Would you criticize the appearance of a rock?

Imagine you are on a hike. Maybe a hike on a well-defined path, near a river. There are a lot of rocks around — tiny ones underneath your feet, very large ones near the river. Smooth river rocks, rough granite chips. You may notice some of these rocks, some may catch your eye. Perhaps you notice one because of it’s truly gigantic size, or another because of it’s smooth, oval shape and soft feel in your fingers. Maybe you are surprised by the weight of it. Any of these rocks may please your senses, inspire awe in you, etc.

But could you imagine criticizing them? Would the thought ever cross your mind that the gigantic rock is “too big” or the tiny ones underneath your feet are “too small”? Would you pick up a rock and decide that it wasn’t right because one side looked a certain way and the other side was different? Probably not. Why don’t we criticize rocks? Because they are part of nature. Because we know they are simply a product of their geology combined with an interactive environment. This is simply how-they-have-formed…right?

So, why is it then, when you are also part of nature, and you also are exactly a product of biology and karma, soul and an interactive environment, why would you ever criticize yourself? Does it make any sense? Criticizing yourself - your body, thoughts, behaviors, etc. doesn’t really make sense, because your body, thoughts, behaviors, etc. are simply a result. They are a moment in time of all of these forces coming together to express themselves as you in the present moment.

Of course we all do this - criticize ourselves. We regularly tell ourselves how we are not this enough or that enough, or we are too much that or too little of the other. But can you see how it doesn’t really make any sense? We are different than rocks, of course, but in the context I’m describing, we aren’t really different. We are nature+nurture, essentially. How we are showing up always makes sense, if you understand all of the causes. Red and blue make purple. If you knew what all of your (or a rock’s) specific forces were, you would understand why and how you came to be exactly how you are in this moment. It always makes sense.

That is not to say that if you desire a certain outcome, you can’t work toward it, of course you can. You can work toward changing your appearance, your behavior, even your thoughts. When doing so, it is sweet to do it with a spirit of desire, of will. “I want this, so I will take action to create it.” Not, “I look fat, I need to lose 20 pounds.” The criticism and judgement are sometimes motivating, but they are not based in truth. You are not “fat”, you are a certain size and shape due to all of the factors (and probably more) I listed above. That is simply your size. Like the rocks. Nothing more or less.

Clear and empowered self-acceptance is truly liberating. It’s true. It’s the truth. We are how we currently are for specific reasons, and if we want to change something, we can. We may need help to do so, but we can. The rock will shift over time as well, eventually becoming dust, just like us. For now, let’s just try to examine our shapes and textures with loving curiosity, and if we desire change, get the support we need to create it.

Trying to Be a Good Mom Versus Actually Being a Good Mom

My minivan felt especially empty when I picked up my 12 year old son from school the other day. My younger one went with a friend, so it was just me and Jonah. Jonah is an introvert. He is also a Leo, so he can enjoy being wild and center-stage at times, but he rarely wants to hang out with people other than his family. He likes to be quiet. 

When he got in the car, I started asking about his day. As a therapist, I am good at doing this - I know what to ask to get kids talking - but as a Mom, I was failing. I know my son. After being with others at school all day, he wants to get in the car, turn on the music, and be quiet. He does not want to talk. He needs this break to start recharging. 

I asked another question or two, increasingly aware of my own underlying motivations:  a desire to connect to someone after my own work day, asking "good" questions/trying to be a "good" Mom, trying to assess his current state -- developmentally/emotionally. Jonah reacted with his standard, "I just want to be quiet, Mom!" And reached over to turn up the volume on the radio. 

I took a breath and had a realization. For him, being quiet in the car after school, listening to music, and having his mother, with whom he has a very close relationship, sitting near him, was soothing. It was helpful for him, good for him, even, for me to be near him, and to be perfectly quiet. I was being "there" for him; a soothing loving presence. And that was all he wanted. (And a little rock and roll on the radio.)  Suddenly my experience of being quiet took on an entirely different flavor. Instead of being insecure and analytical, I was calm and content. By being quiet and respecting his needs and wishes, I was actually being a good Mom. 

The transition from trying to be a good Mom to actually being a good Mom required one simple shift: paying attention to my child and his actual real-time needs.


I Have a "Sorry" Problem

At around 6:26am last Thursday morning, I was sweating and running around a small gym with about ten other women. The music was pumping, and it was my turn to kick a rectangular punching bag-like thing my teacher was holding. No one was looking at us, everyone had other things to do, like squats with weights and kicking punching bags and stuff. My teacher looked at me and nodded, saying, "kick it". She was showing me she was ready, and telling me what to do. I kicked the bag. Not super-hard, but kind of hard, and immediately it seemed like I did something wrong; she kind of moved out of the way or made some movement that slightly confused me. "Sorry!" I quickly offered. Then, she paused. "Don't say sorry." I smiled and nodded, hearing her, but not hearing her. "Look at me," she commanded. She locked her eyes on mine, and once she really had my attention, she repeated slowly, "Don't Say Sorry." I'm capitalizing these words because that was how it felt. Tears actually welled up in my eyes, but I quickly did as I was told, and kicked. And kicked, and kicked. After a few minutes of some relatively powerful kicks, she smiled, "Now you're not sorry!" Class resumed, and I now had a new awareness. How often do I say sorry?

I couldn't believe what happened in the next fifteen minutes. We had to go grab mats, and another woman and I almost walked into each other, and I said, "Sorry!" (The other woman said nothing, I don't think she even noticed that we almost collided.) We went to put the mats away later, and I had to squeeze by someone, and again I hear myself, "Sorry!" Walking to my car, another woman was going in reverse, kind of near me, and I sprinted to the side, giving her room. Backing out of my parking spot, I pulled out before my neighbor, and in my car, all alone, I actually said, "Sorry!" Out loud!! In my car, by myself!!

I could not believe myself. I looked at the clock. It was 6:47 in the morning, and I had already apologized four or five times. For nothing. Not one of those behaviors were problematic or bothersome to anyone in any way. As I drove home, I asked myself:  "What am I so sorry for?" And then I realized. I was sorry for all kinds of things. Sorry I am "fat". Sorry I am "ugly". (I'm not fat or ugly.) Sorry I am not a WASP. Sorry I am not rich. Sorry I am not poor. Sorry my car is messy.  Sorry I am driving instead of biking. Sorry I take up space. Sorry I EXIST!?! WTF??

The thing is, finding this "sorry problem" is actually very exciting. Like I tell clients, if you don't know what is happening in the unconscious, it will continue to run the show. So, realizing that I am apologizing for my existence, on a regular basis, directs me toward the healing I need to do.

I shared this story with a friend, and he said, "You're not standing in your power." He's right. And I am not realizing my worth. I am seeing myself as less valuable, less important, worse, somehow, than the other person. And because of that, I am not expressing myself in a confident, powerful way. I view myself as getting in the way of the other person, who has the inherent right-of-way.

My unconscious beliefs about myself and the world are popping out in those instances - like at the gym - they are shockingly obvious glimpses of my "stuff". But the truth is those beliefs are informing my every move, every thought, every perception and creation, even when I am not noticing them. They are literally part of my energetic fabric.

What if I released those non-truth-based beliefs? How powerful could I be as a Human, a Wife, a Mother, a Friend, Therapist, a Healer? The ironic thing is that the work I do with clients is this exact work: releasing unconscious beliefs and healing our inner children. So, this intense experience at the gym has given me a beautiful lead toward my next step on my path of healing. And for this, I am not sorry! I am grateful. And I am definitely going to give my kickboxing teacher a heartfelt holiday card and gift this year.

A Super Simple Way to Teach Children How to Treat Themselves and Others

A frustrated toddler frowns and starts to snatch back the toy that her brother took from her. Mom swoops in, holds her hand, and says what? When trying to come up with a simple, repeatable way to teach my boys to interact with others, I came up with this saying:  "We don't hurt bodies, feelings, or things." Over the years I have also added the caveats "at least, not on purpose" and also "especially our own". Since I have been repeating this mantra since they were very little, it has become ingrained.

Over the years my children (now 8 and 11) and I have discussed finding solutions for problems as small as "there is only one popsicle left" to bullying at school to international conflict and disagreement. With our little (but profound) saying, we have a simple vetting algorithm.  "Would that hurt bodies, feelings or things?" When I hear my children fighting or yelling at each other, even hitting each other, I can go in the room, de-escalate the situation, and remind them, "We don't hurt bodies, feelings or things."  This peaceful, loving way of being with ourselves and others is so important. Imagine if we all practiced this. In my work as a therapist, a lot of what we are really doing in session is healing the damage done from clients hurting their own feelings, or clients' parents having hurt their feelings or bodies, etc. Our work is also to grow a new way of being with oneself, a way that does not hurt our own feelings, bodies or things. 

Parents (and anyone who spends time with children) have such power, it is really mind-boggling. We are able to influence the very beliefs that children will form and carry into adulthood. We can proactively do this in a way that will encourage inner peace and love, which is a powerful step toward peace and love in our world. Simple sayings can be helpful, because they are memorable; they stick. An added benefit is that every time we remind our children to not hurt bodies, feelings or things, we are also reminding ourselves. 

"If you think you can, you can! If you think you can't, you can't!"

As a psychotherapist and parent, I have found it extraordinarily helpful to craft catchy little sayings to convey concepts I hope children will internalize. You see, when I am working with adult clients, I notice we spend a whole lotta time undoing beliefs (and related feelings) that people formed as children. Why not choose beliefs that are helpful, loving, and kind to "install" in our children's minds? Sounds kinda like brainwashing, but if we are doing it anyway, why not be conscious about it? And believe me, children are internalizing the messages they perceive you to be communicating.

One of these sayings that has been so helpful over the years is, "If you think you can, you can! If you think you can't, you can't!" I encourage children to experiment with it. Try doing that task you are struggling with while saying, "I can do it, I can do it, I can!" Try doing it while saying you "can't". What happens? To add to the lesson, depending on the child's age, I will say, "Your beliefs are very powerful."

Here's an example: Five year old Tiara is attempting to tie her shoe. She learned how to tie them last week. Her pink shoelaces are floppy and her bows are so big, she doesn't have enough of the long part to finish the job. Tiara says with a frown, "I can't do it!" I squat next to her, and start the conversation by mirroring to help her feel heard and seen, and to de-escalate her. "You are having a really hard time tying your shoe. It seems like you can't do it!" She nods, and exhales. "You might be surprised, but what you say to yourself is very powerful. If you say you can't, then usually you can't. But if you say you can, then usually you can! Try it. Just keep trying to tie your shoe, while saying, "I can do it, I can do it." If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you can't!

Tiara is game and she quietly repeats the mantra while working with the laces. Eventually she does it (I sit with her to support her steadfast trying), and looks up at me, beaming, "I did it!!" She's hooked. If you think you can, you can!

It's a New Year - And Everything Seems the Same

The fire is burning in the woodstove, and my husband is trying to get my older son to get his shoes on, so he, the boys and the dog can take a hike. The encouragement for my son to get his shoes on is going on and on, as usual. "Just get your shoes on, Jonah!" "Jonah, do you have your socks?" "Jonah, come ON!" from his little brother. Things seem pretty much the same as last year. 

Or do they? Lately I have been enjoying the practice of paying attention to others on a deep level -- zooming into the present. I prepare my body and my energy body -- allowing my thoughts and sensations to settle down like the coffee grounds in my french press this morning. Returning to the present moment. When I practice this, especially with children, I am presented with the most precious gift. Being present with a child's (or adult's) unique agency is amazing. Like being engrossed watching your favorite movie -- you can allow yourself to be carried away by their facial expressions, bodily movements, words and ideas. A unique soul expressing itself in human form, right in front of your eyes. 

From here, I can watch Jonah dancing around with his socks, hear my husband's voice traveling through the air, observe my younger son Julian move his body around the room, waiting for his brother. I am enchanted by observing each unique soul expressing themselves in real time, in a present moment which will never be replicated.

And what if I could extend this practice of being to the art of being with MYSELF? I'll admit, I haven't done this yet. I'm not sure if I'm skilled enough to do it easily - but as I write, I realize it is the most important practice. When we can relate to ourselves with love and curiosity in the present moment, we can truly do that with others. 

So, even if the New Year is here, and everything seems the same, experiment with altering your perspective to bring you the happiness you seek. Maybe it's all right in front of you already.