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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what not to say. do this instead

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I know that everyone has had this experience. In fact, everyone has been on both sides of this experience. You are depressed, or maybe going through a rough time, or maybe it’s just a bad day. You confide in a friend or family member, and the response from that person, though well-meaning, makes you feel… violated. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? You wish you hadn’t said anything. You feel like closing up, changing the subject, not bringing it up again. You recognize this person’s good intentions, and somehow that only makes you feel worse. Why did their response make you feel this way?

Or how about this: Your friend confides in you that she is feeling upset, worried, depressed, etc… Whatever it might be. You really feel for her! You want to help her, and so you say whatever you can think of that might be helpful. And yet you notice a distancing in her eyes, a closing up. She smiles at you and thanks you, but the smile is not genuine. You feel frustrated because you really want to help. But if she’s going to be like that, well…

What happened here? One person is in need and is reaching out, the other wants so much to help. This should be a moment of love, a coming together, an opportunity to give and receive kindness and empathy. What went wrong?

Any number of things. Here is a list of what not to say to someone who is feeling depressed:

  1. “You are a wonderful person who helps a lot of people. You have all kinds of wonderful qualities. Think about that and you’ll feel great!” This makes the depressed person feel like a fraud. What he is thinking is that on the outside he appears that way, but on the inside he is actually bad. He feels like you don’t understand.
  2. “Look at all the beauty that surrounds you! Go out and enjoy this gorgeous day instead of moping around thinking about your problems.” The depressed person may not be in a place where she can enjoy life through her senses. When you are depressed your sensory perception is dulled.
  3. “Maybe this is all because of that childhood trauma you had.” Practicing amateur psychoanalysis is not the way to go. It’s not what your friend is looking for from you, it’s not helpful and in fact, could be damaging.
  4. “I know exactly how you feel because I’ve been through the same thing…” and then you proceed to tell your story. You do not know exactly how your friend feels. You have no way of knowing that because you are not her. What you know is how YOU felt under what you think might be similar circumstances.
  5. “I know what you need to do to solve this. Let me tell you…” What makes you the expert? What makes you think that your solutions, based on your values, would help someone else? What’s more, where does your need to give advice come from? When you give advice, you are getting yourself off the hook. You can go on your merry way no longer troubled by this friend’s problems, because you “fixed” them. If the friend does not take your advice, well that’s up to him and you are free from responsibility. Who is this working for? For you, not for your friend.

I know I have said some version of all of the above to a depressed friend and I’ve had it all said to me. While I have appreciated the intention behind these words and I’ve had the best intentions myself, I recognize that these responses are not helpful to people who are troubled.

What is helpful?

Something that is very simple, and yet very hard to do. What helps the most is being present with the friend through her difficulty. Accompanying her with your care. Resisting the urge to fix, to scold, advise, “inspire,” to make the bad go away. Being there as she struggles. Listening. If appropriate, hugging. Respecting the integrity of who she is, believing that she is capable of finding the best answers for her within. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is seeing her in her wholeness. Seeing that she struggles, and yet still caring about her.

And maybe realizing something that will help you do that. Like, that depression, struggle, and bad times have their place. As Stephen Fry says:

It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.

If appropriate, encourage your friend to get professional help and if you are concerned that your friend may do himself harm, read more here about what to do.

weirdness

ET Moon

Mostly, I could tell, I made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t understand me, and he was sort of holding it against me. I felt the urge to reassure him that I was like everybody else, just like everybody else. But really there wasn’t much point, and I gave up the idea out of laziness. -Albert Camus, L’Étranger

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and there are several reasons for that. I’m working on a couple other projects that have me very busy. One of those projects is Co-Active coaching, which I love entirely. It’s great to have found a career that is such a good fit for me. However, maybe the other reason that I’m not writing as much is that I’m going through a weird time.

I went to the U.S. a couple months ago to visit, and since I came back to southern Spain I have felt uncomfortable here. When I go to Barcelona or Madrid I feel light on my feet, joyful, carefree. I’m always smiling. I meet all kinds of interesting people with whom it’s easy to connect. I feel like I fit in there. I’m just another person in the throng, with her beauty and ugliness, her passions and her torpidity. Here in southern Spain, however, I usually feel like an outsider. People put me in a little box and slap a label on me. They switch out the label depending on their mood. For a long time I was in denial about this. Once I realized what was going on, I resented it so much I struggled and fought, accused and cried, and in the end hurt no one but myself.

I have to accept that I am not going to connect in any edifying way with most people here. And that’s ok. I don’t mind feeling alienated here. As one friend said to me the other day, looking me squarely in the eyes: “What is it that you really want? To feel accepted by these people, like you are one of them? You want to be like them? Seriously, Lindsay? I don’t think so.”

Not only am I going to accept that I am not like people here, I am going to embrace it. A few of the people I have had issues with have said to me that I should consider that maybe I am the problem, not them. They are absolutely right, of course. My problems have been the following: Trying to force friendships with people who don’t share my values, making myself small so that others don’t feel threatened, and giving energy to people and situations that don’t give me joy.

I realized last night that the people I most identify with, respect, and admire are people who don’t have many intimate friends. Human friends, that is. When I was growing up I felt like my best friends were books, paintings, and trees. I still feel that to some extent.

When I’m in Barcelona or Madrid I take big, deep breaths. I stretch. I feel like dancing down the street. I am going to feel that here in southern Spain, too. I don’t care if it’s the last thing I do. I’m going to feel as wonderful here as I do in other places. So take that, andaluces!

sunlit souls

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There are souls that one desires to draw near to, like a sunlit window. -Federico García Lorca

A few days ago I met with an Argentine friend who lived many years in Spain but moved last year to Manchester. I went to visit her in Manchester last fall and she seemed to be adjusting well. When we’ve spoken since then, she’s always been upbeat about the experience. This friend is one I’m always thrilled to get together with because she is unfailingly positive.The shortened version of my friend’s first name means “light” in English, and her last name is similar to “ray.” Every time I see her I think how much she resembles a sunbeam. Yesterday I finally got to see her again because she has come down to Spain to visit. I hadn’t realized that this entire past year she has been unable to leave England because of a visa problem that has just now been resolved. She told me about this and other difficulties she’s faced this past year as well as the measures she took to keep herself in a positive frame of mind. I had been taking my friend’s sunny disposition for granted. Though she does lead an enviable life in some respects, she has difficult trials and fears and disappointments just as we all do. She is naturally good-natured, but obviously some days (or months, or years!) it requires a lot of effort to maintain good cheer. She is always radiant because she chooses to be.

IMG_7469Cheerfulness is not the only way a shining soul makes itself known. I think of my grandmother, Bea. She was a simple country girl, not at all fancy or sophisticated. And yet she had a powerful presence. A neighbor who was raised on a farm next to my grandmother’s house (on the legendary River Road, where I grew up!) once told us about the skating parties they used to have there in the winter. In that group of children there were some quarrels and rivalries that came out whenever they got together. But then my grandmother would arrive (late of course–Bea knew how to take her sweet time), and suddenly all would be well. There was something about her that made everyone want to get along and have fun together. She radiated peace and contentment.

Another sunlit soul I am privileged to know is my friend Mariló , she of the Bridge People wisdom. Mariló is an artist in everything she does. Everything. In her relationships, her interactions with patients as a nurse, her meditations, her paintings, her dinner parties, the decor of her home, and in the way she talks and moves and dresses. She can not help but constantly express beauty and joie de vivre. I first heard about Mariló from some mutual friends and then I kept seeing her comments on their Facebook content. I longed to meet her, but couldn’t figure out how. One day I started chatting with a man on Facebook I don’t know personally, but we had other friends in common. He is a successful and inspiring violin teacher and we were talking about that. All of a sudden he said, “You should meet Mariló. She lives down near you and you have a lot in common.” I didn’t even know he knew Mariló! And I thought it must be fate that she and I meet. We didn’t finally meet in person until about a year later. We’ve had many conversations about how people don’t always make it easy for you to be yourself if you are not like everyone else. Mariló is constantly making the choice to be true to who she is and to let her light shine brilliantly.

When I was in Barcelona recently for two weeks, I felt radiant. I was in a magical city far from my woes and cares where no one knows me. I felt completely free to explore different versions of me and I discovered within hidden talents, ambitions, and strengths that I never knew existed. This post is indicative of how I felt before I went to Barcelona. In this post and this one, I mention some discoveries, though not all. I will write about more discoveries, and some I will keep to myself. Anyway, now that I am back home, I have struggled to maintain that high. Friends have told me that that’s what happens when you come back from vacation. You are faced with the reality and routine of your life and, Hello! It’s not vacationland. Well, I’ve got news for them. I was BORN in vacationland. If I want to feel the same freedom, creative inspiration, and joie de vivre here in Málaga that I felt in Barcelona, then I will, damn it. And no one is going to tell me that I can’t. I will choose to be a radiant, sunlit soul. So there! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

new moon elegance

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What it is that brings you the deepest joy? What motivates and inspires you? What gives you a sense of rightness and satisfaction? What is essential?

The answers to these questions inevitably indicate something about your values. Your values reflect what you most care about. Your values are not your morals, ethics, or principles, though it could be that you have a value of acting ethically, for example. Living a life in accordance with your values is what brings you fulfillment in life. It may not always feel pleasurable or make you constantly happy like popping a pill, but living your values gives you satisfaction, meaning, and joy.

Yesterday I wrote about my Lady is a Tramp value, which is largely about freedom. The freedom from other people’s expectations and the freedom to fully enjoy life on my own terms without being cool, apologizing, or conforming. When I think of the words “Lady is a Tramp,” all of that immediately comes to mind, but I also feel it in my body, deep inside. In this way I’ve made this little cluster of values tangible. It has much more power and impact than if I just think of the words “freedom” or “unconventionality,” etc.

A leader in my coaching class told us that he calls one of his values the “elegance of the new moon.” For him the image of the new moon represents a certain kind of under-appreciated beauty. Everyone admires the full moon, but no one talks about the new moon with its barely-there sliver of light, promising and hopeful. That really struck me, and I realized that I share that same value. Or at least, the image of the new moon evokes values for me, too. A kind of over-looked beauty that has its quiet, minimalist elegance. A beauty of fresh beginnings that come on gradually and require a careful attention and patience to fully appreciate. Simplicity. “New moon” says all of that to me.

Here are two more of my embodied values:

I value luxury, but not the luxury of a sleek, expensive car or a designer-made dress. I value the luxury of slipping newly-shaven legs between freshly-washed, line-dried sheets. I value the luxury of sitting on my terrace with a book and an herbal tea. A homemade hair mask of honey, egg, and argan oil. A bud vase with a few wild flowers. These several-times-per-day moments of quiet connection with beauty and my senses make life meaningful and lovely.

I value forget-lunch passion. Yesterday I was so wrapped up in my writing that by 3:30 I still hadn’t had lunch. When I’m so interested in what I’m doing that I forget to eat, it must be passion because I love to eat! While exploring my values in coaching class, a fellow student told me, “I can see that passion is the motor of your life.” Passion touches everything that I most care about. I can see it in my relationships when I stay up all night talking with friends. I see it in my appreciation for music and dance. I feel it when I visit museums.

Why does it matter what your values are? Why even think about it? Why not just live your life and let things flow? Just as there are people born with perfect pitch, I’m sure there are people who are born with the ability to live a life in constant and perfect accordance with their values without even thinking of it. However, most of us have to practice to become good at living our values. And in a world where the media constantly bombards us with its values, many of us don’t have our own values clearly defined.

How do you determine what your values are? With the examples I’ve given, I’m sure you’ve already come up with a few of your own. If you dare, ask your friends or family members: What would you say my values are? This exercise could provide useful information about what your values really are, but also ways that you may be acting or spending your time that don’t reflect your true values. Someone could tell you that you seem to value being traditional and conformist, for example, and you are surprised because that’s not at all the idea you have of yourself.

One way to determine your values is to ask yourself what annoys the hell out of you. What is it that just bugs you so bad? What makes you indignant? When I asked myself this, I immediately thought of the lunch program at my children’s school. Buying the school lunch is compulsory. Students are NOT ALLOWED to take their own lunch or go home for lunch. The reason given for this is that the school wants to ensure that the children are getting proper nutrition for their long day of learning. The problem is, the school lunch is dreadful. It’s not made on site. It’s brought in by a catering service and reheated, so the texture is unappealing. My kids will barely touch it, so when they get home from school they are ravenous. We pay A LOT for this stupid school lunch they won’t even eat. The campus and buildings for this school are probably the most expensive and technically cutting-edge in the region, so I was confused as to why they couldn’t provide a proper cafeteria. I found out that the owner of the catering service is the school director’s cousin. Ok, now it all makes sense and it makes me SO FRIGGING MAD. I could not be more indignant, and the covering up of this nepotism with the enraging lie that they are forcing me to pay for this nasty lunch FOR MY CHILDREN’S NUTRITIONAL GOOD… I can not even.

Now I am hopping mad. What values of mine are being offended here? Tell me in the comments. And what are your values? I’m curious!

untethered

11127204_10206955703675224_3380256642613492434_oThis is the first vacation I’ve ever done by myself, completely untethered. No kids, no dudes, no staying with friends.

At first it was disconcerting. My first full day here in Barcelona, for example, lunch time came along and I wandered the narrow streets of the Gothic neighborhood looking with longing at all the mouth-watered options. Thai, Moroccan, Spanish, Catalan, Japanese… I became hungrier and hungrier. My stomach started to growl. Suddenly, I stopped and looked around me in irritation. And I realized something. I was looking around for whoever was responsible for deciding what “we” were eating for lunch. Because there has always been a “we!” I seldom go out to eat alone, and I always defer to whoever I’m with to decide where.

That was a major moment. Since then, I’ve positively reveled in the acts of getting up late, taking forever to choose my outfit for the day, primping, eating at odd hours, taking siesta at 7pm, browsing the shops forever, reading in cafes, and spending too much or not enough time in the museums. It’s marvelous. Even if I get engaged tomorrow (which seems like a distinct possibility here in Barcelona!), this will for sure not be the last time I take a vacation by myself.

I am reborn. Back in Málaga where I live, I was feeling annoyed, misunderstood, and very tense. Weird stuff kept happening and I couldn’t deal with it. I felt like whatever I did was wrong. Here in Barcelona, I’m a cat and I don’t give a damn. Everything flows, the Universe is conspiring in my behalf, and I’m ready to receive whatever comes my way. I feel alive creatively in a way that I haven’t for some time. I’m constantly getting new ideas for my projects and I’m excited to start work on implementing them. I’m on fire!

On a personal level in my relationships, back in Málaga I was stressed about various situations there. I felt stuck and whatever I tried to unstick myself only made things worse. Here and now, in my state of flow, spontaneity, creative energy, and Level 3 listening, I’m cool with sitting back and letting things unfold as they will in my relationships. This is how I so desperately wanted to feel before, and though I tried, I didn’t know how to get there. Now I see that what it takes is allowing myself to be happy and engaged deeply with what I care about. When I do what I love and kindle my passions, everything and everyone else falls into place.

I spent much too much time agonizing over who said what, she looked at me wrong, and I texted this or that and then he said such-and-such… Such absolute rot! For one thing, if your resources are largely devoted to doing what you love, you radiate an irresistible energy. You attract the “right” kind of people in your life. It’s effortless. Really, you don’t even have to think about it. Also, people always reveal themselves for who they truly are. Sometimes it takes time, but it all comes out eventually. There is no need to be surprised or even especially upset when someone you care about and think you know turns out to be a bridge person.

I took the above photo in the National Museum of Catalunya. I don’t remember the details of who the photographer is. I believe it was untitled. The photo struck me because I love women in hats. Also, I think the determination in her expression and light in her eye shows that she is a woman connected to her passions. I identify with the feeling I get from this photo.

self-criticism and rumination

 

I don't know why I picked this particular painting for this post. Any excuse to look at Chagall, I guess.
I don’t know why I picked this particular painting for this post. There is a cow, and cows ruminate, right? Any excuse to look at Chagall, I guess.

I used to analyze myself down to the last thread, used to compare myself with others, recalled all the smallest glances, smiles and words of those to whom I’d tried to be frank, interpreted everything in a bad light, laughed viciously at my attempts ‘to be like the rest’―and suddenly, in the midst of my laughing, I’d give way to sadness, fall into ludicrous despondency and once again start the whole process all over again―in short, I went round and round like a squirrel on a wheel.

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

This mind set that Dostoyevsky describes so accurately is indeed torturous. It’s self torture. I’ve been there, as have most people. Over-analysis of your faults, comparing yourself to others, social anxiety, self doubt, and self criticism are all symptoms of a personal identity crisis and/or feelings of low self worth. An identity crisis can come along at any point in your life and at any age. It’s when you doubt who you are, what you stand for, and where you fit in. Any life event that shakes up your status quo can trigger an identity crisis. If you are experiencing an identity crisis it means that you are growing out of your previous identity and it’s time to redefine and recreate who you are. It’s time for an upgrade! No matter what brought on the identity crisis, it’s an excellent opportunity for personal growth.

However, though ultimately a good thing, an identity crisis may initially bring on the sort of negative thought patters that Dostoyevsky so keenly describes in the above quote. Before you can proceed with the deeply rewarding work of redefining yourself and finding just where it is you fit in, you need to get off that wheel! Here’s how.

1. Eliminate or severely limit self-help books and anything else that has you focusing on your weaknesses. Avoid like the plague those articles entitled the likes of, “56 Toxic Things About You that are RUINING Your Life FOREVER.” Maybe in casting about for some way, any way, of digging yourself out of this identity crisis pit, you landed upon the idea that if you can only fix yourself you will fit in, people will like you, and everything will be ok again. But no, that’s not going to work and here’s why: This is not a good time to take on massive self-improvement projects because right now you are feeling so vulnerable, all of your weaknesses are going to seem magnified way out of proportion to what they really are.

2. Stop self-criticism and start self compassion NOW. Constant self-criticism is damaging to your self concept and even affects you physically. Attacks to yourself, even if you are the perpetrator, stimulate the body’s threat defense system causing it to release high levels of cortisol, which could eventually cause your body to shut down in a depressed state. Practicing self compassion has the opposite effect, lowering cortisol and releasing oxytocin and opiates. Self-compassion is accepting and loving yourself as the imperfect person you are. It’s treating yourself just as you would treat a good friend. You might find these guided meditations and self-compassion exercises helpful.

3. Stop ruminating. Rumination is obsessive analyzing and thinking about negative past events or current situations that you can’t change. For example, if you have just ended a relationship, it’s constantly replaying the events that led up to the break up and obsessing about what you might have done differently to save the relationship. Or fixating on what a terrible person your ex is and planning how to get revenge. The best revenge is a life beautifully lived, but you’re not going to get there with these kinds of thoughts.

What I personally found most helpful in halting rumination was learning to let go of the things I don’t control. I realized how fruitless it was to worry and stress about the past, people’s opinions of me, my health, and any myriad of things that could go wrong. I created mantras that I repeated to myself throughout the day any time I felt tempted to think about those things. In less than two weeks I saw a remarkable difference in my thought patters and after a month, I found that I didn’t need to repeat my mantras as often anymore because I was starting to believe in a deep down way that I have absolutely no business worrying about what I do not control

Other effective ways to stop rumination are:

  • Scheduling a set time to worry every day, maybe 20-30 minutes. That way every time you get a negative, worrying thought you can think to yourself, “Ok, I’ll save that to think about during my worry time.” Then it doesn’t become a permanent mind set, and yet you aren’t trying to suppress negative thoughts or feelings, which can cause other problems.
  • Write about it. I found that writing provided a more constructive and positive way to deal with my issues than keeping it all in my head. Writing helped me make more sense of everything that was happening to me. In many cases, I found that once I wrote about a problem I was experiencing, I no longer felt the need to keep thinking about it. I was ready to move on.
  • Focus on the here and now. Let me ask you something. If you had the option to either go about in the world freely or lock yourself in dank, smelly basement, which would you choose? When you are ruminating, you are not living in the moment. You are living in the equivalent of a dank, smelly basement. Get out of there! Practice mindfulness by giving your full attention to the lovely, simple pleasures of daily existence.

4. Surround yourself with the right friends. Avoid people who are constantly critical. Even if they are not directing the criticism at you, they could be infecting you with their negativity and even provoking rumination and self-criticism. If in social situations you start to feel like the above Dostoyevsky quote is describing you, here is a sure-fire quick fix. Stop talking, stop trying to impress people, and start listening. It will require a lot of attention and it won’t be easy at first, but it’s worth it. Listen to people. Repeat back to them what you think they are trying to say to make sure you understand. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Understand. Forget about yourself for a while and listen. You may be surprised at the results. I know I was.

bridge people

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Yesterday morning I had chocolate and churros with my dear friend Marilo. Marilo is yet another of my beautiful friends, not only for her rare physical beauty, but for her even rarer combination of qualities. She is a profound thinker, but loves to laugh at herself. She has a highly sensitive artist’s mind that also contains whopping good sense. She goes on these marvelous flights of fancy and yet always maintains her feet planted squarely on the ground. Whenever I spend time with her, I come away wanting to write down everything she said, but also how she said it. I would not be at all surprised to see Marilo turn up some day in an artist’s biography as his muse.

Marilo thinks she and I are a lot alike, which is of course very flattering to me. I like to secretly (or not-so-secretly now) give myself airs that I’m just like Marilo. Although I know she is actually referring to something specific we have in common. We are both highly sensitive and easily hurt, and yet we can’t seem to help laying ourselves bare to people, open and vulnerable to whoever wants to come by and pinch us. When we get together, a lot of our talk is about how to deal with the inevitable pain this causes. Of course I’ve talked with her about Stoicism and how it’s helped me.

Like me, Marilo divorced after being married many years, about three or four years before I did. She has helped me tremendously in navigating single life. Yesterday she told me that she thinks I’m doing very well, and now is the best she has ever seen me. I went through the rest of the day with a big smile on my face. I probably looked simple minded.

Yesterday we talked about several things we’ve learned in the past couple years. One is about who to spend time with, and who not to. Marilo said that sometimes she has had a friend that maybe she has a good time with, but then when she gets home after spending time with that person, she starts to feel bad inside. Maybe she starts to feel small or insignificant, maybe negative or frustrated. The same thing has happened to me and it can be hard to identify exactly what the problem is. Now that I have more experience, I can usually figure it out. Sometimes it has been a problem within me, for example, that I’m letting my insecurities get the better of me. However, sometimes it’s the other person who is maybe too fearful or negative and I’m absorbing it. In any case, if their demons don’t play well with my demons, it’s best to find someone else to spend time with.

Another wise thing Marilo said yesterday was an off-hand reference she made to a former friend. She said, “You know, she was one of those people who pass through your life after you divorce and you’re looking for new friends. They teach you something and then they leave. It’s good that they appear in your life, and it’s just as good that they disappear.” I thought this was a wonderful way to view such people who sometimes leave an oily residue behind. People who’s principle purpose was to teach you how NOT to be. Later, she even came up with a cool name for them: bridge people. I love it! Isn’t it great? It only encourages you to keep meeting people, keep trying, without attaching too much importance to what doesn’t work out.

Marilo later posted this quote by Marta Zubiría to my Facebook: Hay personas que pasan por delante, pero no por dentro. There are people who pass by in front, but don’t get inside. It sounds better in Spanish.

There are people who don’t get inside us and people who shouldn’t get inside us.

A Mormon belief that I continue to hold dear is the idea that our bodies are temples. I do believe in that connection between spirit and body, that what is good for one is good for the other. For example, I know that what I eat effects me emotionally. I know that emotional distress can make me physically ill. I also know that there is no way to be physically intimate with someone without absorbing some of their energy. People will tell you that it’s just sex, it doesn’t really matter, it only effects you emotionally if you let it, that society imposes erroneous ideas about sex and if we all just went around humping naturally like animals do, the world would be a better place. Those are the excuses people make when they are either, 1) trying to convince you to have sex or, 2) attempting to justify their lack of criteria and self control.

Condoms can protect you against some STDs, but as far as I know, there is no spiritual condom. If you are being intimate with someone who has significant emotional problems, you are going to catch that just like you would syphilis.

just friends

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A few days after Christmas I met this woman at a friend’s concert. At first I felt shy around her, maybe a little intimidated because she’s so beautiful. She is really stunning! She’s a singer/songwriter who is originally from Málaga but she’s been living abroad for years. With effort I overcame my shyness and we started talking. We found out that we have all kinds of things in common, like that we both love to read, she is vegetarian and I like vegetables, we love art and the same kinds of movies, and we laugh at the same dumb things. We actually have something else in common that made us both laugh a lot… but that’s a secret!! Eva is altogether a delightful person. She’s smart and talented and passionate. Check out her website. I know, right? I was not lying about how beautiful she is. All I needed was another drop-dead gorgeous friend. What am I, stupid? Do you think if I’m walking down the street with Ara or Irene, anyone pays the slightest attention to little old me? I need to get myself some butt-ugly friends. And I will love them best of all! Well. At least the fact that I have gorgeous friends is a testament to my character, evidence that I’m not quite as vain as is generally thought.

Maybe I seem over-excited about making a new friend. It happens so rarely. There are all kinds of people I meet that I like and I get along with, or that I don’t like and I don’t get along with. However, I seldom find people, especially here in Spain, with whom I feel this kind of connection. A lot of it has to do with being able to laugh together. Ara often says things that have me suddenly laughing out loud days later when it comes to mind. Irene has contagious good cheer and it’s impossible to feel depressed more than two minutes in her company. Marina makes me laugh at myself (and at other people. Or did you really think we are always talking about politics behind that reception desk?) Kelly K and I can’t eat our gourmet food together because we can’t stop laughing long enough and as we’ve discovered, that’s a choking hazard. Kelly K and I will die laughing some day, Edward Gorey style.

It goes further than a shared sense of humor and common interests, though. With my closest friends I feel comfortable letting go of the need to control my image. I think they’ve all seen me at my worst and they still love me anyway. Of course, with this I’m not saying anything new about friendship. Our friends are the ones who love and accept us for who we are. They bring out the best in us, but when they see the worst, as they inevitably will if we’re being real, they don’t flee in horror.

After I divorced and stopped going to church I found out that a lot of my friends were not really my friends. It was certainly a difficult time to feel abandoned, but it taught me to recognize what real friendship is and to value those who offer me that. One former friend who actually sent me a message at that time saying that as much as she loved me, she found it necessary to distance herself from me and thus preserve herself from my wayward influence, recently made efforts to rekindle our friendship. And really, it’s not that I hold a grudge. It’s just that if I have a choice between spending the afternoon with her, or say, with Ara, a friend who I met when I was not at my most attractive and who has helped me through a very rough time, who do you think I would rather hang out with?