The Power of Connection

connection

Warning: This may be difficult for some of you to read, since in this post I recall a traumatic experience. I discuss loss, grief and witnessing a horrific accident in which someone lost his life.

 

I really didn’t want to talk or think about what happened and the low point where I found myself. I wanted to move on. The last thing I wanted to do was write about it. So I felt conflicted when someone I trusted asked,

“What if your experience can help someone else?”

I felt the push and pull of this question. On the one hand, I just wanted to run away rather than recount my experience, but on the other hand, I wanted to reach out and share in the hopes that it might be useful to someone else. Perhaps it would make someone else feel less alone.

Connection? When I’m at my lowest, I don’t want to connect. I want to retreat.

I’ve been in a really good place lately, focused, energetic, positive, grateful and consistent with my self care routine. But I recently had a series of emotional sucker punches that brought me down.

A coworker and then a friend passed away, both suddenly, within a short period of time.

I was riding the wave of grief and the uncertainty of life in the best way I could and felt connected to myself, my coworkers, my family and friends. Although I knew the next few days would be sad and difficult, I knew I needed to connect with others in this “collective pain.”

In an excerpt from “Braving The Wilderness,” Brené Brown writes,

“Funerals, in fact, are one of the most powerful examples of collective pain. They feature in a surprising finding from my research on trust. When I asked participants to identify three to five specific behaviors that their friends, family, and colleagues do that raise their level of trust with them, funerals always emerged in the top three responses. Funerals matter. Showing up to them matters. And funerals matter not just to the people grieving, but to everyone who is there. The collective pain (and sometimes joy) we experience when gathering in any way to celebrate the end of a life is perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of inextricable connection. Death, loss, and grief are the great equalizers.”

 

Connection. At times, so difficult yet incredibly healing. Showing up matters.

I felt grateful that I followed Brene’s advice.

I had no idea what would happen in just a few days.

What seemed like an ordinary Tuesday morning drive to work turned out to be an even bigger test of my humanity and willingness to connect regardless of what I was feeling.

I witnessed an extremely violent, one vehicle accident just two cars ahead of me on a steep, hilly road. My husband stopped our car and we both got out to assess the scene while I called for help. It was difficult to take in what we were seeing.

It was as if a bomb went off. There were parts of the vehicle and its contents, a dump truck with a full load of soil, strewn across front yards and down the hill. The sound of the accident must have been incredibly loud, but we didn’t hear a thing. I guess our brains can only take in so much trauma at once.

When I was able to process the scene once again, I heard the sound of rushing liquid. My eyes quickly focused on the diesel fuel pouring of the truck. A fire extinguisher quickly emerged with a homeowner from his house and the 911 operator instructed us to keep it nearby. Help was on the way.

When I focused on the driver, I noticed he was pinned in his truck surrounded by the crushed cab and another bystander was kneeling beside him applying pressure to his injuries.

My emotions changed from sheer panic and fear to compassion the instant I heard the driver’s voice.

He was alive and talking. The humanity of the situation overwhelmed me and I found myself  struggling with how I was going to help, not whether or not I would. It felt like it was taking forever for help to arrive.

I stepped into the mud that surrounded the truck and to where the driver could hear me. I told him that help was on the way, that he was doing a great job of continuing to breathe, and that we were with him.

Connection. It’s what makes us human, gives us hope and makes us feel alive.

The emergency personnel finally arrived. They took our names and asked us to leave.

Although the driver didn’t make it, I hope he felt a sense of hope and connection in that moment. I hope it brought a sense of peace to his sister when I shared with her that her brother did not die alone.

The details of the accident were like a movie replaying in my mind over and over again, even one week later, when my husband and I were going away for a prearranged overnight stay at a local state park. I really didn’t want to go.  I wasn’t in the mood, I just wanted to disconnect, from everyone and everything.

But I chose to connect.

I connected to my husband and shared how I was feeling with him (and warned him that he was in for a “treat” because I wasn’t in a very good mood). It took me by surprise when he later told me that he thought that that was actually considerate of me.

Connection is love.

I connected to the love that my son and his fiancé shared in giving us the overnight accommodations for a very thoughtful Christmas gift. They know we value experiences over things. Of course we weren’t going to stay home!

The weather was dreary and cold, but my husband and I made the best of our overnight visit to the park. We walked around the zoo when we arrived, ate dinner in bed while watching TV and hiked the next morning, since it was the better of the two days, weather wise.

I felt better. The fresh air and exercise were just what I needed! Connecting to nature really reestablishes our place in this world. The trip reminded me that we are all interconnected to something larger than ourselves.

We are all part of a common humanity.

I wonder if my son and his fiancé know just what a special gift that was!

 

Up until posting, I had reservations about sharing. My negative self talk voice was particularly dominant:

“There are many, many people who have gone through way worse losses than me, so why would what I have to say be meaningful?”

“Who do I think I am?”

“People may think I’m being overly dramatic, attention seeking, etc.”

“Reading my post might actually trigger someone into having a negative reaction (the opposite of my intention).”

“My loved ones may worry about me and feel burdened by my sharing.”

 

I decided to share because the louder voice in me, the one that drowns out fear, is one of love, connection and courage!

“There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise.”

~Brené Brown

 

Thanks for reading. I know it can be difficult to connect when we want to retreat. Take a break when you need one and connect when you can. There are many opportunities to connect in many different situations.

I think that leaning on each other can make us stronger!

Please feel free to share and comment.

Jeanne

Xox

 

Here are some links to things that I’ve found helpful in the last few weeks, a video, a podcast and all things Brené:

Meditation for Mental Balance and Grounding, Yoga with Adriene

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0nZ1ZLephQ&list=WL

 

Fighting Depression with Social Connection, Johann Hari

Johann talks about the importance of having a tribe and the positive mental health effects of the social connection.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/10-happier-with-dan-harris/id1087147821

 

All things Brené!

She has been my biggest cheerleader. Her research and personal anecdotes are encouraging and will give you the strength and the tools to be courageous. Check out her website below and her new Netflix special!

https://brenebrown.com/

 

S.A.D.

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“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

― Howard Zinn

This is a difficult time of year for many, including myself. Although each year seems to get a little bit easier, I still need some reminders to take it one day at a time, and to have self compassion. I thought you might need a gentle reminder too.

Below are some links to a few posts from past years that might be helpful. I wrote them when I was feeling low during the winter months. I hope that by reading them you feel me reaching out and giving you a nice big hug.

I attended a class today on how to keep mindfulness in our everyday lives.  I was so excited when I signed up months ago, but as this day fast approached, I felt that the timing wasn’t right. In fact, it couldn’t have been worse, since it’s the most hectic time of year with my work schedule. So much to do, how can I afford the time away from my work responsibilities?

It turned out that the class came at exactly the right time and it was just what I needed! The community and connections filled me up. It was in this class that my instructor read this quote:

“The future is an infinite succession of presents.”

Keep it moving in even the smallest of ways and we’ll get “there,” whatever and wherever that is for you. We got this!

Here are those links:

https://beallthere.net/2014/02/22/the-power-of-positive-thinking/

https://beallthere.net/2014/12/06/feeling-gray/

https://beallthere.net/2015/08/22/funkytown-just-passing-through

If you just have time to read one, the last one is one of my favorites!

 

 

Balance

balance

I heard a statement recently that made me reframe my thinking. As I attempted to balance on one knee and one hand during a gentle yoga sequence (audio), the speaker said,

Balance is not static, but consists of tiny, constant movements and adjustments.

My whole body shook from side to side. I tried to shore myself up from my center so I wouldn’t fall over.

This experience made me think about how I view my life when different aspects aren’t, what I consider to be, “optimal.” When I’m feeling defeated at work, one of my relationships is strained, I’m not as kind or positive as I’d like to be or I’m choosing too much screen time over self-care, I feel as if I’m sucking at life.

What I’ve come to realize is that life, by definition, is never balanced, nor is it static.

It consists of tiny, constant movements and adjustments.

We just have to center ourselves as much as possible (and try not to fall over).

I know this can be a difficult time of year for some. The holidays are approaching and the days are getting shorter and colder.

I know I have less energy, my mood is lower and I’m really missing my parents. If you read some of my previous posts, you might even notice that my writing is more introspective this time of year. I’m definitely feeling the feelings.

Although my life isn’t ever static, it’s become much more balanced. If you’re interested, I wrote an essay on what I know works for me. You can read about it here: https://beallthere.net/2015/06/20/be-all-there/

Wishing you balance (and peace) now and always.

Love,

Jeanne xox

 

 

 

Embracing Imperfection

buddhaEmbracing imperfection is easy when you feel like you’re doing a pretty good job of keeping your imperfections at bay and you’re feeling nearly perfect. But this seems counterintuitive. Kind of like when people say they place little value on money when they have never struggled financially or had to cash in their loose change for milk or bread.

But no one’s perfect and we should be acutely (and constantly) aware of that if we truly want to be accepting of who we are, warts and all.

Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism.

~Brene’ Brown

What will people think of me? I wasn’t as kind as I could have been, I didn’t cover my mouth when I sneezed, I used foul language, I didn’t get around to talk to everyone, and on and on and on, the shame storm goes.

I know someone who always uses the quote, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.” I think it’s a sports reference. It always irks me when he says it, since I think we’re allowed to take a little break and appreciate how far we’ve come. It doesn’t mean we are backsliding. Sometimes we just need a rest.

Thank goodness I never reacted to him one of the many times he’s used this quote like I was tempted to with, “I completely disagree and here’s why!” I actually see the value in it now and, while we can feel good at how far we’ve come, we can’t rest for too long.

If we know what makes us feel healthy and balanced and we stop doing these things, then we may not feel so healthy and balanced.

I know what makes me feel good. I love to be out in nature, hiking, walking or gardening. I feel more balanced with meditation and yoga. These things make me feel strong and self-confident. Perhaps if I didn’t lose sight of them, if I continued to “move forward,” I wouldn’t worry so much about what someone thought about me when I didn’t cover my mouth when I sneezed.

Don’t lose sight of what you need to give yourself to be your best and keep doing these things. If you fall out of practice, get back into your self-care routine as soon as you can because you never know when you will be knocked off-balance and feel as if you are “moving backwards.”

If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.

~Herschel Walker

Let it Go

I’ve been parting with a lot of stuff lately. We are downsizing, and so out of necessity and by choice, we have gotten rid of many physical things we no longer find useful. So far it’s been fairly easy to do and even quite liberating!

But I know I’m not ready to part with some things. And that’s OK.

As I was folding the laundry this morning I came across one of our towels. Instead of folding the thinning, blue- floral towel and putting it in the linen closet with the other towels like I’ve done many times before, this time was different. I held it close, folded it, draped it over a chair in my bedroom and smoothed it out.

Hair Towel.jpg

This was not just any towel, it was the “hair towel” that my mom used, the one that I used as a teenager, the one that I took into my adult life and the one that my daughter now uses all the time because, well, it’s the best “hair towel.”

It got its name from my mom because it’s thinner and smaller than other towels (the “body towels”), perfect for wrapping up wet hair on top of our heads after a shower. I never really gave it a second thought until now, but it has certainly earned some notoriety.

And so I think I’ll leave it smoothed out over my bedroom chair for a while so I can take a moment to focus on where that towel has been and decide whether I want to get it made into a pillow. 🙂

Deciding when, if and how to let go of physical things can be challenging, but letting go of old emotional patterns can be daunting. You know the ones, fear, self-doubt, grief, anxiety, sadness.

Most of the time I’m able to focus on gratitude and presence, but I do have moments, days, and even weeks of feeling less grounded than I’d like to be. Not really sure what precipitates these feelings but I’ve learned that trying to figure that out gives the negative emotions more room to set up camp and a tighter grip that keeps me from my self-care routine.

So I have to let them go.

I read a quote earlier today in Flow Magazine by German professor and author Wilhelm Schmid. He said,

“Telling yourself you have to be happy mainly results in being disappointed when you aren’t. A far better idea is to focus on what you are doing and experiencing, and to let go more.”

Reading this today really helped me since it made me realize that, rather than get pulled into a negative emotional whirlpool, sometimes it makes sense to just,

Let

It

 Go.

I Rise

I woke up a little after 4 a.m. and immediately checked my phone for the election results. I thought I was still dreaming,  at first, but quickly realized the candidate, who many believed was a joke, had won the presidential election.

I am heartbroken.

Although I know that not all that voted for him support his cruel rants against humanity, it feels as if hate and divisiveness won over love and inclusion. What a sobering reminder that there are many who do not support equal human rights for all.

Even though I’m hunched over because the wind has been knocked out of me, I must somehow move forward.  The sun still rises and sets each day and each day I have a choice.

On this Veteran’s Day I will raise my American flag with gratitude to all who fought for my freedom to choose.

irise1

 

I choose love, hope and compassion, and, in the beautiful words of Maya Angelou, “I Rise.”

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 19282014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

 

 

 

We Are Who We Are, Aren’t We?

we are who we are

For as long as I can remember I have experienced a range of feelings that made me feel  like I was missing out on life. Social anxiety, self-doubt and criticism, anger, fatigue, fear of failure and, at times, self-imposed social withdrawal. I had so much to be grateful for, but I never seemed content for very long.  I felt that this was my lot in life.

After all, we are who we are, right?

I think that so many of us feel that it’s impossible to make big changes and we just hunker down and “armor up,” as Brene´ Brown would say. Rather than focus inward, which is too painful and overwhelming, and wade through the heavy fog of emotions that never really seem to lift, we distract ourselves with drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, social media, work, over scheduling, and by accumulating, organizing and maintaining more and more stuff!

There are some bright spots along the way, but the years pass and we never seem to be able to lift ourselves completely out of the fog.

After all, we are who we are.

Well, I disagree!

Change is possible! But in most cases, things just don’t get better. We have to make an effort to work through what we’re not satisfied with in our lives.  We have to get to the point of being so sick and tired of hearing ourselves complain about the same things over and over again in order to take action.  Or, as was the case with me, we get a major wake up call. A big life change (or many smaller ones) or trauma can cause a shift in our thinking, feeling, what we choose to let into our lives and what we choose to eliminate.

we are who we are.1

I’ve been on this journey for two years now and I have discovered so many things that have helped me be who I WANT to be. There are books, blogs, and e-courses that have inspired me whose authors range from everyday people, like Courtney Carver and Joshua Becker, to research psychologists like Brene´ Brown and Kristin Neff  (ALL superheroes in my opinion!). I’ve shared some of my favorite reads below.

Other things that have helped me greatly and which have become part of who I am are yoga, meditation, writing, nature and outdoor activities (especially hiking), minimalism and nutrition. These things help me focus on being present and positive and make me feel so alive! I am extremely lucky to have a supportive group of family and friends who love me unconditionally and who I can rely on for encouragement. I am so grateful for them!

It’s been a slow, DELIBERATE process of trial and error. It literally started with going outside on a daily basis and gardening- planting, repotting or even just weeding. I’ve tried many different activities and if I enjoyed them, they felt good and they fit into my lifestyle, they became part of my routine. If not, I moved onto something else. I’ve read things that have been extremely helpful and even life changing, and other things that have not really worked for me.

I realized that things weren’t going to change unless I put down the armor and started to move forward and pull MYSELF up out of the fog.

I want to encourage you not to give up! If you are not happy or satisfied and you feel it in your bones that there has to be a better way, then take action! Big changes can come from small steps you take on a consistent basis.

Try something different today. Take a walk, read a helpful book or blog, meditate for a few minutes, stretch, do yoga, go for a hike or run, paint, write or draw, eat better, or just sit in the garden and put your hands in the dirt. Start small. Baby steps. Slow and steady. If it doesn’t feel helpful, try something different. If it resonates with you and makes you feel good, keep doing it, until it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. Once it becomes habit, experiment with something else.

we are who we are.2

You might even try something called, “habit stacking.” Courtney Carver explains this as the pairing of two new habits each for brief periods of time, like a few minutes. Over time, you can extend the amount of time spent on each of these. I started with a short meditation (3-6 minutes) followed by a journal entry where I wrote 2 brief statements: a gratitude statement and an intention for the day.

Before you know it, you’ll have several things in your self-care arsenal! You can pick and choose which will be helpful to you on any given day rather than fall back on old habits that were more numbing than healing.

Reach out to positive, encouraging people who will support you. Embrace change!

I used to think that there was some secret to peace and happiness, but what I’ve discovered is that these things are well within our reach. We just have to make an effort to move in a different direction. Just like the lotus, we may have to go through some mud before we can rise above it.

My journey, with its twists and turns, achievements and setbacks is what life is all about and I’m glad to finally be in the game!

Here are some inspiring reads that have helped me along the way:

The Gifts of Imperfection-Brene´  Brown

Daring Greatly –Brene´  Brown

Rising Strong-Brene´  Brown

The Four Agreements-Don Miguel Ruiz

The More of Less-Joshua Becker

Buddhist Boot Camp-Timber Hawkeye

Faithfully Religionless-Timber Hawkeye

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself– Kristin Neff

http://bemorewithless.com/

http://www.rowdykittens.com/

http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

http://www.timberhawkeye.com/