connection

Who Are You/I To Judge? Learn To See People Like Trees

1921916_427179414092016_3805804309650566975_n

I saw this post on a friend's facebook wall and was reminded of my greatest challenge and greatest work. I read it and thought, "yes. This is right. I need to do this more. I think people need to do this more."

It was especially poignant because I've been feeling my inner critic, my critical mind as Pema Chodron calls it, sort of taking over the joint lately. I know it's because my own life is in such constant and furious transition; change is so good and can also be such a challenge. I get those feelings out, in part, by displacing frustration, anxiety and feeling a lack of control via my biggest vice: judging. Judging people, judging society, judging myself--harshly. I see this happening all over facebook and hear it in the words of others more clearly, perhaps because I'm increasingly more aware of my own habit of doing it.

When we judge ourselves and others, we lose connection to them. We lose compassion for self and the beautiful imperfection of each person. We lose sight of the truth that we are all miraculous works in progress, each trying to get through a day doing our best with the best we have.

I was born and bred to be a judge. My mom passed it down from her mom. Perhaps my great-grandmother was a judge, too. I didn't know her. It's probably a safe bet.

But I grew out of it for a short while when I was in the company of a wonderful community in my early twenties. There wasn't much time or need for judging because I was surrounded by love and fun and joy in my career and my relationships.

Then, I fell in with a crowd of some fierce judges. They used the guise of "social justice" as the validation but the tone and tenor of their thoughts, words and actions were undeniably clear: JUDGMENT. Hanging around that scene nurtured what was already a really bad habit of mine so it probably wasn't an accident that I "found" that community. I must have had more work to do on that part of myself.

For years, I justified my behavior of harshly judging and criticizing others' thoughts, words and actions because that's what everyone else was doing. We rationalized the behavior and enabled it in each other. The lessons I learned about difference were framed with the message of suffering as a victim. I was taught that differences meant someone lost and someone won. I learned that it was my job to suffer because others were suffering. I learned to take a back-seat and speak up for people instead of encouraging them to find and use their own voices.

All of this has merit, but it was a flawed philosophy. It's true that I learned a lot about identity and perspective-taking and privilege, but I came away from that community more damaged than healed and it's taken me years to see it and come back from it.

I keep quite a few of those folks on my newsfeed to remind me of how far I've come and how far I have yet to go.

Judging ourselves and others is a habit. It's pervasive and rooted in my own self-esteem and self-confidence. The saying goes, "we judge in others what we don't accept about ourselves." I'm judging myself right now for sharing this so openly and honestly. But what bothers me more about this social media thing than the false sense of connection with each other, is the false sense of identity people present. I'd rather be inspiring from a place of honesty than a false pretense.

So, I am integrating the best of that old philosophy I was taught into a new model. I am learning to see people like trees, as Ram Dass says. Seeing them for the ways they've been shaped and molded based on what they've endured---but not judging them for it, because the judging won't change anything. Loving does.

I am practicing this, especially when feeling most triggered, most frustrated and most disempowered in my life. I want to practice doing the best with what I have and what I've been given and inspire others to do the same, even though we are given and have different things.

I am learning to see myself like a tree, shaped by periods of brilliant light and perhaps a lack of nutrients at certain points but standing strong, despite.

 

Self-Care When Tragedy Strikes

Yesterday was a very sad, shocking day. I had just biked over to mail my taxes and I saw a post from someone on facebook: "please post if you know what happened in Boston".

 

Somewhere, in that weird place in me that knows things, I felt it. One word: bomb.

I made a comment: "in regards to what?"

The comments started flowing, "explosion..." and words like that. My newsfeed suddenly filled with status updates. And I spent the next 30 minutes glued to my computer, updating myself and others via Twitter and Facebook. I thanked my spiritual practice for the mindfulness it brought me, my ability to stay present and post information and retrieve it from my friends all around the city.

I live about 7.5 miles away from where the explosion happened. I was nursing my first headcold since October and was too sick to go to the marathon, so I was watching the updates from home.

I thought about my good friend had just told me that morning how he was injured and wasn't able to run but he'd be ready next year. I texted him, "explosions Downtown. I'm glad you're not there today."

I thought about my client; two years ago she started with a Couch-to-5K and ended up doing the marathon once and came back for a second time this year. Running to raise money for a family member who had passed away.

I thought about my friend who had just posted a video on facebook from the sidewalk. I knew she was there. I txted her immediately. When she replied she was safe I instantly wrote: "I love you." She wrote it back, even though we've never been that intimate. But that moment called for it.

I spent the next 3 hours texting people I knew and saying I love you when they said they were safe. People wrote it back when they checked in with me. Thinking that people would be fleeing from the city, I offered up my living room and apartment to runners or anyone who wanted some respite.

The whole time I thought how I was really surprised someone didn't hit us sooner. There's been so much violence and madness lately. Now it was our turn. On Patriots Days, of all days--a holiday this city celebrates each year. "A silly, made-up holiday" as the guy behind the post office counter had said, just minutes before the explosion.

A silly made-up holiday in a city I've adopted as home for almost 7 years. It's my home. And someone just hurt my family here.

I wasn't downtown but I still felt the impact and emotional frenzy as my friends and I texted each other, frantically.

As reports kept coming in about an explosion or fire near Harvard, just a few miles away from my apartment, I felt helpless. I was afraid.  Would it keep happening? Would there be more?

 

 

When tragedy strikes, we need to tend to ourselves as best we can.

CONNECTION

As the news unfolded via social media, I reached out to every person I knew, either texting them or checking their fb wall for an update. I expressed pure love for each person--there was a connection happening over the airwaves that astounded me. We are forever changed. I held nothing back and experienced that same intimacy with others--it was a wonderful experience. I posted that our home was available to anyone needing a place to stay and one dear friend came over. We spent the night both grieving and laughing, celebrating our full, rich lives and our gratitude for one another. Texts came through all night and I was comforted by the connections with friends both near and far.

NUTRITION

Despite feeling queasy with emotion and shock, everyone I loved and knew was ok. I sent loving compassion to those less fortunate who would spend hours in waiting rooms, ERs, hotel rooms, apartments and on the sidewalks of the city as they struggled through a difficult night. There was no reason to not feed myself. Due to massive changes in our lifestyle habits, there is food in the fridge every day of the week now. I felt more gratitude, to have what I need to keep myself healthy and well.

SLEEP

When bedtime came, I hit the sack. I had seen all the footage enough times. I had made sure all my beloved friends and colleagues were ok. I needed to rest. I headed to bed with the knowledge that I had done all I could to help. I had posted information and offered my home to those who may need it. With that peace of mind, I was able to turn off the computer and take care of myself so I could help again in the morning.

COMFORT

New sheets on the bed were a huge help for what could have been a sleepless night. Around 3am I woke up with a huge pain in my stomach. Grief, certainly. Emotion I had quelled when I was responding in the moment. Now, it was surfacing. I got up and filled my hot water bottle with very hot water and placed it over my stomach. I felt instant relief and I was back asleep within minutes. There may also have been a stuffed animal or two beside me.

 

I am so humbled and grateful for the many friends and colleagues near and far who checked in on me, as I had tried to do when similar events unfolded in their towns and cities. As I'm sure you're noticing, we are experiencing a massive shift in mass violence and natural tragedies in recent years and I don't know why it's happening, but in the midst of the suffering, I am finding comfort in the connections that happen as a result.

 

I find comfort in knowing that these things happen, despite our wanting them to.

I find comfort in connecting with people and expressing my love and concern for them.

I find comfort in remembering that grief is temporary, and part of being human.

I find comfort in knowing our city can and will rally together to support each other, just as others have done before us.

 

We're Boston. If we can overcome those damn Redcoats, we got this one.

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Sara

My friend Sara died on March 1, 2013. I can still hear her voice and feel her strong arms around me. She was tall and worked out a lot so that woman's hugs were good and solid. She was really strong, inside and out.

I met Sara when I accepted a part-time position as a chiropractic assistant in 2010. I had just been let go from a job I'd held since 2006 and I was reeling, totally in survival mode. I had been asked to leave with no warning right before Christmas.

I met Sara a few months later, in February. We became friends, instantly. She was really smart and her work ethic was unparalleled. I respected her so much and I busted my ass to keep up with her, but she never made anyone feel less than nor did she try to appear better. She just worked really fucking hard.

That office was full of light and laughter, and Sara was the glue and inspiration for all of us. The 6 months I spent there were medicine for my soul. I was fervently trying to build my health coaching practice and my self-esteem. Being fired isn't fun, especially by someone who you thought was a friend. My trust was a little shaky. I was also trying to start a new relationship with Brenda, who was trying to come out for the first time. Life was really hard. I was in shock but still tried my best every day. Even though we were new friends, Sara supported me 100% on my good days, and my not-so-good days.

Pretty soon after I started working there, I heard she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn't have much bandwidth to process it. I just figured she's be ok so I shared the knowledge I had as a health coach and she soaked up everything. I remember when I told her to eat more greens and she said to me one day, "I added kale to cream cheese in the food processor for my bagels. Does that count?"

"Yes," I said, with a smile. "Yes, it counts. It's a great idea!"

I still use that as an example in every talk I give to college students, or anyone, trying to get more greens in their day.

That year, Sara fought her ass off to keep her health afloat as the chemo treatments weakened her strong, muscular body. She gracefully embraced the changes that happened to her physical form and I envied her courage. She lost her hair and still ran around that office with her pink Sox cap. Pink. For breast cancer awareness.

And she had surgery. And all was good again.

She had beaten it.

And time passed and she enrolled in my 15 Days of Fearless Living program last year. She made tons of friends and everyone loved her. She soaked up every single word I wrote and breathed life into that online community.

Sara didn't always understand my gender transition, but gently asked questions when she wanted to know more. Or sometimes she didn't ask anything and just cheered me on from facebook, via txt or during our phone calls.

When she realized her cancer was back with a vengeance last year and called me to tell me, I felt something solid break inside me. I prepared myself as I had for my friend Jennifer's death when I was 16 years old. I prepared myself for something I didn't want to happen. I did my best listening and tried to support her the best I could.

Sara loved animals. In October of 2012, I figured she could use a laugh so I offered to lend her one of the silliest movies about animals that always makes me laugh, BEST IN SHOW. I changed my mind about lending it and Brenda and I went over to watch it with her and her daughter, Cami, instead. We made popcorn and laughed at the silliness and I felt grateful that I'd had the sense to make that time to spend with her.

It's difficult for me to sit with the truth that I was so busy running my business and struggling through my own transition process last year that I didn't make enough time to see her or talk to her. And I have to fight from moment to moment to not feel too guilty about that. 

 In late January, I attended the Landmark Forum and experienced some helpful shifts. I knew Sara would love the mental olympics and some of the nuggets of personal growth. She was so smart---always seeking out knowledge about anything and everything. She was like a walking encyclopedia. I invited her to join me via a facebook chat one night but she was in too much pain. I confessed something difficult to her. I told her, "by the way, I deleted your comment the other day because i was afraid to share what i was doing [when I went to Landmark]. I didn't want to hurt you. I'm sorry if i did that. I didn't know how to reply so i just took it down."  She replied, "I didn't know you took down my comment, but if I'd realized it, I would have assumed that you had a good reason. I trust you. Silly."

Sara did trust me. She trusted me 100%. She trusted me when I didn't trust myself, or my own capabilities. Sometimes I was afraid of her love. Sometimes I was so afraid I hid from it. 

That confession to her marked a turning point for me, when I realized I didn't want to hide from her love and her generous spirit anymore. I realized I was worth it. I deserved it. I infused as much light and love into our exchanges as I could and I was looking forward to seeing her at a fundraiser to get her a new treatment. It was scheduled for the end of March. She took another one of my suggestions and set up an online fundraising page and I know it brought her a lot of hope, as she watched those dollar bills come in.

But March 1st was the day. That was when she decided it had been a good fight. It was time to let go.

I feel said I wasn't able to say goodbye in person. I feel glad I expressed everything I did in the ways I did when I was able to. I feel sad I won't hear her voice again or get another text message or another hug. I feel glad that she's no longer suffering physically or emotionally, struggling to keep a smile for her kids, Cami and Anna and Danny. She didn't want to go. She had more to do, she said.

Be present with the bitter and the sweet. That's the best we can do, when death happens.

I'm grateful for her children, who I will love and support the best I can. I am grateful for my memories. I realized I don't have a picture of us, not one I can find, but I do have many, many memories. It's better that way. I can lose pictures. I can't lose memories.

Saying goodbye to Sara isn't something I got to do in person but I feel at peace. She departed with no doubts about my life for her and I'm grateful for that. I'm also grateful for the ways she's inspired me to live that out with everyone, every day.

Transitions aren't easy. My life has certainly been a challenge, but the way Sara lived her life and greeted her death, really encouraged me to live mine fully and OUT LOUD. I know she was living vicariously through me and my courage and my voice on many days and there were so many times I pushed a little bit harder, just for her.

Because if I have a strong body and strong spirit, I better damn well make the best use of it that I can while I'm here.

She wanted me to do that. She wanted it with every fiber of her being.

Living my life fully and with a grateful heart is the best way I can say goodbye to Sara.