Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.
As my mentor, Lynn, often likes to remind me, the moment I set an intention towards achieving something, what comes up first are all the obstacles in between me and the full manifestation of that intention.
Speaking of which, one ongoing intention I’ve been working towards for the last few years is learning to love unconditionally – myself and others.
So far, I am finding this very, very difficult.
There are several challenges (and here, I also have to mention that these challenges are just the ones I know of thus far!):
I have been working on this lately.
In fact, in the last couple weeks alone I have been hearing a (surprisingly sane) voice in my head giving me very clear instructions.
Here are some examples:
These messages feel like some kind of inner knowing, combined with an inner call to action – a reminder that time’s a’ wasting, and I only have so many years left to be as happy as I possibly can be as me.
Often I hear the “it is time” messages in the morning while I am meditating.
Often emotions will arise, and then the messages will come.
I will then breathe and do my level best to release the emotions I am feeling – fear, anger, disbelief, whatever – into my meditation.
Sometimes I will get a message reminding me that it is okay if I don’t understand the emotion I am feeling – what matters is to release it into the meditation so it can be free of me (and me of it).
So I always do my best to follow these instructions to the letter.
I have started to call the issues I am releasing “false low self-esteem,” because I can’t trace the origin of any one of them back to me.
In my last post, I shared that so far, 2015 is a year of big changes in my life.
This time last year, I was still at the helm of MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit I founded in 2009.
This year, as of January 1, the reins are in the hands of a new group of leaders – people I know and trust, but they are still not me.
This time last year, I was broken up with my boyfriend, miserable yet resigned, stoic yet heartbroken.
This year, we enter a new year together and we are – remarkably – stronger than we’ve ever been.
And these are just two of the really big changes accompanying me in 2015.
A few days ago, a friend and I watched a movie called “Birdman,” starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.
Aside from an instant fondness for the title (feathers are always a win-win for me), I found the movie itself somewhat hard to digest.
For instance, there were quite a lot of scenes with dudes running around in their tidy white undies.
Also, actors were portrayed as (yawn) self-centered, a theme I find both overdone and unfair (i.e., are actors truly more self-involved, or does their profession simply cause them to be unable to so easily hide that aspect of our shared human condition?)
Plus, frankly, I really thought the “Birdman” costume could have been better.
All that aside, the most beautiful part of the film for me was a scene where Norton agrees to play “Truth or Dare” with Keaton’s daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone).
In the scene, she asks him – flirtatiously – what he would do to her if he was not afraid.
His answer was both violent and beautiful, and has kept me thinking for days.
In fact, in my first book (which is about mentoring for eating disorders recovery), Beating Ana, I included an entire section of mentoring tips based on my favorite movies.
Those movies are some of the best friends I’ve ever made in life.
Over the years, movies have taught me it’s okay to make mistakes. They have helped me learn about myself and the world. They have given me ideas for how to handle different situations with more grace than I would have otherwise.
Most of all, they have offered me hope – hope to grow from my past rocky start into someone wonderful, someone I’m really proud to be and know.
One movie I have watched over and over (and over and over) through the years is “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey (yes, there is a chapter in Beating Ana about “Contact”).
The characters in “Contact” feel like “my people” – in other words, we don’t fit in, we try to pull off the impossible, we cannot resist wondering “what if?,” we are willing to give everything for life’s most meaningful experiences…..
So many nights when I would feel so alone, I would pop in that movie and feel better right away.
Now there is “Interstellar,” which (to me at least) feels like “Contact’s” younger, super excitable sibling (and in fact, there is an actual connection between the two films that goes back to Dr. Carl Sagan himself).
So of course I blogged about it here.
Then, just a few weeks ago, the post’s author, Amy Morin, reached out to share some exciting news – her new book by the same name will be available on December 23rd!
This made me very happy for a few reasons:
a) She offered to send me a copy so I could share the book here (free books, yay!),
b) amidst the holiday stress, a reminder about how to stay mentally strong was welcome and timely,
c) the book greatly expands on each of the 13 points, explaining through stories and examples exactly how to avoid doing each of the 13 things (and replace them with mentally strong habits instead!)
Amy is a licensed clinical social worker, a researcher, a writer, but most of all she is a human being who has personally experienced how developing mental strength is a choice, and one that can be life-transforming.
I can’t remember how I heard about Robyn Davidson or her extraordinary journey.
I just remember, the moment I heard about it, I was online hunting down her book.
Titled simply “Tracks: a Woman’s Solo Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback,” the story she has to tell is simply mind-bending.
Davidson embarked upon her solo adventure in her mid-20’s.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I, too, was embarking upon a solo adventure. Mine was to India and Israel, hers through the Australian desert.
But I will confess it took me many more years since then to unpack even a portion of the wisdom she unearthed within herself during her 1,700 mile journey.
For the record, it also seems pertinent here to mention I have never once in my life had even the merest inkling of desire to walk across any large, hot, dangerous body of sand accompanied only by camels and a dog.
Clearly, my life is the poorer for it.
During the early stages of her journey, Davidson frequently gave in to bouts of panic, which, to hear her tell it, were largely initiated by intense inner battles between the order/regime/structure she had previously relied on and the freedom to live in the moment that desert life demanded.
As the desert’s ever-changing environment did its work on her and she slowly learned the wisdom of opting for the latter, her panic eased and inner wisdom arose in its place.
That inner wisdom was – is – as timeless and profound as the desert itself (click here for amazing vintage photos from her journey).
Davidson on her love of animals:
I am quite sure Diggity [her canine companion through the desert] was more than dog, or rather other than dog….She combined all the best qualities of dog and human and was a great listener…..The trip, of necessity, had brought me much closer to all the animals, but my relationship with Diggity was something special. There are very few humans with whom I could associate the word …
This was the title of a recent Time magazine article – more of an infographic, really.
The infographic spans the gamut from whether we use all our vacation days each year to how much time we spend checking email at home each night.
There are statistics for whether men or women watch more television daily (men), how much student debt the average graduate carries (far too much, IMO), whether we rent or own, and what we do with each 24-hour allotment.
There is also a preceding four-part infographic that attempts to summarize how SAT scores, education level, age of death, smoking, sex life, and drug use correlate with income earning potential.
Reading through this, I discovered I may have multiple personalities.
By which I mean, according to my SAT scores and level of higher education, among other aspects, I should be in a different class of folks than where I am income-wise.
Interesting. I guess.
By far the most actually interesting part of these infographics is the section labeled “time use.”
Here (in order of time spent) is how we – regardless of SAT scores, income level, drugs/cigarettes/sex/etc. – use our time each day:
While I’m not sure which category this falls into (other? household activities? leisure activities?), we only spent one-quarter hour per day making phone calls, checking (non-work, I assume) email, and sorting through our mail.
We spend three-quarters of an hour daily on the computer, which includes playing video games.
We watch just under three hours of television each day (guilty as charged).
And we leave an average of four vacation days unused annually (totaling 577,212,000 unused vacation days nationwide).
Finally – despite our so-called “workaholic” culture, average daily reported work hours hover between just 7.73 and 8.34 hours per day, which hardly gives us a nationwide case of burning the midnight oil.
I’ve revisited these statistics a few times now over a period of a few weeks.
What strikes me again and again is how much less extreme the numbers actually are than what much of the media likes to report.
Our “real” friendships and relationships are not …
My latest favorite read is called “Wild Connection: What Animal Courtship and Mating Tell Us About Human Relationships.”
Written by scientist Jennifer L. Verdolin, the book’s fundamental query is simple:
What can studying animal relationships teach us about our own?
Right from the start I identified with the author, who described her early experiences with the opposite sex as “a puzzle I couldn’t quite figure out.”
In the opening pages, she shares, “I realized that I knew the ins and outs of the mating behavior of the animals I studied, but I knew very little about my own species or even about myself.”
From the first chapter, years of confusion, frustration, and disillusionment about how my own species dates and mates began to melt away. I began to understand why things often feel so messed up – so complicated when they “should” be so simple.
I felt validated as well – if only through realizing I’m not the only human being who just “doesn’t get” how our species facilitates romance.
Here is one example.
The older I get, the more perspective I gain about what works for me – and also what doesn’t.
For instance, trying to manage the stressors of life by using eating disordered behaviors doesn’t work.
Drinking caffeine all day to keep my energy level at a consistent “high” doesn’t work.
Ruminating excessively on all possible “worst case scenario” outcomes doesn’t work.
Taking handfuls of over-the-counter mood management supplements doesn’t work.
These are just a few examples.
What works for me is quite simple: medication + meditation.
Specifically in that order.
Meditation without medication offers some benefits, as does medication without meditation.
But together, they have forged an alliance that has given me a quality of life I had no thought possible.
Such goes my favorite line from one of my new favorite movies, “The Sapphires” (2012).
The film is based on the true story of an all-girl singing troupe who entertained the troops during the Vietnam war.
As aborigines living in their native Australia, the girls were marginalized – even hated. They were not even classified as people by their own government, but instead were considered part of the “flora and fauna.”
A chance meeting with a white talent scout puts them on the road to stardom, but even before this occurs, it is so clear they already have what many stars-in-the-making (and people, for that matter) will never have – a solid foundation of self-esteem to live from.
In fact, when the film opens, one of the future girl singers has just been left at the altar. Even while crying it out in the presence of her mom and sisters, she looks at her face in a hand mirror and bravely says to her mother, “Who wouldn’t love this?” (technically, she names her former fiancé here, but one can substitute any name with the same effect).
And throughout the film, in similar fashion, the girls pull no punches with one another, their scout-turned-manager, or themselves.
They may be young….they may be inexperienced in the ways of the world….but they are not letting any of that get under their skin.