April 26, 2016
Categories: Culture, Family, Home, Self

In the Absence of the Village, Mothers Struggle More Than Most

Dear Mothers,

I’m writing you today because I can no longer contain the ache in my gut and fire in my heart over an injustice that you and I are bearing the brunt of.

Though this injustice is affecting everyone — men, women, and children alike — mothers not only feel its burden more than most, but we also feel disproportionately responsible for alleviating its pervasive and deeply damaging symptoms, which is adding hugely to the weight of the world we’re already wired to carry.

The injustice is this:

It takes a village, but there are no villages.

By village I don’t simply mean “a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area.” I’m referring to the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the wellbeing of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly-dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.  

I’m talking about the most natural environment for children to grow up within.

I’m talking about a way of life we are biologically wired for, but that is nearly impossible to find in developed nations.

I’m talking about the primary unmet need driving the frustration that most every village-less mother is feeling.

Though the expression “It takes a village to raise a child” has become cliché, the impact of our village-less realities is anything but insignificant. It’s wreaking havoc on our quality of life in countless ways.

In the absence of the village…

  • Enormous pressure is put on parents as we try to make up for what entire communities used to provide.
  • Our priorities become distorted and unclear as we attempt to meet so many conflicting needs at once.
  • We feel less safe and more anxious without the known boundaries, expectations and support of a well-known group of people with whom to grow.
  • We’re forced to create our tribes during seasons of our life when we have the least time and energy to do so.
  • We tend to hold tight to our ideals and parenting paradigms, even when doing so divides us, in an attempt to feel safer and less overwhelmed by so many ways and options.
  • Our children’s natural way of being is compromised, as most neighborhoods and communities no longer contain packs of roaming children with whom to explore, create, and nurture their curiosity.
  • We run around like crazy trying to make up for the interaction, stimulation and learning opportunities that were once within walking distance. 
  • We forget what “normal” looks and feels like, which leaves us feeling as if we’re not doing enough, or enough of the “right” things.
  • Depression and anxiety skyrocket, particularly during seasons of our lives when we instinctively know we need more support than ever but don’t have the energy to find it.
  • We feel disempowered by the many responsibilities and pressures we’re trying so hard to keep up with.
  • We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need in an attempt to fill the voids we feel.  
  • We rely heavily on social media for a sense of connection, which often leads us to feel even more isolated and inadequate.
  • We feel lonely and unseen, even when we’re surrounded by people.
  • Our partnerships are heavily burdened by the needs that used to be spread among communities, and our expectations of loved ones increase to unrealistic levels.
  • We feel frequently judged and misunderstood.
  • We feel guilty for just about everything: not wanting or having time to be our children’s primary playmates, not working enough, working too much, allowing too much screen time in order to keep up with our million perceived responsibilities, etc.  
  • Joy, lightness and fun feel hard to access.
  • We think we’re supposed to be independent, and feel ashamed of our need for others.
  • We make decisions that don’t reflect our values but our deeply unmet needs.

Perhaps most tragically of all, the absence of the village is distorting many mothers’ sense of self. It’s causing us to feel that our inadequacies are to blame for our struggles, which further perpetuates the feeling that we must do even more to make up for them.

It’s a trap. A self-perpetuating cycle. A distorted reality that derives its strength from the oppressive mindsets still in place despite our freedoms.

Here’s a new mindset to try on for size:

You and I are not the problem at all. WE ARE DOING PLENTY. We may feel inadequate, but that’s because we’re on the front lines of the problem, which means we’re the ones being hardest hit. We absorb the impact of a broken, still-oppressive social structure so that our children won’t have to.

That makes us heroes, not failures.

No, we’re not oppressed in the same ways that we used to be (nor in the ways other women still are around the world), but make no mistake about it:

In the absence of the village, we’re disadvantaged like never before. We may have more freedoms than our foremothers, but our burden remains disproportionately, oppressively heavy.  

Since the beginning of time (and until very recently), mothers have beared life’s burdens together. We scrubbed our clothes in the streams while laughing at splashing toddlers and mourning the latest loss of love or life. We wove, sewed, picked, tidied, or mended while swapping stories and minding our aging grandmothers. We tended one another’s wounds (both physical and emotional), relied on one another for strength when times were tough, and sought counsel from our community’s wise, experienced, and cherished elders.

Village life inherently fostered a sense of safety, inclusivity, purpose, acceptance, and importance. These essential elements of thriving were built in.

Now? We’re being forced to create all of that for ourselves within a society that has physically and energetically restructured itself around a whole new set of priorities. It’s a profits before people model, which threatens the wellbeing of nearly everything we mothers are wired to protect.

Though I’m optimistic and hopeful by nature, this dilemma has left me discouraged many times over the years. How does an entire nation of mothers shift a storyline this massive while individually and collectively weakened by the absence of the very thing we so desperately need?

Major cultural shifts in prioritization, structure, and power are clearly in order (and I do believe they’re happening, however chaotically). In the meantime, each of us has a choice to make:

We can buy into, make peace with, and conform to the way things are, or exercise the freedoms our foremothers and fathers won for us and commit to doing our unique and essential part in creating change, starting within us and working our way out. 

You and I aren’t likely to experience what it’s like to raise children in an actual village, but that’s okay. That’s not what this generation is about. This generation is about waking up to who we really are and what we really want, and resetting society’s sails accordingly. 

Playing your part in the re-villaging of our culture starts with being wholly, unapologetically, courageously YOU. Here are a few tangible steps you can take whenever you’re ready:

  1. Get really clear on one thing: the fact that you’re struggling is not a reflection of your inadequacies, but the unnatural cultural circumstances you’re living within.
  2. Own and honor your needs. Most mothers are walking around with several deeply unmet needs of their own while focusing almost exclusively on the needs of others. This is precisely the thing that keeps us from gaining traction and improving our circumstances, both individually and collectively.
  3. Practice vulnerability. Rich, safe, authentic connection is essential for thriving. Cultivating this quality of connection takes courage, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. What you want most exists on the other side of that initial awkward conversation or embarrassing introduction.  
  4. Own your strengths. What makes you feel strong and fully alive? What lights you up and gives you energy just thinking about it? Who would you be to your village if you had one? Tapping into your strengths and engaging them is one of the greatest ways to attract the kinds of people you want into your life, bless and inspire others, and build a sense of community in ways that fill rather than drain you. 
  5. Become an integral part of something. Whether it’s a knitting group, dance troupe, church, kayaking club, or homeschool collective, commit to growing community around one area of your life that enlivens you or fills a need. Use the connections you cultivate within this community to practice showing up bravely and authentically and asking for what you need, be it support, resources, or encouragement.
  6. Do your part and ONLY your part. Though it’s tempting to fill our lives to the brim with commitments that make a difference, doing so only further disempowers us. Read Essentialism if you struggle with this one.
  7. Learn self-love and self-compassion. In a culture of “never enough” it is essential that we forge healthy relationships with ourselves in order to be able to fend off the many messages hitting us about who we’re meant to be and what makes us worthy of happiness and love. In fact, I see self-love in action as the greatest gift our generation of mothers could possibly give to the mothers of tomorrow. 
  8. Speak your truth. Even when you’re terrified. Even if it makes you the bravest one in the room.
  9. Imagine a new way. Where we’re headed looks nothing like where we’ve come from. Creating the kind of future we want requires envisioning that future and believing a new way to be possible. Get specific and think big. What do you want?

I’ve tasted village life:

  • During college, when my tribe of idealists and dreamers was all within walking distance and we’d yet to subscribe to “adult” social rules that told us what what was most important.   
  • When my young adult cousins lived with us for several months at a time. I’ve never enjoyed motherhood more than those days when I knew that the needs of the children, home, and its individuals were joyfully shared among eager, loving souls.
  • On retreat with other women, when each of us was reminded of how very similar our struggles, and how very desperate we all feel for consistent support, everyday interaction, healing, lightness, and ease.
  • At outdoor festivals, when the village is recreated, if only for a weekend of camping, and everyone settles into a communal way, cooperative rhythm, and lighter state of being.   
  • During the time I spent with Mayan mothers in impoverished, rural Mexico. There I witnessed, firsthand, the blessings made possible by the presence of a tribe, however disadvantaged.

My soul was fed deeply during those time periods. Every time I get a taste of what we’re missing, I become strengthened and hopeful again. THAT is the energy needed to create change. THAT is what the powers that be don’t want us to feel.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I do know this:

We’re supposed to be crying, celebrating, falling down, and rising together.

We’re supposed to have grandmothers and aunts and neighbors and cousins sharing the everyday moments, guiding us, and helping us see the sacredness in the insanity.

We’re supposed to be nurtured for months postpartum, cared for when we’re sick, held while we mourn, and supported during challenging transitions.

And our children are supposed to cradled and allowed to grow within the social structures WE deem best for them.

Find yourself, then find your people. Or do it the other way around. Just don’t settle. Don’t ever settle for a way of life created by those who don’t honor your soul and cherish your babies.

Change-making right alongside you,

bethsignature

 

 

 

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy

——–

Offerings:

  1. My part in the re-villaging of this country is helping women sift through the mountains of stories heaped upon them and get clear on who they are, what they want, and how to create the lives they long for. If you feel you could use support in sorting your stories and expressing your soul courageously and confidently, I would be honored to talk with you. Book time with me here. Your first session’s on me.
  2. This fall, I will be offering a powerful group experience for women who are ready to commit to a whole new level of soul expression. Stay tuned!

*Photo credit goes to the crazy-talented, shining soul, Jote Khalsa.

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March 25, 2016
Categories: Family, Self

Motherhood

At the beginning of January (which feels like about a week ago), I made a commitment to myself to have my book editor-ready by April 1st. It felt like a doable goal, a kind expectation of myself, and a generous timeline, considering how many years I’ve been working on this thing this thing’s been working on me.

Now, with my self-imposed deadline right around the corner, I am faced, yet again, with the realization that I will not reach my goal. Though I have chipped away at it diligently for the past three months (nearly every day, in fact), and I am getting closer, I’m not quite there yet.

It won’t be finished by April 1st. 

My inner child (or ego), who is a raging perfectionist, is NOT okay with this. She’s afraid of looking like a total flake. She’s afraid of disappointing people. She reminds me of all the other authors out there who’ve lapped me more than once, and the fact that they have crazy lives, too. She thinks self-compassion is bullshit, and that being kind to myself is simply an excuse for laziness and inadequacy.

Truth is, she’ll tell me just about anything to feel safe, avoid vulnerability, and keep from being exposed as imperfect.

On the days when I’m utterly exhausted, overwhelmed by ALL THE THINGS, or knocked off center by hormones (mine or my many daughters’), this overreactive inner child causes me a good deal of anxiety.

She wants me to carry the weight of the world. In fact, she insists that this is my job.

But on my strong days, I (meaning my true self, the one who hears the chattering child in my head) recognize her presence quickly and can calm her down without too much trouble. I let her know that I see her, that I honor her fears, that I’ve got this, and that I won’t abandon or beat her up again as I have in the past.

By accepting and extending compassion to the fearful parts of myself (rather than feeding, feeling ashamed of, or becoming frustrated by them), I am able to reconnect with the expansive, settled, clear, and trusting part of me that knows everything is unfolding just as it’s meant to.

This is my center. It’s the stomping grounds of my soul.

I’m back to that empowered place again following a bout of frustration and anxiety last week over my seeming inability to be more efficient, disciplined, and “on top of it.”

A comforting realization came with this round of re-centering:

The main reason that I move more slowly than some, is that my soul is in no hurry, and I’m learning to trust its timing. 

What’s more, the very same characteristics that my ego sees as weaknesses, are cause for celebration to the soul of me.

  • Like the fact that I take breaks often throughout the day, specifically to refill myself with sunshine, fresh air, and seasonal beauty.
  • Like the fact that I prioritize sleep, exercise, meditation, and even fun (finally!).   
  • Like the fact that I’ve given myself permission to set the book down when other things felt more essential, like my marriage, my children, and my healing.
  • Like the fact that I hold space for dozens of people’s hearts, stories, and personal evolution, and I take this honor seriously.
  • Like the fact that my heart is wide open, which means that I’m absorbing more with each moment than I have since I was a child.

Quite simply, my soul prioritizes differently than my achievement-focused mind, and different priorities mean a different pace.

When I zoom out and look at my life as a whole, it’s clear that this isn’t really about my book. It’s about trust. Trust in the divine order of things, trust in my soul’s knowing, and trust in the connection between the two.

Strengthening this trust means honoring the ways that I’m different from those around me, and learning to delight in those differences.

It means setting myself up to feel strong, if less “efficient”, so that my soul stands a chance against the more vocal voice of fear within.

It means detaching my sense of self from common measures of success and productivity, and braving the path less traveled, however windy a road.

It means setting my intentions and letting go of the outcome, over and over and over again.

the other side of fear

“Caught” letting go on a recent retreat.

I realize that it’s not always possible or practical to live at a soul’s pace. Life, particularly within this culture, requires that we compromise on occasion (ok, on the daily).

But anytime we can get out of our own way and let our soul lead, we’re aligning with forces far grander and wiser than we are; with the same inexplicable wonders that pull the tides and move the moon.

I’m learning to surrender like the ever-trusting tides.

I’m game for being moved like the moon.

…………

Offerings:

  1. If you’d like to learn more about connecting with your inner child, centering yourself, and living life wide open, please consider joining me for the next round of Loving Yourself Back to Center, which begins April 7th. Get more info, or sign up here.
  2. I currently have several spaces opening up for one-on-one clients. If you’re ready to take your life and growth to the next level and could use loving support, guidance, and accountability along the way, I would be honored to connect with you! Your first session’s on me. Get more info, or book time with me here.
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January 10, 2016
Categories: Culture, Self

lightbearer - Jote Khalsa

I can’t watch Syrian refugee videos without crying. I can’t hear Donald Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric without my pulse quickening and my heart hurting for the beautiful people he projects his fears upon.

Truth is, I choke up while watching dog food commercials. I am moved to tears on the daily by fog in the mountains or the dance between two trees, I can only be around noisy groups of people for a few hours before I have to retreat and process all I’ve taken in, and I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything without my vision being blurred by emotion.  

As a sensitive, open-hearted person, I’m deeply affected by the world.

And though I now know this to be one of my greatest strengths, I haven’t always seen it that way. For most of my life, in fact, I lived with walls around my heart to keep from feeling so intensely.

Vulnerability was the feeling I feared the most.

Little by little, during particularly challenging and heartbreaking stretches of my life, those walls were chipped away at. The past five years of truth telling, soul searching, and perspective from abroad have resulted in their complete annihilation.

I’ve never felt so vulnerable in all my life.

This means that I feel pain much more frequently than I used to (as opposed to disguising my pain as anger, resentment, or disappointment). It’s also allowing me access to depths of joy, connection, and compassion that were previously unavailable to me.

I feel like a once-caged animal, exploring my natural habitat again for the first time since my childhood.

Last month, while hearing the news of the San Bernardino shooting and feeling deep grief for all those suffering, my attention shifted to the killers. A mental image came to me of an expertly-crafted, impenetrable stone fortress around each of their hearts. A wall so thick that not a single one of their souls’ pleadings could be heard or felt through it. How long had it been since they’d been moved by love or joy or beauty? How certain must they have felt that peace and security would never reach them in order to commit such atrocious acts?

I don’t claim to know the kind of pain, disconnection, and rejection that leads people to such hateful, terror-inflicting choices and mindsets. I’ve never experienced the depth of fear that causes a complete emotional detachment from certain groups people in order to dominate, control, or destroy them.   

But I do know what it is to live with my heart walled. I know how nice it can feel to claim certainty, to cling tightly to ideals, and to renounce that which I don’t understand in order to feel a little safer in an overwhelming world.

Dare we empathize with them — even the smallest amount — in order to better understand the state of the world, and ourselves within it? Dare we see ourselves in the whole of humanity, and not just the parts we’re comfortable identifying with?

Though walling my heart seemed safer at times, doing so cut me off from the life force trying to move through me. It left me constantly craving. Brené Brown explains why:

“We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

Here’s the thing though:

Being highly sensitive and living unwalled has the potential to completely undo me. If I cry watching dog food commercials, how am I supposed to navigate the complexities of teenager rearing, marriage mending, business building, and life coaching?

Is it possible to be a lightbearer (my favorite name for one who lets her soul be fully seen) AND a high functioning human being?

I’m learning that it is possible, but that we cannot be effective lightbearers without some measure of protection of our own.

Vulnerability doesn’t mean handing our hearts to just anyone or exposing ourselves to a constant stream of tragedy and abuse, it means trusting our hearts to guide us while caring for and watching out for them so they can do their job.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about living from my heart effectively:

  1. Discernment is everything. I am very careful about what and whom I let into my experience. I cannot both open my heart to my family, my clients, my friends and my community members and regularly listen to the news, for example. It’s too much, and renders me ineffective in carrying out my purpose in the world. This does not mean living in blissful ignorance, but with self-loving discernment.
  2. Hearts need to be fed in order to function properly. Mine thrives on beauty, stillness, dance, music, and connection with other open hearts. It can’t lead me well without the nourishment it needs, and I am the only person responsible for feeding it.
  3. We aren’t required to hold pain. Though most heart-led people feel deeply, we aren’t serving anyone by stockpiling pain. We’re meant to let it in, feel it, then let it pass through us, like breath. We are meant to be affected, not burdened, nor crippled.
  4. I am not my pain. Becoming the watchful observer of my life as it unfolds has helped me recognize that feeling pain and identifying with pain are two different things. The goal is to feel pain without forming a sense of self around it.
  5. Not all pain is created equal. There is a difference between the pain of growth, and the pain of self-abandonment. The former leads to healing, the latter, to suffering.
  6. Self-love is cornerstone. As I’ve come to love myself independent of my accomplishments and past actions, my heart has begun to trust that it can lead without constant attacks from within. Creating a safe space for my heart to emerge has become part of my daily practice and made deep healing possible.   
  7. I am only responsible for my emotions, mindset and actions. Becoming clear on what I am responsible for in my personal relationships and what I’m not, has helped me create healthy boundaries with those I love and serve, as well as the world at large. Deviating from my responsibilities and focusing on other people’s reduces my effectivity and ability to do good work in the world.
  8. My self-care doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but me. I am often the first to leave a party, the first to call it a night, and the only one eating salad at a burger joint. I don’t watch disturbing movies, I talk to my inner child (sometimes even aloud), and I’d choose bone broth over coffee any day if both were offered. Though it’s not always easier, and my family often (lovingly) gives me a hard time about it, making choices that respect and honor my sensitivities (both emotional and physical) is essential for my strength and ability to show up well with others.

  9. Compassion can be limitless. Given healthy emotional boundaries, I can feel compassion for anyone and everyone, including those whose hearts are completely hidden from the world. I don’t have to hate them back, but I also don’t have to be so disturbed by their actions that in their minds, they win.

I believe we are meant to be affected by the world’s tragedies and suffering — but only for as long as it takes for them to pry our hearts open a little wider. Only for as long as it takes to show us where we still stand to expand, brighten our collective light, and remind us that our light is so very needed.

To those of you who are deeply sensitive, I feel you, I honor you, and I implore you:

Never mistake sensitivity for weakness. Sensitivity indicates a strong heart, eager to be engaged and capable of radical love.

We need you, lightbearer. The world needs you shining.

 

*************

Announcements and Offerings:

  1. The next round of Loving Yourself Back to Center begins this Thursday, January the 14th! I’d love to have you join us for this powerful, supportive group experience. (Join us from anywhere in the world!) Get more information and sign up here.
  2. Are you a sensitive soul? Do you long to see and feel this as a strength? I’d love to help you get there. I work with sensitive types every day and would be honored to talk with you. Schedule your free connection session here and let’s explore the possibilities!

*Photo credit goes to the amazing Jote Khalsa

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December 19, 2015
Categories: Culture, Family, Self

In the Kitchen Together - Jote Khalsa

I recently came across an old day planner of mine from 2008. We were living in Austin (before our move to Mexico), my girls were babies (oh how fast 1, 4, 7, and 13 turn into 8, 11, 15, and 21), and I was still convinced that if I just pushed myself a little harder, managed my time a little more wisely, or stretched our money a little further, I could finally achieve the simple, connected, and joyful life I longed for.

My December to-do list paints a perfect picture of my insanity do more, feel better mentality at the time:

  • Make 20 snow globes (I know, I could stop there)
  • Cut Christmas tree
  • Knit 6 pairs of fingerless mittens
  • Bake for caroling party
  • Make hot pads for mom
  • Felt slippers for dad
  • Knit sample project for holiday knitting class
  • Make gnomes for preschool co-op
  • Finish costumes for Santa Lucia
  • Make St. Nicholas gifts
  • Make granola for neighbors
  • Thrift for vintage fabric
  • Remake stockings
  • Finish fairy houses
  • Embroider dresses
  • Make hang tags for craft show
  • Potato print gift tags
  • Organize craft closet
  • Make Christmas cards
  • Ebay estate sale finds
  • Redo craft booth display
  • Help girls make gifts for their friends

My happiness around the holidays was directly related to the accomplishment of the tasks on my list (I usually managed to complete about a third of them), and the resulting appreciation and respect I hoped would follow.

But it never worked out that way. Every year I felt more stress than joy, more disappointment than connection, and more expectations than appreciation from others.

Looking back, I recognize a LOT of two things:

  1. good intentions
  2. limiting beliefs

The good intentions:

  • countering consumer culture
  • preserving dying art forms
  • giving generously
  • modeling values for my girls that I saw as so important
  • respecting the environment
  • building beautiful memories for my family
  • serving others

The limiting beliefs:

  • living simply requires a shit-ton of work
  • if I don’t make it all myself, I’ll be selling out
  • my self-worth depends on my accomplishments
  • I am responsible for other people’s feelings
  • self-sacrifice is the sign of someone truly dedicated to their values
  • doing more or less is the path to feeling better
  • it’s my job to protect my girls from consumer culture
  • my children’s happiness matters more than my own

My intentions reflected deep-seated values. But without checking in with my belief systems around those values, the life I longed for always seemed just beyond my reach.

I’ve come a long way since those inner slave-driver days. I now value my own well-being in the mix, I have a ton more trust that life will give my kids what they need, I’ve learned how to slow down and truly be present, I no longer take responsibility for other people’s emotions/choices/reactions, and my save the world sentiments have given way to something more akin to heal thyself.  

But here’s the shift I’m most excited about this year:

I’ve gotten clear on how I want my life to FEEL (as opposed to look like), and increased my chances of feeling these feelings by exploring the limits I’ve created within myself. 

Joy, peace, love, and connection have never felt so abundant, nor so available to me.

Are there gaps between the way you want to feel and the way you often end up feeling (during the holidays or any other time)? If so, you may benefit from checking in with your own limiting beliefs.

Here are four questions to ask yourself, for starters:  

  1. What is this season all about for me? (Start with one feeling, like joyful or peaceful.)
  2. What has to happen in order for me to feel this feeling? (Make a list. Does your family have to get along? Do your kids have to be agreeable? Does your spouse have to verbally appreciate your hard work?)
  3. What are the chances that these things are going to happen? (That your family will get along perfectly, that your kids will be totally agreeable, and that your husband will completely fill your need for appreciation, etc.)  
  4. How am I limiting this feeling’s access to me by telling myself these stories?  In other words: What limiting beliefs would need to change within me in order to open myself to more of this feeling? (List the stories you’ve created that act as barriers to the feeling.)

Here are a couple of examples in my own life at the moment:

I want to feel present this season. Historically, presence was only something I allowed myself to feel once the to-do list was accomplished, which was pretty much never (I just answered the first three questions). So, removing barriers to presence looks recognizing that I can be present ANYTIME, and that I’m worthy of this feeling under any circumstances. I can be present in the line at the grocery store, I can be present when my kids are complaining, and I can be present while driving in traffic. This drastically increases my opportunities for feeling this way, and isn’t dependent on the behavior or choices of anyone else.

I also want to feel connected. I used to believe that in order to feel connected, the other person had to be a good conversationalist, be willing to skip the small talk and dive right into “meaningful” topics, respect and honor my parenting choices, and more or less see life the same way I did. It goes without saying that I only felt connected (during the holidays or any other time) to a very small and very select handful of people. For me, removing barriers to connection looks like meeting people where they are, truly listening, staying out of judgment, seeing them as my equal, and honoring them wherever they are in their process of growth. Once I realized that understanding is not a prerequisite for connection, the possibilities suddenly felt quite endless. (And if my bids for connection are not accepted, I can always connect with my experience and/or myself.) 

No one else needs to change in order for us to feel more of the feelings we want. Love, joy, peace, presence, and connection require simply that we open even wider; that we allow them to be as vast, ever-present, and ever-available as they really are.  

My wish for you this season is not only more of what you want, but more openness to receiving it.

Limitless love to you and yours,

bethsignature

 

 

 

—–

Announcements and Offerings:

  1. Need support in examining your own limiting beliefs? Ready to open up to greater joy, connection and love, but feeling a little confused/timid/terrified? Let’s talk! I’d be honored to connect with you and explore the many ways whole life coaching can support your growth and healing.
  2. The next round of Loving Yourself Back to Center begins January 14! Join me and five other women for a supportive, restorative journey within. Connect with us from anywhere in the world via phone or online. Get details and sign up here.
  3. Assuming you don’t already know and love her, I’d like to introduce you to the beautiful, crazy-talented photographer Jote Khalsa, whose work stirs my soul on the daily. She and I will be working together in the coming year by pairing my words with her images (such as the one in this post). Yay for soulful collaboration!
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November 7, 2015
Categories: Culture, Family, Self

my besties

My husband and I saved our wounded marriage this year. Several of my closest friends dissolved their own. Each one of us is in a much healthier, happier, more authentic, and more empowered place than we were a few years ago, and each one of our healing journeys began with roughly the same realization:

Sweeping it under the rug is no longer working for me.

Many of my clients have created powerful change in their lives during our time together. They’ve breathed new life into struggling businesses, overcome limiting beliefs, crawled out from beneath oppressive relationships, engaged in courageous conversations, formed empowering new habits, learned to communicate in ways that helped them feel heard and understood, discovered gifts they didn’t know they had, braved bold career moves, traded guilt for self-awareness and compassion, and connected more deeply with their children. Each one of their life-changing journeys began with roughly the same realization:

Sweeping it under the rug is no longer working for me.  

“It” can mean any number of things that we tend to keep hidden: hurt, shame, resentments, dreams, disappointments, self-doubt, fears, needs, longings, truths, or desires. Most of us began our sweeping habits when we were young, as unconscious efforts to feel accepted, loved, and approved of. As our lives have unfolded, this habit (whether it’s served us well or not) still often feels safer, easier, and less messy in the moment than any alternative.

But because truth doesn’t belong under rugs, and playing it safe means playing small, the more unexamined stories we accumulate, the more disempowered, disconnected, confused, and limited we tend to feel.

Though our stories and challenges vary greatly, our turning points often look the same. The circumstances of our lives reach a critical mass, push us to the edge of our edges, and awaken something deep within us. This something; this tiny, most timid of truths, whispers to us in the form of a feeling:  

It matters, because I matter.

Whether we want them to or not, truths don’t just go away, and until they are given their proper place in the light, they cause us pain, drain our energy, and keep us longing. To deny the truth of our needs, desires, hurts, disappointments, and dreams is to abandon ourselves. And self-abandonment is among the most intimate forms of pain we’ll ever know.

No matter how beautiful a rug we’ve woven, how good we are at tidying around it, or how tucked away we’ve managed to keep it, the things we’ve swept beneath it affect us every day, in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways. As much as I wish it weren’t true, they also affect those we love.

We’re not often encouraged to sort the messier aspects of our lives in the light. We may never have been given permission to own the fullness of our stories. But as Brené Brown explains so beautifully, “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences.”

I was given many opportunities to tell the full truth about my dissatisfaction in my marriage. For years I settled for partial truths because I wasn’t ready to face the potential consequences of saying, “This isn’t working for me.” But the more I grew to know myself, respect myself, and eventually love myself, the less capable I was of partial truth telling.

It was either shake out the rug, or live in utter misery, and a miserable existence is not the choice I make for those I love.

I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what you’ve hidden, how long it’s been there, or where you store your most tender, vulnerable truths. But I do know the following:

  1. You are worthy of a life you love exactly as you are.
  2. Healing is less painful than hiding.
  3. Your truth doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you.
  4. You’re stronger, wiser, and braver than you realize.
  5. All emotions are valid and deserve safe places to be processed.
  6. Doing the work feels better than fearing the work.
  7. To deny our darkness is to limit our strength.
  8. Pain is a part of life. Suffering doesn’t have to be.
  9. Self-abandonment wrecks relationships.
  10. Asking for support is not only a gift to you, but to those who support you.
  11. You’re not meant to go it alone.
  12. Not a single person who’s ever dared greatly had the luxury of a certain outcome.

Those three women at the top of the page? Not one of us knew what we were getting into when we decided to stop denying our pain, needs and desires. My dear, brave Carly didn’t say, “Sign me up for single parenting!” She said, “My heart can’t take this anymore,” and slowly shown light into the shadows.

Carly found her power in those shadows.

My dear, determined Anna didn’t say, “I’ve got it all figured out.” She simply said, “This isn’t how my story goes,” and slowly stepped her way back to thriving.  

Anna took her joy back from those shadows.  

And though healing together was our fate, Hunter and I didn’t know that when we said, “No more partial truths,” and “This version of us ends here.” Risking the marriage was the only way to save the marriage.

We rescued our tattered hearts from those shadows.  

For all the challenges these past few years have brought me, the gifts have been just as many: friendships deepened to crazy-beautiful depths, work that feeds me to my core, self-awareness, connection, peace, joy, and yes, a marriage I’m finally comfortable leaning into. But of all the gifts I’ve been given, the one I treasure most is an awareness that began with a whisper:

My heart knows the way and can be trusted.

It just doesn’t see well in the dark.

—-

Dear Friends, you aren’t meant to go it alone. Find a counselor, hire a coach, join a group, journal your dreams so they have a way to gain strength, call that friend who’s already been though it, just do something. It matters because YOU matter, and the world needs you thriving. 

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August 31, 2015
Categories: Culture, Family, Home, Self

Tacobilly Asheville

My life is quite a mess at the moment. My home is messy, my garden is messy, my children are messy, my marriage is messy, and my book? Let’s just say I believe in (and am open to) miracles.

Though I resisted messy for many years, assuming life would feel better if somehow made neater (and beating myself up for my seeming inability to get it that way), my relationship with messy is changing.

Sure, I still experience satisfaction after cleaning out the fridge or catching up on laundry or enjoying an uncharacteristically predictable week with my kids. And yes, I’m reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (like everyone else from here to Japan), but given years of mess management (and ease seeking through mess management), it’s clear to me that attempts to neaten things in any realm of my life provide but a shallow satiation of my longings.

In fact, neatness, as a goal, seems to stand in the way of what my soul craves most. 

Tacobilly before

Tacobilly, our almost-open restaurant, post-demo, pre-build out.

This has been a particularly messy year for our family. We moved back to the states, started two separate businesses (meaning that we’re both self-employed for the first time {your prayers are welcome}), are adjusting to a new town, and have done are doing the crazy-intense work needed to heal a wounded marriage.

There’s been nothing tidy about this year. And our growth has been off the charts.

This has me thinking:

Maybe we’ve been misled when it comes to the “messier” aspects of life (and I don’t mean our junk drawers). Maybe messy isn’t a reflection of our shortcomings at all. Maybe the real source of our struggle stems from the belief that life is supposed to be tidy. 

back before

Dripping with potential (among other things).

I am a life coach. For a minute there, I wondered whether I ought to be coaching others while immersed in so many messes of my own.

But then I checked that thought, examined it for truth, and got good and clear on my mission:

To support and encourage mothers toward the realization of their fullest potential and the reclamation of motherhood from disempowering personal and cultural stories. 

In doing so, a personal truth emerged for me:

Joy will be there waiting when we’ve adequately tidied our lives, is simply another disempowering cultural story. A story that has an entire generation of humans (and particularly mothers) feeling bad about ourselves, scrambling to “keep up,” and futilely spending billions in attempts to find solace.

So, along with perfection-seeking, heart-hardening, self-sacrificing and resentment holding (to name a few), I’ve now added mess avoiding to the list of behaviors that no longer serve me. Why?

Because it occurs to me that the experiences in my life that I value most have also among the messiest:

  • The dream following
  • The baby tending
  • The daughter rearing
  • The heart holding
  • The vulnerability braving
  • The language learning
  • The attempts at understanding
  • The growing, teaching, learning, and holding space for
  • The moving abroad and time among the Maya
  • The dance parties, the camping trips, the home births, the friendships held close from afar

And now? The building of soul-born businesses.

front after

Two weeks from opening. Nothing tidy about it.

Our current cultural obsession with order and neatness and “cleaned up” versions of normalcy isn’t just about aesthetic preference. We aren’t Pinterest addicted organization junkies for the actual satisfaction these things bring us. We are attempting to satiate deeper, universal longings.

But so often, when we try to go deeper — when we dare that level of vulnerability and potential pain — things start to feel messy, scary and unsettling. The deeper we dig, the less magazine-like our lives look. So we assume we’re doing something wrong, back pedal, and settle for cleaner closets (or some put-together-looking equivalent).

But we’re not doing it wrong. We’ve merely been misled, misinformed and overly marketed to.

TacoBilly

Tacobilly: Asheville’s first, finest and friendliest breakfast taco shop.

Lately, I’ve found myself taking this idea up a notch. I’ve even been choosing friends through a subconscious series of questions:

Can you see the sacredness in my mess?

Will you remind me that it’s sacred when the shit storms pick up strength?

Will you honor it as sacred even when the beauty gets buried?

Will you dare to share your sacred mess with me? 

It’s the heart-led who make the cut. Those willing to roll up their sleeves and get messy on purpose.

Our Billy's Adventures

Love is messy, I’m learning.

If you were to hire me as your coach, I wouldn’t help you clean up your messy life, because your mess is not your problem. Instead, we’d gently urge your messes out from the shadows, determine which ones no longer serve you, explore ways to best manage those you rather love (dust and all), and create others that reflect who you are, where you want to go and what you need to thrive. 

There’s more joy to be found in an intentional mess than in any amount of order that leaves your soul unseen and starving. 

billy #1

billy #2

My home is messy, not because I enjoy chaos, but because I value many things more than I do “tidy.”

My garden is messy, not because I’m a bad gardener, but because this is not the season for growing food, this is our season for growing businesses, daughters and local community.

My children are messy, not because I’m failing as a parent, but because we encourage them to practice being human without shame or the need for perfection, and practicing for humanhood is messy work. 

My marriage is messy, not because we’re doing something wrong, but because we’re still married.

billy #4

billy #3

I do like order, and maintain it best I can, within reason. But the longer I live, the more clear it becomes that “tidy” is simply not a worthy goal.

I’d rather shoot for a mess I feel proud of.

In deep,

bethsignature

 

 

 

———–

Announcements and Offerings: 

  • Tacobilly is two weeks from opening! Follow our progress on Facebook, and stop in next time you’re in Asheville!
  • Loving Yourself Back to Center (my six-week group coaching experience) starts again soon. Sign up for the September and October groups here.
  • Have I mentioned how much I LOVE coaching? My clients are moving mountains, folks. I couldn’t be more proud. If you’re ready to live a more intentional mess, and feel you could use support getting started, let’s connect! Your first session’s on me.
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July 2, 2015
Categories: Family, Self

Selfie

Life has ahold of my babies. Each year it pulls them out from under my wing with a little more insistence and a little less apology. As much as I’d like to keep them near the nest, at 8, 10, 14 and 20, I’m doing way less safekeeping than I am crisis intervention, damage control and wound tending.

I’ll be honest, some days I actually want to nudge them out into the wild. Thick-as-their-hair-goop attitude, for example, has me handing them off to the bus driver gladly, no matter how awful the “mean girls” on board.

But other days — when makeup can’t hide their hurting hearts, when their slumped shoulders and hopeless expressions give away the ever-increasing weight of the world they carry — I’m left wondering if there isn’t some design flaw in this whole protect-them-with-your-life-while-they’re-young-then-relax-your-grip-and-learn-to-let-them-go child rearing reality we unwittingly sign up for the moment they’re born.

Though letting them go feels unnatural, the truth is, I have no choice

I can’t protect my 20-year-old from the harshness of adulthood, nor from her limited experience in navigating it. I can offer guidance and empathy and stay connected best I can, but at the end of the day, her path is hers alone to choose.

I can’t protect my teen from awful eighth grade rumors. I can hold space for her hurt and remind her of truth and encourage healthy reactions, but at the end of the day, the weight of those rumors rests on her.

I can’t protect my preteen from disturbingly stupid pop lyrics. I can turn the radio off, express my concern and expose her to “good” music, but at the end of the day, that crap is playing EVERYWHERE, and the more prohibited, the more she craves it.

And try as I may to minimize the impact, I cannot keep my eight-year-old from the influence of three older sisters. She IS exposed to more than they were at her age, and attempts to prevent this are mostly futile in the face of her reality as the youngest.

Every variable in their lives — from the friends they choose and the scene they’re into, to the quantity and quality of snacks they’re offered everywhere they go (don’t get me started) — is becoming harder and less appropriate for me to attempt to control.

What to Do When You Can't Protect Them

A “harmless” trip to Target.

And while my mind understands the need for their increased independence and autonomy, being asked to make room for decisions and experiences that are likely to hurt, confuse and mislead them is no small request of an open-hearted, all-in mama.

Take your average, everyday radio tune, for example:

I eat my dinner in my bathtub

Then I go to sex clubs

Watching freaky people gettin’ it on

It doesn’t make me nervous

If anything I’m restless

Yeah, I’ve been around and I’ve seen it all

I get home, I got the munchies

Binge on all my Twinkies

Throw up in the tub

Then I go to sleep

And I drank up all my money

Dazed and kinda lonely

You’re gone and I gotta stay

High all the time

To keep you off my mind

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

Spend my days locked in a haze

Trying to forget you babe

I fall back down

Gotta stay high all my life

To forget I’m missing you

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

Pick up daddies at the playground

How I spend my day time

Loosen up the frown,

Make them feel alive

Oh, make it fast and greasy

I’m numb and way too easy

Awesome, Tove Lo, and thanks a million, pop industry, for enlightening my starstruck preteens regarding the navigation of heartbreak.

Some days I fight it. I’ll grab the iphone reins and protest with Paul Simon or Jorge Ben (or if I’m really feeling feisty, Krishna Das).

Other days, I join in. There’s only so much of, “Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two but I can shake it, shake it like I’m supposed to do,” from their mom that they can take before they’re begging me to change the station.

But other times, when I’m feeling patient and the lyrics aren’t too distracting, I just sit back and watch as my girls lose themselves in pop culture-soaked, adolescent and preadolescent “bliss.” I even try to go there with them. I try to remember what it felt like when I was twelve and Casey Kasem held me hypnotized with his sing-song voice and obvious connection with all things cool.

Meeting them where they are is essential to this phase of parenting. Again, I get this on an intellectual level.

But doing it well and consistently and patiently with tolerance, empathy and effectiveness requires something of me. Something dependent upon my investment, not in their wellbeing, but in my own:

It requires a feeling of centeredness.

Centered, meaning standing in my OWN truth and integrity.

Centered, meaning honoring my OWN needs and desires.

Centered, meaning checking my OWN judgments and tempering my OWN angst and aware of the source of my OWN anxieties.

Centered, meaning kind, patient and loving toward myself as I navigate my OWN murky waters.

From a centered place, my reactions to their detachment, their struggles, their eight hundred million needs and their cruelly-confusing culture are completely different than when I’m “off.”

Off, meaning hating pop culture for making millions by corrupting the innocence of children.

Off, meaning fearing the unknown built into every developmental milestone.

Off, meaning going about my days with a knot of anxiety in my gut for every hardship they encounter and I’m forced to bear witness to.

Off, meaning reactive and short-fused and stuck in my head for fear of the pain I’ll feel if I dare to engage my heart.

But more than anything, when it comes to raising this big, messy brood, “off” means I’m less capable of connecting — with them, with my truest self, and with the divine.

Without each of these connections, I’m severely limited in my ability to offer them the one thing they need most from me during the handful of years they have left in my nest: support in discovering the TRUTH of who they are.

My girls, minus the one who's already flown the coop.

My girls, minus the one who’s already flown the coop.

A few days ago, I walked in the front door to find my eight-year-old sporting a crop top, high healed boots and bright red lipstick. Had she merely been playing dress-up, it would have been funny, cute, even kinda sweet. But in addition to pushing her luck by raiding her sister’s bedroom, she had hijacked someone’s phone and was engaged in a one “woman” photo shoot.

I faked unfazed best I could:

“Hey Estella! What are you doing?”

“I’m taking selfies, of course. MOM! PLEEEEEEEASE never ever ever erase these photos. I LOVE the way I look.”

My heart sunk and my mind freaked out as I scrolled through 50+ photos of her pouting, kissing the air and batting her eyes.

“What do you like about them?” I asked, forcing curiosity.

“I look beautiful!” she beamed, lipstick smeared and uneven.

And with that, she threw off her heals and skipped away, leaving a trail of innocence in the wake of tested waters.

Innocent or not, my panic button had been pressed. If my mind had had a megaphone, the police would have been called.

“Wait!!! STOP LIFE!!! You can’t have her, too!!! I WON’T LET YOU TAKE MY BABY!!!!!”

Like a caged animal, I reacted (inside, at least) not to immediate or certain threat, but to the sudden and overwhelming reminder that I am not in control. 

I’m not in control of their safety (not always, and never entirely).

I’m not in control of their pain (nor the ways they choose to manage it).

I’m not in control of their path, their perception, their choices, nor their self-preservation.

I’d been thrown off-center, evident by the sudden presence of fear, blame, assumptions, dread, and helplessness. 

Seasoned in the art of parental patchwork, I quickly noticed the derail and slipped away to our porch swing to assess the damage. This time it wasn’t a daughter, but me in need of mending.

Side note: I have come to see frequent, self-imposed “timeouts” as one of the greatest gifts I can give to myself, my family and ultimately, the world. When “thrown,” the sooner I can remove myself  from the situation, still my mind for a moment and employ my tools, the less time I spend walking around in a compromised state, negatively affecting the quality of my thoughts, reactions and interactions.

Though my re-centering process looks a little different each time, it always begins the same way: I close my eyes, breathe deeply and observe what’s going on, both around and inside me.

In this case, my thoughts were throwing a toddler-esque tantrum, demanding to be heard, seen, and believed. Had you been in my head, you’d have heard something like this: 

“Uuuughhh!!!! Selfies make me f*cking CRAZY!!! I KNEW I shouldn’t have let her sister get an iphone. Why the hell doesn’t Hunter have his devices password protected? Where the hell even IS HE!!?? The fact that my eight-year-old is puckering and pouting and offering herself to the pedophile-filled world as “kissable” (because, of course, “THAT’S WHAT YOU DO IN SELFIES”) is a sure sign that I’ve failed, utterly and completely, as a mother. In fact, our whole culture is one big failure. Selfies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything we have to fear about this screwed up age of distortion, shallow connection and image obsession that our babies are being forced to navigate like child pioneers. How can a culture claim to be civilized, then set the stage for its children to be highly sexualized at a young age, forever addicted to devices and generally unable to resist the temptations of complacency, perpetual pleasure seeking and mindless consumption modeled all around them?! I’m screwed. She’s screwed. We’re all screwed.”

Believe it or not, all these thoughts happened over the course of about thirty seconds. Fear is no slacker. It works overtime, hellbent on swift and complete domination.

Continuing to breathe, I allowed my inner child to do her thing, assuring her that I was there, that I wasn’t going anywhere, and that I heard her.

Slightly calmer already (simply having honored my initial feelings), I turned to my tools. (My internal toolbox isn’t always organized, but it is well stocked.) This time, only two were needed: my Control Is an Illusion tool (which reminds me that the only two things I have control over are my interpretations and my reactions), and my Tell the Truth tool (which I often bust out when fear has managed to distort the facts).

In about five minute’s time, I was back to center — still wobbly, mind you, but roughly re-aligned, fear’s grip loosened and its presence loved back to a manageable size.

The new narrative hardly sounded like the same person, because it hardly was the same person. The centered me draws from a completely different well of resources: 

“My girl is not sexualized, she is curious, and merely modeling the world around her, just as children always have. She’s wired to want to feel beautiful because she values beauty and notices it everywhere she looks (and rarely in made-up women). This circumstance presents a perfect opportunity to talk with her (from a like spirit of curiosity) and better understand the ways she’s absorbing all that’s naturally trickling down from her older sisters. My girls are amazingly strong, resilient, smart and capable. Their ability to thrive in life will be less influenced by my ability to shelter them than my ability to model thriving.”

I was even able to reduce society’s influence down to something more digestible:

“”Selfies” are not inherently evil at all. They’re yet another form of expression born of our increased freedom and access to invaluable resources, resources we need at this point in history in order to re-connect and expand our collective consciousness. The fact that we’ve not yet learned to self-govern toward our own best interests makes perfect sense given the depth and breadth of change we’re facing and the speed at which it’s hitting us. I get to choose my response to all this change, and I choose connection, love, understanding, tolerance and personal growth.”

the walk home

In the initial, fear-based narrative, I not only became an instant victim, but I also victimized my girls, suggesting they aren’t capable of empowered, conscious responses to their reality. Under the illusionary spell of fear, my creativity was immediately disengaged, my clarity blurred and my energy drained under the weight of assumptions.

Centered, however, everything shifts for me:

  • I see the world as kind, supportive and abundant, the confidence of which radiates through me and into others.
  • I recognize that while I can’t control their every experience, I can control my reactions to these experiences, and that this is enough.
  • I see that it’s not my responsibility to protect them from life’s pain, but to love them through it.
  • I feel empowered to create change and search for solutions.
  • I understand that can’t stand guard 24/7 over their hearts, but I can heal my own, ensuring that their perception of how it’s done isn’t limited to bad song lyrics and grieving girlfriends.
  • I’m clear that fear is a beautiful gift with a very specific, and very short-lived purpose. Like the pilot on a stove, it’s needed for but a split second, in order that something productive might come of it.

Finding my way back to center isn’t always so simple as five minutes on a porch swing. Depending on my degree of attachment, re-centering sometimes takes me hours, days, even weeks. But the more I practice loving myself back, the more patience I have with my very natural, and very human process.

Whatever it is you’re currently struggling with, however Life seems to be lurking around your loved ones, know that your instinct to protect them is one of the most beautiful aspects of your being. And for those moments when you’re painfully reminded of your limitations, I offer the following footpath forward:

We can’t always protect our babies, no matter how earnestly we try. We can, however, protect ourselves from fear’s grip on our hearts and toll on our minds. The more invested we are in our own growth, healing and emotional wellbeing, the more light we’re able to shine for them to see by.

The brighter the better,

bethsignature

 

 

 

—–

Announcements and offerings:

  • Having just finished the first round of Loving Yourself Back to Center (a six-week women’s coaching circle), I am excited to announce that it was not only a success, but that I will be offering it again, and on an on-going basis. For more information, to sign up for the next group (which begins July 15th), or to read what past participants have to say, click here!
  • My one-on-one coaching practice is in full swing and thriving! I currently have three spaces open for individuals who are ready to take life up a notch, dig deeper and realize their fullest potential. Please see my coaching page for more details, or to book your free connection session.
  • Motherwhelmed (my book-in-progress) is in the late stages of gestation. I’ve been writing less while build my practice, but am finding a balance again and am ready to wrap it up. Thanks for your patience with me. Soon!

 

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February 26, 2015
Categories: Culture, Family, Self

Myths Making Modern Motherhood Miserable

I was seventeen when my eldest daughter was born. This fact, along with the fact that I am now thirty-seven, combined with the fact that my youngest daughter is now seven, in addition to the fact that I was born in 1977 (hello sevens!) all add up to one fairly unique reality:

I’ve raised young children both with and without the internet.

Which means, of course, that my mothering experience has straddled the single most influential shift in human awareness the world has ever seen.

Wow, right? (If anyone wants to pay me to study my brain toward the salvation of the species or anything, we can probably work something out.)

As you might expect, early childhood parenting of my firstborn felt quite different than the experience of raising her sisters. Though my age stands out as the most obvious factor, looking back, it doesn’t feel near as big a determinant as the difference in my access to resources.

Back then, I had approximately four places to turn with my parenting questions:

  1. the library
  2. the pediatrician
  3. the copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting I was given by my pediatrician
  4. my parents

Thing is, the pediatrician knew less about mothering than my own (awesome) mom, my dad, as a family counselor, was a wealth of information, and the library was hard to manage with a wiggling baby, so when it came right down to it, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and MY FOLKS were pretty much it.

That’s right. I raised my firstborn with essentially two sources of information.

Unbelievable as it may seem to today’s search-happy, post-internet parents, this reality felt surprisingly adequate. Despite my circumstances, I felt confident, well-supported, capable and empowered as a mother right from the start, and it sure wasn’t because I knew What to Expect.

My confidence boiled down to this:

  • Loving parents who believed in me.
  • A mother who encouraged me to trust my intuition.
  • The fact that I had virtually no one with whom to compare my mothering experience.

As a single, seventeen-year-old junior in high school, I didn’t question whether or not I was a good mom. I just knew I was.

Fast forward twenty short years (inserting the internet half way through), and few mothers I meet would say the same. Though most are striving, hardly any of us are actually arriving at a level of self-assuredness and satisfaction proportionate to our dedication and investment. In fact, the amount of self-doubt I’ve experienced in my own post-internet parenting has been exponentially more than my pre-internet days, even though I know about a kajillion more things than I did then.

How can this be? How can such a wealth of information be both increasing our understanding AND decreasing our sense of self-worth?

It’s quite simple, really. Our brains aren’t wired for this much intake. We’re suffering from not from actual inadequacy, but from a false sense of ourselves that has reached epidemic proportions.

I call this collective confusion Mythological Motherhood.

A concept I describe at length in Motherwhelmed (my book-in-progress), Mythological Motherhood is the modern phenomenon responsible for the discontent, disillusionment and disconnect plaguing parents of every demographic. It speaks to the enormous gap between what we believe to be possible (based on stories we’re both being told and sold) and the way our current realities look and feel. The greater this gap, the more of these myths a person has likely subscribed to.

The consequence of this mass mythology (presented to us as TRUTH) is an entire generation of mothers who — though more attentive, compassionate, involved, patient, knowledgeable and educated than any other group of mothers since the beginning of time — suffers from so much self-doubt, inadequacy and overwhelm that we barely even benefit from our position of relative privilege.

It’s tragic, but it’s also a trend we’re capable of reversing.

Doing so starts with recognizing the myths being perpetuated, examining their detriment to our lives and digging deeper for our own personal truth beneath them.

As you’re reading, ask yourself where these myths seem to be rooted within our culture, then allow your heart to tell you whether or not they were truly meant for YOU.

17 Modern Myths That Are Making Motherhood Miserable

  1. Empowerment comes through lucrative careers and upward mobility. A truer story: We become empowered when we take full responsibility for our lives, recognize and work through our fears, learn to love ourselves not in spite of but because of our uniqueness and live the lives we know we’re here for. Empowerment and motherhood are only mutually exclusive when we allow others to define success and power for us.
  2. Life as presented in stores and advertising reflects the way life actually is. A truer story: The “reality” presented to us as consumers — that life can or should be perpetually pleasant, tidy, organized, beautiful and blemish-free — is a myth of the most seductive sorts. Because we want our lives to feel less stressful and more abundant, it’s easy to get caught up in retail fairytales, allowing them to increase the size of our gap. We’d be wise, however, to consider the greater implications of allowing any profit-seeker to shape our sense of prioritization, beauty or truth. I find it helpful to keep the word ‘fairytale’ in mind anytime I enter a shopping center or flip through a magazine.
  3. A desire to stay home with your kids signifies a lack of intelligence, motivation, or competency. A truer story: Freedom of choice is still such a new reality for women in our culture that the choice to stay home has been unjustly associated with the very oppression our foremothers fought so hard to escape. It’s essential — for women, children, the integrity of families and the healing of humanity — that we don’t settle for the opposite extreme (stigmatizing stay-home parents) but encourage and support mothers’ intuition, the flourishing of which is a true indicator of freedom.
  4. A desire to work outside the home signifies a lesser degree of love for or attachment to your kids. A truer story: Some women’s intuition leads them to the realization that they need to continue working in order to best care for their children. Stigmatizing mothers who work away from home is just as destructive and divisive as its opposite. Instead, we might choose to focus our attention (as a society, and as individuals) on supporting the parent/child connection, whatever that means for each family. Social shifts such as benefits for part-time employees, (way) longer maternity leave and community building initiatives are a much more empowering place to focus our energy than the “mommy wars” currently weakening our ability to determine and create what we really want.
  5. We can avoid “screwing them up” by doing more of the right things. A truer story: Perfect parenting is an illusion. No matter how hard you try, you are going to impact your children in ways you don’t necessarily want or intend to. Though this has never been any different, mythological motherhood has made perfection or near perfection seem possible. Every human on the planet is here to face, overcome and grow beyond their challenges. It’s not your job to be perfect, nor will striving for this goal necessarily benefit your children. It IS your job to be YOU in the most fully-expressed and supported sense possible. This version of you is what your children need from you most.
  6. Balance is what we’re all seeking. A truer story: Balance is overrated and easy to market. Attempting to hold a balance in your life (for more than a few minutes) is like holding a handstand for any real length of time: it’s not only exhausting, but it requires so much focus that you end up missing out on the richness all around you. I much prefer the concept of centeredness. Once we find our center (which can require some digging through layers of cultural confusion), there’s always the option to return to this powerful place within, no matter the perceived imbalance all around us.
  7. We’re shorting them every time we invest in our own needs, desires and interests. A truer story: It is our #1 responsibility to learn and take care of ourselves. Doing so enables us to mother from a more whole, nurtured and authentic place. Ignoring our own needs leads to resentment and compromises connection with everyone in our lives.
  8. Guilt is the price we must pay for the love we experience. A truer story: Guilt is one of the many prices we pay for unchecked thoughts. The deeper our self-awareness, self-love and self-respect, the less power such draining emotions have over our lives.
  9. We’ll feel joyful about our mothering experience once everything’s lined up and organized. A truer story: We’ll experience more joy in our mothering experience when we let go of the perception that organizing our external environment is the answer to our inner peace. Inner peace requires a deep look into both the light and the shadow aspects of our souls. Healing from a lifetime of pain, limiting beliefs and security-seeking is rarely the easier path, but always the truer path to a joyful existence.
  10. Our children’s questionable choices reflect bad parenting on our part. A truer story: Our children are not really “our children” at all, but people we’re meant to be as affected by as they are affected by us. Their tendencies, personalities, habits and choices, while impacted by our own, compromise their journey toward self-actualization. Supporting their unfolding means seeing them as separate than us, however connected, and not taking their choices personally. When we recognize a negative impact we’ve had, we always have the choice to stay humble, practice self-love and forgiveness, and stay vulnerable to the fact of our imperfect, evolving nature.
  11. There is a right way to parent. A truer story: Among the most destructive of the modern myths, “right way” parenting not only divides us, but deemphasizes and dulls our intuition. The right way for YOU is as unique as the one-of-a-kind connection you share with your child. Though parenting research has come a long way toward helping us understand the needs of children, the thriving of mothers requires a greater emphasis on and respect for our biological instincts and innate wisdom.
  12. We must equip our children with as many resources as possible. A truer story: While providing resources is part of our job, equally important is equipping them with the confidence and understanding that they can draw on their own inner resources. Because we as mothers have become so dependent on external validation (hello internet) for our sense of security, connectedness and confidence, it’s easy to impart the message to our children that all the resources they need exist outside of them. Until we learn to hear and honor the wisdom within, we’re vulnerable to a million different messages that simply aren’t meant for us, and so are they.
  13. More is better. A truer story: More, in many cases, is making us miserable. Between activities, possessions and commitments, we’re being suffocated by the very things we hope will enrich us. At the heart of this phenomenon is a false sense of abundance. We’re biologically wired to want abundance in our lives, but until we define abundance for ourselves, we will continue to accumulate indiscriminately. Ask yourself what you really want more of and measure abundance accordingly. More time to dream, more connection with those you love and more awareness of the present moment often require less of what we’ve been culturally conditioned to accumulate.
  14. Asking for help is a sign of weakness. A truer story: Though more virtually connected than ever, mothers have never been so isolated in the rearing of children. We aren’t meant to raise children alone. The notion of “independence” that so many mothers feel they must maintain is yet another product of a society still working out what freedom actually means. Because oppression is so often associated with dependency, we’ve forgotten our basic human need for interdependency and inadvertently glamorized isolation.
  15. You should be enjoying every moment. A truer story: People who say this to you likely either suffer from a great deal of guilt or selective memories regarding their own parenting experiences. Remember in those moments (when you want to strangle some sappy stranger) that they aren’t meaning to guilt you for not feeling joyful every moment, but attempting to connect with you about the inherent sacredness of the mothering experience. What they’re forgetting is that not all sacred moments are pleasant, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
  16. Science trumps intuition. A truer story: Science supplements intuition. Though it’s clearly increased our quality of life, science cannot account for the individuality of the human spirit. You, as a mother, are better equipped, biologically, than anyone on the planet to understand and adjust for the uniqueness of your child’s needs.
  17. Your inadequacies are the reason for the frustrations you feel. A truer story: The confusion inherent to our culture, your level of self-love and awareness, the social structures keeping you connected yet separate and the degree to which you buy into these modern myths are the real reasons for the frustrations you feel. The way you choose to react to the gap between the life you have and the life you want dictates the quality of your life.

Though untangling ourselves from these myths takes time (and can be a painful process), the benefits go well beyond increased confidence. Future generations depend on our investment in ourselves.

The Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the western woman.”

I say mothers must lead the movement.

——–

Ready to dig deeper into your own story? Tired of the pull these and other modern myths have on your life? I work with mothers who, no matter how passionate and invested, can’t seem to do enough to ease their conscience. I’d be honored to connect with you toward the co-creation of an empowered mothering experience within a life you love. 

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January 7, 2015
Categories: Family, Self

Beth Berry

2014 was rough for me. I’d even describe it as my toughest year yet.

If you’ve kept up with my story (the public version) then you’re aware of a few of the challenges I’ve faced: thyroid issues, an international move, another summer of couch surfing, reintegrating the family stateside in a brand new town, living on borrowed money while starting new businesses, and writing my first book amidst the needs and demands of a large, unsettled and estrogen-heavy family.

If, however, you are one of the tiny handful in my innermost circle, you know that the aforementioned struggles comprise a mere fraction of my year’s challenges, and that the behind-the-scenes 70% or so has been too raw and personal to share.

It’s not likely I’ll ever offer that chapter of my story publicly (at least not attached to my name) but I needn’t disclose details in order to share the essence of it, and you needn’t know the details in order to relate on some level.

You see, the theme of my year was heartbreak, a subject which most of us have at least a 101-level understanding of. (I can assure you I’ve now advanced to graduate studies.)

Of course, my heart’s been badly bruised before, but I’d usually managed to shield it from direct blows by building strong walls.

This year was different. This year I had no such “protection.”

As a young girl, I learned to circumvent much of life’s pain by avoiding vulnerability at all cost. This involved a good many years of fortress construction — something I quickly found myself quite skilled at.

Spared of any deeply damaging or traumatic childhood experiences, though nonetheless wired to avoid pain of any kind (as we humans are), mine were reactions to seemingly benign and unavoidable circumstances: my sister was born when I was 18 months old and deferred a good deal of my mom’s attention from me to her (naturally), my other sister developed a serious health condition that required near-constant diligence on the part of my parents, and our Christian faith, while grounding and grace-promoting, confused me to my apparently-wretched core.

Aching to be fully seen and heard but introverted and independent by nature, I quickly learned to meet my needs alone (best I could), which meant that I came to trust my own understanding and perspectives above the counsel and good intentions of others.

My building materials of choice — those I used to protect my secretly tender heart — were ever-available and seemingly strong:

Judgement, avoidance, certainty and perfectionism.

It felt safer to form strong opinions based on astute and constant observation than to live in unending uncertainty. I managed to avoid a great deal of embarrassment by offering only the most polished parts of myself to people. I binged on silence, filled journals with misspelled preadolescent heartache and occasionally shared my dreams with the rare soul who managed to win my trust (I can count these dear people on one hand).

These tinkertoy-grade constructs served me for a good long while — well into my adulthood, in fact. They allowed me to explore the world relatively unscathed and come to learn enough about life to navigate it with relative confidence. But as I matured, and particularly during our recent four year stint abroad, my walls began to show a good bit of wear. It seemed that the price of a broadening perspective was an assault against my once-solid sense of security.

Had my curiosity and wonder not been childlike again in their strength (due to my brightly-woven, awe-inspiring surroundings), I’m quite sure I would have simply played mason — repairing and reinforcing, thicker and stronger.

But I didn’t, because I couldn’t.

My heart no longer fit within those walls.

Perfection pursuit was the first to go. The little my daughters hadn’t yet dissolved was quickly destroyed by the re-prioritization born of a first-hand perspective on poverty.

Perceived certainty suddenly felt laughably arrogant; an illusion born of first-world privilege.

Avoidance meant I’d never learn Spanish, understand the beautiful friends I’d made without words or experience the spellbinding ways of the Maya, none of which I was willing to miss out on.

Judgement, which proved my thickest wall of “protection,” crumbled quickly when I realized that if anyone was worthy of judgement, it was me, for ever having complained about anything given the frequency with which I’d been fed since birth.

At first I thought I could simply deconstruct them in my spare time, when all felt safe and I was good and ready. But staring into the blind eyes of Mayan babies while their mothers begged me for help and breathing the smoke-filled disparity between us made quick and efficient work of it.

When a heart nearly bursts from swelling, thicker walls simply mean more rubble to remove once they fall.

This past year — our last in Mexico — was the first time I’ve faced my demons, unguarded. They were just as fierce as I’d imagined and even more relentless. Many times I wanted to build a new wall, and several times I tried. But whenever my heart would expand again (as unwalled hearts tend to do often), it was obvious that walls were no longer going to work for me.

I’d tasted just enough freedom that entrapment felt like death to my soul.

This time last year, inspired by three and a half years of heart swell, demolition and a few professedly brokenhearted people who stood like lampposts along my path, I wrote myself the following note, taped it above my computer and let it lead me.

willing to be broken

I was willing, and break open, I did. So many times, in fact, that I soon stopped counting. Just about the time I’d endured one wave of pain, another would hit, and not Caribbean-style, but west coast, Oaxacan-grade waves. It was exhausting. I’ve never worked harder.

I told the truth — to myself and to those I love — even when it hurt like hell.

I dug deep within the recesses of nearly-forgotten memories and asked them what they needed from me in order to rest in peace once and for all.

I sent love to those who’d wronged me, finally feeling that their choices were never about me.

I recognized self-abandonment at the core of my insecurities.

I sobbed and prayed and journaled and listened and found beauty where others wouldn’t or simply couldn’t. 

Looking back, still sutured and sore but no longer splayed open, the single most painful year of my life was also the single most transformative.

Here are few things this past year taught me:

  1. A strong heart is a very different thing than strong walls surrounding your heart. The only way to gain heart strength is by allowing it to expand and contract like any other muscle. Keeping it walled and leaning on your walls for strength is like depending on an arm cast for protection long after it’s needed for support in healing. Once it’s served its purpose, it must be removed and the arm rehabbed or the muscles will begin to atrophy.

  2. The ways we come to feel safe as children are not necessarily in our best interests as adults.

  3. We greatly underestimate our hearts’ potential, and they don’t require near the protection we believe they do. All they really needed is to be seen and heard and loved and acknowledged and held (especially by the souls they belong to) while they’re allowed and encouraged to heal.

  4. Broken hearts are the most beautiful ones as they aren’t limited by what we decide they should contain. Joanna Macy said, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” I taped that one above my computer as a guide for this year.

  5. Many of us have come to believe that we can’t trust our hearts to lead us. While it’s true that walled hearts are quite obstructed and must rely on windows and doors through which to see possibilities, freed hearts see potential in every direction.

  6. Pain often runs much deeper than we know. It takes time to uncover a mess of entangled roots. Thankfully, between the work of wall deconstruction and root unearthing, our hearts get plenty of practice in expansion and contraction.

  7. We often tell ourselves we’ve already dealt with something, then wonder why we’re still triggered or resentful. It may be that the first time around, we actually just buried it deeper; that we dug up only a portion of it, or that it healed out of alignment. Like a bone, a fresh break may be needed for proper healing.

  8. Once our walls are down, it can take a while to discern whether we’re hearing our own hearts or the voices of others who live within our hearts. Time in silence, however uncomfortable, helps reacquaint us with our long-hushed, inner hostage.

  9. However intentional and thorough we are in their deconstruction, walls want to regrow like weeds. For every situation in which we’ve leaned on one in the past, we can expect to be presented with an opportunity (or 50) in which to make a different choice.

  10. It’s often counterintuitive to stay open, as doing so means welcoming pain. Like any new exercise, it takes a while to trust the rewards to be worth the discomfort.

Yesterday, while standing in line to pick up photo prints behind an 80-something-year-old woman who seemed quite uncomfortable in her own skin, my old walls appeared out of nowhere. Bored of silently disapproving of each person in line (evident by her less-than-discrete glares of disgust), she decided to clarify her misery. Jovially, though to the amusement of no one, she ranted about “those Mexicans” whom she was tired of supporting with her tax dollars, how glad she was not to be waiting in line behind one of them and did we all realize how many of them came here to have photos taken for fake passports?

Like loyal soldiers, the very same judgement, disgust, anger and fear SHE depended on ran to my aid, threw up a makeshift fortress around my heart and stockpiled ammo, ready to war.

Boy, did I have a smart bomb (or six) to launch at that lady.

But when you’re not used to carrying them, walls feel heavy and awkward and foreign and constricting. They feel…unnatural. I breathed deeply, encouraged them back down and welcomed heartache in their place. With tears in my eyes and gratitude swelling in my throat, I let go of all I wanted to hurl at her and allowed space for a new story. It grew the whole way home:

This poor woman probably grew up her whole life gripped with fear. At 80-something years old she was still being guided by her wounded inner child. Her generation encouraged fear-based thinking. She was probably taught by those she trusted to judge things she didn’t understand. She may even fear an eternity in hell for her perceived inadequacies. What a weight her walls must be! What a burden she had to bear.

And then it hit me:

It was because of my broken heart that I had room for this woman.

She fit in through deepening cracks of compassion.

I don’t know where my mostly-healed-though-forever-broken heart will lead me, but I don’t need to know. Without walls, I can actually HEAR it again, and somehow that feels even safer than certainty.

Brokenhearted and better for it,

bethsignature

 

 

 

Photo credit goes to Jote Khalsa, who is all kinds of awesome. 

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December 8, 2014
Categories: Self

yoga class 2014 fall LEAF festival

I’m friends with a large number of incredibly brilliant people. The collective talents, skills, knowledge, understanding, passions and creativity between them is enough to sustain a small city (in Utopia, of course).

But I’ve noticed something through the years: even the most incredible minds among us get stuck in thought loops and habit patterns that lead to self-sabotage. In fact, some of the smartest people I know seem to struggle more than most.

Why is this? Here’s my hunch:

Because our brains get in the way of our hearts. {Subtle switch to the first person for the sake of camaraderie.} Because we’ve grown accustomed to thinking as opposed to feeling our way through life. Because from the time we’re young, we build our sense of self (and security) based on the rightness of our thoughts as opposed to the wholeness of our beings.

Brilliance without soul alignment, however, limits our effectiveness. Intelligence without intuition sets us up to struggle. Great minds can only take us so far until we’re willing to endure the fear and vulnerability of showing up fully (smarts AND hearts), offer our unique version of a beautiful mess to the world and celebrate it as sacred.

The first step, of course, is simply noticing how often we stand in our own way:

19 Ways Smart People Self Sabotage

  1. We believe we’re supposed to have the right answers, right now. Our minds are impatient. We’re wired to reason our way to relief. Once we learn to listen deeply, however, and engage our whole awareness, we realize that we have all the answers we need and can effectively utilize in this moment. As we align our minds with our hearts, we become increasingly comfortable NOT knowing the answers and come to trust in life as an inherently supportive process.
  2. We underestimate the value of our uniqueness. When we look around and no one else is like us, we begin to think we’re better off conforming than risking ridicule by showing up in all our quirky uniqueness. It is precisely this uniqueness, however, that attracts the kind of people we WANT in our lives and places us on the path that feels right for us.
  3. We become cynics. Smart people see through bullshit that others buy into. Living among so much seeming ignorance (which is really just misguided understanding) can leave us cynical, which we then mistake for an empowered reaction. Though it’s possible to use cynicism in illuminating ways (Jon Stewart is one of the only people who pulls this off effectively, in my opinion {I have even more respect for him following his reaction to the Eric Garner case}), more often than not, it merely serves to deepen our sense of hopelessness. Avoiding pain and disappointment through clever comebacks is no suitable substitution for honoring and healing our hearts. In the words of Brené Brown, “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
  4. We fall prey to perfectionism. We’ve been taught that being smart means presenting as perfectly as possible. This keeps many of us from putting much of ANYTHING out there (much less our truest selves) for fear of being found out for all our “flaws.” Julia Cameron describes the risk in this type of thinking, “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.”
  5. We think ourselves out of taking chances. Because we are smart, we can easily talk ourselves out of just about anything. Arguments that keep us within our comfort zone (at the expense of our joy) may be convincing, but rarely lead us to the sense of fulfillment we seek.
  6. We do more than our share because we don’t trust others to do their part. Our gifts quickly become curses when we attempt to control outcomes or increase our sense of purpose by doing other people’s work for them. By instead aligning our purpose with our hearts, we create healthier boundaries, breed less resentment and dependency, free up space for others to show up fully and feel more purposeful in the end.
  7. We buy into someone else’s version of success. Unless we define success for ourselves, no amount of effort in the world will fulfill us on the level we long to be satiated. Success is felt most deeply when we’re living in alignment with our deepest desires.
  8. We assume our joy awaits us in the future. Bright people are often visionaries, which keeps us forward thinking. But because peace, contentment, growth, joy and love are only available to us in the present moment, too much forward thinking serves to rob us of the exact feelings we work so hard to ensure for ourselves.
  9. We try to right the present by overthinking our past. Though reflection and story sorting is essential to growth and healing, many of us get so good at making sense of our past that it detracts from our present. Spending a greater percentage of our time in the present moment through mindful awareness increases the quality of everything we do.
  10. We believe our strengths are the things we are good at. A life-altering distinction I learned from Marcus Buckingham, our strengths and the things we are good at are NOT one and the same. Strengths are things we do that make us feel empowered and ALIVE. By mistaking the things we’re good at for that which makes us feel alive (I’m REALLY good at cleaning my house, for example), we can end up feeling drained without even knowing why.
  11. We attempt to avoid pain. Our culture teaches us that pain is bad and to be avoided at all cost. The truth is that pain is an inevitable part of our experience and essential for growth and healing. By facing painful situations, allowing them to teach us what we’re meant to learn and letting them pass through us, our fears of being hurt have less and less power over us.
  12. We underestimate the value of rest and refueling. Smart people tend to associate self worth with accomplishments, which leads us to work ourselves into the ground. Thinking in terms of quality of life over quantity of accomplishments helps us focus on what matters most in the moment.
  13. We’re vague about what we want in life. Our lives are so full of options that it’s easy to live in a state of constant indecision. By learning to silence the noise around us (and within our busy minds) we become more clear about what it is we really want, which is an essential step toward creating lives we love.
  14. We confuse our thoughts for truth. In the words of Byron Katie, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Though it’s human nature to limit our beliefs to that which we understand, smart people sometimes feel even more justified in doing so. By opening ourselves to greater potential and possibility, however,  judgments, disappointments and disconnection are replaced by a feeling of freedom.
  15. We allow others to leech our energy, thinking we’re helping them. Because we recognize ourselves as more capable than some, we tend to allow those with less clarity than we have to drain our precious energy reserves. Weak boundaries are often remedied when we get clear on what we want our lives to feel like instead of what we think we should be doing.
  16. We apologize or make excuses for our awesomeness. Because every version of brilliance is unique and therefor easily labeled as weird or socially unacceptable, we try to fit in by dumbing ourselves down. Being fully ourselves can even seem like a burden to others, depending on whether we were validated for who we truly are when we were young. To apologize for who we are, however, is to apologize for being a piece of the universe. No gift so invaluable as this needs justification.
  17. We doubt the sufficiency of our impact. Again, because everyone’s brilliance is unique, it’s hard to find validation for that which we wish to offer the world. Until we find that sense of validation from within, we’re limited in our ability to make the kind of impact we know we’re here for.
  18. We take things personally. Nothing anyone does is really about you. People’s reactions to you are based on their limited awareness and emotions. Taking things personally is a way we distort our sense of importance. We are important, just not based on whether or not others approve of us.
  19. We believe the myth of failure. Failure is not a fact, failure is a judgement. When we think we might fail, we hold back our greatest gifts for fear of finding out we’re worth even less than we thought. By thinking of failures, instead, as powerful game changers or essential life lessons, we can choose to gain from them and keep going, better equipped.

Here’s the thing, smart people: no matter how confusing our culture makes it seem, your unique brilliance is exactly what the world needs. In fact, it’s the ONLY thing the world needs from you. The moment you decide to allow you heart to guide your choices, your mind to follow in close second and who you really are to become fully realized, you’ve taken the first step toward the powerfully purposeful life you’ve always dreamed of.

On behalf of humanity, I beg of you: let it be soon.

Looking to gain clarity and/or traction in one or more of these aspects of your life? Starting in January, I will be offering one-on-one, over-the-phone coaching sessions to help you find your OWN way back to center. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in my world! Details soon to come. 

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September 22, 2014
Categories: Family, Self

My life — both inside and out — is awash in adolescence. Seven years of being a teenager, then 28 years of raising them? I clearly signed THAT contract while under the spell of a milky-mouthed, heaven-scented newborn.

Imagine the bedroom of a stereotypical teenager and you’ll have a perfect picture of my inner world as of late, only if you were to risk entrance, instead of books and garbage and underwear and electronic devices, you’d trip over messy love, imperfect solutions, deep heartache, shallow arguments, glowing pride and dust bunnies of fear that — no matter how many times I sweep them out — reproduce in the corners of my consciousness whenever I’m not watching.

Thing is, about the time the prefrontal cortex of my firstborn resumes growth (re-capacitating her with the self preservation skills that came to a screeching halt around age 13), daughter #4 will take her place in line beside my other two gray matter-deficient offspring.

In other words, I’ll be treading these muddy waters for a very long time.

Raising teens, in my experience, has proven equally intense as raising littles, just a different kind of intense. While the physical load has lightened a bit, an emotional load quickly replaced the squirming toddlers, nursing newborns and pounds of pregnancy. And very much like raising littles, I can’t afford to think too much about it because while I’m sitting here trying to get everything just right, one’s likely to slip out the front door and take off down the road to God Knows Where.

I do have an advantage over some parents in that I tried just about everything you can imagine as a teenager, myself. Not exactly naive, I’m able to draw from personal, first-hand experience when the question, “what the HELL are they thinking!!??” hits me time and again.

Me, hating everything, age 16.

Unfortunately, teenage rebellion as a part of my own story does not make watching them struggle any easier, and it certainly doesn’t ensure that they’ll be spared hard knocks of their own. In fact, secondhand heartache is as much a part of the adolescent rearing experience as diapering in the early years: it may vary a little from child to child, but it always stinks and there’s no opting out.

Lately, while digging for empathy and understanding, I’ve been reflecting more than usual on my own rather wild adolescence. What was I thinking? What would have helped? What factors contributed to my angst and discontentment? Who and what made a real difference for me and why?

What I’m realizing is that, of all the risks I took and decisions I made (that rightfully scared my fantastic, loving, involved and still-married parents half to death), I’d really only change one thing if I had it to do over.  

Which means that of all the choices my daughters have made and will continue to make, and all the battles I can either engage in or attempt to diffuse, there’s really only one matter that truly concerns me, and one overarching battle I know for sure to be worthy of my engagement.

But first, here are a few others that, while concerning to many parents, I don’t actually see as problematic in and of themselves:

6 “Rebellious” Behaviors That I Don’t Regret, Nor Discourage in My Daughters  

  1. Questioning the status quo — Though my tact and tone have changed a bit since the days when etching “F*ck the Establishment!” in bathroom stalls seemed like the least I could do toward the betterment of humanity, at 36, I still question social norms and believe this to be an essential component of living an authentic, centered and ever-evolving life. And though I’m often warning them to be careful about making assumptions and judgements, whenever one of my girls spots an injustice and makes some defiant, blanket-statement proclamation, I still grin with pride, at least on the inside.
  2. Questioning the religion I was raised in — Never one to swallow “truth” that didn’t actually FEEL true to me, yet always seeking and connected to a sacred something, I’m glad I didn’t let the fear built into my childhood faith drown out the curiosity and intuition driving my quest for spiritual authenticity. Now on a path that finally feels right for me (following years of confusion and cynicism) I see the importance of having rebelled from the family faith. It wasn’t defiance for the sake of defiance, it was defiance for the sake of discovering MY TRUTH.
  3. Self-expression — Thinking back to the skater pants that two of me would have fit into, the blackened eyes and greasy hair (shampoo was SO superficial), the harsh music and dark poetry, and the brief period of (harmless) pyromania, I don’t believe I was simply attention-seeking. I think I was identifying myself as distinctly different than the mainstream and expressing that in ways that helped me FEEL. Still unconventional by many measures (if less extreme in my choice of apparel), I see self expression as brave and beautiful, no matter the age or manifestation.
  4. Taking risks — Though terrifying to parents at times, there’s simply no way for a young person to explore her world, inside or out, without a certain amount of risk taking. Given the number of thirty, forty and fifty-somethings I know who are only just now discovering or rediscovering the power and potential born of bravery, I think it’s essential that we encourage calculated risk taking among our teens. They need the practice while still in the nest (if no longer under our wings).
  5. Raging against injustice — It still makes me laugh when I think about the subjects I took a stance on (music censoring, modesty and mari…oh, never mind), but the fact is that when I saw injustice, I felt RAGE. By failing to honor our teens’ brand new, gut-level acknowledgment of the world’s many inequities or belittling their arguments as too extreme or narrowly-focused, we are essentially saying, “What you see and feel is not legitimate or important” which decreases their sense of connection, causes them to doubt their intuition and often leads to either increased angst or (worse yet!)…conformity.
  6. Challenging boundaries — Teens who seem to need to test every boundary they come up against are not always rebelling to ruffle feathers or punish parents. I think just as often, they are seeking authenticity through exploration, and that by testing the boundaries around them, they learn to navigate their inner landscape that much more quickly.

Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying that any one of these factors can’t lead to a whole host of problems. They absolutely can, and for me, they often did. What I AM saying is that they aren’t necessarily problems in and of themselves. In fact, many are actually indicators that you’ve got a particularly smart kid on your hands, or a leader in the making or a creative type for whom self expression feels as essential as air and water.

So, what WOULD I change if I had my adolescence to live over? Daughter #2 did some guessing:

“Your anger toward your parents?”

“Going to a ‘crappy’ college?”

“Having a kid so young?”

“Making all that…macrame?” 

Nope (but sorry again Mom, Dad).  The one and only thing I would change is this:

My level of self love. 

Think about it: throw self love into any one of the aforementioned rebellious behaviors and suddenly, you’ve got a built-in ruler for calculating risks, a safety on all the triggers life hands you and a way to explore the world without getting completely lost. Better yet, it’s a not a measure that requires experts or parental supervision or a fear of hell to give it legitimacy.

Had self love been my one and only anchor, I might have:

  • questioned the status quo without viewing everything through a lens of anger
  • questioned my religious roots without insults, disrespect and cynicism
  • expressed myself without dwelling on pain and darkness
  • taken risks without putting myself so squarely in harm’s way
  • raged against injustice but tapped more quickly into my capacity to contribute to change
  • challenged boundaries but not so much that they compromised people’s respect for me or more importantly, my respect for myself

“Great!” You’re thinking. “But how in the world do you encourage an already-angsty adolescent to love themselves more?”

This, like most interpersonal dilemmas, is as gray a matter as the tissue missing in our teens. I honestly can’t tell you what my parents might have done differently, and it doesn’t matter, because I know they did their best, and that’s enough. Truth is, I rebelled against order and stability and organic gardening and therapist-grade understanding. I wanted WILD and UNCERTAIN and THRILLING and FORBIDDEN. I craved darkness and pain for contrast. I had to figure things out myself. I still do. 

This is not the fault of anyone. It’s simply who I am.

But from this end of things — now that I’m the one holding the lantern lest my babies get lost —  I see something kind of essential that’s hardly even mentioned in The Manual (that none of us ever received to begin with), and it has nothing to do with how well we’re parenting.

As a whole, we’re doing beautifully in this regard: 

We love them to death, even when they’re intolerable and we’re totally spent.

We see their strengths and point them out often.

We support their interests, encourage their passions and celebrate even the smallest successes.

We mind their sleep, their food, their screen time, their friends and their mood swings.

We find ways to connect, relate, understand, empathize and forgive, over and over.

We love our children deeply and they know it. At this, parents, WE ARE DOING AN INCREDIBLE JOB. 

But many of us are a little less skilled when it comes to the rest of the rarely-mentioned reality:

Instilling SELF love in our children requires leading by example: 

  • When we, as parents, identify our OWN unmet needs and learn healthy ways to honor them, we demonstrate personal responsibility on the deepest level.
  • When we learn to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ according to our best interests as opposed to the desires of others, our teens are taught the validity and worth of their own inner knowing.
  • When we let go of perfectionism, we teach them to see beauty and joy as inherent to and available in every moment, instead of goals they may never reach.
  • When we define success for ourselves and celebrate micro-achievements, we show them that despite the deception all around them, they are, have and do ENOUGH.
  • When we forgive ourselves and openly learn from our downfalls, we demonstrate a whole new level of kindness and compassion.
  • When we dare to live the lives we know we’re here for, we give our children permission to do the same.

These acts of self love are not encouraged in our culture. In fact, given that many of us were taught that loving ourselves is selfish, it’s no wonder that we spend so little time considering our own needs and deepest desires.

Ultimately, it’s not our job as parents to shape our teens into who they are meant to be. Our job is to love them, care for them and model healthy adult reactions to the world, both around and within us. Despite our society’s outward focus — on appearance and achievements and tangible measures of “success” — our children are receiving but a partial picture of love when we focus on the external, including THEM, at the expense of our own inner wellbeing.

In keeping with my rebellious tendencies, I’d like to suggest that our generation of guilt-stricken and perfection-pursuing parents amend the all-popular biblical teaching when it crosses our paths and minds:

Yes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is good advice.

But first, love yourself as you do your children. 

Learning alongside you,

bethsignature

 

 

 

Ready to take self love up a notch or twenty? Check out Inner Bonding. Margaret Paul’s free 7-day e-course is a beautiful place to start (and no, I have no affiliation with her, only respect and gratitude for her work).

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August 9, 2014
Categories: Culture, Family
Crocodiles in Barton Springs?

“Are you SURE there are no crocodiles in Barton Springs?” A totally legitimate concern, all things considered.

So much has happened since we crossed the border two months ago that I’m not even going to try to recount the details sequentially. Though I’ve paid in crowded thoughts and congested perspectives, stepping away (virtually) for a minute was exactly what I needed and about the only way I could manage the (primarily emotional and secondarily physical) load of this move. When The Here and Now demands my presence that loudly, I’m learning to pay attention and let it lead.

Texas river crossing

Texas river crossing, early summer.

We’re home now!! and though I hardly know what that means anymore, these mountains ARE home for me. I can feel it. Our boxes broken down and the neighborhood full of kids, today is the first day in months that processing has taken priority over packing, unpacking, soaking in our friends and family or staring blankly in disbelief and sensory overload. (Remember the mess last summer made of my mind? Yeah, that had nothing on this season.)

The most common question asked of us is, “So, what’s it like to be back?”

In the same category as “How’s the fam?” or “Tell me about the girls!” this question requires that I…

  1. assess the actual interest vs. cordiality of the inquirer
  2. consider the amount of time I have to respond and
  3. decide what degree of honesty I currently have emotional space to offer.

And though I’m capable of the generally-expected reaction of, “Everyone’s great, thanks for asking!” it’s never easy for me, as it cues each family member to parade through my heart and remind me how complicated the truth really is.

Summer sweethearts plus a sister. There’s always a sister.

So, because a simple, “Our move has been…great!” is not necessary here (yet the whole thing still feels like a giant fuster cluck), I’ll just throw out thoughts at random, pair them with pertinent photos and trust that you understand my kind of crazy.

Feels good to be back. I’ve sorely missed writing you.

Random Thoughts Upon Reentry

Reverse culture shock is even more intense. Though moving abroad was big, returning to the U.S. feels a good deal more shocking. While this could easily be attributed to the pace alone, I think it has even more to do with having re-sensitized. After four years of living with minimal possessions, consuming less than ever and with little (and laughable) exposure to advertising, I no longer have many filters in place with which to handle the overstimulation inherent to stateside living. Even the most seemingly-benign activities (such as grocery shopping) feel overwhelming and likely will until I relearn how and what to ignore again (or lose my mind). I wonder if this is true of anyone who returns to their native soil, or if it’s a phenomenon unique to hyper-stimulating cultures such as our own. Thing is, I don’t particularly want a new set of filters just to function. Is desensitization really necessary? Or could it be, given a fresh perspective on what’s essential, non-essential and worthy of my attention, that discernment might prove sufficient to keep me sane? We shall see!

flour options galore

The flour selection I contemplated for nearly ten minutes.

There are seasons for adventuring, and seasons for rooting. Many have asked why we decided to move back, as much as we loved living in Mexico. The answer has less to do with which culture we prefer than it does what best suits our family during this season. Our girls — now street smart, bilingual and savvy travelers — also deserve the gifts of constancy, rhythm and friends they won’t soon be leaving. The heartbreak of that; of repeatedly saying goodbye to places and people we adore, was wearing on us all. Our need for community suddenly trumped any wanderlust whims.

Fortunately (and apparently), prior inhabitance is not always a prerequisite for feeling at home. My roots are eager to grow here, and conditions seem quite conducive.

at home

I think about my appearance more in the states. Most everywhere I go here (though less in Asheville than in Austin), I’m reminded of what I “should” look like, want and be striving for (as a woman, mother and “privileged” human). There are also more mirrors, more images created to elicit certain feelings and WAY more people clearly invested in what’s trending. And while I’m pretty secure in my minimal making-ready routines (throwing on secondhand standbys and tying my hair in a knot, for example), it does occur to me that without makeup, hair dye or any clue (or care) about fashion “rules,” I’m often the least put-together person in the bunch. This doesn’t bother me so much as it intrigues me. How fascinating to feel more self conscious here at home than as a gringa among latinos.

If only I had a nickel for every time I defended my clothing choices to my daughters, "But I LIKE this shirt. Why else would I wear it every other day?" and "I'm not wearing black on black. These MOM shorts, as you call them, happen to be charcoal gray."

If only I had a dollar for every time I defended my clothing choices to my daughters.”But I LIKE this shirt. Why else would I wear it every day?” and “I’m not wearing black on black. These MOM shorts, as you call them, happen to be charcoal gray.” {Here, we’re standing in front of the garden at my folks’ new home(stead), which is every bit as lovely as it looks.}

Smartphones are crazy cool and kind of concerning. Between the distraction, potential for instant connection, easy access to information and sense of obligation to respond immediately, I’m both infatuated with and a little sketched out by my new iPhone. The fact that I’ve been totally bummed a couple of times when I accidentally left it somewhere and then “needed” it (when I’ve never before enjoyed the luxury in my life) really speaks to its addictiveness. On the other hand, I rather love the accessibility of my people, camera, music and…meditation chimes (oh, the irony). But then again, am I obligated to respond every time the darn thing dings? I suppose it’s like anything else and once the newness wears off, I’ll settle into a reasonable balance. Gosh, but will our teens? How do we guide them through a world they know more about than we do?

texting teens

It’s always better to rent a bigger moving truck than seems necessary. You might be surprised by how much stuff you actually have, and mattresses generally win in wrestling matches.

moving day

There are definite dos and don’ts when it comes to leaving the country for extended stretches. For example: DO store your things somewhere you don’t have to pay, such as the corner of your garage in the house you rent out…

opening the time capsule

Here it is, for those of you who’ve anticipated the cracking into of our time capsule!!…

the wall comes down

Anticlimactic, I know, but storage can only be so exciting.

Also, DO rent your house to awesome people with common interests, if at all possible…

Our new renters (and dear friends!) are the first to restore our long-neglected garden. This makes me so happy.

Our new renters (and dear friends) are the first to restore our long-neglected garden. This makes me so. incredibly. happy.

DON’T, on the other hand, store your things in outbuildings prone to rodent invasion…

rat infested tool shed

Near-total ruin. At least you can’t smell it.

gross

Yeah, it was like that. Absolute filth and teeth marks. Fun.

I was happier without my stuff, but that doesn’t mean stuff necessarily hinders happiness. This one has been a really big deal for me since we’ve been back. As we began rounding up our things and I realized how many more of them we had than I’d remembered, I began to panic a little. WAIT! But I don’t even remember what’s IN all those boxes! Do we HAVE to open them?! I’m not sure I want ANY of it!! By the time we’d packed it all in the moving truck, driven it across the country and unloaded it into our (rather small) house, I was in a bit of a funk. Fearfully equating things with our pre-adventure stress level, it took a good deal of thought checking, deep breathing and letting go of stories to realize that though minimalism suits me, the change that matters most happened within. Now that I’ve lived without my things, I no longer feel an attachment to them. Now that I realize how much happier I am without many attachments, I’m less likely to accumulate needlessly. AND, now that the boxes are all unpacked and their contents proving more useful than scary, I’m actually quite pleased about the reunion. All that STUFF represents not a life of stress and hoarding, but years and years of good finds, careful craftsmanship, thoughtful gifts and artists supported. The lesson I was meant to learn? Possessions can’t cause us stress nor free us from it. Our thoughts about our possessions determine our reactions to them.

office in progress

As a maker and fiber arts teacher, I’d accumulated quite a hefty stock of supplies (the bulk of our boxes, truth be told). Though I’ve changed gears quite completely in my professional pursuits, I’m excited to be making again, if only for the pleasure. (Pictured is my office, pre-organization.)

The real riches are in the process, not the end product. I’m learning that noticing the beauty in moments such as THESE is much easier when I first slow down and then zoom in or out. By zooming in, I’m able to focus on one thing at a time, appreciating its unique role within my story. Zooming OUT allows me to see chaos as natural, necessary and relative, and peace as an INNER state of being. I can’t claim that I held true to these perspectives throughout the whole move, but I DID notice a heck of a lot of beauty amidst the madness.

chaos

unpacking 2

insanity (taos bearded).jpg

Unpacking is apparently WAY more fun while bearded and skating.

The coupling of pre and post-Mexico adornments and housewares feels quite symbolic. The best part about unpacking our things (for me) has been the melding of our two seemingly distinct lives. It’s served as a reminder that I am not the woman I once was but neither am I exclusively the woman I’ve become. Loving and honoring myself means loving and honoring every stage of my story and celebrating the continuum; the compilation.

coral and jadite and quilt scraps

Coral, jadite and quilt scraps. Treasures symbolic (to me) of growth and change.

I set up the girls’ toys for myself as much as I did for them. They’re all a little old for their kitchen, play stands and many of the toys we’ve made and collected through the years, but I kinda needed to set them up anyway. Judging from the fun being had, they kind of needed it, too.

"cosy homes make happy childhood"

My kid needs pop culture. I never thought I’d say it, but plugging into “what all the other kids are doing” seems to be exactly what Eli needs right now. Starry-eyed over all she’s been “missing,” she’s beside herself over the chance to develop friendships in English within a culture she identifies with. My hope is that she’ll also soon realize that Mexico was a gift, not a four-year punishment. Oh, the irony. One of our kids swears she’ll never leave the U.S. again.

they wanna be

It is possible to adventure while rooting. Given the fact that we’re both now self-employed (doing things neither of us have ever attempted), our adventure has really only just begun. (What’s that? You sense fear and trembling? Nah, must be the chilly mountain air.)

are you my restaurant?

Are you my restaurant?

I don’t have to miss and yearn for Mexico in order to fully appreciate our time there. It’s easy to get lost in sadness. It’s easy to let it convince us of life’s injustice, pain’s relentlessness and the fleeting nature of joy. But when rooted in a mindset of sufficiency, it seems, sadness has a greater purpose: it points us toward the abundance we’re overlooking. This summer it also occurred to me (much to my relief) that either way — whether steeped in scarcity or in-tune with abundance — life is still heavy. The difference is that we either fear or love the loads we shoulder.

Our last breakfast in Mexico.

Our last breakfast in Mexico.

Having all my girls together, no matter how complex and chaotic, will never again be a gift I take for granted. There’s a satisfaction I feel when this happens that rivals no other sensation I’ve known. And anytime I’m looking to practice my new sadness-within-the-context-of-sufficiency theory, I’ve always got my girls for skill refinement.

girls 2

Living in the flow is simply slower goingPutting my book (and blog) on the back burner this summer has not been easy, but in my experience, resisting reality never yields a better outcome (and kids don’t really allow it anyway). That said, school starts in less than two weeks!!!!!! which means more rhythm, writing and serenity soon to come.

For this and so much more, I’m immensely grateful.

organized office

My windowed, treetop alcove-office, organized! I’ve never loved a creating space more.

May late summer bring you joy and a nap in a shaded hammock,

More soon! and more often,

bethsignature

 

 

 

Make a commitment to follow the path of no resistance. This is the path through which nature’s intelligence unfolds spontaneously, without friction or effort. When you remain open to all points of view — not rigidly attached to only one — your dreams and desires will flow with nature’s desires. Then you can release your intentions, without attachment, and just wait for the appropriate season for your desires to blossom into reality. You can be sure that when the season is right, your desires will manifest.

–Deepak Chopra

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