There’s no running from yourself. If you have pain, it’s going to surface and if you try to stop it, deny it, numb it out or run from it you’re just going to make yourself sick. People do it every day, all day long. They keep themselves so busy, so scheduled down to the minute, there isn’t any time to feel anything. Others try to feed the beast of their pain with stuff. I’ll just keep consuming until that horrible emptiness goes away. Some people numb it with drugs, alcohol, food, dieting, sex, relationships, shopping, television or video games. And weeks go by, and those weeks turn into years, and a whole life can go by that way.
If you’re on the run, you’re not going to be able to stop and take in the scenery. If you’re in a fog, you’re going to miss some exquisitely gorgeous moments. If you’re in denial, you’re also denying yourself the opportunity to figure out who you are and what you need to be at peace. You can’t reject a huge reality about where you’re at and how you feel, and simultaneously know yourself well. Chances are, eventually you’ll wonder if this is all there is. Your pain does not have to own you, but it will if you don’t face it. We all have our stuff, our histories, those places where we’re raw or jagged, where those deep wounds have left their scars. Your pain might shape you, but it can shape you in a beautiful way so that you open and become more compassionate, more able to understand the suffering of others, and more equipped to lend a hand.
Knowing yourself is some of your most important work, otherwise how can you be accountable for the energy you’re spreading? For the ways you’re contributing to the world around you, and showing up for yourself, and all the people in your life? If you refuse to face down your dragons, they’re going to run your show, and they’re going to throw flames at anyone who gets close to you. You won’t mean for that to happen, you’ll probably feel terrible about it, and yourself, which simply compounds your pain. Now you have the old stuff, and the new stuff that springs up around you in your current life. Won’t it ever release its grip on you? You can keep playing it out, hoping for that happy ending, but you’re not going to get it until you become the hero of your own story. No one is coming to save the day. That’s your job.
The thing is, saving the day is not easy, but it’s a lot better than being on the run or being in a haze or feeling desperate for someone or something to make it better. You get to do that and you’re totally capable, no matter what you’ve been through. I say that with the full understanding that you may have suffered through intense grief, neglect or abuse. Being the hero might simply mean you find your way out of bed today and make an appointment with a good therapist. That would be heroic. Just acting on your own behalf would be something huge, because you may need someone to kindly hold up a mirror and say, “Of course you can.” (You’ll still have to do it yourself.) You might need someone to acknowledge that the old pain is real, and that it’s natural you’ve been carrying it with you for so long, but that maybe you can put it down now. Maybe you can unpack it and lay it all out and hold it up to the light so that you really absorb, as you are now, the full spectrum of your feelings. So that this stuff isn’t buried in your unconscious, outside of your awareness anymore, causing you to do things or say things you wish you hadn’t. Causing you to harm yourself, or hurt other people, or make choices that are inexplicable, even to you. Maybe you’re very aware of your pain, but it’s still overtaking your life. If you feel hopeless, that’s another indication that you might want to reach out and get some back-up. You examine your pain so you can integrate it and recognize it when it shows up. So you can be kind to yourself, and take care of yourself, and empower yourself.
There’s no reason your past has to dictate your future. Rage and blame won’t liberate you, but heading into the dead center of your darkest most painful places will. You don’t have to stay there forever, just long enough to know yourself. Then you can start a new chapter where you, the hero, lay the sh&t down. Where you decide where you’re going and what you’re doing and how you’re going to spend your time and energy. How you’re going to show up. Not the dragons. The dragons are small yappy dogs now. They bark sometimes, but all it takes is one look from you, and those dogs roll over and play dead. Directing your energy and strengthening your ability to choose one thought over another are two things you can work on through a consistent yoga practice. You can learn how to feed a loving voice if you’re in prison with an unforgiving internal dialogue. There are so many healing modalities available to help you find your power again. Better get busy if you need to, and if you need help with that, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Sending you love,
The last few days have been painful in our country, but in all fairness, for many people the pain has been real and heartbreaking for years. I needed a couple of days to process, because I was shocked by the result of our election on Tuesday, and in that shock, I needed time to recognize and think about my own ignorance. When half the country votes in a way you never saw coming, you understand you have been out of touch with a huge segment of the population.
I am not confused about the pain in our country, and I was not unaware of it. Rampant gun violence, black men being shot by the police, women being paid $.80 for every dollar a man makes, I mean, you have to be asleep to miss the fact that we are not living as the country we purport to be. This is not the land of the free, everyone is not equal, and working your ass off does not mean you are going to realize the American dream, or even guarantee health insurance or a college education for yourself or your family. People are tired and angry and frustrated. Many feel unrepresented, disenfranchised, and enraged.
This election season has been the ugliest I’ve ever lived through; I have never seen anything like it, and hope I never do again. As a country, we embarrassed ourselves on the world stage. The level of conversation was so low, it is hard to fathom how it could have dropped any lower. In my view, the hatred, rage and fear that were enflamed were done so intentionally. There’s plenty of it out there, I just did not realize how much, and that is the part that has shocked me and broken my heart. I think a lot of people feel the system is broken, Washington is owned by rich people who don’t give a shit about them, and all politicians are liars and cheats. It seems half the country felt the best idea was to send in somebody from outside the system to blow things up from the inside. I really get that, I just don’t believe this was the right somebody. I understand frustration. I understand distrust, we all do. The problem for me is many-fold.
Hate speech against minorities and women is absolutely never okay in my book. Ever. That is not leadership, that is bigotry, racism, sexism and misogyny. When you rile people up in that way, when you feed on the worst in us, you never bring out the best. The people who feel heartbroken right now are heartbroken about that, it isn’t even the political piece. The people who are afraid right now are the people who have been watching and listening to the kind of speech that makes us all wonder what is going to happen now. Whose rights are going to be violated, or taken away completely? We were already in trouble, and now we wonder, can this person who said such hateful things about so many of us, any of us who aren’t white Christian men, possibly bring our torn country together again? Or shall we prepare ourselves to watch everything we hold dearest go up in flames?
It is too easy to label anyone who voted differently than you as crazy or ignorant. I know it’s tempting. I understand some of us are absolutely flabbergasted, but what’s vitally important to grasp, is that the people who voted differently feel the same way about you. They cannot fathom how you don’t see what they see. They cannot understand why you don’t feel the way they feel. When we don’t even try to understand, to find a thread of commonality, we’re lost to each other. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t feel your fear. I feel it. I’m concerned about our Supreme Court. I’m worried that the hate speech we heard will become commonplace. I am scared for my children, especially my daughter. My son is a white, blonde, blue-eyed kid, and he cried his eyes out Tuesday night. It hurt me to see my child affected that way, but it also gave me hope. His tears were not political, his tears were emotional. He has friends at school who are worried their parents are going to be deported while they’re playing handball at recess. He understands compassion already, at ten. He does not understand racism or sexism or bullying, it makes no sense to him, or to my daughter, and I hope it never does. His tears pained me, but they also comforted me, and that’s the first time my child’s tears have ever done that. We need the next generations to come up and fix the things we’ve gotten so wrong.
I know we want to point fingers and lay blame and separate ourselves from each other. The Canadian immigration website crashed Tuesday night. I saw many people posting about Australia. I, myself, thought maybe now would be a good time to go to Ireland, which has been singing a siren song to me for years. Calexit was looking good to me. The truth is, though, I would never leave right now. We need to stay and work this out, and we will not get there in fear. We will not get there by labeling half our country as insane. We will not get there by only worrying about our own families and our own lives. We are each other’s keepers and we have not been doing a good job. We have not been hearing each other, but my God, we are hearing each other now. Don’t scream into the void. Don’t join the hatred and rage. Try not to label and villainize people, it won’t help anyone. Try to understand, try to listen, try to hope. Take action where you can, and where you feel called to do so. Fight for the things that are meaningful to you, speak out whenever you see someone or something that insults your soul. Treat your neighbor as the family member she is. Understand that we are one people on one planet, and no one can change that or take that from us. Where you don’t understand that, pause and reflect. You get to decide how you’re going to rise up in this situation, and who you’re going to be. We’ve had dark days in our country before, and we will get through this together.
Sending you love, and a big hug,
If you need help coming back to center, try these classes:
Recently, a close friend of mine was left suddenly and without explanation by her husband of less than a year. They were having the normal struggles of any newly married couple, exacerbated by the fact that neither of them had lived with romantic partners before. Just the normal communication issues, and the push-pull we all go through when we’re shifting our perspective from “I” to “we”. They’d talked about going to counseling, and about making some other changes, too. He’d expressed a desire to move to another part of the country, and she’d been open to that. Throughout the relationship, right up until the day he took off, their text messages were loving, flirtatious and affectionate, their time together was mostly fun, and she had no reason to imagine he’d bail. One morning he got up, kissed her goodbye as they left the house to go to their respective jobs, and that was the last time she saw him.
When he didn’t show up for dinner, she texted, and he said he was out with friends and that he’d probably crash with one of his buddies. She asked him where he was, but he just said he was out having fun, and he’d see her in the morning. And then he didn’t show up in the morning, and she called and got his voicemail. When she texted, he said he’d be home later in the day, and that he was running errands. It turned out he’d gotten on a plane and flown across the country. She found out from his friend’s wife, when she called to see if he knew what was going on.
She flew across the country to see him and sit down face-to-face, but he refused, and his family told her to go away. He wouldn’t even respond to her texts, his mother texted to let her know he did not want to see her. She’d spent three years with him, she’d spent plenty of time with his parents and siblings, and not one of them would meet her for a tea, or even get on the phone. Her family and all her close friends, myself included, told her to come home. When there’s no communication, there’s also no hope. And when his family also shunned her, we all understood this was their modus operandi.
Two weeks later, he served her with divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences. Then he proceeded to make demands about all the wedding gifts and furniture he wanted. She told me when she saw the list he sent with the movers, the nine-page list of things he wanted them to collect, it finally sank in. He cared about kitchen knives, but not her heart. He wanted the garbage can, but he didn’t want to know if she was okay, or how she was coping. He just didn’t care.
And so she was left in the dark, trying to figure out what had happened. Was the whole thing a sham? Had he ever loved her? Was the huge wedding he’d wanted just for show? Had he meant anything he’d said on their wedding day, or any day? She told me she felt like she was in the “Twilight Zone”, and that at any moment, Rod Serling would step out from behind a closet door, or from around a corner, and tell her she’d entered another dimension.
Life is like this sometimes. We’re going along, and BAM! A bomb goes off in the middle of our lives, and everything we thought we knew is just blown to pieces. Sometimes it happens because we’re abandoned, like my friend, and sometimes we lose people because they’re ripped from us too soon. Sometimes circumstances create the boom. Maybe we’re fired, or our house burns down, or we’re facing some other huge turn of events we could never have seen coming.
We’d never wish that on ourselves or anyone else, but it happens. And once you feel all the feelings around the experience—the shock, the grief, the confusion, the rage—you have a chance to begin again. Some things are so brutal, you have to accept you’re never going to be the same. Some things will never make sense, some things will never be explained, some things will rip your heart out of your chest and eat it with a fine chianti. So be it.
The question is, what are you going to grow out of those ashes? People and circumstances can hurt you, but they can’t defeat you unless you let them. You can’t rush through your feelings when you’re in turmoil; in fact, I’d say that’s the moment to use every bit of the support system you have in place, or to get busy creating one. That’s when you figure out who in your life is really going to be there for you. And that’s really good information to have, because then you know where to invest your time and energy, and with whom.
All you can ever do, is start where you are. We learn and grow from every experience, but we have to choose the lesson. My friend doesn’t want anyone to speak badly of her ex, and she isn’t fighting him for stuff or money. As she said to me, “The more he takes, the less he has.” How’s that for choosing the lesson?
There are confounding things that people do to each other sometimes. I get emails from people going through divorce with children, and one partner is using the kids as pawns against the other. Who do you think pays in that scenario? But again, those kids will grow up one day, and they’ll choose the lesson. There’s a lot of power in that, so if you’re in a situation that’s making you feel weak, try looking at it from that perspective. No one can take that away from you. Pick the lessons that strengthen you and open you. We have enough hard, closed people in the world. And when things happen that you don’t understand, do your very best to have compassion and recognize there’s probably more going on than you know. We can only know another person’s interior world to the extent that they allow us access. Many, many people have pain and they don’t know how to work with it so they lash out or they take off. Some people suffer from personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy. Some people have been taught that their feelings are the only ones that matter. Imagine how life must be for them. The more they take, the less they have. Sending you love, and wishing you peace and strength,
Many people struggle with handling their anger in healthy ways. Did you ever have an altercation with someone, and let them know you could see they were angry, only to have them yell, “I’m NOT ANGRY!!!”? Have you ever been that person?
Sometimes we deny our anger because what we’re really feeling is so much more complex. Underneath anger, there’s always pain. We might feel vulnerable or threatened. We might feel deeply hurt. We might be afraid that some of our most raw and unhealed places have been exposed. Maybe we feel disrespected, unseen, or unheard. So when we’re angry and we say we aren’t, sometimes it’s because we’re trying to express there’s so much more to it, and sometimes it’s because we don’t want to admit our vulnerability in the moment when we’re feeling the most unsafe.
When the nervous system is overwhelmed and we’re in a state of “fight or flight”, the chances are slim for constructive conversation about what’s happening. If your heart is racing and your hands are shaking and you have that shallow chest-breathing happening, you’re probably not going to be in a position to identify the nuances of what you’re feeling. Also, anger is a perfectly natural, human emotion we’ll all experience, but sometimes people push it down, and other times they lash out. Learning to manage our anger in healthy ways so we don’t deny the truth of what we’re feeling, nor do we do or say things we might regret, is a skill worth working on.
We don’t have to be afraid of our own anger, nor do we have to be afraid of anyone else’s, assuming they aren’t going to become so overwhelmed by it that they’re dangerous. Recently, I had the unfortunate and heartbreaking experience of watching a man pull his car over to the side of the road and punch the woman in the passenger seat, who was screaming and yelling, “Don’t hit me!” He took off before I could get his license plate, and by the time the police arrived (just two minutes later), he was long gone. If you’re in a situation like that, you need support, and you need to leave. We can love people who don’t yet know how to manage their anger, but we can’t stay with them. Living in fear is not living, and you are not here to be a punching bag for anyone. Your physical safety is not something you can compromise, and someone who hits you, and then apologizes and promises it will never happen again, only to hit you a short time later, needs serious help. The cycle isn’t going to end just because you love her or him, or because you want it to.
A lot of people are never taught the tools that help when we’re in the midst of intense sensation in the body. Any strong emotion—rage, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, fear, depression, longing, grief, shame—creates incredible, visceral sensations. The body does not lie, so if you’re angry, it will show on your face, in your hands, in the way you’re moving, breathing, standing. Sometimes we’re so upset, we want to let it out, and that is okay. In order for people to know us and see us, they have to be willing to enter the fire with us. If you’re going to be close to someone, if you’re going to work on real trust and intimacy, you’re also going to have to share your deepest fears. This is why it’s so important to take your time. It takes quite a while to really know another person, but if you’re on that path, then you’re going to have to give that family member, close friend or romantic partner access to your interior world. And if you’re like most people, not all of it is going to be pretty and full of sunshine and flowers.
When anger erupts, it’s like a volcano in the body. You have to let the heat out, or you’ll scorch and burn from the inside, but how you let it out is the thing. Words can be like daggers, and certain things can never be unsaid or forgotten. The body is full of wisdom and it’s full of information. The next time you feel overwhelmed, trapped, cornered, or attacked, try to pause and notice your breath. Notice what’s happening in your body. See if you can slow down your breathing. The breath is the only involuntary system in the body that we can affect with our minds, and it’s powerful. If you can calm your nervous system in the midst of a storm, you give yourself some power over how you’re feeling, and what you do about it. You give yourself some room to choose your response, and that’s a gift you give to yourself, and everyone in your life. If you want to work on this, you can get started with me right now, here.
Sending you love,
Sometimes we’re trying to control things. It’s understandable; we’re on a spinning planet and we each have our unknown expiration dates, as do the people we love. We don’t know for sure what happens after this, so it’s a gig that makes us all inherently vulnerable, and some people have a very hard time with that. Most of us suffer great losses at some point or another, because the loss of someone we love is like the loss of a whole, gorgeous universe. It’s not hard to understand why you might want to put your mat down in the same place when you come to yoga, or why most of us thrive on some routine, some rhythm, something to count on.
Here are some other realities. We are in control of very little. We don’t control what life is going to put in our paths. We don’t control other people, nor should we try. We don’t control what anyone else is going to do, or say, or want, or need, or feel. All we can work on is the way we respond to what we’re given, and there’s tremendous power in that. Sometimes people do things that are incomprehensible. I know someone who was just abandoned in a cruel and heartless manner when it would have been just as easy to end things with dignity, and to honor the love that was there. But “just as easy” for who? For me? For you? I mean, from the outside, I can look at the situation and feel astounded. Why would someone do it like THAT? With no communication, respect, tenderness? But for me those things are obvious. And probably for you, too.
That’s where we get into so much trouble. We start to project what’s clear to us onto other people. Shouldn’t this be totally obvious to them, too? I’d argue that certain things are indisputable. You should treat people the way you’d want to be treated. You should treat other people’s children the way you’d want your child to be treated. The thing is, people can only have the tools they have, and they can only be where they are on their own journeys. Some people are so full of fear, they can’t imagine trusting and being kind and compassionate, because some part of them feels if they do that, they’re going to get screwed. I mean, you can’t project your world-view on anyone else, that’s my point. It’s easy to take things personally, especially when an intimate relationship comes to an end, and we’re left with no explanation or chance for closure, but honestly, if that’s the way your partner operates, then they aren’t ready for a real relationship with anyone. Relationships require a willingness to listen and understand, to communicate and to try; without that, there is no relationship. Someone who lacks those tools doesn’t lack them because of anything missing in you.
The very best thing any of us can do is work on inner steadiness; confidence in ourselves to hold and examine whatever life throws in our paths with strength and grace and breath and curiosity. This is how it is right now. Let me lean into it. Let me allow myself to feel whatever I need to feel, whether it’s rage, or grief or confusion or shock, or all of those things. Let me remember that how it is now, is not how it will always be. Let me understand if I missed something along the way, if I sailed by red flags because I didn’t want to accept what I knew in my gut. Let me understand if I often override my intuition, or I just got burned this time. Let me know myself. Let me honor and cherish myself. Let me learn and grow from this pain so I have that much more empathy to share when other people in my life suffer. Let me use the heartbreaks to soften and open, so I’m also ready to receive the love and the joy and the astounding beauty when it shows up. Life is full of everything. You have to be ready. Sending you love, and wishing you peace,
I’m not an “everything happens for a reason” yogi. I believe we can grow and open from each experience, I’m just not one to say that there’s a divine plan, and every challenge in front of you is there for the evolution of your soul. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it isn’t. Of course it’s a nice idea. It’s comforting to think we get more than one ticket to this carnival, more than one chance to get things right, more than one lifetime to love the people we love. I hope that’s the case, but no one knows for sure how this works. We have our ideas, we figure out what makes sense to us, individually. We’re all in this mystery together. We’ll find out for sure when we exhale for the final time. And because we cannot know, I don’t feel it’s comforting to tell anyone who’s going through pain, grief, or serious life stress, that it’s all happening for a reason that will make sense someday. Like the single mom of two who was just fired from her job, and receives no support from her ex. That would lack compassion, and compound her frustration.
I can look back on my life and say that everything I’ve been through has led me to this moment, and that I’m very grateful to be here. There are a few lessons I would happily give back, a couple of things I’d really rather not know, but we don’t get to choose. I’m thankful for almost everything that’s happened, because those experiences, even the more devastating ones, taught me so much.
I think when we go through life feeling like everything is happening for a reason, we start to feel victimized when we’re faced with obstacles. If this is happening according to some plan, then there’s intent behind it, right? So the thought process becomes something like, “I’m getting fired and having to figure out how to feed my children with no support for some unknown but important reason, and I must deserve this or need it.” That outlook intensifies the pain. It feels like this personal assault where you’ve now become the beleaguered victim, and the truth is, I don’t think that stance is going to help you. “Why me?” is not a useful question. Nor would it be useful to tell a grieving mother or father that their child has died for a reason that will make sense someday. F&ck that. Seriously. Some things will never, ever, ever make sense. Some things will never be okay. Some things you will just carry with you. Yes, there’s beauty in having loved so deeply. Some people never love like that, but you don’t have to put everything in the “thank you” column.
So, I’d really try to take that idea out of the equation when you’re faced with pain. Instead, I would just focus on what you can learn and how you can grow. Maybe you’re going to discover reserves of strength and resourcefulness you didn’t know you had. Maybe you’re going to realize there are people in your life who are going to show up for you, and make sure you don’t end up on the street. One way or another, you’re going to rise to the occasion because you have to, and you’ll have that much more confidence and less fear moving forward. That’s “reason” enough to face our path head on. We don’t get to choose what’s put in front of us, but we get to decide how we’re going to respond.
Awful things happen to beautiful people all the time. If there’s a pattern in your life, definitely look at it. For example, if you keep choosing partners who can’t commit, or end up breaking your heart in other ways, it’s time to ask yourself what that pattern is trying to show you or teach you about yourself. That’s different than feeling like these things are happening to you. That gives you some power, right? Why am I drawn to situations that crush my soul? How can I re-frame things for myself so I’m no longer attracted to people who require the dimming of my light?
Is everything happening for a reason? I don’t know. I look around at certain things and just can’t imagine why, what the reason could be. It doesn’t really matter. They’re happening, right? The question is, what we’re going to do about them. One thing I can say with certainty is that the human heart is resilient. It wants to heal and open. We are all a lot stronger than we realize. And most of us, given the choice, are going to choose to live, even when it’s hard. To rise up, to push through, to dig down, to figure it out. If you’re going through pain, hang in there. Ask for help. Trust yourself. And know that whether it’s happening according to some big plan, or it isn’t, you’re going to strengthen and open either way.
Sending you love and a huge hug,