patience

My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.


For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 


My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.

Why I stay on social media

(In case you needed another person's opinion about this...)

I'm relieved that more and more people I respect and admire are calling out the BULLSHIT that is social media. 

But I'm not quitting and here's why. Because I have a business that depends on people being able to see and access me for coaching support, I don't have the privilege to just put my head in the sand and pretend I don't approve of or like what I see happening out in the world. I mean, I DO have that privilege but I'm not exercising it. People need me (or at least I like to think or hope they do) and they can't find me to get help if I'm hiding in my transman cave with a sign hanging outside that says, "I just couldn't. Even."

It doesn't mean that I don't feel that way but if I can't even then why am I in the business of helping move society along another notch on the evolution spectrum? That's why I'm here and that's the work I've chosen (do we really choose it if it's a calling?) so I can't stand in integrity and simultaneously bury my head in the sand.

Social media is just our reality reflected back to us and if we can't face it that's the real problem to address. Acknowledging what we like or dislike about what we see is the real work of life. It's called adulting. It's called maturity.

What's even better? Acknowledging we don't like something while also realizing and respecting that the world doesn't revolve around our likes and dislikes. And even better than that?? Realizing that our likes and dislikes are all just our attempt to feel more control so we can avoid feeling like crap so we don't have to be responsible for doing anything to change.

Still with me?

I'm also here because I don't see many people like me around. There are a lot of heterosexual, cisgender, white, upper-middleclass, able-bodied people sharing their opinions and perspectives right now. They have done the hard work of writing books or getting themselves and their work out there and they are doing a lot of good.

After spending more time than I'd like to admit being jealous of their privilege compared to the hand I've been dealt, I've chosen to overcome that way of being and just do me. There is a lot to say about that and I don't wax (too) philosophic here, but suffice it to say that there are many ways to inspire people and off of us deserve a place and we are all invited to the table to share our gifts with the world. But we need to accept the invitation and overcome whatever is blocking us. And that will be different for each of us. And that's called l-i-f-e. OK, more on that later.

Listen, there are plenty of reasons why I tried (more than once) to turn and run from social media. I wasn't raised with this shit and struggle to manage the adjustment to the tsunami of information. Most of what I see makes me question the lease I signed to belong to the human race. But not wanting to face or deal with it doesn't change it from existing. It also doesn't change the reality that it's all been going on for centuries. 

It sucks to realize that we won't fix it in this generation or the next. There's no app for that.

But what if we used social media and all it offers us to focus on how we feel about what we see and what we want to do about it. What if we courageously faced the black mirror and chose to deal with it in better ways? What if we decided to be the change we want to see in the world and didn't post a goddamn meme about it but actually LIVED OUR LIVES from that place? I stay on social media for that reason. It reminds me how far I've come and how far I still have to go. It reminds me to stay humble. It reminds me that my bubble is small and the world is wide and my pinprick of significance matters to mostly no one but it does matter.

Yes, like my pal Paul Jarvis, the positivity/inspiration memes drive me a little nuts. I still post them, despite, because my clients and followers "like" them and I try to think that a few nice words help them through a challenging moment. But I worry that they too often live vicariously through my inspiration and don't take action to change anything in their lives. 

And action, my friends, is what creates change. But sometimes feeling positive and inspired is what precedes action, and so I keep posting those memes. I post and hope that more people will take action so we can stop wanting the world to change and start seeing and experiencing it ourselves.

And, I mean, come on. Some of the shit people make is funny. 

 

I feel a sense of obligation to stay on social because I like to think my presence matters especially because I stand for two things that society continues to struggle with: health and self-acceptance. If my visibility helps one person make a move in one of those two areas, then it's worth it. Best-case scenario is we all use our presence to make each others' lives better but we can all see from comment threads and trolls just how far we are from that goal. One day at a time. 

For better or worse, society has evolved in this way and it's teaching us a lot about ourselves--more than we were learning before the Pony Express and then telegraphy and then chat rooms and so on.

Like I said, I have the privilege to delete my apps and accounts in a fit of "I quit this place" but it would really mean I'm trying to quit the reality of life as it is. And that's not an option for me, despite the thoughts that tempt me from time to time. And it's the smiling faces of my friends and those goddamn inspiring memes that positively override the negative thoughts and I try to pass that inspiration along as best I can.

Dealing with life, becoming more patient and tolerant and trying to make a difference are some reasons why I stay on social. What about you?

I Made Pema Chodron Laugh-Part 1/3

This weekend was so intense and packed full of stories, I decided to write about it in three parts: 1) my interaction with Pema

2) nutrition and lifestyle musings

3) emotional and spiritual experiences/epiphanies

 

Part 1: Making Pema Laugh

I knew this post would be a challenge to write. So, I made sure I had a big salad to get my head clear.

How do I write about something that was 10 years in the making? How do I use my limited command of the English language to express the ineffable? I'll make the most of what I have and do my best. That's the theme for this post, in general.

So, this past weekend, I met Pema Chodron. That name may mean nothing to you, so I will tell you a bit about what it means to me.

Ten years ago, two friends saw my intense suffering over the end of my first love. They handed me a CD and a book by Pema. I listened to the CD laying under a tree one day and had to stop because I had chest pains. That was my first experience of having an anxiety attack.

A few months later, I tried reading When Things Fall Apart. It didn't penetrate because I was still so consumed in my habitual patterns and endless thoughts.

That went on for about four more years, so I will move more quickly to the a-ha moment I had in 2007. I was suffering over another break-up (different girlfriend, this time) and, as I reached for yet another Pema Chodron CD to bring me back from yet another emotional brink, I heard myself say out loud, "I need to start having a regular practice and listen to her more frequently. Not just when I'm panicking after everything goes wrong. I need to catch this shit before it gets to this point."

Boom. It's what Pema calls a flash of lightning in the dark night. The flash of bodhichitta: the inspiration to be free of my own suffering so I can help others be free of theirs.

Brilliant. Now I was really hooked.

For the next few years, I did just that. I developed a more regular habit of reading her books, listening to her CDs but still not, regrettably, having a regular seated meditation practice. That's ok. It's yet another area where I need to grow.

In addition to reading and listening to Pema more often, I also became a certified health coach. It's incredible what different food and lifestyle habits will do for one's patience and emotional stability. I'm here to testify. During the next few years, I did the VERY hard work of taking on my BIGGEST fears and overcoming my BIGGEST blocks.

I wasn't trying to win the Buddhist of The Year award. I was just trying to have less drama, tears, and suffering on a daily basis.

It worked. Or rather, it's working.

To celebrate my most recent fear-conquering life change, my then-girlfriend gifted me with a ticket to attend a retreat in Vermont where Pema would be teaching. I was going to go myself, and it took about a week for me to allow myself to receive the gift. Worthiness and gratitude, those are some intense and difficult growing edges for me this year. It makes sense, seeing as this year I'm celebrating transitioning to male--a gift I've given myself after living as a female for 34 years. The amount of courage and self-love it took to do that may look easy from a distance, perhaps. It's not easy at all.

So, we drive up there. It's damn gorgeous and I am elated to be getting away for a break for the first time this year. I feel numb to the actual reality that I'll be in the same room as Pema. I'll be in the presence of this woman who, through her work and her teachings, has provided me such wisdom and comfort for 10 years. How do I mentally and emotionally prepare for that?

How did I prepare? By focusing on where I was seated. We had arrived on time but others had filled the seats closest to the front. I succumbed to feeling dejected and frustrated and I instantly made plans to arrive earlier the next day. Great way to start a weekend about non-attachment, eh? Yeah, great. At least I noticed it. Then I sat in my seat in the back and said aloud, "I feel sad I won't be able see her very well." And then, I let it go. That's what she has taught me to do, after all. Drop the storyline and let it go. I chose to be grateful to even be there, instead of focusing on being a few feet closer to the front.

Within minutes, I was taught a profound lesson. As we finished up the morning's 50-minute meditation session (quite an intense but welcomed workout), I notice people moving in my peripheral vision off the right. Who was approaching the door, a mere 2 feet from my seat? Pema, herself. Our seats were right beside the door where she entered the shrine room, so I was greeted with her gaze and her smile not once, not twice but four times that day as she entered and exited for two teaching sessions. I took each opportunity to smile as brightly as possible and infuse as much love, compassion and gratitude as I was able to in the moment. I made the most of that incredible good fortune of seating location. And I made the most of my grasping at initially wanting to sit closer to her, and how it felt to forgive myself for wanting and needing that.

I ended up being so close, in fact, her little red shoes were right beside me.

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As Pema moved to the raised platform where she'd be teaching, I was in a daze. She was here. I was here. This was really happening. All those minutes and hours and weeks and years of listening to her witty and accessible wisdom during my darkest moments of despair had led me to this moment. I was sitting here, as student in her physical presence. I was sitting there, listening to her very familiar voice and witnessing her very familiar sassy delivery of these ancient teachings about happiness, suffering and the link between the two.

So, naturally, I thought of how I could make the most of the opportunity. How could I take what was already an incredible life experience and live it out the best I could? I had been sitting with a question for so long, now was my opportunity to ask a master. I set my intention clearly to act if given the chance.

Pema called on about 6 people and when I asked a staff member if that was the limit, he replied yes. But I noticed other people getting up to the microphone. I wrestled with my discomfort when I saw that. I pondered doing the same but I decided to honor her and sit still and wait, following the advice of the staff member who said, "when she calls on more, make a big deal--wave a sign for something."

I wasn't going to make sign, but I appreciated his support and advice. I did use the time to get clear on my question. I got clear on the reasons why I wanted to ask it. I got clear---and when she designated more time for questions I shot my hand high in the air from the back of the room. Our eyes met. She smiled and pointed to me. As I stood to approach the microphone, my legs were shaking. A warmth spread all over my body. I've met many amazing and famous people in my life, and this was going to be another one of those moments.

And this time, just like all the others, it wasn't about meeting a celebrity or getting an autograph. It was about being able to share an experience with someone who chose to stand out on this planet of ours. It was about interacting with a person in this lifetime who is an inspiration to me and many others. With each encounter, I've advanced on my own path, and gained greater wisdom, so I can have a bigger impact with my work.

As I approached the mic and she got settled with a glass of water, my legs shook. After ten years of waiting, I met her gaze and smiled. I asked her a question that has been on my mind and our rapport over the next several minutes had the crowd of 300+  people roaring with laughter. I made Pema laugh. We had fun together. Does life get better than that?!

You probably want to know what I asked her. And I'll tell you, in subsequent posts.

After we shared several minutes of conversation in front of this great crowd, I thanked her and stepped away from the mic. I returned to my seat, so grateful for my courage to raise my hand and create that experience for myself. At the end of my life, I will have so many incredible memories, and each one is from my own creation or from my decision to receive opportunities presented to me. There are good memories and not so good ones. All of them are valuable and precious.

That was wisdom I gleaned from Pema, from one of my greatest teachers. We all have the opportunity each day to receive ultimate happiness, joy and freedom from suffering or to reject it. 

The rest of the weekend was full of so many incredible experiences, I'll need to share them over several posts but this was the theme, the message, loud and clear. If you have an unpleasant experience, make the most of it. If it's a great opportunity, make the most of it.

Bring gratitude and compassion and love (for self and all others) into each moment the best you can.

Now, off I go to get started on that regular seated meditation of mine...

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