Living without Shoulds

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Free to Be Me

Have you noticed your self-talk is often accompanied by the word “should?” When I use the word should, such as, “I should,,,,,,,,,,,,.” I am telling myself that I am lacking in something. Most of my life I have had a script in my self-talk that repeats “I should” for any number of reasons. I should lose weight, I should try harder, I should do more, I should spend more time___________, fill-in the blank.

All these “shoulds” create a since of not doing enough, not being enough, or not having enough.  We live in a culture that continually tells us that more is better. The advertising industry is based on prompting us to buy more to be happy. The cycle is never-ending. We try to be more beautiful, successful, kind, spiritual, or put the words that you strive to be. Whatever your answer my guess is you have a lot of “shoulds” that follow you’re thinking.

I asked myself, “What would my life be like if I did away with all “shoulds?” The first thing that came to my mind was freedom. I would be free of:

–worrying about what other’s think about me,
–attempting to meet unrealistic expectations of myself or others,
–doing it right the first time,
–rehashing past conversations, or rehearsing future conversations.

As I wrote these different ways of being, it felt wonderful to allow myself to make mistakes, be spontaneous, and not worry about things out of my control. One might say we need those “shoulds” to keep us from hurting ourselves or others. I trust that most of us know right from wrong. We don’t need a should to tell us not to rob a store. The key is to not try to be what you are not. It is about accepting who you are and allowing yourself to be different. Marlo Thomas, wrote a song back in the 1970’s for children titled, “Free to be Me.” When I am fully at ease with myself, there is no need for “shoulds.”

I invite you to make a list of “shoulds” that seem to dominate your self-talk. Behind every should is a sense of lack. Allow yourself to look at what you fear if you don’t follow that “should.” Enjoy the journey, it is about coming home to your true self.

 

What’s Next?

As I grow older, I seem to have more questions then answers. What is my deepest yearning? How do I want to spend the next part of my life? Where am I being called?IMG_0447.jpeg Many doors have closed, some by my doing, some due to my age, and some I’ve had no control over. Yet, new doors don’t seem to be opening up. As a friend once said, “It’s the corridor between the two that is the real b__ch.”

My life has been filled with “doing.”  I have always been an active, task-oriented person. Filling my life with pushing through obstacles–pain, life—proving and achieving. As a driven person, I seem to be constantly planning. When will enough be enough? Learning how to be at peace with the slower pace of my life is hard. I am still healthy and active, my slowing down is more of a spiritual slowing down than a physical one. My struggle continues to be between “being” and “doing.” Doing is a hard task-master.

What I do know to be true is when I quit creating stories about “I should be doing more,” the questioning stops. The trick for me is to remain present to each moment. When I am able to see the beautiful birds that grace my feeders I am fully present with a smile. I feel awe more often at the beauty surrounding me, aware of the grace and beauty in my life.

Maybe this next phase of my life is about slowing down so I can show up. Learning how to let Spirit pull me, instead of feeling the need to push through. For me it is a practice of trusting that what I need comes my way. I just need to pay attention and be present. Perhaps it is not about waiting for another door to open, but recognizing that being here now is the open door.

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.                Eckhart Tolle

 

Be Astonished

Mary Oliver speaking at a gathering in San Francisco, told the audience, “I want to speak to the young people in the audience.” She said, “Pay Attention
Be Astonished
Tell Someone.”

These three instructions have stayed with me. Being astonished evokes a sense of awe within me as I am pulled out of myself and  feel connected to something greater. With the daily headlines shouting out climate destruction, mass shootings, and hate filled, divisive rhetoric, I find myself retreating to the beautiful seven miles of nature trails out my back gate. I am blessed to be so close to an old growth forest.

My garden is another refuge. Watching the flowers slowly opening to their amaIMG_1084zing beauty. Watching and listening to the various birds that grace my feeders brings me joy and peace. I often think of Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” where he says,  

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in this beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things

Research suggest that the sense of broader connectedness and purpose evoked by awe can help relieve negative moods and improve happiness. Evoking feelings of awe may be especially helpful when people are feeling bogged down and disconnected. Doctors are now prescribing walks in nature over medication. Abraham Heschel defines awe as a “Sense of transcendence, for the reference everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine…..What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe.” He further states, “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.”

My teacher and mentor Matthew Fox once said, “You must fall in love at least three times a day.” Yes!!! I practice falling in love, being astonished, with the beauty that surrounds me daily. It helps me move out of a sense of despair and into awe and wonder.

May you fall in love at least three times a day, and be astonished with the mystery of our universe.

 

 

Adapting to Rapid Change

In a world that changes overnight through technology and social media, it is hard to keep up with the changes let alone adapt so quickly. It seems a new world greets us each day with new information and new crises. How do we move through these changes? Often I find myself wanting to cocoon and binge watching Netflix. I want to zone out and not think of all that is happening around me. Probably healthy at times, but not as a regular diet.

I heard a wonderful TED talk by Natalie Fratto, Three ways to measure your adaptability and how to improve it. Although she focuses on the workplace, these three measures are easily transferred to our personal lives.  The sign below shows how the Fish and Wildlife services have adapted their signs to accommodate non-english speaking visitors to the Redwoods.

IMG_1064As you read through these three measures, ask yourself, “How do I react to change and its inevitability?”

  1.  WHAT IF—Ask yourself what if questions. Develop different scenarios for possible unexpected change. What if I am without electricity for three days?  What if I am stuck on the freeway with all lanes closed due to an accident? What if my child is sick at school and I can’t get away from work? Parents could make a game of what if’s with their children–creating all kinds of scenarios.
  2.  UNLEARN—An active unlearner seeks to challenge what he/she already knows. I continue to unlearn old beliefs and attitudes that keep me stuck in old ways of doing and seeing things. Unlearning creates a beginner’s mind-set–something we all need to return to if we are to navigate this changing world.
  3. EXPLORE—Infuse exploration in your life by being in a state of constant seeking. Let go of needing to know the answers and be willing to find new ways to experience life. As a left-hander, I am currently exploring using my right hand for many activities. I have not tried eating and writing yet, but I am brushing my teeth right-handed, watering the garden right-handed and other activities . It is difficult and frustrating and challenges my brain to be flexible.

All of these ideas help to exercise your adaptability muscle, something that is mandatory for our changing world. I hope you enjoy practicing some of the above measures.

Who Are We?

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a migrant child’s drawing

For Evil to succeed, all it needs is for good people to do nothing.       Martin Luther King Jr.

I feel such deep sadness at the ongoing news coming from our outhern border. Pictures of children crowded in cages with a survival blanket for warmth. The DOJ argues that children don’t need toothbrushes, or soap, and can sleep on cement floors. I watch babies and toddlers being separated from their parents and left in the care of young children. Is this who we have become?

I remember when I was in Germany in 1969 I walked down the streets looking at the German people and asking myself, “How could you let the Holocaust happen? How could you stand by as six million Jews perished in gas chambers.” We will look back at this dark period, and ask similar questions regarding our treatment of the migrants at our southern border.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, this is a humanitarian crisis fueled by politics. This goes to the moral fiber of our country. It seems we continue to ignore the lessons from our past:  the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII;  taking Native American children from their families and putting them in boarding schools to  erase their language and culture; families being routinely sold separately during slavery. I ask again, “Who Are We?”

I feel powerless in the wake of what is happening at our border. Taking small actions such as donating, marching, writing letters gives me a sense that I am doing something, but has it made a difference? People around our country are appalled by what is happening, and yet it continues to happen with impunity. I am heartened by the rise of voices against the cruelty that is being witnessed.

Hope is a spiritual necessity and I do believe light wins over dark. It is the damage that has been done and continues to be done that breaks my heart. So many children separated from family, many of whom will never be reunited because no records were kept.

May our collective voices rise in outrage to stop this cruelty and say “Enough.”

Beauty

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All I need is beauty to keep my heart alive and all beauty needs is my attention.
Joyce Rupp

I have come to see beauty as one of my deepest spiritual practices. When I pay attention and see the beauty that surrounds me I am fully present to this amazing Universe. It took me a long time to recognize beauty as essential to my life. I was too busy working, doing, proving to stop and see what was right in front of me. Below are quotes from some of my favorite authors regarding beauty.redwoods 1unnamed.jpeg

Beauty awakens what is sleeping in our spirit. It relieves the reins of tiredness and stirs up what lays dormant in our over-emphasis on activity.   Joyce Rupp

The Earth is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the wonder of our gaze.    John O’Donohue

When we embrace beauty we come home to that part of our self that cries out for nurturance and renewal.  Joyce RuppIMG_0386.jpeg

Beauty is a central source of connection with the sacred.  Joyce RuppIMG_1075.jpeg

 

To cherish what is left of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope for survival.     Wendell Berry

 

 

I have learned after many years of activism that anger does not change anything.  It is when we love and care for something that we work toward saving it. May we teach our children and to love and nourish this beautiful home we’ve been given.

I hope some of these quotes speak to you. May you find beauty throughout each day.

My Garden as Mirror

Where flowers bloom, so does hope. Eleanor Roosevelt

My garden holds deep meaning for me, for it has evolved as I have evolved. She nurtures and heals me as I nurtIMG_1070ure and feed it. So it seems appropriate to honor my garden and share its beauty as another gift from nature.

When I moved to my home with my husband, the garden was already mature. It was filled with rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, peonies and many fruit trees. In the first fifteen years of my life in this home, the garden took care of itself. There was no time to spend doing the tasks necessary to maintain a garden. My husband and I were both workaholics who looked forwIMG_1069ard to time off so we could get away. The last thing we wanted to do with our limited time was care for a garden. What we didn’t hire to be done, didn’t get done.

The house had a large attached greenhouse, which was indicative of my lack of focus on gardening. It was a beautiful structure that was slowly falling apart with shattered and cracked glass falling through a disintegrating wooden frame. I was too busy to care for or use the greenhouse and so it languished as the garden languished. Much as my soul languished in these years.

When I divorced my husband, I began to attend to the exiled parts of me. Two years later, I began attending to the exiled parts of my garden. The first year I planted a rose garden. The next, I got into bulb gardening and began introducing daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and dahlias. Over the next few years I began to look forward to the colors spring would bring. Finally I refurbished the greenhouse with all new glass and paint. The garden sparkled. Was it the greenhouse? Was it the bulb garden that continually expanded? Or was I seeing through a different lens at the new palette I’d created? Probably some of each. The garden’s blossoming reflected the blossoming of my inner world.

When I stopped everything and embarked on a deep spiritual journey, my garden became my sanctuary. It became another metaphor for my life. Although gardens have been used as life’s metaphor for centuries, the cycles of my journey have matched the seasons of my garden. I have been nurtured and held by the life-and-death cycles of my garden. As new buds emerged, and flowers bloomed, I knew new stories were emerging within me. I watched the colorful, fragrant flowers complete their cycle and die. I honored the deaths and births within myself, knowing each death made room for the new.

 Not long after my divorce, my fruit trees died. Was it old age or lack of care? I was dying also, but did not know it at the time. My soul was shriveling. I now know I couldn’t live in the vast spiritual wasteland anymore. Similar to my apple and pear trees, I could no longer survive without some deep nurturing care for my soul. Today there are new fruit trees being nurtured by a fresh and alive soul. We have been partners and co-creators—my garden and me.

My garden returned me to my “Earth Mother” soul. I had lost her somewhere back in my twenties as I was striving for independence and success. Digging in the soil with bare hands I felt home again. I didn’t wear gloves because I wanted to feel the earth, to feel the bulbs, seeds, and starter plants I was planting. There was something so nurturing for me as I nourished and babied the new plants to maturity. I was reconnecting to myself, knowing something greater than me was guiding this journey.

Excerpt from my book: “Listening to My Life: My Journey  through  Fear to Trust”