Finding Home

 

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“Home is the love that lives inside you….” –Heidi Barr

Do you remember when you first felt at home?  I remember even in childhood, I sought to find a place that truly seemed like where I belonged.  I recognized that the place I lived my entire life strangely did not seem like home. In my twenties, I started to feel a sense of home as I followed my heart.  By gradually growing into the person I wanted to be, I found increasing happiness. But it was only after a very difficult series of events at the conclusion of my third decade of life when I truly found that comforting sense that I had sought for so long.  Only recently, I began to recognize that such grounding is not about a physical location; it is a product of pursuing my dreams and accepting myself and others as beautiful: flawed and flourishing, just the way we are.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

Needless to say, there was a lot of change in just a few months. Sure I had moments of self-doubt, fear of the future, and even overwhelming grief.  I didn’t dwell in them though.  I  allowed them to come, be acknowledged through tears, prayer and reflective writing, then I let them pass.  I focused on the task at hand. I kept my plate pretty light in order to heal, but wasn’t entirely crippled.  I recognized that only through a hike can we truly appreciate a summit. I knew that someday there would be a series of summits and hikes that felt more manageable ahead.  Sometimes we face those Everest type journeys in life.  I certainly didn’t want to get stuck on a snowy cliff, so with one gradual step at a time, the hike was eventually concluded.  Now I feel like I’ve made it down safely and headed out on several wonderful adventures since then.  None quite so intense, but then, I’ve grown stronger from each trip.

So wherever you are in your journey, whether struggling up an Everest or gliding down a Dinky Hill, I hope you breathe deeply enough to enjoy the aroma, look around enough to appreciate the view, and pace yourself so your next step can move in the direction you desire.

And find someone to smile at each day.

 

Thanks to photographer Hristo for the incredible summit view.

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Dare to Dream

 This week my partner and I walked our dog down the dimly lit streets of our neighborhood, bantering about what we might do had we won this week’s Powerball.  He encouraged: “Everyone has to dream.”

Sometimes it takes an opportunity to utilize one’s imagination.  There are those dreams that we can and some of which we ought to fulfill, like building a dream career, falling in love with a wonderful person who treats you the way you deserve, or developing a hobby that interests you.  Then there are those dreams, like holding a family gathering without awkward drama, living in a nation free of political corruption, or raising your child in a world in which there are no longer religious wars.  These loftier dreams may not actualize in your lifetime, but how energizing to the human spirit is it to hope, imagine and ponder?

What do you believe is possible?  

This past week I read to my students Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier.  The book was thought provoking even for a group of 3-5 year olds who are just starting to grasp the concept of inequality.  But even with such deep-rooted societal problems that racism causes, these young children grasped the heart of Dr. King’s dream.  As one of my students shared with her family over breakfast the next day: ”Love is the key and it doesn’t matter what your skin looks like.”

What do you value?

Imagine how Dr. King would feel hearing those words today from such a young child?  Our world still has a long way to go, no doubt, before racism is completely eradicated, recent Oscar nominations attest to that.  However, a world in which a mixed-race man can be elected president of the USA, or where people from any ethnic background can legally marry, when we see people of all colors in every stratum, it shows that some people’s dreams, through working together, can and do shape the world.

What changes do you see?

It is not always easy to go after our dreams.  We only reach them if we dare to stretch beyond our comfort zone.

So whether you want to become a writer or find a cure for AIDS, I hope you will ask yourself:

What do I dare to dream?

Living Life Fully: Today and Every Day

As I sat in a leadership session at work about 16 months ago, my boss dispersed gifts to each staff member: copies of Daniel Rechtschaffen’s book: The Way of Mindful Education.  Gradually, I’ve dabbled in it for over a year, but the last few weeks have been a time of stepping into a life more cognizant of and aligned with my goals and what truly brings me joy.  One of my great loves is uplifting, contemplative reading.  So the Mindfulness book has become a frequented part of my daily quiet time.

In a culture that focuses on multi-tasking and increasing productivity, slowing down to focus on the present moment and surroundings seems  counter-intuitive.  But research is picking up on this concept and finding that it actually develops greater focus and productivity, on top of some other spiffy perks including lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future (Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life).”  

Recently I found a quote on a friends FB page that really hit home the importance of fully embracing the moment.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up someday, and you’re 65,or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written: or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy: and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart.  Don’t let this happen.”  -Anne Lamott

So what are you wanting to try that you haven’t yet?  What have you put off or been too afraid to attempt?  If it’s laughing more often, pick up a funny book (I recommend my recent gem of a find, Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing It Wrong by: Sara Given).  Want to try your hand at poetry, take 15 minutes and just try to write a haiku verse about whatever is outside your window.  Plan on your attempts being full of flaws initially, but if you don’t try, you will never master something, let along know if you even enjoy it.  So embrace the moment, listen to the sounds, smell the surrounding aroma, acknowledge how you feel, and take in the view before your eyes.  Now is the time to enjoy your life.  So consider how you want to spend your time and go for it.  What have you got to lose?

For some great illustrations and a simple step-by-step mindfulness exercise, I really like the blogpost by hworsham: Mindfulness: An Excuse to Eat Asian Food .  

Grit: The Beauty of Overcoming

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

While heading home late on Christmas Eve, I asked my driver: “What inspires you?”  He thought for a moment, then answered: “Stories of overcoming.”  That was it! I thought to myself.  That is what makes this holiday so significant.  That is what  draws people to reality shows like Biggest Loser, or even the title of Survivor speaks to what is accomplished, and the dramas are all about skilled people who overcome one challenge after another.  We find hope for humanity in witnessing success after a difficulty.

Consider the story of Rudy, the classic tale of a young man who has a dream, a love, a great flaw, but he perseveres unflinchingly until his dream of playing football at Notre Dame comes true.

To be honest, I always questioned how this story was so loved because it focused on supporting someone’s dream that seemed (to me) pointless because, let’s face it, Rudy never became a great player.  But maybe that’s the whole point I’ve been missing.  Maybe pursuing a dream isn’t just inspiring because someone becomes great.  I wouldn’t want children to only try in classes that they are going to earn A’s.  Growth and strength tend to develop through the experience, the practice, the journey, not the ending point.  These trying moments along life’s path are what increase what is being called “grit.”  Author Paul Tough points out that psychologists list grit as one of the most important characteristics of successful individuals.  They may not be highly successful at everything they try, but those failures and challenges that are part of the human experience are what develop happier people, individuals who have learned how to overcome difficulties (http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/05/why-grit-is-more-important-than-grades/).

Today’s helicopter parenting techniques prevent this development.  Parents trying to sway a teacher or even college professor’s grade selection for their child doesn’t exactly help a child learn about his or her own merit.  I once learned that the mother of a job candidate (who had no connection to anyone at the school) called the office to encourage the director to hire her daughter.  Talk about an effort leading to the opposite result that parent desired!  If a parent picks up her child every time he falls, how are his legs ever going to be strong enough to get up and walk independently?

How will such a generation solve challenging problems at work or overcome difficulties in relationships?  How will it handle deep questions like: Do I truly make a difference in the world?” or “Am I doing enough?”  

A little piece of advice from the educator Dr. Maria Montessori :“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”  And for adults- may we try harder, stretch higher, and attempt to walk a few more difficult trails than ever before.

Here’s to a year of developing greater inner beauty and strength!