If you start following your heart, people are going to tell you that you are irresponsible and selfish. They may say it because they are envious, because they really wish that they had the courage to follow their own hearts. Or they may genuinely worry about your welfare. In any case, following your heart requires that you do so in spite of these objections from others that echo fears within your own self.
  3. Set fire to your own nest. The beautiful singer/songwriter India Arie says: “We hear about the phoenix rising from its ashes. In the mythology, the phoenix actually sets fire to its own nest. The thing that makes empowerment a journey is because no one can give it to you. You give it to yourself. You set fire to your own nest. You give birth to a new you.” Your heart will make itself heard. Your body will tell you what you want and don’t want in your life. Whether you pay attention and make choices based on this information is another thing entirely. Following your heart requires fierce courage because there are real risks involved. It’s not the safe way. You may hurt someone. You may hurt yourself. You may get burned when you set fire to that nest. However, I know from experience that what rises from those ashes is stronger and better every time.

The only way you can learn to follow your heart is to do it day after day. I have made some big, bold moves in the past. I’ve made some major life changes in the face of great opposition. I’m always glad that I had the courage to make those changes. And yet, I often find myself stumbling on my heart’s path and losing connection to my heart, my values, and my life’s purpose. We learn to trust our own inner guide by surrendering to its wisdom every day. This is how we create our own sanctuary of inner calm from which we can draw strength and make all of our decisions. This sanctuary of the soul can not be shaken by life’s tempests. Whatever is going on out there, we can always retreat to this space of trust and tranquility.


En Español:

Esta pregunta surge mucho en mi trabajo con clientes. Quieren saber cómo conectarse con su guía interior, cómo escuchar y seguir a esa voz callada de sabiduría que les puede decir cómo vivir mejor. Como alguien que a veces ha seguido a su corazón y a veces no, sé cómo se siente de las dos maneras. Os puedo decir lo que funciona para mí.

  1. Conectarte con tu cuerpo. Cuando no sigues a tu corazón y por consiguiente, no vives de acuerdo a tus valores, tu cuerpo te lo dirá. Mi cuerpo me dijo que ir a la iglesia mormona no era bueno para mí. Todos los domingos, para cuando terminaba la iglesia, tenía un dolor de cabeza horrible y al llegar a casa, me caía a la cama y no me levantaba por horas. Tu cuerpo también te lo indicará cuando algo o alguien es bueno para ti. Sentirás una ligereza, expansión, y una luminosidad como si alguien te encendiera una luz por dentro. Desarrolla una consciencia de las sensaciones de tu cuerpo a lo largo del día. A veces puede ser difícil en el momento que estás con una persona saber cómo esa persona te afecta el corazón porque estás enfocado en la conversación u otras cosas. Sin embargo, toma nota de las sensaciones de tu cuerpo una vez que estés solo. ¿Qué impacto tiene esa persona en tu cuerpo? Esto no tiene que ver con ningún análisis lógico de la mente. Es una forma distinta de conocer. Puedes también tomar nota de las sensaciones del cuerpo con cualquier proyecto que llevas, libros que lees, lo que comes… En realidad, lo puedes hacer con cualquier elección que haces referente cómo vives tu vida. Suena como lo más obvio que para poder seguir tu corazón, primero tienes que conectarte con él y eso se hace a través del cuerpo, no la mente. Pero como estamos tan acostumbrados a intentar solucionar todo con la mente, nos olvidamos del conocimiento del cuerpo y desconectamos.
  2. Permitirte el obsesionarte. Acabo de escuchar un podcast genial sobre el tema de cómo aprender a ser tu propio guía en la vida, lo cual refleja tanto mi propia experiencia que necesito compartirlo. Busqué la página web para ver si había alguna transcripción para así citarlo aquí más fácil. Curiosamente, no hay una transcripción completa, pero los pocos textos que tienen en la página son justos los que yo quería! La productora del podcast y yo estamos en la misma onda. Esto es lo que dice Steve Almond en el podcast acerca de volver a un estado más instintivo: “Los niños vienen al mundo obsesionados—les importan demasiado las cosas, y esa obsesión nos apaga la sociedad. Apagamos a esas voces que les importan las cosas demasiado y que sienten demasiado, y parte del viaje del artista es decir: ‘A tomar por culo. Sí, me importa demasiado. Me involucro demasiado. Me obsesiono, y voy a ser sincero con esa obsesión en vez de intentar vivir una vida más segura, más convencional, más aprobada por la sociedad.’ Pero ese es un plan inconveniente de forma emocional y psicológica.” Qué tiene que ver esto con seguir a tu corazón? A lo mejor no te consideras un artista, pero sabes qué? Lo eres, y tu vida es tu obra maestra. Si estás leyendo esto, seguro te importa y quieres seguir a tu corazón. Seguir a tu corazón requiere obsesión, lo cual Steve Almond tan bien define como el que sientes alguna cosa demasiado y te importa demasiado. No es aceptado por la sociedad y no es conveniente. Lo más probable es que nadie te aplauda por ello. Si empiezas a seguir tu corazón, la gente te va a decir que eres irresponsable y egoísta. A lo mejor lo dicen porque te tienen envidia, porque a ellos les gustaría tener el coraje que tú tienes para seguir a sus propios corazones. O puede que se preocupen por ti sinceramente. De todas maneras, el seguir a tu corazón requiere que lo hagas a pesar de estas objeciones de otras personas que reflejan también tus propios miedos.
  3. Prender fuego a tu propio nido. La hermosa cantautora India Arie dice: “Escuchamos del fénix que surge de sus propias cenizas. En el mito, el fénix en realidad prende fuego a su propio nido. Lo que hace el empoderamiento un viaje personal es que nadie te lo puede dar. Tú te lo das a ti mismo. Tú prendes fuego a tu propio nido. Tu mismo das luz a un nuevo tú.” Tu corazón se hará escuchar. Tu cuerpo te dirá lo que quieres y lo que no quieres en tu vida. El que hagas caso y eliges a base de esta información es otra cosa. Seguir a tu corazón requiere un coraje feroz porque hay riesgos verdaderos. A lo mejor hieres a una persona. A lo mejor hieres a ti mismo. A lo mejor te quemas cuando prendes fuego a ese nido. De todas formas, por experiencia propia sé que lo que sube de esas cenizas será mejor y más fuerte cada vez.

La única forma de aprender a seguir a tu corazón es de hacerlo día tras días. He tomado decisiones grandes y atrevidas en el pasado. He hecho cambios vitales radicales aun con oposición muy fuerte. Siempre me alegro de haber tenido la valentía para hacer esos cambios. Sin embargo, a menudo me encuentro pisando mal en el camino de mi corazón y perdiendo la conexión con mi corazón, mis valores, y mi propósito de vida. Aprendemos a fiarnos de nuestra propia guía interior cuando nos entregamos todos los días a su sabiduría. Así es como creamos nuestro santuario de calma interior de lo cual podemos extraer fuerza y tomar todas nuestras decisiones. Este santuario no se puede perturbar por las tempestades de la vida. Lo que sea que esté pasando fuera, siempre podemos retirarnos a este espacio de confianza y tranquilidad.

ice fairies

DSC03774-1Back on our farm in Maine, there was a little brook that ran beside our house. In fact, I now learn that it has a name: Daggett Brook. It can be seen here on Google Maps, and there also is my childhood home and my father’s farm. After his death the 2000+ acre farm was sold to Maine Farmland Trust to be preserved as farmland. My mother could have made a lot more money if she’d developed the land, but as a family we are grateful she made that decision based on deeper values. Back to Daggett Brook… It was shallow and fun to play in when we were little. In the summer we fished for minnows, caught frogs and crayfish, skipped stones, and played Poohsticks on the bridge for hours and hours. During a drought one summer my brother and I spent an entire day hauling buckets of minnows to safety before the puddles they were flopping around in could dry up.

As entertaining as it was in the summer, in the winter the brook transformed into something enchanted, wonder-inducing, and treacherous. My mother would bundle us up in our snowsuits and send us out the door with our sleds, but somehow we always made our guilty way down to the brook, sometimes tunneling through snow, sometimes rolling down the banks to get there. Though the nearby Piscataquis River was off-limits to us in the winter, the brook technically wasn’t. But I think my brother and I knew that if our mother had known how dangerous the brook was, she wouldn’t have let us go there either.

In the winter the brook froze at the banks and over the top, but always had water running underneath the ice. Where the brook ran more steeply downhill and over rocks from our house to the river, there were openings in the ice where you could see and hear the water running. These openings formed magnificent, if miniature, ice caverns lined with weird and breathtakingly beautiful ice formations. It was like something straight out of Middle Earth. We could easily imagine an ice fairy kingdom in these little caverns. But it didn’t stop there. As beautiful as the caverns were to look at, they were even more beautiful to hear. The sound of the water running beneath was otherworldly. At first it would sound like the brook, only sharper and somehow higher and deeper at the same time. But as you got closer, the sound would change. You could hear people talking. Not people, I imagined, but ice fairies talking in their language.

And there was the danger. The ice fairies were little sirens, luring my brother and I closer and closer to the ice caverns. We would inch over the ice holding on to the overhanging branches of trees. Or we would wriggle over the ice on our snow-suited bellies, always trying to get closer for a better view or better acoustics. The winter music of the brook filled my entire body and I was possessed.

On one of these occasions my brother slipped on the ice and fell into the brook. He was pulled under the surface of the ice by the current and he thought he was going to drown. He got caught in the next opening and I pulled him out. He remembers more details of this event than I do, which makes sense since he nearly died. What neither of us can explain is how I had the strength to pull him out. His winter clothing drenched, he must have weighed a ton. Maybe the ice fairies weren’t so wicked after all and lent a hand.

Rediscovery

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I must listen to the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live–but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

It takes time and hard experience to sense […] that running beneath the surface of the experience I call my life, there is a deeper and truer life waiting to be acknowledged. -Parker J. Palmer

All parents have the experience of knowing first hand that a baby comes into the world with a unique identity. This fact is made especially clear if you have more than one child and can thus compare how two siblings born to the same parents can be so different, even from birth. Whether you call it a soul, an essence, or what have you, you are born with a unique inner wisdom that can guide you to what brings you joy, meaning, and fulfillment. You also have all the tools necessary to “fix” your life when things go awry.

This essence and this guiding inner voice of wisdom is always there and it is completely unique to each individual. It is also indestructible. What too often happens, however, is that this essence of who we really are gets a bit lost and forgotten. It gets buried beneath the values that society, religion, or our families impose on us, all generally well meaning, but not necessarily in alignment with our souls. Our own fears and insecurities also keep us from recognizing our true power.

What I most love about the philosophy of coaching I practice is how respectful it is of each individual’s unique essence and creative capacity. The very best coaching helps you rediscover that inner fountain, that source of wisdom, creativity, and light within you that can heal, nourish, and give life to your dreams. The best coach will not only help you connect to that, she will hold you there and help you build the life you dream on from that place of clarity and strength.

I have recently started working with some new clients and I would love to add more! Please contact me for a free sample session.

the end of people pleasing

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Diana Krall, the honey badger of blues. She gets up there and does her thing , totally not giving a rat’s hiney if you like it or not.

In this post I wrote about a part of me that I was estranged from for many years: my carefree, bold, unconventional, independent, fun-loving, rebellious, flapper girl. Now that she is back in my life with a vengeance, she occasionally raises hell.

This past year as I’ve increasingly embraced this side of me, I’ve been less and less interested in pleasing people. As is to be expected, this has resulted in people becoming.. DUH DUH DUUUH…displeased. When this happened before, I would always rush to fix it, sometimes bending over backwards to make sure someone’s nose didn’t get out of joint. Well, lately noses have been getting out of joint all over town, and guess what? I find that life goes on. In fact, I admit that for a little while I was taking perverse pleasure in displeasing people. I wasn’t going out of my way to do it, but when it happened, I enjoyed the spectacle. I think I’m over that phase now, but I can’t imagine ever being a people pleaser again. It’s exhausting! I have so much more energy now for other things, like doing what pleases me.

Pleasing people is the enemy of loving people. The compulsion behind pleasing people is a lame need to be liked. To really love people powerfully, you have to let go of the need to be liked. You have to stop being nice and start being real. Also, pleasing people makes it difficult to respect and love yourself, an absolute requirement for loving others. Being able to say and do what I like without regard for what others think is liberating, but a much stronger motivator for me personally to stop pleasing is the ability to love more truly and powerfully.

How is it that we become people pleasers? We certainly are not born that way! And I was an especially displeasing infant and young child. We become people pleasers if we think that’s what we need to do to be loved. Or if we internalize limiting beliefs, like that we need to be everyone’s friend or that it’s not ok to dislike people. If we don’t feel free to dislike people, we get upset if someone dislikes us, so we try to please them into liking us. It’s slavery.

I don’t trust people who are universally liked or who try to be universally liked. The people I most admire, respect, and find attractive are those who are brave enough to think, say, and do what they like, even if it’s controversial. People who try to be controversial are a bit tiring, but if controversiality is just a result of people speaking their truth, I think it’s cool.

 

Daring Greatly

IMG_1830I finished Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly about a week ago while in London for Stoicon. I saw one of Brown’s TED talks years ago. I haven’t re-watched it recently. Many friends and even people I barely know have recommended Brown’s books to me so I thought I’d give one a try. Daring Greatly seemed the most appealing for what I want right now in my life. I would love to be more courageous and daring. Brené Brown makes a killing from her best selling books and also rakes it in as a popular keynote speaker. I was curious to see what she offers.

My initial reaction to this book was confusion. I had seen it marketed as psychology and self-help, neither of which I found here. Brown is a self-described shame researcher, but if this were a psychology book about shame, the Super-Ego would be mentioned at least. It’s not self-help because there are no practical suggestions or tools given for actually becoming more vulnerable and thus, courageous. I was also confused about what constitutes “shame.” For Brown, the shame tent is nearly all-encompassing. Self-loathing, fear of rejection, embarrassment (even though she says not), anxiety, overwhelm, discouragement, feelings of unworthiness, and perfectionism are all “shame” for Brown.

I also found myself wincing as I read. Brown’s constant reference to her credentials and popularity is off-putting. She seems to have an overpowering need to establish herself as an expert. It’s as if she were constantly asking, “Do you believe me know? And now? How about now?” On a related note, in the book she talks about how we wince when someone overshares. She attributes the compulsion to overshare to shame (of course) and justifies her own oversharing as acceptable because she only opens up about personal issues she has already worked through. I have not seen Brown on tv and barely remember her TED talk, but I imagine her to be a very charming and engaging speaker in person. She likely has an attractive personality and that’s why she gets away with oversharing and, well, neediness. Because she is so vibrant she comes off as being real and authentic in her neediness rather than tedious.  I should clarify that I didn’t flinch so much at her oversharing since she brings a lot of self-awareness to it, but to her need to convince readers that she is an expert.

Her book appears to be a description of the results of a sociological study rather than psychology or self help. However, as far as her research methods go, I am left with the question: How is this any different from someone talking to a lot of people and finding her own personal issues in other people’s stories? It’s a very human response for sure, but I’m not sure I’d call it scientific or research or data. Also, the entire tone of the book seems to be, “Did you know there is this thing out there called shame? and I have personally discovered  and uncovered it as the source of all of society’s ills!” There is zero historical context or mention of past shame researchers.

The truth is, a week after reading this book, very little of it sticks with me. There was a lot about the paralyzing effects of perfectionism. That is something I became aware of in myself and started dealing with in my early 20s. I couldn’t relate to many of her personal anecdotes. I did like the paragraph about Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher but I had already seen Neff’s TED talk. In fact I had recommended here her website and self-compassion exercises as practical and useful.

I really can’t think who I would recommend this book to in spite of it being so popular and lauded. In its place I would recommend Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the voice of vocation by Parker J. Palmer if you are looking to feel more centered and grounded in your authentic self. I liked Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism by Thomas S. Greenspon.

I have to say I even question the importance of vulnerability in courageous action as compared to wisdom and discretion. Why was Catherine the Great such a powerfully courageous monarch? Because she was wise. She started reading practical philosophy as a young girl and sought to develop her own personal philosophy of life that guided her every action. She was courageous because after years of seeking wisdom in books and from her own astute observations of court life, she was expert at assessing risk, whether it be in a personal relationship with an advisor or a war with millions of lives at stake. I would like to be vulnerable in the way that Catherine the Great was, to have the ability to dispassionately take stock of my weaknesses and strengths, to be humble enough to take good counsel and yet confident enough to make my own decisions.

I have made some brave decisions in the past few years of my life. Many people have asked me how I got that courage and just now I have been reflecting on that. I think my dad encouraged me to be both wise and daring as a kid. Many times he would see that I wanted to do something, like to ride a spirited horse for example, but my fear kept me back. I remember his voice as he told me, “You can do it and you will be fine. Yes, that’s it. You’re doing great!” Many times these attempts ended in the “failure” of me being thrown from the horse and experiencing physical pain, but my father made me see these instances as triumphs over fear. I learned from him that you have to go for it and that sometimes pain happens. Pain is pain, nothing more and nothing less. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.”

Ai Weiwei

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I had heard of Ai Weiwei and had seen his art in photos, but my first direct experience with his work was here in Málaga where we currently have his Zodiac Heads on exhibition. I mentioned to a friend that I would be going to London this past weekend, and he recommended the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art.

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“Tree,” installation by Ai Weiwei in Royal Academy of Art courtyard. The tree structures are composed of dead trees collected on the mountains of southern China. “These artificial constructions have been interpreted as a commentary on the way in which geographically and culturally diverse peoples have been brought together to form ‘One China’ […]”
It is immediately evident why Ai Weiwei is such a tremendously popular contemporary artist, especially in the West. His political message is irresistible to us. He is disgusted by and reacts to the superficiality, materialism, prudishness, and conformity of the newly-rich communists in China who only aspire to driving their Mercedes-Benz and wearing their couture. He has suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Beijing police as a result of his brave efforts to document and make public the corruption and outrages against human rights always present in China. But it’s not just the politics. The enormous scale of his works is appealing, as is the big personality that infuses them. His playful sense of humor is palpable. He flipped-off the White House. What more can you ask for?

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Grapes. 27 wooden stools from the Qing Dynasty.

I think it’s too bad that many people shy away from contemporary art. They say they don’t like it because they don’t understand it. I went to a contemporary art exhibition with my adolescent son in Málaga a couple months ago. It was great because he is at the perfect stage in which he was slightly uncomfortable because he feels that these works are supposed to be telling him something and he doesn’t know what, and yet open and curious enough to ask questions and independent enough to look for his own answers before finding them on the smart phone. This is the ideal attitude to bring to a contemporary art exhibition. Discomfort mingled with curiosity will take you a long way.

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Ai Weiwei’s art is very accessible anyway. Not to say it isn’t forceful in its impact, or that it lacks complexity. I had spent the previous day at Stoicon, the Stoic Week Event, surrounded by logic. I love Stoicism and I am grateful for the philosophers, past and present, who have helped me in my quest to live a larger, more meaningful life. But where I feel at home is in an art museum, a concert, or in the street dancing. I value how Stoicism helps me to center myself in my principles and focus on what really matters to me and brings meaning to my life: my relationship with myself, with the people I care about, and with art. Art is where I find the contradictions and tensions, power and beauty, that make life interesting and whole. Logic is great as long as it is accompanied by lots of creative passion, frequent laughter, and connection to my body. Art is a reminder that sometimes things aren’t orderly or logical, but they are right and true and just as they should be. (Or not.)

There was one large room of the exhibit in which I could not laugh. In the end I couldn’t even stay in there to see “Straight,” Weiwei’s response to the Sichuan earthquake in which more than five thousands children were killed when their shoddily-built schools collapsed. There are photos, films with footage from the aftermath, two enormous walls covered with the names of the victims, and 150 tons of steel-reinforced bars used in the construction of the schools that Weiwei purchased and had painstakingly straightened.

“Straight” Ai Weiwei’s response to the Sichuan earthquake

I saw about 30 seconds of the footage and a few photos. I turned around and saw the names covering those enormous walls, and I lost it. I started crying. I didn’t notice anyone else crying. I tried to pull myself together because I wanted to listen to the audio and look more, but I couldn’t do it. I had to move on to the next room. I returned to the room later and tried again, but no go. In fact, remembering it now as I write makes me cry. I tried to use my Stoic practices to get myself through it but it didn’t work. I couldn’t be there.

Ai Weiwei was very influenced in his New York City years by Marchel Duchamp and Dadaism, who sought to make art about challenging our assumptions. The Dadaists wanted art to be less visually pleasing and more intellectually stimulating. This kind of art appeals to me now. I’m going through this personal evolution right now in which it appears I no longer value “pretty.” I bought a joint ticket to the other big exhibition on at the RAA, Jean-Etienne Liotard, a wonderful and unusual portraitist I’ve always admired.

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Marie Adalaide of France by Jean-Etienne Liotard

Seeing Liotard after Weiwei was a mistake because I felt under-whelmed. I was a bit bored by Liotard’s portraits and he deserves better.

Prettiness bores me. Lately I’m far more drawn to realness and wildness. I find more beauty there, and in individuality. Stylistically I’m feeling inspired by Patti Smith and Iris Apfel.

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I know, nothing alike, but neither are pretty and both are much better than pretty.

I am single and while I am interested in having a relationship, I feel completely and utterly bored by men who are attracted to me mostly because they think I’m pretty. I know I should feel flattered and grateful by this attention, but… I’m not. And I suppose that makes me bitchy or what was it one guy called me not long ago? Arrogant. I am sorry I appear that way, but I simply can not get jazzed about guys who are only interested in prettiness. I can just hear my kick-ass grandmother responding to this attitude of mine with something like: “Well, Lindsay, you won’t be pretty for much longer, so there’s a blessing!” Yessah.

I’m not sure how I got from Ai Weiwei to here, but I do know I share this sentiment with him, at least today:tsn0hcb8ww2ykektmmt8

And I love his bicycle chandelier!

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Stoics and the Zombie Apocalypse

Imagine a reality show in which a lazy, spoiled, selfish young man is made to believe that the world is coming to an end. After experiencing a special-effects-laden meteor shower, he awakens to find himself in an abandoned hospital in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Civilization has collapsed. He goes on to meet people who demand of him the qualities of courage, compassion, and leadership that lied buried beneath his malaise and sense of entitlement.

Such a reality show exists. I just watched it and you can find it here. It was the brainchild and production of Derren Brown, British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, and writer. Brown is evidently so famous in Britain that he has hordes of devotees and even stalkers, which is why his presence at this year’s Stoicon 2015 Event in London could not be publicized. This particular reality show was Brown’s idea of an extreme Stoic experiment. He discovered the ancient Stoics while reading Montaigne (his taste in philosophers is what makes him sexy, surely) and he took a shining to them. Here’s what he says in an article he published at Radio Times:

The Stoic philosophers advise us to regularly rehearse the loss of everything we love. Only that way can we learn to value what we have in life, rather than fixate upon things we don’t. It seems our psychological landscape hasn’t changed much since Seneca was penning advice to his protégés of ancient Rome. Those who study desire keep coming across the same answer: that to master desire, we must learn to want what we already have. We are bombarded daily by overt and covert messages from advertisers, media and peers, conditioning us to hanker after the latest, shiniest, most retinally-screened trinket, or to claim for ourselves our bigger house or faster car or sexier partner. And we may find ourselves anxious and distracted if we don’t find a way of acquiring these things, but more interestingly we only enjoy them for a very short while before reverting back to our former dissatisfied state. This hedonic treadmill keeps us moving forward at whatever level of happiness to which we are pre-disposed, and despite the spikes of momentary glee as some new status symbol comes our way, we don’t really grow any happier. The joy of the car and the house and the phone doesn’t stick around. The way to feel satisfied, and to know that your desires are being truly met, is to hunger after what you have already in your life.

Jules Evans interviewed Brown at the Stoicon Event on Saturday. I’m not British and I had no idea who Brown was before this event, but he struck me as thoughtful, creative, imaginative, modest, and that he cares deeply about philosophical issues. He also has “it.” Whatever “it” is, the man’s got it in spades. I include a picture of him here even though I look terrible in it–London is so bad to my hair. Brown is on the right. He doesn’t look like much, does he? Well. William Irvine (to the left, very funny and personable author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy) and I both agree that Brown is sexy.

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I liked what Derren Brown said in the interview about the practice of Stoicism not being about achieving “happiness” necessarily, but about living large. Creating a bigger, more meaningful life. That is what I have gained from Stoicism, and what I continue to seek from it. As I said at the beginning of Stoic Week, I renamed it Joie de Vivre Week for myself. My intention for the week was to stop focusing on the negatives in my life, especially those things which I do not control, and thus increase my joie de vivre. It’s worked. I do feel more joy after my study and meditation during Stoic Week and my attendance at the Stoic Week Event.

This year and last I had the opportunity to socialize a bit with the Stoic Event presenters, mostly academics in Philosophy. So, philosophers. Sounds like a really swinging crowd, doesn’t it? Or people you would do anything to avoid, more like it. I found them charming. At least, from the little I know them. They seem friendly, open, warm, funny, self-effacing, and easy to talk with. They have joie de vivre!

IMG_9475Here with Massimo Pigliucci, professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College (London was messing with my hair again). Massimo is organizing and hosting next year’s Stoicon in New York.  I also got to talk with Donald Robertson who besides writing the excellent Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, has written the Stoic Week Handbook and has a Stoicism Facebook group of nearly 10,000 members. The man has a Scottish accent to die for. I overheard Donald and Jules discussing a book of Stoic memes they plan to co-write to be entitled “Philosophical Tapas: Daily Stoic Affirmations.” I think Don should narrate the audio version.

Speaking of voices, I went to my voice lesson today not having practiced at all and with a slight cold. Neither my teacher nor I expected much of me in the lesson, and yet I proceeded to effortlessly execute a range exercise I struggled with last week. My teacher gasped and looked at me in shock. “What did you do different?” she asked. I shrugged and said I didn’t know. She asked me to do the same exercise again and I was able to do it twice more perfectly. She said she can tell I return from London with a different energy. I can feel it, too. She said that not only was I able to do the exercise better, but my voice sounded better. We think it might be due to a combination of bringing back a new energy from London, not overthinking, and having low expectations.

Stoicism helps a lot with limiting the overthinking and managing expectations. The philosophy lends itself to focusing on this moment and bringing your best to it. This weekend I was struck with what a simple and complete philosophy it is. I just finished reading Daring Greatly by Oprah darling Brené Brown, a shame researcher who writes these obscenely popular books about vulnerability, courage, and authenticity. While the book was motivational and interesting, I couldn’t help but compare this self-help book to the more elegant and simple Stoic writings. Do you want to stop feeling shame? Then stop caring what people think of you. People’s opinions of you are outside the realm of what you control. Make the center of who you are within yourself, grounded in your own principles and values. When you practice Stoicism, you naturally become more appealingly vulnerable, courageous, and authentic.

More Stoic thoughts to come. (And I was just kidding about Don and Jules’ Philosophical Tapas. Unfortunately, no such book is in the works. ;))

joie de vivre week

12204658_10208166150575640_725060995_nOn Halloween night two days ago I carefully painted my face to look like a decorated Mexican sugar skull. I put flowers in my hair and pulled on a sexy black dress and heels in preparation for a Halloween swing dance party. I felt good about how I looked, as did my friend, adorably got-up as Wednesday from The Addams Family. We left her flat in high spirits, anticipating a fun party, and stepped out into the cool October night (not cold–this is southern Spain) in search of a taxi. I was surprised to see a large percentage of my friend’s neighborhood turned out in Halloween mode with costumes, make-up, and trick-or-treat bags. Wow, how flattering that the Spaniards embrace our Halloween, I thought to myself.

And that’s when it hit me. Literally. An egg to the back, soiling the back of my dress and even my hair and face somewhat. My friend and I turned around to find a little posse of kids, just standing there. I was incredulous. I had never been hit by an egg in all of my 30+ years of Halloween in the States. But what really made my jaw drop was that the kids were not running away. They were just standing there. And then they threw more eggs. There were quite a few adults around observing, and they did nothing. Just stood there idiotically. I was enraged.

I took off running after the kids. They started running and then stopped and turned, throwing more eggs. They missed, and I kept running, screaming at them. “Gilipollas! Niños de mierda! Os voy a matar!” (Jerks! Stinking brats! I’m going to kill you!) In spite of the fact that I was wearing heels, I am proud to say I was close behind them. I chased them around the entire block and stopped. They stopped when I did and tried to look cool and pretend they hadn’t been running. When you think about it, it’s pretty lame for a pack of 10-14 year old boys to be running from a little lady in heels. “Ahora nos vamos a ver y os vais a enterar !”  (I will see you again and you are going to regret it!) was my parting shot. I walked back to the entrance of my friend’s building, where she was waiting. We went back up to her flat and cleaned off the egg as best as we could.

“What would you have done if you caught the kid?” my friend asked. I told her I would have grabbed him and scolded him. She said even though it made her really mad, she couldn’t imagine doing such a thing because then the kid’s parents could get angry and come tell me off. I replied that I would like nothing better than to have the opportunity to meet the little shit’s parents and tell them what I thought of their parenting, their genetics, and anything else that occurred to me in the moment.

Part of what made me so angry was the complete indifference on the part of the many other adults who observed a 12-year-old boy throwing eggs at an adult woman. Can I just tell you what the response would have been if in my town in Maine, adults had witnessed such a thing? The kid would have been immediately grabbed by the collar (or ear) by whichever adult was closest. He would have been marched to his parents’ door, getting an earful of scolding the entire way. His parents would have grounded him to his room at least for the rest of the evening and there would surely be other consequences, like not being allowed to go out with his friends for a month and having to apologize in person to the lady he threw the egg at. Also, he would probably have to do yard work in the lady’s yard or something as atonement.

As I remember this I still get angry. It really pisses me off. I did go on to have a fabulous time at that party. But we couldn’t get all of the egg out of my dress, so it felt a bit sticky to me the entire night and it galled me. Every time I noticed it I thought of those disrespectful boys and it made me mad.

This week I am participating in International Stoic Week. I have a specific intention for this week, and it is to develop the ability to ignore things I don’t like. I have been too quick to anger lately, too likely to hold on to negative feelings, and too focused, in general, on negativity. This reactivity to things I do not control and readiness to engage with negative situations and people is killing my joie de vivre. I want greater indifference to things that bug me. I want my joie de vivre back!

I have a few maxims I will be repeating to myself throughout the week, besides doing the Stoic readings and meditations. I chose the following maxims from the Handbook of Epictetus, ancient Stoic philosopher, to help me develop the habit of ignoring what I don’t like (and don’t control):

You are nothing to me. (Said to the person, situation, etc. that I don’t like.)

If you want any good, get it from within yourself.

What is beyond my control is indifferent to me.

So, for myself I am renaming Stoic Week. I’m calling it Joie de Vivre week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

welcome home… bienvenida a casa

IMG_9434My first glimpse of you was as a child of four or five. One day my great-grandmother took out a box and showed me its contents: two coiled braids of fiery-copper hair. “This is what they cut off when one day in the 1920s, my sister and I snuck out of the house and without our parents’ permission, bobbed our hair,” she said. My great-grandmother played piano at the grange hall dances where she also danced the Charleston in her youth. My mother taught me the Charleston when she and other adults were still giant-size to me.

La primera vez que te eché un vistazo, yo era una niña de cuatro o cinco años. Un día mi bisabuela sacó una caja del armario y me enseñó su contenido: dos bucles de trenzas de color cobre. “Esto es lo que nos cortaron a mí y a mi hermana en los años 20 cuando un día nos dio por cortarnos el pelo al estilo de la época sin el permiso de nuestros padres.” Mi bisabuela tocaba el piano en los bailes donde también bailaba el Charleston en su juventud. Mi madre me enseñó a bailar el Charleston aun cuando ella y los demás adultos me parecían gigantes.

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I next saw you at age eight, when a dance teacher moved to our small town in central Maine and started giving lessons. I started class a couple weeks late for some reason. At my first class we did ballet for a while and then all of the other little girls ran to change into their tap shoes. I didn’t have tap shoes yet, but I still remember the feeling of utter fascination, excitement, and longing I felt watching the other girls clack around in those shiny black shoes. I had seen Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies on Saturday afternoons with my mother and I had never imagined that I would have the opportunity to glide around a room looking fabulous and making beautiful noise with my shoes. I was incapable of thinking about anything else until I had my own pair. I don’t know if I have ever wanted something as much in my life as I wanted those tap shoes. I cried when the dance teacher moved away a year later.

La próxima vez que te vi, tenía ocho años. Una profe de baile se mudó a nuestro pueblo pequeño y empezó a dar clases. Yo empecé un par de clases más tarde. En mi primera clase, primero hicimos ballet y después todas las niñas fueron a ponerse los zapatos de claqué. Yo aún no había comprado los míos pero todavía recuerdo la sensación de fascinación, ilusión, y añoranza que sentí a ver a las otras niñas bailar con aquellos zapatos negros puestos. Ya había visto las películas de Ginger Rogers y Fred Astair los sábados por la tarde con mi madre y jamás me había imaginado que allí estaría yo,  deslizándome por la pista de baile viéndome fabulosa y haciendo ruido bello con mis zapatos. Me obsesioné. Fui incapaz de pensar en otra cosa hasta que tuve mis propios zapatos de claqué. No sé si he llegado a desear algo tanto en mi vida. Lloré y me deprimí un tiempo cuando la profe de baile se mudó un año después y mis clases se acabaron.

Later I saw you in brightly-colored dresses with impossibly long fringe in Singing in the Rain. When it came time for me to go to the prom, I designed a black dress covered completely in fringe and a friend’s mom made it. I was disappointed when I first tried it on and saw myself in the full-length mirror. The girls in Singing in the Rain were showing their beautiful shoulders and the material of their dresses was stretchy with room to dance in. My dress was a constricting black sheath with a fairly high neckline, as required for a Mormon girl. I felt encased and upholstered.

Después te vi en los vestidos de colores brillantes con fleco en la película Singing in the Rain. Cuando llegó prom (la fiesta formal de instituto de los EEUU), diseñé un vestido negro completamente cubierto de flecos que me confeccionó la madre de una amiga. Me sentí desilusionada cuando me lo probé y me vi en el espejo. Las chicas de Singing in the Rain se mostraban los hombros tan hermosos y la tela de sus vestidos tenía elástico que les permitía bailar a gusto. Mi vestido en cambio era una funda estrecha sin escote y con los hombros cubiertos, tal como requería mi religión estricta. Me sentí encerrada y tapizada.

I found you in a book about Hollywood stars of the 20s-40s. My favorite by far Annex - Brooks, Louise (Beggars of Life)_04was Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks looked on the outside how I felt on the inside. She had all of that range between boyish charm and sexy siren. I spent many of my days dressed like a boy and Louise-Brooks-31being mistaken for a boy on my father’s farm. But I didn’t always feel like a boy. When I went home to my bedroom and saw my Jean Harlow poster on the wall, which I had mostly hung there to scandalize my mother, I felt like Jean Harlow. I wanted to wear stiletto heels, silky dresses, furs, and feathers, all with a debouched and devil-may-care attitude.

Te encontré en un libro de estrellas de Hollywood de los años 20-40. Me preferida era Louise Brooks. Louise Brooks se veía por fuera como yo me sentía por dentro. Tenía todo el abanico entre sirena sexy y estilo masculino. Yo pasaba muchos días vestida como un niño en la granja de mi padre, pero no me sentía como un niño. Cuando llegaba a casa y veía en la pared de mi habitación el poster de Jean Harlow que había colgado allí para escandalizar a mi madre, me sentía como Jean Harlow. Quería ponerme los tacones de aguja, vestidos de seda, pieles, y plumas, y todo con un aire de chica disoluta y temeraria.

I found you in music, dance, film, books, and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, fellow high-spirited Maine girl. I found you driving at 100 mph in my car on a summer night. I found you in my Ecuador adventures at age sixteen. I found you in midnight escapades of high hilarity and daring with my high school friends. I found you in the mirror sometimes in a girl breezily self-confident, free of convention, original, spicy, and fun.

Te encontré en la música, el baile, las películas, los libros. Te encontré en la poesía de Edna St. Vincent Millay, una chica también de Maine y llena de vida. Te encontré conduciendo a 180 km en una noche de verano. Te encontré en mis aventuras en Ecuador cuando tenía dieciséis años. Te encontré en correrías de hilaridad y osadía con mis amigos del instituto. A veces te encontraba en la chica del espejo, una chica segura de sí misma, libre de la convención, original, y divertida.

I got married when I was still a child, and that’s when I lost you. I will tell you how it happened. There had always been this Victorian girl at my shoulder. Victorian-Ladiy-Image-Velvet-GraphicsFairyStern and self-important in her principles and morals, quiet and yet insistent. When I got married she stepped in, in all of her efficiency and righteousness, and took your place. She wagged her finger at you and made you feel judged and out of place. You went far away. I missed you, but the Victorian girl comforted me. She said you were a bad influence and not to be trusted, and that it was for the best. She was not a bad sort. She was a gentle and nurturing mother who loved the bonds of home and family. She felt safe and valued there. She was responsible, self-sacrificing, and dutiful. Her modest dress reflected her modest attitude toward her personal achievements beyond motherhood and wifehood.

Me casé cuando era una niña aún, y fue cuando te perdí. Te contaré como pasó. Siempre había una chica victoriana a mi lado. Seria, rígida, algo pretenciosa en sus principios y moralidad, callada pero insistente. Cuando me casé, ella con toda su eficacia y rectitud, se hizo cargo de mí. Te regañó, te juzgó, y te hizo sentir fuera de lugar. Y tú te fuiste. Te echaba de menos, pero la chica victoriana me consolaba. Me dijo que eras una mala influencia, que no eras de fiar, y que era mejor que te alejaras de mi. La chica victoriana no era una mala tipa. Era una madre tierna y cariñosa que amaba las ataduras de familia y hogar. Se sentía segura y valorada allí. Era responsable, abnegada, y diligente. Su forma de vestir tan modesta simbolizaba su actitud modesta hacia sus hazañas más allá de la maternidad y el hogar.

Things happened. I made choices that frightened and disgusted the Victorian girl. You, my childhood crush, came back into my life to dance with me in the kitchen. I started seeing you at jazz concerts. You re-taught me the Charleston and together we learned to swing. We are all about emphasizing the second and the fourth beat now, you and I. We are never in a hurry, no matter how intense and driving the music may be. That’s how we groove.

Pasaron cosas. Tomé decisiones que asustaron e indignaron a la chica victoriana. Tú volviste a mi vida para bailar conmigo en la cocina. Empecé a verte en los conciertos de jazz. Me volviste a enseñar como bailar el Charleston y juntas aprendimos el Lindy Hop. Para ti y para mí, se trata de acentuar el segundo y cuarto tiempo. No nos apuramos en nada, da igual la intensidad de lo que pase a nuestro alrededor. Así bailamos la vida tú y yo.

kay francis 2For a while Victorian girl hated that you were back. She felt threatened. She talked bad about you and tried to get me to fear you. She threatened to leave if you stayed around. I told her that I don’t want her to leave. We’ve had some good times together and I value her, but I made it clear to her that you are back to stay. She has to accept you.

Por un tiempo, la chica victoriana odiaba que estuvieras de vuelta. Hablaba mal de ti e intentó que yo te tuviera miedo. Me amenazó con irse ella si tú te quedabas. Le dije que no quería que se fuera. Hemos vivido cosas muy importantes juntas y la valoro, pero le dije claramente que tú ya estás para quedarte. Le dije que te tenía que aceptar.

She has to accept you because since you came back, I am whole. I am wild and exuberant and free. I am more in the moment. I’m more at ease. I’m more comfortable in my skin. My world has more color, taste, sound, smell. I’m stronger. Ironically, I’m a better Christian. I like myself better now that you are back, and if there is a God, I think He would like me better now, too.

Te tiene que aceptar porque desde que volviste, soy completa. Soy más salvaje, más llena de vitalidad, más libre. Estoy más en el momento. Estoy más a mis anchas. Mi mundo tiene más color, sabor, sonido, y olor. Soy más fuerte. Y hasta soy mejor cristiana. Me gusto más a mí misma y creo que si hay un dios, yo le gustaría más a él ahora también.

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healing

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We are like plants, full of tropisms that draw us toward certain experiences and repel us from others. -Parker J. Palmer

In the last post I talked about Religious Trauma Syndrome and my struggle with it. This post is about how I’m getting better. This is what has worked for me.

  1. I listen to my body. Our bodies contain a lot of wisdom. It was my body that first let me know that my religion was no longer working for me. It felt like I had developed an allergy to going to church. I started getting terrible headaches every Sunday and when I came home I would collapse on my bed in exhaustion and sleep for hours. I was told that the reason I felt this way was because I was sinning, and that’s why I didn’t feel right at church. At the time I was so conditioned by guilt, I actually wondered if this might be true! It wasn’t. My body was trying to alert me to the fact that I wasn’t living in alignment with my true self.
  2. I listen to my life. This is the title of a very helpful book I just read by Parker J. Palmer. Having PTSD symptoms is no fun, but discovering who I really am is turning out to be fascinating and exciting. As Palmer says, “I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live–but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.” There are certain qualities and values that have been part of who I am since the day I was born. I am passionate, sensual, and sensitive. And every day I crave creative expression, beauty, laughter, and meaningful connection with people. What I also needed all these years, a value that was being stepped on, was to listen to and trust my own inner wisdom.
  3. I embrace my dark side. I’m getting cozy with my flaws and weaknesses. No more perfection for me. Perfect is so boring! The other day I was having some professional pictures done and the photographer told me he might try to sell some of them as stock photos. He said that no one wants to see the conventional-looking models anymore, but rather people with odd faces like mine. And I took that as a compliment! I prefer to look at funny-faced people, too. And did you notice that I just bragged there? I did, and I’m fine with it. I like people who occasionally brag. I like people who say strange things. And I really like people who eat with gusto.
  4. I laugh. “He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at,” said Epictetus. So true! And so healing. Taking myself too seriously bores me almost as much as perfection does.
  5. I dance. The first year after I divorced and left the church I danced almost every day in my kitchen. I needed it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without dance. Dancing helps me be fully in the moment and connected to my body. I didn’t know this at the time, but dance is a highly-recommended activity for people experiencing PTSD because it helps unstick your body from its immobilization stress response. Long walks in nature help too, as do yoga and other physical activities.
  6. I connect with people socially. I have learned a lot through trial and error with this one. Many of the people I have tried friendships with in the past couple years are no longer in my life. They were bridge people who came into my life to teach me something and then it was time for them to go. I am just now finally learning how to let those people go for my own benefit, and to limit my most intimate circle to only the tried and tested friends I can count on.
  7. I keep trying new things. It’s like going shopping and bringing a big armful of clothing into the changing room. Maybe out of ten items I’ll like one or two, or perhaps none. But how was I to know unless I tried? I try on new books, people, career paths, values, sports, activities. Some of those require quite a bit more of an investment of time, money, or emotions than the 10 seconds it takes me to pull on some jeans in the changing room. So yeah, it can suck when something doesn’t end up being a fit. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying because if I did, what would I have? It’s trial and error with everything. Life is a classroom. Or a laboratory. Or a dance party in my kitchen! Oooooh yeah!

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