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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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!

how to be a tramp and other words to live by

ba819960237b1bc74cedb0644c6d2bd9.850x521x1Isn’t that a great title for a book? I’m making note of it.

I’ve had a few private messages from readers asking more about the Life as a Tramp post from a few days ago, so I’m happy to write more about it. Being a tramp is something I’m passionate about.

First, let’s look again at the Frank Sinatra lyrics that inspired the post.

She gets too hungry for dinner at eight
She likes the theatre and never comes late
She never bothers with people she’d hate
That’s why the lady is a tramp

Doesn’t like crap games with barons or earls
Won’t go to Harlem in ermine and pearls
Won’t dish the dirt with the rest of the girls
That’s why the lady is a tramp

She likes the free fresh wind in her hair,
Life without care
She’s broke and it’s oke
Hates California, it’s cold and it’s damp
That’s why the lady is a tramp

This is such a fun song! I love it. The lady in question is labeled a “tramp” by the popular women of her social tier because she’s unconventional and doesn’t give a rat’s tush what they think of her. This song really resonates with me personally because of an experience I had a few years ago. I was newly separated and looking for new friends. There was this group of women who were initially friendly to me and they seemed cool. Attractive, smart, funny, talented. However, not long after I met them they started giving me the cold shoulder and then I heard from other people that they were gossiping about me. In fact, they were calling me a tramp! I was shocked because I was one of the least trampy people I knew. I asked a friend what to do about it, and he said: “Nothing. Forget about them. They were only friendly with you so that they could probe your weaknesses and bring you down a peg. Your way of being makes them feel threatened.”

With a bit of time I came to see that it was actually a compliment that these accomplished women felt threatened by me. It made me start to wonder if I was maybe cooler than I thought I was! I don’t especially care about being cool, but what I learned from this experience was that I do care about being free to express myself as I am and do what I want to do when I want to do it, just like the lady in the song. I care much more about that than I do friendship and acceptance, and I’ve always been that way.

However, earlier in my life being accepted and liked were more important to me than they are now, so I often felt that my values were in conflict. I would always do my thing, but then when people didn’t like it, I felt bad. The difference now is that I care less what others think, so I live more peacefully. I’m not as likely to put on the veneer of niceness out of fear of someone not liking me. That’s not to say I can’t pull out that card and play it when I want to. I can make polite conversation with people I don’t especially like or have much in common with if I want to. I can conform to norms in certain situations when I deem it ultimately beneficial in serving a specific goal or my life purpose. Maybe for convenience’s sake I want some government official to like me for five minutes, so I’m nice. Etc.

When I want to remind myself that I value being unconventional me, free to do what I want when I want and how I want, free to say what comes to mind, free to let myself shine, I think: This lady is a tramp. Those words are a trigger that instantly focuses me and connects me deeply to all that the song means as well as my past experience, what I want in the moment and moving forward with my life… There is a lot of power in naming your values and making them tangible. I look forward to writing more about that soon!

In the mean time, here are five ways to be a tramp, if you are so inclined:

1. Wear yourself some bold, red lipstick.

2. Take your sweet time. Yesterday I was crossing the street when a car came along too fast. The driver stopped abruptly, honked at me, and gestured rudely. I tossed my hair and smiled winningly at the man. I even waved and tilted my head at him as if he’d just told me I was the most beautiful thing he’d seen all day.

3. Don’t apologize for having your period or for being cranky about it, either.

4. Enjoy your dessert. In fact, enjoy every damn mouthful of whatever you decide to eat. If you’re going to eat it, enjoy it! Don’t beat yourself up about it after. Savor it. Guilt is not going to help you lose weight, ever. Making the conscious choice to thoroughly enjoy your food is the first step to getting yourself into a slender mentality.

5. If there is something you want to say, speak up. Put it out there. Say it with the absolute conviction that you have a right to say it. If you are expressing a doubt or a question, feel entitled to ask and unembarrassed by not knowing. Good grief, if you are asking that means you are trying to remedy your ignorance, a most admirable action! Speak in a voice that is sufficiently loud and clear.

I wish you happy tramping!

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.

How to Go Through Hell: A Primer

Dante and Virgil visiting Hell. William Blake
Dante and Virgil visiting Hell. William Blake

As some of you know who have been reading this blog, I have been working for the past couple years on becoming more emotionally resilient. For my entire adult life until two years ago, I was married to a man who made it his business to solve any problem I had, big or small. When we separated and I also lost the support of my faith community and many friends, living in a foreign country far from my family, I realized that my emotional resilience level was about zero. There were some men hanging around and I saw that I had the option of choosing one who would take care of my problems for me again. But that didn’t seem like the best option for a smart, strong, independent New England girl. I said to myself, I’ve got this. I can use this time that I’m single to develop the skills I need to take care of my own emotional needs.

It’s been a rocky ride. And I’m not referring to the trials that have come my way. Everyone has problems, challenges, etc. I’m talking about how I handled them. Sometimes I’ve failed quite spectacularly. Sometimes I’ve been needy, selfish, inept, and awkward. However, this time I succeeded. I have to say, I didn’t know I had it in me. I’ve come a long way.

In the last three weeks, I’ve been to Hell and back. I finally told a friend most of the story last night and when I was done, her mouth was hanging open and her eyes enormous. I didn’t tell her all of it because there wasn’t time, and I won’t tell anyone all of it. It’s the kind of thing that could happen to anyone and it doesn’t matter what it was. I’m fine. Hell no, I’m much better than fine. (More about that later.)

A couple of the things that came up in these weeks were things that I’ve never had to deal with in my life, or even think about. I felt overwhelmed, confused, scared, and very alone. I started confiding in a friend but that ended up backfiring and making me feel worse. I felt too vulnerable, so everything she said only made me feel worse. For a while I kept it all to myself. I know that my friends and family are there in part to help me through difficult times, but I wanted to hold off and see how much I could handle on my own without troubling or stressing other people. And I wanted to see how emotionally resilient I could be.

I can’t believe I’m saying this now, but I’m glad all of this happened. In my efforts to establish order in this chaos and find confort, I’ve learned valuable coping techniques that work for me and that I can apply next time I have to go through something like this. (I know I said I was glad this happened, but please God let there not be a next time!) I also discovered a strength that I never knew I had, or at least never considered it a strength in these circumstances. I learned new things about myself as well as useful information about another individual that it was much better to know sooner than later.

Here is my little primer for going through Hell:

1. Let yourself feel your feelings. There were a lot of negative and intense feelings all at once, each competing to have its turn. Guilt, fear, confusion, pain, uncertainty, sadness, disappointment. It wasn’t always convenient or possible to give way to these emotions during the day when I was out and about in the world. It was good to have times where I had to go about my business cheerfully. That made me feel more cheerful, in fact. But it was just as good when I was alone in my bed at night to let myself cry for a little while. I found that when I did this I was less likely to wake up to panic attacks during the night. Further on in the post I talk about what I discovered when I let myself cry.

2. Take care of your body. Even though sometimes I didn’t feel like it, I got myself outside and exercising most days. I made sleep a priority. Even though I had no appetite, I continued eating healthy food. When you are going through Hell, you need all the physical strength you can muster. Be good to your body and it will be good to you.

3. Refuse to self-criticize. It would have been easy to blame myself for these trials and to obsess over what I’d done wrong. However, 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.

4. Have rational talks with yourself. As opposed to beating yourself up, this works wonders. Remind yourself that what is done is done, and as the past falls into the category of things you do not control, let it go. Ask yourself what you will do differently next time. Be grateful that you are learning and growing.

5. Find distraction in the beautiful and the edifying. I was going to go crazy or become depressed if I thought about my predicament all day. I found marvelous distraction in William Blake, my children, my friends, and an exciting, suspenseful novel. It was nice to escape now and then into someone else’s world. Distracting yourself from your problems doesn’t mean running away from them. It means preserving your good health, physically and mentally.

6. Pray. I am going to piss off all of my friends with this, atheists and avid Christians alike. I don’t know what form God takes, but I suppose I do believe in something because I believe in prayer. It always makes me feel better. It works.

I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.  -Edna St. Vincent Millay

I can not say it better than my fellow Maine girl, poet and playwright Edna.

These sleepless and harrowing nights in my bed crying, I found out that I’m strong in a way I hadn’t noticed before. It happened every time that I would be lying there feeling like utter crap, and suddenly, I would start laughing. It wasn’t hysteria. It was that I could not help recalling something funny someone had said, or seeing something funny in my situation, and it made me laugh. This happened naturally without trying, and when I was giving myself some time to feel negative emotion. What if I had tried to suppress these emotions, forcing myself to “think positive?” What if I’d tried to medicate those feelings away with drugs, alcohol, or food? I never would have discovered that my sense of humor automatically steals in to save me when I need it.

My dad probably had a lot to do with this. Like me, he had the annoying habit of sometimes laughing uncontrollably in inappropriate situations. We would share with each other embarrassing examples of when in concerts, meetings, and other serious places we would find ourselves snorting, choking, and shaking, trying to hold it back. I was so glad that everyone laughed so much at Dad’s funeral. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Recently I was listening to a podcast of an actor or writer or someone, I wish I remembered who, who said that the best comedy has an undercurrent of sadness to it. He said that jokes that do not have that touch of sadness are superficial and harsh. I want to think more about that. Maybe that’s why some of the best comedy writers are Jewish.

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place. -Rumi

After going through this, I feel cleansed. I absolutely feel like the yellow leaves have been shaken free and the rotten roots pulled up. I don’t know where the new joy will come from, but I’m ready to receive it.

Oh! And here’s one more from Agatha Christie. I believe this to my very core.

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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.

the things-to-love list

o-SELF-LOVE-facebookA friend of mine has that kind of boyfriend. The perfect kind. You know what I’m talking about because you have a friend who has that kind of boyfriend, too. Or maybe your girlfriend or wife has a friend who has a boyfriend like that, making you look bad all day and all night. He asked her what she wanted as a gift for their third anniversary and she jokingly replied, a ring from Tiffany’s. What did she get for their anniversary? You guessed it! I congratulate her for snagging this fine man and 90% of the time I am purely happy for her–not envious–when she gushes about him. She deserves it. A few days ago she told me that she knew how amazing he was going to be when she saw that he loved all the things about her that she loved about herself. She is so beautiful that probably other men have been instantly enamored of her by looks alone without appreciating other aspects of her personality, those things that some might love and others find annoying. Like the fact that she talks a lot. She always needs someone to share her rich inner life with.

What she said about him loving the things she loves about herself started me thinking. What do I love about myself? I can tell you a long list of the things I do not love about me, the things I want to improve. However, I had to stretch to come up with even three or four things I love about me and a couple of those I’m not convinced of.

I don’t know if I should be admitting this publicly, but I don’t ever remember thinking about this before. Is that normal? Am I the only one? I’m sure at some point in my life I was asked to come up with something I love about myself in some church class, and I probably supplied an answer, scribbled in embarrassment on a little piece of paper and immediately tucked away, forgotten in a pocket of my scripture tote. However it was probably more along the lines of, “name a talent you possess.” That’s not necessarily the same as someone asking what you love about yourself. Under mindfulness influence, I believe I had come up with a list of things I *accept* about myself, including the shape of my knees and the fact that I daydream while driving and miss exits . Obviously that’s nothing to do with what I love about myself, in fact rather the opposite. Those are things I don’t like but can’t change, so.

I made it this far in life without ever thinking much about what I love about myself. So why should I start now? I think it’s one of those flourishing as a single things. If there is no partner there to love you, you have to love yourself. In fact you should love yourself even if you do have a partner. But to be able to love yourself, there have to be specific things you love about yourself. Right? And you have to actually be conscious of what those things are. Also, you need that list of things to love to remember when the things-to-improve and things-to-accept lists get too long and overwhelming. (The things-to-accept list doesn’t overwhelm. It just sits there passively-aggresively existing.)

The things-to-love list gives you strength, especially when people are giving you well-meaning advice. There is nothing like the well-meaning crowd to disturb and depress you, unless you know what it is about you that brings you joy. How’s that? Well, imagine that someone well-meaningly tells my friend, the one with the perfect boyfriend, that she shares way too much of her personal stories and feelings, and she should stop it. Because my friend already knows that she loves this about herself, she can tell the well-meaning person that she appreciates their good intentions, but they are welcome to go take a jump in the lake. (Since my friend is not a former Mormon who still regards the f-word with horror, she could put it more concisely, too.)

But what if my friend hadn’t yet realized that she loves being someone who talks a lot about her feelings, perceptions, philosophies and ideas? Then she might begin to think it’s not ok to be like that. She might wonder if maybe that’s something she never really liked about herself, either. And soon enough, something that could have been on her things-to-love list could go instead to the ever-lengthening things to improve. What a tragedy!

I wonder if some of my things to improve and things to accept could become things to love.

I will tell you one thing I love about myself. The more I get to know people, the more I like them. The other day I heard someone say something like, when you first meet someone, all you see is their good side, but then after a while you get to know them how they really are, warts and all. It’s true that on a few occasions I have disliked people more upon getting to know them, but generally it’s the opposite. I guess I like the warts.

I shared that in hopes that you will tell me what you love about yourselves. Is that asking too much? Please tell me. I need ideas. But don’t tell me what you love about me. That’s not allowed. I want to know what you love about you. If you don’t want to comment publicly, pm me.