Friday’s Focus—A Page Is Worth a Thousand Memories

Still deep in the process of cleaning up and boxing for our move, I came across a stack of journals I wrote many years ago while in my late teens, through college, and into the end of my first marriage. The notebooks were squirreled away in a corner of the garage interspersed with high school and college yearbooks. A cardboard box of memories now wrapped in spiderwebs and reeking of mold.

I knew I couldn’t keep them smelling the way they did but I couldn’t bring myself to just toss them either. So I blew off the dust, found myself a seat and flipped through them one last time before they were forever history. I was feeling an odd mixture of curiosity and trepidation—heck, I remember those years. Did I really want to go back there? But instead I found reading the entries again to be revelatory. It’s amazing how our memories gloss over seemingly innocuous details that feel as big as the sun when they first happen. And yes, there were some of those dreams in there that I haven’t achieved but it was okay because I can still say not achieved yet.

There were names and events that I barely remembered, if at all, but the key players were there still as sharply in focus as yesterday. It was fascinating to look back and see how my experiences and feelings shaped me into who I am today. But the most surprising reveal was seeing patters of thinking and beliefs from back then and (deep breath here), seeing and admitting I still have them today.

The patterns of thinking and believing wouldn’t have been so obvious had I not read these journals. Admittedly, it was a little disconcerting to discover how feelings of insecurity, shame, and fear had their seeds in those pages and how they’ve remained as unconscious patterns now. But I also saw patterns of strength, fight, resolve, and determination that also had its seeds back then, and which have also remained to this day, far outweighing the insecurities and fears thanks to experiences and time.

There were some hurtful events that came back in vivid detail, and as they did, I almost felt like a mother to myself, sending the younger me love and understanding back through time. It provided an unexpected opportunity for the healing of my younger self, which in turn, heals my current self.

There were good memories of sun, friends, going down the shore, and countdowns to last days of classrooms and some not so good memories. These were snapshots of daily life and growing up in the typical highs and lows of a Jersey girl moving from her adolescence through her first marriage.

I saw myself from the inside out because it was me but also from the outside in, reading about my feelings and experiences as if they happened to someone else. I didn’t expect this as I started to flip through the earliest book, but before I knew it, I caught myself searching for the girl I knew I was and connecting with her as the woman I grew up to be.

By the time I read my way through to the last journal, I was ready to let them go, but I wanted to do so with some sort of dignity rather then tossing them into the trash, so I let my inner artist come through. I filled the kitchen sink with water and bunch by bunch, tore the pages from the notebooks and soaked them in the water. I watched my handwriting disappear as the ink washed away.

After a few hours, the water now looked like a mini-lake with its blue water and the paper pulped back to its beginnings. I grabbed handfuls of the mush and squeezed them into small balls of paper—no hint or evidence of the words they once contained. As I worked the paper in my hands, I once again took on the role of Mother to the younger me and consciously connected the disconnects. I wasn’t sad about giving up the pages and notebooks now. As a mater of fact, I felt it was a gift to go through them again and cathartic to wash the pages away.

I’m glad I kept them all these years. I don’t think I ever intended to re-read them. Once the last page was filled, up it went on a shelf until I didn’t know when. But now, I do. I’m interested to see what will reveal itself when I read my current writings 30 years from now.

A written page is worth a thousand memories and staying open to what was can only lead to a better way of what will be.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Setting the Timer

All good things in moderation. How about all things in moderation? Good is subjective. It’s good to have a job but if you’re working 10 to 12 hours a day, unless you’re throughly in love with what you’re doing, it’s not so good. If it’s not our jobs, many of us find ourselves giving to our spouses, our children, our families, our committees,  and our friends. Did I miss anyone? Oh, yeah. When do we give to ourselves?

Commitment is commendable but so often, and so quickly, we find ourselves chasing our own tail and living in fear of making sure we did what we were supposed to and make sure all angles are covered.

Each one of us has a personal motivation for doing what we do and for however long and hard we choose to do them. Typically, the urgency and frenetic energy of the “hamster on a wheel life” starts to feel like the norm and anything otherwise can tend to make us feel lost or like we’re missing or forgetting something.

I think we all know on a root level when we are doing too much and become out of balance. Once we see it, it becomes a matter of taking our attention deeper and consciously setting the timer to approach whatever we’re doing in a manner more aligned with balance of anything that’s been missing (or been pushed out).

It’s not just important but imperative to our mental health (which influences our physical health) to find that benchmark within us and understand the driving force behind what is creating the one-sidedness and drive.

The realization came for me as an almost physical click. Sitting quietly one day, my monkey mind was incessantly chattering away as it swung from thought to thought “And then this [inhale] but then what if [exhale] oh yeah and then that [inhale]…” when suddenly I felt a tug in my solar plexus and a loud “NO” reverberate through me.

I was done. Cooked. In all of its frenetic energy that monkey ripped away a veil that had been covering what I finally recognized as feelings of fear I was using as my drive: fear of missing something, and then the deeper dirt-honest fear of not being good enough and making mistakes.

So, now what? So now I set the timer. Some time for this. Some time for that. Like a New Year’s resolution, it’s so easy to set an intention, but it’s another to put it into action. Recognizing and understanding motivations is a great start. To make any sort of difference though, we need to go the next step and put the intentions into action.

No matter how good we are at our jobs, at our roles of parent or spouse, it’s impossible to cover all angles all of the time and make sure that something isn’t overlooked there, or a skinned knee is missed here. Sometimes we need to set a timer on our overload of one-sidedness. Making a mistake is not a taboo. Wearing a band-aid is not the end of the world. You’ll live. We don’t need a permission slip from anyone else but ourselves. And admittedly, sometimes that’s the hardest permission to get.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Being the Center of Your Own Universe

It’s only natural to want the people you love to be happy. Who doesn’t want to see their family and loved ones content and taken care of? But what if that happiness comes at the expense of your own feelings, to the point where you specifically change the way you do things and go about your own life just to secure someone else’s happiness?

A few days ago, my husband and I had tentatively planned on doing a day trip for the upcoming weekend. I wasn’t really thrilled with going but I said I would because I knew it would make him happy to go to this place. I didn’t know it at the time, but he really wasn’t up to traveling, but was prepared to go because I said I wanted to. We were both willing to make the trip because we thought it was what the other person wanted.

After a bit more discussion, he looked at me and said “Do you really want to go?” I made a face and answered, “No, not really,” to which his shoulders slumped and he smiled and said, “Good, I’m so glad you said that because I’m not up to it but I thought you wanted to go so I was willing to give it a try.” We both felt such relief sharing how we honestly felt. A short while later, I said to him, “I still feel bad about not going. I know you like it there and I wanted you to be happy,” to which he responded, “Don’t worry about it. You’re not in charge of my universe.”

KABONG. Though it hasn’t been often, he’s said this to me before, and each time, when I thought about it, I realized I was doing things to ensure his happiness at the expense of mine. It’s not bad or wrong to want someone you love to be happy—it’s what you do in a healthy relationship, but, when you consistently sacrifice your own happiness and compromise your feelings to make someone else happy, it’s not good or healthy anymore for either one of you. Another person’s happiness does not nor should depend upon your actions for them. Your actions are not the center of their Universe dictating how happy or content they feel. I’ve understood this on a subtle level but this was one of those cartoonish Kabong moments that it finally sunk in.

I think a lot of that had to do with setting my mother up into an Assisted Living facility last week because she couldn’t live alone anymore. The emotions from that decision rocked everyone in my immediate family. Even though we knew it was for the best, there was (and is) still a lot of emotion involved. She is still in the adjustment period and in thinking of ways that I might be able to make it easier for her, I realized that I couldn’t do any more than what I had been. With stunning clarity, it finally became obvious just how much I was making myself the center of her Universe and yet, no matter what I did, I would not be able to solve her problems, resolve her issues, or make her any happier. That’s a role that is hers and hers alone, as it is with each one of us. I will continue to care for and look for ways to make my loved ones happy but this time, from a more decidedly healthier stand.

I’m working on becoming the center of my own Universe instead of or in addition to other people’s. Sometimes, going the distance to make sure someone is happy has roots deeper than feelings of love for the person and wanting their satisfaction. It can come from a need for a sense of approval, acceptance, or even a justification of our own existence. To discover the true underbelly of our motivations as to why we do things is a very personal road and is different for each one of us.

Today’s Focus is about bringing attention to areas in each of your lives where you may be making yourself the center of someones else’s Universe instead of your own. Look beyond the actions you take to make others happy. Don’t take away their lessons; their own path. It is not up to you to ensure someone else’s feelings or contentment no matter how you feel about them. While it’s generous and deeply loving to want to ensure someone else’s happiness, the flip side is it’s a disservice to them in that you’re taking away chances and opportunities for them to learn their lessons and walk down their path. You can hold them in empathy but you can’t use your life and your resources to make someone else happy without perhaps the biggest disservice of all—the sacrifice of your own life and energy.

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#takingitdeeper