The Gift of Community

Image copyright: 123rf/Iakov Filimonov

I really didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day this week, so I decided to write about last Saturday instead! I went out to breakfast with a group of kind, supportive women friends. We greeted each other with laughter and hugs, sat down at a large table, ordered our food and started talking. We shared stories of joy and grief, of clarity and confusion— conversations women have been having with each other for generations.

We had become a small, compassionate community sharing a meal.

Research shows that being part of a community helps us stay healthy and live longer, but often during divorce friends feel they have to choose sides and may drift away from us. Our community becomes fragmented and breaks apart, and we wonder if we will ever find a new one.

How do you find a new community?

The first step is to participate in life, even for short periods of time. Do something you love. You may want to take an art class, join a ski club or volunteer for a cause you believe in. If you are more adventurous, you will certainly want to try something new!

The second step is to be discerning. No matter how charming someone may be, trust your instincts, and don’t pursue a friendship with anyone you wouldn’t want to meet for breakfast and share heart-felt stories.

My Saturday morning might not have included the traditional Valentine’s Day chocolates or roses, but there was the sweetness of laughter and the fragrance of friendship which smelled a lot like fresh brewed coffee and great hash browns.

Self-blame vs. Self-responsibility

The following is a guest post by Yvette Erasmus. 

Some days, I am simply not ready to be a grown up. At all.

Waking up with anxiety recently, I buried myself deeper into bed. Free floating thoughts about finances, major life decisions, relationships and a harsh, critical voice pointing out all my failings and failures wafted through my mind as I lingered between sleep and wakefulness.

Although I decided years ago to stop indulging in self-blame and fear, judgmental and critical thoughts still arise. Regularly.

So, you can imagine my pleasant surprise on this recent morning to discover a gentler part of me speaking up, taking stock and responding to the various complaints with tenderness. “No, we aren’t doing that anymore. What do you need?”

It’s like I had come upon an inner Florence Nightingale tending to my inner suffering. I know she didn’t just appear magically; I’ve been practicing this shift for a while.

I’ve learned to watch critical, judgmental and fearful thoughts arise and then embrace them with compassion, but I simply don’t allow myself to camp out with them anymore. Self-blame is not the same as self-responsibility. It is exhausting and draining.

Grounding myself in the wisdom of being open to outcome, but not attached to outcome, I remind myself to feel my feelings, to attend to my needs and to focus on what will help move me in a direction of my choosing.

Self-responsibility is an empowered way of both perceiving and responding to life. It grows out of disciplined attention to four transformative questions:

  1. What is happening right now? (I am lying in my bed, dreading my whole life this morning. The dog is wagging her tail at me. I am thinking she needs to pee and that, if I don’t get up, she will. Here in my room. This thought fills me with urgency to take her outside.
  2. What feelings are activated in me right now? (Anxiety, fear weariness, heaviness, urgency, activation.)
  3. What is deeply important to me? (Security, clarity, purpose, growth, contribution.)
  4. What will help? (taking my day one step at a time, focusing on gratitude for all that is present now, asking for help, getting the information I need to make high-stake decisions, practicing being comfortable with uncertainty.)

Building inner resources allows me to cope with the heaviness that life sometimes brings, with more fortitude, strength and resilience.

As a soul-friend of mine recently reminded me: I want to respond to life with grace. With love. With faith. With hope. With courage.

The more I practice compassion instead of judgement, self-care instead of self-recrimination, openness to outcome instead of attachment to predictability, the more I am able to truly live in alignment with my deeper values and my more soulful self.

Stories Carved in Stone

Image copyright: 123rf/Songquan Deng

Recently, I spent a morning with my family in the national park that protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America,

Walking through rugged terrain under a clear blue New Mexico sky, we could see designs and symbols that had been carved onto volcanic rocks 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and by Spanish settlers. They were voices from the past etched into giant black boulders, remaining unchanged for centuries. It was a powerful experience.

Later I wondered which of my stories I had etched in stone. Stories about my self-worth, my history and my place in this world. Do these stories still serve me? Are they true? Are they even mine or are they the stories of others that I have taken as my own?

In my personal library, I have the classic trilogy: “I Have No Value,” “My Voice Does Not Matter,” “I Cannot Possibly Follow My Dreams.”

The section of “poor me” stories holds some of my favorites. I take them out whenever I need a good cry or want to feel self-righteous.

Then there is the popular series of “Lack”. “There is Not Enough Love to Go Around” is the first in the series and can cause tremendous grief to those of us dealing with divorce, because if we believe there is only so much love to go around, we force our children to choose between a mother and a father.

Some unhealthy stories are so deeply etched into us, that even if we wanted to, we could not remove them. Instead, we can gently acknowledge they are with us and put them back on the shelf without opening them.

The most important story is the one that informs all the others. It is about living our lives from a place of love, compassion and faith. Out of all the stories, this is the one we must etch onto the rugged terrain our lives.

Self-Love: You’re Kidding, Right?!

I was truly flattered when a respected life coach asked to interview me on the topic of self-love. She explained the interview would be videoed and I went to work compiling as much information as I could. I hadn’t even heard the phrase “self-love” until was in my 40’s. It just seemed way too sappy a concept and too overwhelming a request.

During the interview, I shared that my journey to self-love began when a trauma forced me down inside myself. Until then, my focus had always been outward, doing my best to make sure others loved me—not noticing my own heart. I shared that the lack of self-love affected my ability to make decisions.  Often, before taking a step forward, I would wait for all my ducks to get in a row, but not all ducks do that. From experience, I understood that making the wrong decisions, or making mistakes of any kind, put me at risk of being belittled, discounted and losing the love of others for which I was so desperate.

I shared that before I could love myself, I had to shift my focus inward and just be friends with myself for a while. Because of this shift I learned to speak my truth, most of the time. I began to be gentle with myself, some of the time. I practiced saying “No,” when I felt strong enough and my favorite self-love practices were simple: curling up with a good book, being in nature and journaling.

The interview lasted an hour and as soon as the video stopped recording, the first things out of my mouth were “My hair looked terrible! I used my hands too much! I talked too fast! I sounded awful!”

The women who had interviewed me couldn’t stop laughing. “Didn’t you just spend an hour talking about self-love?!”

Busted! What a fraud! Is it possible to be a star-crossed lover with yourself, almost connecting, but not quite?

Now I focus on a simple, three-step approach to self-love:

1. Practice.

2. Makes lots of mistakes.

3. Laugh as often you can!

Why Do We Resist Forgiving?

The following is a guest post by Mary Hayes Grieco of The Midwest Institute for Forgiveness Training. 

“Forgiveness is releasing an expectation that is causing you to suffer.”
– From “Unconditional Forgiveness” by Mary Hayes Grieco

In the last twenty years, nearly 4,000 new studies in psychology and medicine have proven what we intuitively know is true: forgiveness is good for our health and happiness. Numerous studies make the link between resentments and stress-related illness like heart problems, backaches, chronic pain and sleep problems. Most recently, the chief surgeon at The Cancer Care Centers of America stated that he believes there is a strong link between long held resentments and certain cancers. It seems like our growing awareness about the cost of resentment and unforgiveness will be the next big public health issue.

“Let it go – you’ll feel better” is something your grandma probably told you. Chances are good that you thought about forgiving the offender for about a minute, then dismissed the idea. We really don’t want to. Why is it that even though we know that forgiveness is good for us, we still have so much resistance to it? I think we resist forgiveness because we misunderstand what it is, and we don’t know how to do it. I want to propose that there are some unfortunate myths out there about forgiveness that need to be dispelled in order for the public to embrace forgiveness as a life skill and a good health habit.

Unfortunate myths about forgiveness that create resistance (and keep us stuck)

Myth #1: “Forgive and forget.”
Seriously, did that ever work for anyone? It doesn’t and we intuitively know that, so we don’t want to try and fail. What we actually need to do is forgive and remember and turn our wounds into wisdom. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting, excusing bad behavior or allowing people to continue to hurt us.

As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them, the first time.” So, forgive them for your freedom, but don’t allow them to harm you again.

Myth #2: Forgiveness is hard and it takes a long time to get there.
In reality, it isn’t any harder than learning how to drive or how to floss your teeth – you must take a little time and be taught how to do it, and practice. And it doesn’t take forever once you know the steps; most of the time, once you’re educated and ready to go, it takes about an hour. See the steps on my website.

Myth#3: You must talk it out
Many believe that forgiveness means you must talk to the other person, make peace, and work things out – someone has to apologize. Nope. Forgiveness is actually a private healing experience which you do to release your pain and gain relief and healthy detachment about the person and the situation. You don’t have to talk to the offender at all or find a common understanding or extract an apology – all that stuff is in the category of “reconciliation,” which is a whole different animal.

Myth #4: There are some things that are unforgiveable.
Do you really want to believe that there are some things from which you will never heal? Everything can heal, eventually. Some things take longer than others, but they will heal if you remain open to the healing process.
Myth #5: You have to be some kind of saint to forgive something really big.
I’ve seen many ordinary people forgive some truly terrible things – human beings are phenomenally resilient!

When one person sincerely and effectively forgives another person, a miracle happens. The stagnant block inside them dissolves and melts away and the light of their soul slides in to replace it.