Uncover the Sun

Remember

 

After you’re born

remember

to polish that trusty gold heart of yours,

keep it shiny enough

to see your own reflection

in love, but not hate

 

After you’ve grown

remember

to polish that warm copper heart of yours,

make sure the patina

of the cold hard world

doesn’t tarnish your luster

 

After you’re older

remember

to polish that bright diamond heart of yours

keen enough to cut through any glass

half empty or half full

of wisdom

 

Uncover the Sun

Leaps and Boundaries

Sometimes we simply have to shore up our boundaries and say “no” to people, places, and situations that bring us pain. Though seemingly insignificant, the appropriate use of that tiny, two letter word of negation can completely change our lives. If we decline to spend time with people who harm us, or with whom we are not at all compatible, or in jobs or living situations that diminish us, then we have more energy for experiences that bring us creative inspiration and joy.

And many of us, particularly women, believe that we must constantly change ourselves rather than quitting abusive relationships or jobs, because according to current pop psychology, “everything around us is a reflection of ourselves.” (That phrase has always struck me as particularly egocentric and an example of poor boundaries.)

An awful lot of women stay in abusive relationships and jobs where they are undervalued, simply because they believe it is their responsibility to fix everything, or to work on themselves so that they can handle abuse more effectively. And ironically, for many there seems to be a schism between work and home life. Many women tolerate behavior from spouses that they would never tolerate on the job, and vice versa.

For many of us, removing ourselves from relationships, jobs, or places that don’t work for us may bring feelings of guilt and failure along with relief. We may think we should have tried harder as if relationships are a goal to be achieved, rather than an on-going process of connection between people who may have differing motivations and values. We may have tried everything we can think of to handle a job we loathe or a boss who doesn’t care, or a family member who does not respond to attempts to resolve issues.

While it is a sign of emotional maturity to ask what we may have contributed to a dysfunctional relationship or work environment, it is also mature to recognize when it is not our responsibility to fix something. Sometimes, that little word “no” can move mountains, relieve the weight of trying to fix someone else’s behavior, and lighten our life considerably. And if saying “no” seems too abrupt, phrases like,”that doesn’t work for me,” are fine too. And if we do feel guilty for having clear boundaries and taking care of ourselves, perhaps we need to think about messages we were taught about our own worth.  There is a lot of power in saying no.

 

 

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Old Friends

I have many older friends, some in their 70’s and 80’s, some nearing 90. I love listening to their recollections of childhood, how things were done “back then.” They have lost siblings, spouses, children, and friends over the years, and I ask them how they cope. One gentleman told me, “You just get used to it,” while another one said he never has gotten used to it, and in fact, is no better at grieving than he ever was. He described his living room wall as holding many images of the dead, and wasn’t sure if they made him happy or sad, but he still keeps those photos there to remind him of all of those loves.

They have a long-range view of humanity, these older friends. Some of them remember World War II, and the Great Depression, and they assure me that as bad as things seem right now, both of those events were worse. But they do mention being grateful that they will not be here for future global climate change events. They tell me that they don’t spend much time speculating upon how many years they have left, but focus upon living right now and enjoying the days however they may.Continue reading

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Self Worth

How much is your self worth anyway? Is it a measure of how much money you make, or how successful or useful you are, or how much others appreciate you? Is it dependent upon your level of physical fitness, health, or beauty? Is it based on your expertise, your service, your sense of humor, your optimism? The problem with self-worth being directed by external experience is there will always be differing opinions as to your value. In this country, if you are poor, physically or mentally ill, elderly, female, born into certain religions, or a person of color, you have been devalued before you drew breath.

How then, do you value yourself?

Recently someone who knows I’m coming up on the anniversary of my daughter’s death, told me to cheer up, because she didn’t want to feel sad. I didn’t remember asking her to join me in sorrow, but all I said was, “No, I’m going to go ahead and feel sad right now.” And I understood that she didn’t want to be with those emotions. That’s a choice we all make every day, what and whom we choose to be around, what we want to experience.

And in that moment of deciding it was fine to feel sad even if she wasn’t okay with it, I realized that since Maia died, I have been taking care of other’s feelings around her death, simply because they don’t seem to know how. I have been trying to make death more comfortable for everyone else. And I’m tired. I’m tired of “being strong,” and “together,” as if my value is based upon how much I don’t emote all over other people. Sometimes I want to howl loudly in public, or wail for hours like they do in other cultures. I imagine many bereaved people feel this way. Continue reading

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Chronic

By the time we reach our 40’s and 50’s, most of us have had some kind of health issue or have suffered losses of friends and family members. And some have already experienced a great deal of loss in their early years. I barely know anyone my age who does not have some kind of chronic health issue, whether serious or relatively benign. And anyone who has suffered a loss knows that grief is an on-going chronic process too. I am always struck, in listening to others’ stories as well as through my own experience, by how our country shames the physically and mentally ill, and provides so little safety net that any major illness may result in deprivation and poverty. If the statistics that 70 percent of the population is living paycheck to paycheck is correct, any sudden change in health or circumstances may be catastrophic.

So far, I have seen Go Fund Me accounts set up for long or short-term medical expenses, (even among insured people, because most policies don’t cover much) for funeral expenses, legal assistance, schooling, transportation, living expenses, catastrophic accidents, and lately, for out of work and non-paid government employees. Despite working sometimes two or three jobs, people are basically being forced to beg for survival.

It is no wonder that a great deal of the population is anxious, depressed, and addicted to opioids. When I talk to overseas clients, whose countries have universal health coverage, they want to know how anyone could ever recover from an illness given the stress we are under. And many don’t. In a country where our only value is based on whether we can earn a living wage or not, many of us don’t survive, hence our increasingly high rates of suicide.

I think as human beings we have a duty of care. To treat one another with respect and as if we have the right to say alive, be healthy, and pursue that elusive thing called happiness. This used to be called basic decency, but apparently in this country, it is now reserved for the privileged. We currently have cities with whole neighborhoods of people living in tents. We are our own refugees. And this is a rich country!

Lately, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to live in a country whose laws actually reflected values of care rather than cruelty. A country in which we had access to clean water and air, non-poisoned food, medical care, decent education, equal rights, and we knew that our country actually had our backs. Given how much we work, and pay in taxes, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.

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Family Holidays

Some of my friends are traveling to see family during the holidays. They might wish that their families got along like the ones in the holiday movies, the ones where issues get resolved in the last half hour, but they don’t. At most, they may be hoping for fewer pointed remarks, less drinking and more laughing, and not getting an upset stomach or headache. Many are planning a few extra days off to recover from visiting.

Why do they go at all? Partly guilt, but mostly love. Even though they may not like the way family members behave, talk, or feel, life is short and they still want to see them, even if only occasionally. And the visits invariably bring up sorrow at how different their family’s behavior is, compared to what they wish it to be.

In families where people stay in designated roles, those who have focused on self-growth and having better boundaries, may feel uncomfortable or no longer fit. Families can be rather closed systems, and introducing new behaviors might really blow things up. Feelings of estrangement make the holiday season extra painful for those who did not grow up in a Hallmark movie, which is actually most of us.Continue reading

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Holiday Grief

The first holidays after a loss may be a blur of sorrow and avoidance, or a kind of numb shock as it sinks in that the person you miss is still missing and will keep missing every family gathering and special event onwards. The idea of celebrating anything may make you want to scream and clout well-wishers over the head, even though you know they care. You might perk up for Halloween, but ignore Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, and then vaguely register New Year’s. There is nothing particularly rational about any of this.

And experienced mourners warn you that holidays are hard, especially the first few years, or if the person died around the holidays. You may not feel like doing much of anything at all. Favorite rituals you had with the person who is gone, have to be done without them. Or not at all. You might come up with new rituals so that you don’t have to miss doing the old ones. And some people simply skip the whole thing completely by getting on a plane to some place where no one celebrates anything that time of year.

Even when people understand everyone grieves differently, they may still get angry when others in the same family won’t participate the way they want them to.  Trying to replicate previous holiday rituals with someone missing, might seem unbearable to one person, but comforting to the next. And going along with what the other person wants sometimes just makes a tough situation worse.

I know one couple who tried to compromise. One wanted to spend Christmas day visiting a distant gravesite, and one really didn’t, but accompanied the other person anyway. The second person wound up really depressed and angry over spending Christmas at a cemetery. And the first person felt terrible that the other was not comforted. It is much easier to grieve with people who need what you do. And being able to identify what you need and follow what works for you is important.

It may also add another whole layer of grief and loneliness if we feel we cannot be with close friends or relatives because we have different needs. And face it, holidays may be difficult already, due to family issues, previous losses, financial constraints, or other life problems. Luckily, the time encompassing Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is only about two months, even though it feels like three years.Continue reading

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Dealing With Disappointment

Many people tell me that they knew something was supposed to happen, a relationship, a career opportunity, or some kind of success, and then it didn’t. And this is after they hired a coach, did self-growth work, saw a therapist, practiced every manifesting idea they could, and followed all the “right steps” toward their goal. They got education, assistance, and even looked at what might be blocking them. They were even willing to sacrifice comfort and financial stability for a time.

Not everyone makes it to the Olympics or winds up on Broadway. And sometimes the people who do aren’t even as talented or skilled as the ones who don’t. Why is this? In the US, we usually blame people for their lack of success, rather than looking at privilege and access to opportunities. For example, being born into a family in which a certain access is already established, like show business, makes establishing an acting career much easier. We often see children of famous writers getting writing contracts at fairly young ages, and so on.

A business professor looked around the class and told us that only ten percent of us would have successful businesses, not because we didn’t get good grades or couldn’t do accounting or anything like that, but because business was fundamentally dealing with people day in and day out. He said many people aren’t good at communicating, and having good people skills was one of the most important things for success in business. How often are people skills taught in school?

I know a dentist who wanted to be a pro baseball player, but he couldn’t run very fast no matter how many miles he logged, how much he worked out, and how hard he tried. He said it was devastating to have to give up that dream. It was a turning point in his life not only to have to work towards another career, but to also find out what he was like when he was thwarted. He said dealing with that disappointment was the single most important experience of his life. He had to figure out who he was when things didn’t go his way. And as he later found out, no matter how competent you are, things often don’t go the way you would like and expect.Continue reading

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Authentic Voice

Each of us has a unique tone of voice and mind that is particularly ours from birth. We may share that tone by speaking, singing, creating art, writing, dancing, performing, etc. When I was a kid, I sang to myself every morning, made up little ditties throughout the day, and as my sister can attest, crooned to myself every night when she was trying to get to sleep.

In this culture we don’t usually sing at the grocery store or in public. I’ve heard from friends overseas that they are often shocked at how little we spontaneously sing and dance here. Many of us are taught that we are not good at it, and so we don’t sing for fun or pleasure or to comfort ourselves and each other. We are also often told that we are not important enough for our voices to matter, so we sing only other people’s songs and quote only their words. However, expressing yourself so that your creativity matches your intention simply takes time and practice.

As I grew up, I never learned to read music or play an instrument, despite attempting the piano as an adult, but songs still popped into my head. I had to sing into a recorder, because I couldn’t write them down in musical notes. My kids also composed songs and we sang them together to remember them. I’ve written more poetry than songs, although several singer/songwriter friends have insisted my poems were songs and set them to music for me.Continue reading

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Caring

Many years ago, I read in a child development class that kids who were physically and emotionally abused, if they survived their childhoods, had a better chance of healing than kids who were completely ignored. Being yelled at was better than no communication at all. Infants who were not held and cuddled, often had failure-to-thrive syndrome and many of them died. I thought about this recently, how ironically, the hater maintains a connection with the hated. To actively hate someone or something is to keep in contact with it, to maintain a kind of twisted relationship. Carl Jung would probably describe that as someone dealing with their own shadow.

There has been a lot of talk about hatred lately. And some of the talk has been about how to turn hatred into caring, to give people another perspective about the hated, to humanize them, make them real, and remind people how to connect with love and caring rather than fear and mistrust. We don’t tend to trust that which we hate. But even haters, given the opportunity to listen, to hear other points of view, may ultimately respond to another’s humanity.

I once talked to a gentleman who taught conflict resolution and peacemaking classes all over the world. He would teach government leaders in a room for a week. They had to eat together, were given problems to solve together, and were forced to acknowledge each other’s humanity. He described his experience with a group of Israelis and Palestinians. He said initially, they would barely communicate besides yelling at one another. At the end of the week, they were able to call each other by name, smile, and recognize each other as valuable human beings who had all suffered grave losses. It took a great deal of work and willingness to get to that point, but it was possible.Continue reading