Monday, February 14, 2011

You've got mail (and a give-away)

A letter and a give-away for you!!!
(And for famous poet Mary Oliver -- just in case by some Valentine's Day miracle she is a huge "Hey Mothers" fan.)

Dear Mary Oliver,
First of all, thank you for asking, "What is it you plan do with your one wild and precious life?" The question that you pose in the beautiful poem "The Summer Day" has been a powerful motivator, propelling me towards necessary action. However, it's also disconcerting. When I don't feel I am doing ENOUGH (traveling, running, advancing, achieving, nailing the whole "mom thing", etc.), your words are a drum beat in my ear, a poetic version of my own voice asking, "seriously, this is what you are doing with your life?"

But I realize the problem wasn't with your question, but my interpretation. I was the one supplying the inflections, the judgments. I am pretty sure you aren't in a secret partnership with the Rock Climbers Association or Travelocity. You are just a poet asking a really worthy question. One we should ask ourselves.

And for the first time, I have an answer that isn't like some high school senior on his/her first college application essay question or a hopeful pageant contestant. It is this: Notice it. Dig it. Appreciate it. Do a little less of creating my own misery by chasing perfection, and a little more digging and appreciating. And that includes trusting the process when things aren't going my way.

Did my previous answer sound as silly as the map debacle of '07. Unequivocally, YES.
What a gift to my children, Mary Oliver. I have been empowered to lead by example, to show them that they don't start enjoying their one wild and precious life only if and when when they get what they want. And thank you also for for the "wild and precious" part. Because Mary: true that! I just won't fritter away this gift with myopic vision that only sees only the unfinished and imperfect. Not when I could be choosing to see the beauty that is all around me.

With the utmost gratitude,

Dear Readers,

Valentine's Day is here and I am reflecting on my New Year's Post  and the insanely good comments it generated. Rather than my usual method (flashes of insight that I promptly forget), I am moved to dedicate RIGHT NOW as the time to love the bejezus out of my life. As the month rolls along, look for random lists of things that I heart ... things that touch and move me. It is both a tool for cultivating gratitude and a personal experiment--Can I change my neural pathways with a focus on the positive, the kind, the beautiful? Maybe I'll be more calm, creative, insightful ... and help Egypt get their new government up and running.

You so want in, right? Share this post on Facebook or tweet it -- let's see about making my personal experiment a social experiment -- Hey Egypt needs us! What holds you back?  What "thing" are you waiting for to start loving your life? What do you see as the first step in embracing this life, this one wild and precious life? What moves and touches you? Write a full-on love letter, a sonnet, or a one-word answer. Each comment counts as an entry, so feel free to rack 'em up as you see fit. Throw down the random, the obscure, the surprising, the cheesy, the cliche ... just speak from the heart. And the prize? Why it's this beautiful gratitude journal ("Seedlings" hardcover by Lotta Janslotter).

Well, it's a blank journal. If you win, you can crap on my concept and make it a "things that suck" journal or, a "list of blogs better than Hey Mothers" journal, or whatever -- to the victor go the spoils!

Happy commenting and Happy Valentine's, treasured readers,



  1. A response within 15 minutes? My valentine's gift to you :)

    Fear holds me back...fear of a lot of things, but probably mostly the fear of failure. I also fear being (unfavorably) judged by others, a lack of funds, etc, but mostly it all comes down to a fear of failure.

    When I reflect on this further, however, that's a ridiculous thing to hold me back. So many "failures" aren't failures at all. They are just a different path than expected. There are so many inventions that came from "happy accidents." (See A situation is only a failure if you stop trying.

    So, I am going to start enjoying life, and start taking chances. This is a very weak spot for me. I really like to be in control, actually I'm kind of obsessed with it. I have to start letting go of that, and start letting others have some control (don't tell the hubby yet!). I need to trust others more because the real reason I want control is to prevent failure. I think if I have full control, then I won't let things fail. Of course, this is an ego thing, and a really failed logic. I'm working on it. I promise!

    Ok, so I started this comment about 45 minutes ago. But I'm at work, and sometimes I actually have to work. I apologize if it's ramble-y (oh yes, it's a word!) and disjointed!

  2. A comment for me? This is a V-day gift perfectly suited for the recipient. Thank you!

    What a powerful thing you have identified. Does it hook to any particular under-lying "should" or "must" for you? Sorry-I am hard at work trying to identify my cognitive distortions and it is kind of hard to turn it off. Keep us posted on the moments you chance it. I will keep it from your man for the time being.

    Thanks again, you know what they say, "comment early and often." :)

  3. One of the main things I want to do with my wild and precious life is to make the proverbial lemonade when given lemons. A good example would be my husband deploying for a year. This is a huge obstacle for me, especially because we have 2 kids! Although I do have weak moments where I cry out of frustration or just plain missing my man, I strive to embrace the good things about this year apart from each other. The best thing is that we have never been closer or appreciated each other more than right now. There is a quote (don't know who said it, sorry) that absence is to love as wind is to fire. It will extinguish a small flame and fan/feed a large one. I am not getting it quite right, but you get the point.

  4. I love that quote SO much that I looked it up. "Absence is to love as wind is to fire; It extinguishes the small and kindles the great."
    -- Roger de Bussy-Rabutin
    Maybe one thing you could resolve to do with your wild and precious life is use google. I kid, I kid.

    Anyway, that is completely beautiful and also a very powerful reminder of how important our own thoughts and framing are in any given situation. It doesn't mean there won't ever be pain or frustration but that the over-arching narratives we use to tell the story of our lives really are a choice and really do make a huge difference in our day-to-day experience. Thank you-I hope you will share more about you do this in the moment and in day-to-day situations. I was going to talk about how luscious my latte was this morning, but now....

  5. Wow - what a question. You always make me think so much. Remember the 'bundle me' for big kids? I thought about that for days, weighing pros and cons of different designs. But I digress.
    I only recently started allowing myself to love my life. The oddest thing was that I was telling myself I couldn't love my life or pursue my personal dreams until my kids were in school. I was so concerned with being the perfect wife and mom that I forgot about just being the perfect me.
    The one thing I want to do with my one wild and precious life is to make the most of each stage. To accept the limits and boundaries and work within them, perfecting skills and gaining knowledge, loving where I'm at instead of looking anxiously into the future.
    Since I've recognized this and allowed myself to pay attention to my own desires and dreams I've been more relaxed. I spend more time playing with my son and less time cleaning. My husband and I have rediscovered the joy of sitting down and playing board games together. I'm happier.
    It all comes down to acknowledging the real issue and addressing it.

  6. "If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain."--Emily Dickinson

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead.
    “Every woman is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself.” --Oscar Wilde

    Forgive me, but I'm an English teacher and collecting the words of others brings me great pleasure. These quotations are representative of what I hold as personal goals.

    What do I want to do with my wonderful life? I want to be a positive influence in the lives of those with whom I interact, at work and in my personal life. "To ease the breaking heart" may be a bit much to hope for, but helping folks through rough times and encouraging them through good times is certainly a reachable goal.

    Being a part of the "small group of thoughtful, committed people" with whom I work is a blessing. I firmly believe we make a difference in out students' lives. A pebble in a pond, perhaps, but that pebble makes waves that create change.

    My intended rebellion,if that is what it can be called, is to help my students believe in themselves, to help them see the tragedy of prejudice in all of its forms,especially those most of them have encountered most often--racial, economic, and intellectual. My "wild revolt" is against my own tendency toward inaction.

    Me? I want to be a rebel and bring about change.

    Oh, my. How I do ramble!

  7. Wow, that is completely beautiful. It is so easy to get swept up in the "when this is over" mentality, especially with young kids when things can feel so difficult and overwhelming. The saddest thing would be looking back and realizing you were too busy looking anxiously into the future to cherish it.

    Once at library the story time lady told us this stage was our "baby time" and how sweetly we would always remember it. For some reason that just hit me in the gut, to be honest I hadn't really stopped to think about how precious this time is. I love your idea to "make the most of each stage", what a wonderful sentiment. I think it is destiny that you shared it with me during potty training! Thank you very much!

    And here is my thing that I heart of the day, "County Roads" by John Denver. My itunes genius randomly played it this evening as I was working and I was so utterly moved. This is possibly the purest, most reverent and joyful song ever.

  8. For some reason blogger is not posting these comments or responses in order-it's all willy nilly. Sorry for that.

    Anonymous (who I have the privilege of knowing personally and professionally)-What an answer. I am currently immersed in the research/writing of Susan Nolen-Hoesema who says that we are happiest when our deep, abiding values are dictating our life choices. She states; "Some of us don't have religious beliefs, but most of us have values...and the desire to improve the lives of others and leave a legacy of positive change in our world..." Sounds good to me, and if you have to rebel and stage the occasional coup against an oppressive regime or one's own tendencies it makes it all the more worthwhile. Thank you for the words, insights, and the example you set forth personally and professionally.

  9. Hi there. I just got home from work and it turns out I am too tired to read. I can say this about positive change, child rearing and self-reflection; sometimes it all works out amazingly. Yesterday, both my grown children (19 & 25) sent me text messages wishing me a Happy Passion Woman Day. I was really proud. Happy Belated Passion Woman Day to you and yours! May you continue on your fabulous, passionate about life path!

  10. Carrie,
    Thanks, I totally tapped my inner-passion to write this one and totally thought of you--true story! Happy PW day to you.

  11. Yes, Sister1, I feel a huge sense of “should” and “must.” I actually have an inflated sense of should and must…let me give you an example.

    When my daughter was born, she was 3 months premature. She was in a hospital two and a half hours from where we live, and she faced huge obstacles. My husband and I did not ask for help of any sort—emotional, financial, etc because we felt we “should” be able to handle it on our own.

    My husband went back to work one week after she was born so we could conserve the use of our sick time. So he would drive the 2 hours home, work his 2 12-hour shifts, and then turn right around and head back to the hospital for 2 days, and then the cycle would repeat itself. I distinctly remember the day the doctor told us they had found a bit of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was on his way to us, so I couldn’t call him. I didn’t want to upset him while he was driving. I sat there in the hospital, and wondered what the future held for our little girl.

    Another thing I will never forget is how ashamed I felt when anyone said anything about being strong, and we heard that a lot. I was dying on the inside, and people kept telling me how strong I was. I was hanging on by a thread, I was SAD, I was mad, I was distraught, and lonely and worried. Then some well-meaning person would say I was strong? If they only knew…I had this deep sense of guilt because I thought I “should” be strong, but I was failing miserably.

    This carried on for about two years after her birth. I actually became clinically depressed, but didn’t want to tell anyone because I “should” be able to handle it. I did, eventually, go to counseling and get the help I needed…I think I had a weird combination of PTSD and post-partum depression.

    The only reason I go into such detail is to illustrate my point. Looking back, it was RIDICULOUS to think we could survive that without assistance. It was a terrible situation, and one that no one should go alone. There were tremendous financial and emotional tolls, and we SHOULD have asked for help and accepted it more readily when offered.

    I have always expected far more of myself than what is reasonable…far more than what I expect of others (except my family, as sometimes I expect more of them because it is a reflection of me). As I type this, I realize much of this stems from my childhood. My parents were very un-amicably divorced. I thought the “better” I was, the less stress I would add to an already stressful situation (I was fearful of adding the last staw to the proverbial camel’s back). My sister didn’t feel quite the same pressure, so I thought I needed to be even MORE perfect to somehow cancel out some of her behavior as well.

    Today, some of this continues to carry over. I feel if I am doing what I “should” be doing, my family won’t face any obstacles, disappointments, failures or challenges. I know this is flawed thinking, yet I know it drives me at a sub-conscious level. So much so, I didn’t even realize it until I was typing! I have to let go of some of this guilt, and the should and must.

    I hate to end abruptly, but after this major revelation, I have some thinking to do.

    Oh, I do want all the readers to know that my daughter is perfect! She went from a 2 lb 4 oz infant, to the tallest girl in her class by Kindergarten. She is now 8, and has no long-term effects from her prematurity. We are very, very lucky.

    And as long as we’re taking lemons and making lemonade, the lessons I learned through her birth have helped me help others facing similar situations.

  12. Shellody,
    Thank you so much for sharing something so deeply personal. This is perhaps the most powerful example I have ever seen about how "shoulds/musts" can literally take over our lives. It makes my heart ache to think about you hurting you like that. Under the best of all circumstances the journey to motherhood is cataclysmic--under these stresses it is really unfathomable what your family went through. I am retroactively throwing my arms around you.

    Lately I have been reading a lot of brain research that is a nice complement to the cognitive theory that I practice. Research has found that when we operate under these rigid distortions, our brains actually do get "tunnel vision" our neural pathways quite literally (as seen on MRI) "light up" to other, similar memory nodes--spinning us into more depression, trauma, etc and also quite literally cut off our ability to fully access our frontal lobes and thus be creative and problem solve. Obviously, this is what we must need to do in times of stress and crisis.

    You are well on your way to breaking this cycle by identifying your process. I recently read the phrase "head to heart journey" and I am pretty in love with it--how does one take a realization and move it into practice? I am interested in the minutia and the details. Ultimately they matter more than the epiphanies and AHA! moments-how does one actually make application and change? How does one stay mindful enough to catch themselves in daily life to practice these skills? How does one practice them until they have a whole new set of strong and beautiful neural pathways that will light the way to calm, creativity, problem solving, away from the ego and the old distortions? I deeply thank you and my other commenters for sharing moments from "head to heart journeys". I am convinced that there is enough wisdom, insight, and dialog here to really make a difference.

  13. The only way I can describe what I think my subconscious thinks is that the cycle has to stop somewhere, and it has to be with me...for example, if someone is having a bad day and taking it out on me, then I have a choice: I can take it out on the next person, or I can stop the cycle take the brunt of the badness and move on. Of course, that is a reasonable thing to do, but I magnify that times 1 million...

    This feeling of responsibility for everything and everyone is way overboard. I am not the best at everything, I'm not stronger than everyone else, I'm not the cure-all for everything.

    What's interesting to me is that I thought ego wasn't an issue with egotistical is it that I think I'm the only one on the face of the planet that can take care of things?

  14. Ok ladies...we need comments and we need them quickly! Sister1 will return from vacation tomorrow, and there hasn't been a comment since she left!

    Hurry, comment!

  15. Ah, Country Roads. I wonder if John Denver knew that in writing Country Roads, he could take me to a place I belong? One wild and precious life. Combining John Denver and Mary Oliver reminds me of an excellent book by Donald Miller called "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years."

    The book is all about story... how our lives are essentially stories and we can write a good one, bad one, boring one, etc. based on our choices. As a fellow writer, I think you'd love it. I ended the book on fire... committed to make a difference. To do something amazing. And then I realized, much as you did... I do that every day without leaving my house. I take care of my family the best way I can. I email a friend a word of encouragement. I stay present and listen for God's prompting. He knows where I'm needed and how I can best serve others. I think sometimes our ideas of grandeur get in the way of a lot of grandness. There are simple things we do every day that we won't know the ripple effects of until we get to heaven.

    Then again, our ideas of insignificance can also get in the way of significant contributions. We don't need to settle for ho-hum, or let inhibitions stop us from living our best story, which may or may not include doing something out of the norm. Living a life filled with passion. I just read an excellent example of this. U2's Bono has certainly lived his life, but what impresses me more than his musical talent is the way he continues to take life by the reigns and use his fame for good means and to inspire others.

    So how do we live it? Really live it? Me? Moment by moment. With gusto. AND tranquility. With wisdom. AND silliness. At least, that's the plan.

    Two words help me: Pause... and Remember. When it starts to feel out of whack... Hit the *pause* button. It just happened to me as I was typing this. The kids were harping. I couldn't think. I could feel myself getting frustrated. So I just stopped. Prayed. *Remembered* what is really important. Got up from the computer and gave them some attention... and voila, now I'm typing peacefully again.* I don't do it perfectly and it's a pretty constant battle to fight my seemingly insatiable ego, stream of distractions and fires to put out. BUT, it gets easier the more I practice this. AND, it makes a difference. At least, for me it has.

    I'm very grateful that I don't feel as though I'm racing some clock to get it all right and squeeze every last drop out of this life before I die, because I have an eternity before me. But I also believe life is a gift and it's not to be squandered, so I hope to do the best with each moment I've been given... which also means cutting myself some slack and just kicking back to enjoy!

    Lots of love,

    *washed, rinsed, repeated this cycle several times before I finished typing!

    How many times a day do you stop to say... ah, that's the stuff? Maybe when your child puts her tiny hand in yours? Maybe when a friend reminds you of a great song you haven't listened to in years.

  16. Anj,
    We just rolled in from vacation. The girls are both sleeping it off and we are a all a little worse for the wear. I thought maybe while I was gone my blog exploded, but this is just as good (seriously).

    I HEART Bono. I love the example he puts out there of using whatever blessings, gifts, talents, and fortunes you have to make a difference. I love also your idea of staying present and listening. That "still small voice" is a gift and I find it actually isn't that hard to hear when I just remember to listen. Remembering all this stuff is truly where it's at. I believe the rest...the grand, mundane, magical, etc all falls into place when we "pause and remember", and listen.

    I am reading "the mindful path to self-compassion" and listening on my ipod to "My stroke of insight" (the story of brain researcher's stroke). I am blown away at the marvel that is our brain and our innate ability to cultivate and strengthen our approach, and write our own story. I am adding your book suggestion to my list-thank you--and thanks as always for your invaluable insights.


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