Tuesday, May 6, 2014

You are more than the sum of your parts, and no one part can singularly define you.

Seven years ago, when my father finally quit smoking after 40-something years, I asked him how he hadn't been able to quit sooner (and there were attempts).  His answer fascinated me, due to its simultaneous revelation and also its simplicity.  He said that he had never quit before because he was a smoker.  As in, it was part of his identity, being a smoker.  So how could a smoker not smoke?

This is huge, if you think about it.  My dad spent 40 years of his life sucking on cancer sticks because he thought it was who he was.  So then you stop and think, is there something I do because I think it is who I am, and therefore "out of my control to change"?  Like, whoa.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes there are things you can't change.  Like, for instance, I'm short.  That's never going to change.  I'm always going to need a step stool to reach the top shelf.  I'm best off making peace with this trait and moving on.  Harboring a deep-seeded need to not be short is just causing me pain.  (See more on attachment and suffering.)  But when it comes to my personality, there may be things that I think about myself that are actually just concoctions of my brain, and not hard-wired traits.  Moreover, anything about me is also just a part of me, and not all of me, and therefore I should not let any one part of me dictate who all of me is.

So my personal revelation on this is that I think I own my procrastination tendencies too much.  What I mean by this is that when there's something to be done, I'll easily say to myself, "Oh, I don't feel like doing that right now BECAUSE I'm a procrastinator, so therefore I'll procrastinate doing it."  I'm not saying I'll never procrastinate ever again (I might be procrastinating right now by writing this post...), but it's one thing to procrastinate because you really just don't feel like doing something, and another to embrace the personality type of "I'll never do things on time because I'm a procrastinator."

This becomes almost ironic when you then add in the context of you also saying things to yourself like, "Why can't I just do this thing [that is in direct opposition to the personality trait I'm owning out of my own volition]??"  For example, my dad would have used the language, "Why can't I just quit smoking, even though I'm a smoker?"  And I know I've had the conversation with myself, "Why can't I just stop procrastinating?  I need to get this thing done, but since I'm a procrastinator, I guess I'll just get to it eventually when I really feel like doing it."  I have built in self-sabotage.

So how do you figure out if you're doing a similar thing?  Well, it took me a while to figure this out.  Literally about seven years.  But the trigger that actually helped me put my finger on the hot button was to start listening to my excuses.  We all have things that for some reason seem really difficult to overcome, where other people seem to have no issue (as well as things that are super easy for us, but others seem to struggle with).  So stop and listen to yourself the next time you're having one of these conversations, about why you are struggling with some issue.  What are the excuses you tell yourself for why you continue to struggle?  Why is this one thing so difficult for you overcome?  My guess is that the answer is right there in your own words.  (And BTW, I totally recommend having this conversation out loud, so you can actually hear yourself saying the words; they're harder to ignore that way.)

We are all comprised of many parts, and generally it's safer to say things like, "I like this part of me," or "I don't like this part of me," rather than encompassing statements about your whole person being "good" or "bad". I say this because:
  1. No one part can singularly define who you are.  I am not just a procrastinator, nor just a short person, nor just an environmentalist, nor just a gymnast, nor just a kind person.  I am all of these things, positive or negative, for better or for worse.  Some parts are bigger than others, and some parts are newer than others (also realize here that we are ever-changing beings, with constantly evolving parts of ourselves).
  2. I am also more than the sum of my parts. When you put together all of my parts, they make something so much more, something more I can't even begin to describe.
(I invite you here to make a list of your parts, the ones you like, the ones you don't like, and the ones you didn't even know you had.)

So if you're focusing on one part, and letting that part define you, realize that you are the only person doing that to yourself.  No one else sees you that way.  We see all of your parts (actually, we see the sum of your parts), and know that even though there might be some not-so-great parts, there are also some completely amazing parts too.  And the sooner you can recognize that you are not just one part of yourself, and actually see all of your parts and the sum of your parts, the sooner you'll be able to love and respect each of your parts individually, all of your parts together, and the sum of your parts too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Welcome the stumbles.

Tomorrow is my 37th birthday, and I just know that this next year is going to be different.  It's not just that I'm determined to make it different, it's more that it just will be; I can feel it.  Is this a good thing?  Yes, for me as this time, a resounding YES.

For some reason, my life has not gone according to plan, at all.  I remember being in my 20's and thinking I had it all figured out, and that things would just happen the way I wanted them to.  They had in large part been that way up to that point, where I of course had some things in life not go the way I wanted, but I still felt like the overall trajectory was where I wanted it.  Then everything changed in my late 20's/early 30's - in both career and love life.  I felt reborn, in a great way, that I was ready for the next chapter, but then somehow things just kind of stalled.  It's now been the better part of a decade, and I don't feel like I'm any closer to the life I want than I was back then.  To say this is extremely frustrating is an understatement.  It's also disappointing, disheartening, and moreover, exhausting.

I'm not saying I don't appreciate all the good things I do have in my life, because I really do, it's just that there is more I want, more I've wanted for a long time, and I'm just plain sick and tired of waiting for it.  So, in one of the lessons I've learned from my many years in gymnastics, sometimes you just need to make a change, any change, to get yourself out of the rut you're stuck in.  The change doesn't need to even need to seem directly related to the correction you're trying to make, but just the act of a small change can wake you up to make other others.

So, for now, that change will be to blog.  I've been saying for years that I wanted maintain a blog, and it's always fallen short on the priority list.  That hasn't really changed per se, but it is something I have control over.  I have been keeping a list of things I'd like to blog about, so all I really need to do is to just do it already.  So here goes.

The following is a conversation I had with myself last week while I was out walking.  It's not revolutionary, but when I heard it (in my head), spelled out in so many words, it distinctly changed my perspective on how I view all the struggles I've faced.  Maybe it'll change your perspective too.  I'd love to know if it does.  :)

"Welcome the stumbles.  Appreciate the mistakes, the accidents, the mess-ups, the trips and falls, and all the other unexpected things that happen and seem like a set-back at the time.  Because this is where you live.  This is where you learn who you are, and how you're capable of dealing with challenges.  Things that go according to plan are rarely as interesting, let alone also teach you a life lesson.  So love your life full of "things going wrong", because this is where you'll experience all the wonderful stuff - a new friend, an exciting job offer, a fun hobby, an amazing romance.  Embrace those mishaps and catastrophes so that you don't miss out on enjoying life."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Never never never give up.

Today is April 24th, which is an anniversary of sorts for me.  Eight years ago on April 24, 2003, I woke up to the worst day of my life - I hit rock bottom.  And it turned into a crucial turning point for me of learning to never give up...

After dating the guy that was all wrong for me for four years, I finally ended it when I met the guy who I thought was all right for me.  Without really knowing what to look for in a partner (how could I, I was only 25?!?!), I somehow thought that just because the new guy was everything the old guy wasn't, that I must have found the perfect match.  Needless to say, I was wrong.  But at the time I really felt that I had met my partner for the rest of my life.

Things were going pretty well for about 10 months, when he crushed my heart by sleeping with an old friend of his from college who was visiting him from out of town.  His tact left something to be desired as well, as he broke this news to me while we were driving into work together one morning in early April.  I was devastated, by both loosing my boyfriend and my best friend.  We established some ground rules of how to try to continue working together civilly and not let the break-up strangle the friendship.  I was broken-hearted though of course, but I was dealing with it, or so I thought.  Then for some reason, when I woke up on the Thursday morning of April 24th, I was empty.  An empty I didn't know was possible.  I had of course experienced feeling lonely, and exhausted, and separate, and helpless all before, but never all at the same time, and definitely not ever to do this degree.  I couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't get comfortable in my own skin.  I had always wondered how a person could ever get to the point of feeling like they wanted to commit suicide, and for the first time I began to understand it.  I wasn't picking up the knife just yet, but I knew if I left myself to stew in my own self-loathing and disrespect it might not be that far away.  So I tried to call my closest friend in Boston, my ex-boyfriend.

He didn't answer the phone, which only exasperated all of my feelings since I imagined him being indisposed with his new lover.  I didn't know what to do with myself.  I certainly wasn't going to go to work, but I don't think I even actually called in sick that day.  For some reason the only thing I could think to do was get into my car and drive over to his place.  Interestingly, he was just leaving his apartment when I got there, and he came over to my car as I pulled up.  I explained to him the deep hole I had fallen into, and he got in and told me to drive the car.  I remember thinking that seemed a little cold at the time, but he later told me that was a very deliberate instruction he gave me.  He wanted me to have to concentrate on doing something else, other than drown in my own thoughts and feelings.  He listened, as we drove around Cambridge for about an hour or so, and asked me what I was going to do with myself for the rest of the day.  I had no idea.  He suggested trying something/going somewhere new.  I had the perfect answer: go to the Buddhist center on Mass Ave.  I had walked past it a million times, and always wanted to check it out.  Now was the time.

We eventually wound up back at his place; he did need to go to work that day.  He told me to wait in the car as he went upstairs to get something.  He came back down with Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, and suggested reading it as soon as possible.  He got in his car and drove to the office, and I took myself to the Buddhist center.  I walked in and was greeted by Venerable Man Ching, the presiding nun.  She could tell I was distressed, and asked me to talk about it if I wanted.  I tried to explain to her how I was feeling, which in my mind was so intense and monumental, but when it came out all I heard was a sniveling little girl crying about being a jolted lover.  I felt so generic.  But that was good - it meant that I would survive this, that this was not the first, nor would it be the last, time that someone had ever gotten their heart broken and had to get over it.  She suggested that I come back the following evening for their Dinner With Dharma program, something that I have now been participating in ever since then.

On the way home, I popped into Cambridge Naturals, your friendly neighborhood "do good" store, and browsed their selection of Quotable Magnets.  Winston Churchill spoke to me: "Never never never give up."  I latched on to it, and it became my motto.  I went home from there, and sat down to read the book my ex had given me.  In no uncertain terms, it saved my life.  The conversations I had had with both my ex and the Venerable were the right stepping stones, but reading Peace Is Every Step allowed me to synthesize all that had happened, in my own way, in my own time.  I now re-read it every year on April 24th.

But I wasn't done re-birthing.  I decided to go to the gym that evening to work my shift coaching the kids.  It is difficult for the Head Coach to find a replacement on last notice, and I appreciated the feeling of being needed.  But what I got out of coaching that night was so much more.  If listening to the sound of the kids laughing doesn't put a smile on your face, nothing will.  I remember one girl in particular having the best giggle in all the world, and I can still hear it, reminding me to smile every time.  My own little bell of mindfulness.

This was one of my first major lessons about resilience.  I have had the "opportunity" to learn this lesson several more times since then, but this was the one that set the stage for the survival of the rest.  It's now kind of my superpower you could say.  I know that what ever happens, I will survive, if not for any other reason than I know I will never give up.  And this knowledge not only makes life a lot less scary, but sometimes really exciting.