affluence · compare despair · reframe

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ~ Anais Nin

12.10.18For most of the weekend, I learned about anatomy and fitness at a workout studio nearby, training for a certificate in teaching this style of workout class.  As you can imagine, the type of person (read: woman) who attends the workout classes I go to in this area are generally of a homogeneous strata: white, thin, 40-somethings with enough money and time to spend on an expensive workout class.

The training was lead by a similar trio of women and was attended by a set that generally matched.  Of course, there are the exceptions that make the rule, the fuller bodied woman, the brunette, the two POCs.

But I told J as I was heading to the training this weekend that I was feeling nervous, like I didn’t really belong.  The women generally wear rocks that you could scale and sport the trendy half-solid, half-mesh yoga pants with a name brand.  And I felt weird.  I felt like the posturing odd duck.

When I began going to these classes nearly 10 years ago, I felt much the same way.  For a while, I held my discount clothing-store outfit as a point of pride and designation: I’m not like you.

But over time, I am coming to realize, in many ways I am like them: I’m coming for a good workout and to feel supported in my “practice.”  And while wearing less pricey clothing is something I still may choose to do, perhaps I can stop showing up with deodorant marks on them!  Because that mark is simply a way I’m trying to say: a) I’m not like you, and b) I’m approachable because I’m not perfect (like these other women appear to be).

I don’t need to distinguish myself away from the group in that way.  It’s just an artificial way for me to put a wall between us that I don’t need to raise.

I have stories in my head that tell me, “We grew up differently.”  They grew up with a deep-rooted confidence that they were loved and supported.  They grew up with Tahoe trips and private schools.  They walk today through the world with a sense of belonging, and a sense of expectation that others will implicitly accept their belonging.

I have stories that tell me that I did not grow up this way.  That I had foundational flaws and cracks in my own development that mean I am fundamentally different.

But.  I really don’t need that story anymore.  Frankly, it doesn’t quite matter how either of us grew up—we’re grown ups now.  Grown ups get to choose how they want to present themselves in the world, but more importantly, how they feel about themselves.

I don’t want to wallow in “Compare Despair” when in conversation with others, particularly as it comes up more frequently here in this more affluent community where we’ve moved.

They’re not “making” me feel less than; I’m choosing that.  Which is totally f*cked.

We ALL have our hills to climb.

But even if they don’t, even if my story is that these women have every advantage and privilege on Earth, how *I* choose to be in the world, how *I* choose to perceive myself will be a much greater indicator of my happiness than anybody else’s view.

View myself as “less than,” and I’ll feel less than.  View myself just as I am, however and whatever that is, then I’ll get to remain more open, more receptive, and more connected to the world around me—even the blondes.

 

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fear · focus · goals

Scattershot

12.7.18.jpgAs J and I continue pondering whether or not to have children together, I have to look at my personal history of focus.

In the 21-day meditation challenge I’m working through now, The Energy of Attraction, they return repeatedly to the idea that in order to manifest anything in our lives, we must be focused on it.  We must maintain that focus.

I feel like some of my 6th graders! SQUIRREL!

My attention muscle is extremely weak.  Rather, my attention on myself muscle is weak; I have a voracious capacity to focus on you!

And it would be easy for me to give up; to say, “You know, clearly it’s easier for me to focus on the needs or goals of others, and it’s sooo freakin’ hard to focus on myself, and besides, I’m totally bomb at “helping” other people(!),  so I should just do that!!  I should dedicate myself to what others—including my partner, potential children, students, their parents—may need.”

It’s so much easier that way!  It’s ingrained!  It’s hella focused!

But, truly, I know that’s not the path I really want to or am meant to follow.

My path, clearly, includes the consideration of others, but I know that I need copious strengthening of the muscle of Coming Back to Myself first.

I have so many disparate interests that part of the lure toward “helping” others is that I don’t have to decide.  It’s the curse of the “Master of None.”  I don’t want to be a master of none; it doesn’t help my self-esteem to say that, Yes, I play several instruments, but none of them competently.  Yes, I’ve been a community theater actress, but I don’t do that anymore.  Yes, I’ve worked in bands, but those collaborations fell off.

In fact, I increasingly notice that my friendships often suffer the same “fall by the wayside” fate if I’m not attending to them.

I want to study physics, fly a Piper plane, visit Rome, own rental property, do Shakespeare, play the piano…

But more than any of these things, I want to write a regular column in an online or paper publication.  I want to use my voice and my ability to condense disparate pieces of information into a coherent whole to inspire others to ask important questions of themselves, to illustrate progress, and to share vulnerably that I may help others to do the same.

I want to be a writer.  A published one.  And I don’t want to waver from that goal.

And yet, EVEN AS I TYPE THAT, I feel emotions, something like resistance, or fear, or hopelessness, rise up in me.

And so I know that THIS is the place to “focus” my attention.  I will never be able to move wholly into a realm if I feel terrified of it; if I feel ashamed putting my attention on myself; if I hide what I want for myself.

In a word, I must own my voice.

Honing my focus in on this one goal feels internally like my trying to benchpress … any number of pounds!!

But, I have been going to the gym lately, and I do notice that I can hold that plank a few seconds longer.  Make my mind like that plank: just a few seconds of awareness on bringing my vision into reality, just merely hold my attention on that goal, and see, just see, what movement can happen.

 

calm · compassion · relationships

Learning to Love.

12.6.18.jpgSometimes dating feels a lot like teaching:

You have to remind yourself that the other person doesn’t know what they don’t know.

You have to remember that when people get frustrated or act out, there’s usually something else going on for them.

You have to accept that they’re truly doing the best they can with the tools they know.

And, you have to know a few things yourself:

You have to offer alternative tools if the ones they’re using are causing harm.

You have to bring a deep patience that can require you to close your eyes and take a breath before saying any next thing.

And sometimes you just take a day off.

What all this has in common to me is that I need to care for myself while also showing up (and yes, sometimes “showing up” means leaving the room!).

I need to remember that this person in front of me, partner or student, is a child of G-d.  I have to remember that I am a child of G-d.  And, most critically, that we’re both doing the very best we can with the tools we have.

My very own frustration in a moment is the best that I can do.  Another’s acting out in a moment is the best they can do.

I was at a workout class last night that ends in a “moment of stillness,” and the teacher asked us to close our eyes and send compassion to ourselves.  She said that self-compassion is often the hardest quality or emotion to have.  When I feel judgy of another person, when I want to change another person, when I want to run away from another person, I need to remember that this is just because I, too, need a little compassion for myself.

I’m feeling afraid, activated.  I’m feeling a fear that I won’t be okay because another person is “not okay” at the moment.  I’m feeling afraid that I can’t control a situation or a person, and that if I cannot do that — particularly if I cannot calm another person down — then none of us will be okay.

In this vein, I’ve been recalling a story my mom told me from about when I was seven or so.  She was driving with me in the car and something happened with another driver on the highway, and she got apoplectic.

As the lore has it, I cautioned her then: “Mom, you’re too angry.”

She tells me this story, because she heard it.  She heard that she was frightening her child.  She heard that her reaction was outsized to the cause.

And in many ways, I think I’ve grown up feeling like I have to calm other people’s emotions.  (As you can imagine, a middle-schooler has a lot of emotions!)

What strikes me this morning is to remember that what this person is seeking—student, parent, partner, other driver—is their own version of safety, by whatever means they know how.

Indeed, when I become frustrated or afraid, it’s only because I’m seeking safety by whatever means I know how — which has meant the belief that if others are not okay, then I’m not okay.

This … is not true.

There is a truth, and it is this: I am okay, despite what occurs around me.

I, of course, stand for no legitimately egregious guff, but I can allow what’s happening for someone else to soften around me instead of bowl me over.  When others’ emotions bowl me over, I feel that I must dig in, I must close off, and I must push back against them.

None of that is true.

In moments of distress, there’s only one thing I must do: Remember that I am a child of G-d, that I am safe, that I am lovable exactly as I am.   Just like everybody else.

 

desire · pause · spirituality

Changing the Question

12-5-18.jpgWith the new move and J trying to make the house a livable space, we bandy about the question:  What do you want?

What color do you want on the walls?  What kind of couch do you want?  Do you want to keep my plates or yours?

As J’s spent a few months in a new job, and I continue to work in my field while thinking about its long-term potential, we lob one another the question:  What do you want?

What kind of work do you want to do?  What kind of conversations do you want to have?  What do you want to feel?

But, last night, as we again circled around what we want in and out of our lives, I asked J something that gave him pause — and when that happens, I know it’s something that I should pay attention to, too:

“What does your soul want?”

What does your soul want for this lifetime?

When retracting the question from outward manifestation to inner truth, it’s no longer answered by paychecks or paint chips.  It takes more than a peripheral answer.

What does my soul want this lifetime?

It’s so easy to crowd this question out with particulars; those feel so much more manageable and actionable.  But what’s the point in taking action if you don’t know where you’re going… and certainly if you don’t know why you’re going?

I don’t yet know my answer to this question.  While the heart of it will likely stay the same over the decades, I’m sure it will evolve slightly, so it will be important to ask this question regularly to check the fidelity with which I’m answering it through my actions.

What does my soul want?

Erg.  I’m going to have to get quiet and still enough to listen for an answer.  But at least I feel I’ve found the right question.

 

finance · gratitude · retirement

The Ant and The Grasshopper: Retirement Edition

12.4.18.jpgYesterday morning, I ran into a coworker in the faculty lounge (basically, where we drop our lunch in the fridge and leave).  She’s youngish, new this year, and somehow we got to talking about financial planning (I think we were talking about her having moved out on her own recently).

She said she didn’t really understand the whole financial world, and I offered that, whatever she did, she should take advantage of the matching retirement plan at work.  She replied that she’d wavered on that for a few months, but has finally taken advantage of it, somewhat reluctantly.

I said, Yes, it’s an act of faith in the future.

She continued that, Yes, because who knows if that system will even be in place in the future.

And I added, Well, yeah, but I meant that it’s faith that we’ll even be alive to take advantage of it.

Thaaat… kinda brought her up short.  I guess people aren’t used to talking about mortality before their morning coffee.

I said I had some health history that makes me think about things like that, then another coworker walked into the room and it didn’t make sense to continue the frankness of the talk.  I told her to check out the book I’d read earlier this year, Money: Master the Game, by Tony Robbins — because although, yes, it was about the basics of personal finance, it also came with a values-based bent because it was him.  (Not to say that I subscribe to all that he says or does, but the basics are there.)

What I’ve been reflecting on lately is that, with my slight increases in income and sharing the costs of living with J., I have some money that I can decide what to do with right now.

This month, I decided to put a third of my pay into my school’s retirement plan.

And this both brings me be agita and glee!

Because what my coworker says is true (we’re putting faith in the financial systems of the future that we cannot predict), and what I say is also true (we’re putting faith in the body systems of the future that we cannot predict).

So, I’m left with a bit of a Ant and Grasshopper moment: do I put even more into my retirement, which right now I can afford?  How much is too much to put there?  What about saving it as cash so I can use those funds to support other, non-retirement visions and goals?

And also, what about just being the Grasshopper?

My Ant freaks out: SAVE YOUR DIXIE CUPS!

My Grasshopper replies, Okay, but for what?  For my 35-year from now self, or for my 10-years from now self, or for my 1-year for now self?

How much saving is too much?  How much should go into the deep future now while I can afford it, as I don’t have children or other large financial obligations?

As I ponder these questions, which I did in my journal this morning, I also wrote about the following moment of financial distress 12 years ago, when I was between jobs (again), literally didn’t have $5 in the bank or in my wallet, and didn’t know where my next rent payment would come from:

“Remember driving in my car to another interview & knowing that all I needed then, I had: coffee, gas, heat on, clothing — just at that moment.

At just this moment, I have much the same things: coffee, heat on, clothing.  Plus, here’s a cat, a glass of Airborne, a knitted blanket and a hat.  A pen, a page.

How abundant, and too, how little my wants & needs have truly changed over time.  In 50 years, it will be the same!  Coffee, gas, heat, clothing.  Perhaps a cat.  Or dog.

Thank you.”

It’s important, as I contemplate where to put my money to best support my visions and goals, that I remember to come back to the moment of where I am, to be present, and to be grateful.

Yes, save for later; yes, save for now.  But as I finagle with those minutiae, I must pull back the frame of focus to encompass all that I already have.

I don’t know that either the Ant or the Grasshopper had that present-moment awareness.

 

finance · learning · parenting

The Road More Travelled.

12.3.18.jpgOn Friday, I went to the San Anselmo library to find this book I’ve been itching for: The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.  I’d taken a photo of the cover over 2 years ago when I was working in a school and they hosted a book fair.  (In fact, I took many photos of the parenting section, as there’s little difference sometimes between parenting and teaching.)  And, as I begin to gel my ideas and intention around a blog uniting parenting, finance, and spiritual principles, I wanted to get some inspiration.

I knew that I didn’t have to start from scratch, that there are resources out there—and I’ve fallen down a mini-rabbit hole with a blog site about living frugally, below your means, and retiring early, as part of the “FIRE” (financially independent, retired early) movement!  But, it took me a little while to re-discover the title, as when you’re looking up “money and kids,” you get a lot of results!

This is encouraging.  It seems that part of the backlash of the financial collapse is: How do we help this not happen to our children?  I’m grateful people are asking this question, and are also offering some answers.

As I was cooking dinner yesterday (producing amazing ratatouille from the kitchn website), I was listening to the podcast, “Make me Smart.”  The other day, it was “Conversations from the Corner Office” (you can tell I have a thing for Kai Ryssdal from “Marketplace” on NPR!!).

I’ve been listening to Marketplace for several years, eons before I knew what the numbers meant, before I owned a stock, before I understood why at all I was listening.

I suppose the answer is, because I wanted financial literacy!

I still do.

And one of my intentions in wanting to absorb information on finance, parenting, and values, is that I want to learn to live better in that realm.  And once I learn it, I want to share it.

There are roads that are paved before us; let’s not bushwhack just to say we did.

 

focus · perseverance · strength

Dig Deep

11.23.18.jpgIn one of her books, Brene Brown talks about having to “dig deep” in hard moments in order to persevere.  J likes to call it a “head down” time, but I have bristled intensely at this phrase as it seems to mean something soul crushing to me but close to encouraging to him.  (I’ve asked him not to tell me “head down”!)

As I work through this time right now when it feels like things are spread thin, like I’m spread thin, I remembered Brene Brown’s phrase, dig deep.  I relate it to what we taught the cross country students about saving just a little in the tank for that last push in order to sprint toward the finish line… though of course in this case (the “life” case) there really is no finish line.  But the sentiment remains: you have access to more power and energy than you think you do, and you can use it, you can dig deeply into the well of yourself to find the power that you need to get through the “right now” that may feel overwhelming.

What feels most challenging to me at the moment is, in this moment of upheaval (moving, relationship rebuilding), to come back to what is most important and critical to me.  This feels like what I need to dig deep in order to do.  To come back to center, as I wrote on Wednesday, and to reframe my whole days and hours and thoughts to arrange themselves around what is most important to me and the course of my life.

It is well and important to think about where to put the empty moving boxes and when I’m going to clear out the hardly-moved-in-to closet so that the carpenter can fix it, but these are also distractions.  I can spend as much time thinking about the minutiae of “home-keeping” as I can on Pinterest… which is to say A LOT!

But envisioning a life and taking actions toward it are two different things.  And I am a visioner.  It is much more difficult for me to meet the rubber at the road.  It is much more challenging to actually do what’s important for me.  And I’ll have to get to the bottom of that veering so that I can dismantle that skewed attachment.

But in the meantime, I would like to tell myself to call on the inner resources of strength and capability and self-esteem to write this blog, to go to the gym, and to find that book that I want to read as part of my path on my journey of writing.

My journey cannot be diffuse, and in order to focus, to truly stay homed (honed?) in on my development, I will have to remind myself regularly, often, and with so much love, to Dig Deep.