Reflections

Learning from Flowers

Learning from flowers - they are beautiful just as they are

The other day, a friend dropped some surprise gifts and flowers on my porch. It was a lovely gesture during this time of social distancing. I smiled each time I caught sight of the bouquet, learning from the flowers as they settled into my home.

The flowers I received are tulips, which I haven’t had in my house very often. I cut and arranged them, not surprised by the way they gently draped over the rim of the vase. Tulips are heavy flowers and I’ve often seen them droop under their own weight.

They were lovely regardless, with pink-and-yellow petals that capture the beauty of late summer. I set them on a table near a large window, where I could see them often. As expected, the tulips didn’t do anything. They rested in their vase of water, simply existing. However, I felt calm each time I slowed down to look at them. I appreciated them for the beauty I saw in them.

As the day went on…

Learning from flowers - drink more water

The tulips began to gradually perk up. The water and sunlight had given them the strength to lift their heads high. It delighted me to see what improvement could come from plenty of water and simple care.

I considered my own self-care, remembering the times I had been too busy to slow down and refill my water glass. Or too busy to get outside for some fresh air and sunshine.

As a result, I stepped outside and appreciated the joy of simply feeling the sun on my skin and the breeze in my hair. I listened to birds in the distance and kids happily playing nearby. The next day it rained, making it cool enough to crack open the terrace door, letting the tulips enjoy a breath of fresh air as well.

When the rain cleared…

Learning from flowers - enjoy the sunlight

The tulips reached for the sunlight after the rain had passed. I could see each bloom turning itself toward the light. The flowers knew what they needed to feel strong and healthy, and they reached out for it.

I considered how many times I’ve known what was best for me but made a different choice anyway. Staying up too late when I was clearly tired. Eating too much when I was clearly full. Pushing too hard when I clearly needed rest.

The tulips reached for the sun with ease, making their own needs their focus. If flowers can be beautiful by simply existing… If they can enjoy the elements that sustain them and reach toward them… Why can’t we follow their lead?

We can learn a lot when we slow down and appreciate nature. Even when that means learning from the flowers in your own home.

I Don’t Belong in the World Today

Our world can be a harsh place to live. I’m not just talking about the social challenges, the awkwardness and pain of feeling like an outsider, or the fear over the divisive political climate. I’m talking about the literal, physical act of living in this world. The things that seem to say I don’t belong here.

For one thing, I’m allergic to the world. I have been from the time I was a tiny baby. Milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, cats, dogs, pollen, mold, trees, and bees, the list goes on and on, and on and on.

Allergies make me feel I don't belong in the world

My food allergies are bad enough that I don’t go to restaurants or eat many prepared foods. (Plain sashimi/nigiri has an acceptable risk/reward ratio!) I used to brave restaurants, but I’ve had too many bad outcomes.

That makes travel difficult, too. I have to bring my own food everywhere I go, find a place to store/eat it, and stay in hotels that have kitchenettes.

I manage, but our world wasn’t designed for that. Our social world was designed around eating out, enjoying dinner parties, and vacationing where someone else can cook for you.

Beyond allergies, swift shifts in the barometric pressure kill me. They trigger fatigue, joint pain, irritability, and migraines.

By migraine, I do not mean a bad headache. I mean, my entire nervous system goes to hell. (a.k.a. basilar migraine). I have light/sound sensitivity, dizziness, double vision, lack of coordination, muscle pain, face/jaw pain, nausea, and an inability to think. And a killer headache.

Weather-related migraines make me feel I don't belong

If the migraine is bad enough, it triggers fibromyalgia (musculoskeletal pain, brain fog, and mood swings). The inflammation often concentrates around my ribs and chest, making it hard to breathe and often requiring a just-in-case EKG or other tests. And it all lasts for several days. It’s super not fun.

When I’m not in a fibromyalgia flare, I’m still managing a hypermobility condition that causes chronic pain and frequent injuries. Much of my life is spent finding just the right amount of activity/exercise. Too much, or not enough, and I’m in pain. Just the right amount keeps my body happy.

My body is friggin’ Goldilocks.

Balancing chronic pain makes me feel I don't belong

I also struggle with social anxiety, trauma, attention issues, imposter syndrome, and the anger/helplessness of living in a cruel, unjust world.

All of that is my normal. And it can be physically exhausting. Even if others can’t see it.

Invisible pain makes me feel I don't belong

That exhaustion is also hard emotionally. I don’t want to throw myself a pity party. I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. Overall, I’m doing well. I’ve raised two kids, I’ve written multiple books, I teach yoga.

I look around and see so many people who are dealing with worse health challenges. Or with social stigmas. Or with a million painful things. They aren’t complaining. They aren’t whining about feeling like the world is out to kill them. I want to be strong, too.

But sometimes I’m not strong. Sometimes, I fall apart.

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is telling me that I don’t belong here.

It all makes me feel I don't belong

I often don’t recognize how depressed I’ve become until I look around at all the things I’m not getting done. Honestly, 2019 is a blur. I’m struggling to recover from the incredible setback of last year’s broken foot, and every time I’ve started to get back on my feet (ha!), something has come along to knock me down.

But here’s the important part: I’m still here.

I may not feel like I belong in this world. I may feel like everything is stacked against me, like every day is an uphill battle, but I’m still here.

It feels like I don't belong, but I'm still here

What if that’s enough?

What if I belong here, simply because I am here?

What if you belong here, simply because you are here, too?

What if that’s true for every single one of us?

I think it is, and that’s a comforting thought. ❤️

End Your Envy on Social Media, a.k.a. Love Your Own Life

Do you ever find yourself scrolling through someone’s social media page and starting to feel like your life is small and unimportant/uninteresting by comparison?

I can say, “Don’t do that!” And I try not to do that myself. But, occasionally, it happens. When it does, it can be a sneaky, slippery dive into depression.

So how do you pull yourself out of that?

  1. Remember that most people only show their “best self” on social media. You likely aren’t seeing the challenges, insecurities, and dark moments in their lives. (We all have them!)

  2. Think about the things you see on their page that you find lacking in your own life. Be specific. Is there something you’d like to do more? Travel? Exercise? Take art classes? Go out more? Volunteer with a local charity?

  3. Think about what’s stopping you from doing those things. Is it fear? Is it money? Is it time? Are they things you actually want or things you think you should want?

  4. If you actually want them, what steps can you take to bring them into your own life? Not by copying what the other person is doing, but by finding your own, personal way of trying a similar thing. If you only think you should want them, why do you think that? What if you let that idea go?

  5. Think about what you already like about your life. Exactly as it already is. Would some changes enhance your life or take away from the things you already love? Can you find balance with whatever changes you may want to try? Maybe try some gradual changes?

The grass may look greener in your neighbor’s yard but consider your own yard carefully before you start watering, weeding, seeding, treating, or tearing it up to re-sod.

Sometimes you need a major change. Sometimes you need some minor tweaks. Sometimes you just need to stand back and appreciate what you already have. Without comparing yourself to anyone else.

Bring Back Boredom

Our brains think. It’s their natural function. Left alone in an empty room, we will quickly become aware of our own thoughts.

Sometimes we need a break from all that thinking. We need to quiet down, let our thoughts drift by, without notice, like clouds passing overhead. Millions of people are learning how to do that through meditation classes, books, and apps.

Those meditative breaks, where we tune out our thoughts, are great for resting our brains and reducing stress. But we also need time to tune in—and turn up—our thoughts.

Mug by Barbarah Robertson Pottery

We need time to wonder about the world around us. Time to be curious. Time to imagine how things work, why things work, and how they might work differently.

We need time to put down our phones, turn off our TVs, close our books, and be alone. With nothing else to do.

We need time to be bored.

Boredom leads us to the space where creativity lives. Boredom leads us to those aha! sparks of inspiration. To the epiphanies and eurekas.

Yet we often avoid being bored. We preoccupy our brains incessantly. As a defense mechanism. We keep our brains busy with other things because we can’t stand to be alone with our own thoughts.

Because our thoughts hurt.

We dwell on regrets from the past. We worry over fears for the future. We judge, and compare, and criticize ourselves. So, we try to stop thinking. We try to keep our brains distracted.

But when we preoccupy our brains to avoid the thoughts that cause anxiety, we cut off our other thoughts as well. We don’t give our brains space to process our experiences or to be creative.

What if we weren’t so afraid of our own thoughts?

Before we let our minds wander, we need to feel safe. We need to stop beating ourselves up for things that happened in the past. We need to stop beating ourselves up for the things we think we might do wrong in the future.

We need to stop judging ourselves every waking moment.

That’s easier said than done. But what if we can practice positive, healthy boredom, the same way we practice quiet, mindful meditation?

If we can’t stop the anxious thoughts all of the time, we can still set boundaries on our thoughts during planned periods of boredom.

We can give ourselves permission to spend a set amount of time just letting our thoughts flow, without judgment. During that time, we can idly think about something—anything—besides ourselves.

Wonder about the stars in the sky, the dust bunnies under the bed, the sounds of the traffic passing by. Make up silly stories in your head. Picture an imaginary animal. Maybe you’ll capture those creations on paper later, maybe you won’t. For a time, just let them take shape in your head.

Observe the ideas that come up, without judgment. Give yourself space to see where your thoughts go when you give your brain time to be bored.

But, more than anything, just appreciate that boredom isn’t a bad thing. Boredom is the break your brain deserves.

Sorry, I was Really Busy Being a Little Broken

How many times have you said, “Sorry, I’ve been really busy”?

Busy is the go-to explanation for a wide range of commitments we couldn’t keep or communications we’ve neglected.

It’s not necessarily untrue. We all tend to be pretty busy. Otherwise known as overworked, overscheduled, over-tired, or overwhelmed. There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it all.

But sometimes, time isn’t the problem. Sometimes there technically was time, but that time was spent sitting on the couch or lying in bed, staring at a ceiling, staring at a phone, staring at a TV, or otherwise checking out.

Sometimes the busy was our brains shutting down. It was our souls being a little (or a lot) broken.

There were some things on my to-do list that didn’t get done this week. This morning, I found myself thinking, “I was just too busy this week.” But then came the self-correction: “I was a little too broken this week.”

The week started out fine. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday were all reasonably productive and my schedule was relatively on track. Then Thursday came along.

What is it about Thursdays?

People often complain about getting back to work on Mondays or about getting past the mid-week hump of Wednesdays but, for me, it’s Thursdays. They tend to start out very well, then get derailed somewhere in the mid-afternoon.

Maybe I’m running down by that point. Maybe the little things that got missed earlier in the week are starting to snowball. Maybe I’m worrying about plans for the weekend.

It’s not every Thursday (thankfully!) but if I’m going to hit a wall, it’s likely to be on a Thursday.

This week, I think it was about Mother’s Day looming on the horizon.

Mother’s Day is bittersweet for me. It’s a lovely day to spend time with my husband and kids. It’s a painful reminder that my mother is gone.

My mother had 12 Mother’s Days with me, and 18 Mother’s Days in total (including years with my older siblings). She saw only one of her children graduate from high school. She didn’t see any of us graduate from college, navigate careers, or start families.

She never saw her children become adults. She never met her grandchildren.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair for her to have missed so much. It’s not fair for us to have missed so much with her.

I’ve been without a mother since I was barely 13 years old. Thirty years later, that still hurts.

And when I say it “hurts,” I mean it crashes in on me with waves of pain and loss and detachment and distraction.

When it’s bad, I can manage the main commitments, like teaching yoga classes and showing up for scheduled appointments. It’s the other things that become impossible. The things that can quietly slide without too many repercussions, like writing plans, returning social texts, grocery shopping… thinking clearly… processing emotions… sleeping…

We’re often too busy to do all the things we want to do.

Sometimes, we’re a little too broken to do the things we want to do.

When you’re a little too broken, know that you aren’t alone.

Our minds and hearts can ache with pain that is no less debilitating than having the flu or breaking a bone. When we’re suffering mentally or emotionally, we need rest and care, just like we would for any other physical illness.

If that means letting a few things slide—even things you want to be doing—that’s how it goes.

Sorry, I was a little broken this week and needed time to heal. 

Taking care of yourself is not a weakness. It’s a strength.

Take good care of yourself.

Life is a Roundabout

To me, life isn’t like a box of chocolates. Life is like a playground roundabout. You know that platform that spins round and round? I think it’s also called a merry-go-round, but without the horses. Or the fanciness.

Photo by Michael Rivera - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44979295

If you sit idly on a playground roundabout, maybe watching squirrels play or clouds pass overhead, you can feel the tremble of the world around you. From a distance. You can reach out a foot and set yourself in gentle motion.

It takes an effort to actually get yourself spinning. You have to stand up, run with it, and jump back on. You need a bit of timing. And coordination. But once it’s moving, you can enjoy the ride.

With a friend or two, you share the effort to overcome inertia. You take turns pushing. Or you time it together. You laugh more. You stumble over each other. You figure it out. You move faster.

Sometimes, a whole crowd of kids shows up to play. Some you invited. Some who showed up without warning. That happens. You don’t own the playground.

The more kids on a roundabout, all pushing and jumping, and edging for space, the more chaotic it becomes. It spins faster. Adrenaline rises. It’s all fun and games. Until someone gets hurt.

With too many kids, you can feel out of control. Overwhelmed. Maybe you’re shoved, or stepped on, or bumped into a handrail. Maybe you feel dizzy or are overcome with nausea.

Maybe you fall off.

This morning, I spilled my oatmeal and over-poured my pour-over coffee. My kitchen counter was one mess after another. I’m off my game. I’m off my roundabout.

It’s been a week like that. (A month like that?) More happening than I planned. Some good. Some bad. Just a lot overall. Sometimes that’s a rush. Sometimes it’s a challenge to hold on.

Sometimes I fall off.

And the world keeps spinning.

When I’m standing on the sidelines, I’m dusting myself off and watching the action. I’m timing when I can jump back on.

I’m waiting for the dizziness to settle and longing for some quieter playground days. Days when I can set the pace of the roundabout or even let it idle as long as I’d like.

I’m checking my bruises and maybe even wishing I could just go home and be done with the whole thing.

But I don’t go home. Because life is a playground roundabout.

When I fall off, I can still give myself time to catch my breath and dust myself off. I can remind myself that there are quiet days and busy days at the playground.

It’s easier to jump back on when the roundabout is still, but sometimes I have to jump while it’s still moving. Because it may be a while before the playground quiets down. And there’s only so long you can stand on the sidelines without the world passing you by.

When it’s hard to jump back on, my friends can catch my hands. They can hold on to me until my grip on the handrail is firmer. If I let them. If I tell them I’m slipping.

I can move to the center, finding a more secure—less dizzy—place and remind myself that there will be quieter days when I can watch the squirrels play and the clouds pass overhead.

In the meantime, I can hold on, laugh at the antics around me, and find something to enjoy in the ride. Appreciating life for the roundabout it is.