The Only Way Out

Like Alice in Wonderland, the only way out of the mad world of denial is through the looking glass.

Denial is not always the clandestine villain its often portrayed. It can act as some solid protective gear amid danger. The child who is abused or the hostage with a gun to their face likely needs a hefty source of denial to get them through their toxic environment.

But the denial we allow ourselves to retain post a traumatic event can wreak havoc on our daily lives. We might numb the pain with anything from drugs and alcohol to gambling and compulsive buying. There are also the more subtle forms denial takes: the physical pain that sweeps through our bodies, alerting us that we are not listening to the inner teacher residing within each of us.

Avoidance is the child of Denial. We keep busy, psychologically hiding behind to-do lists, appointments, Netflix binges—you name it. It is human nature to avoid the uncomfortable and downright painful. But I’ve learned firsthand, the only way out is through. Those little, seemingly innocuous avoidance behaviors are like spiderwebs, gossamer thin individually, but overwhelmingly powerful as an intricate whole that you can’t untangle yourself from. Avoidance is the spiritual equivalent of those Chinese finger tricks: the more we fight to avoid the pain of our past, the stronger the spiritual and physical hold on us.

According to author and teacher, Byron Katie, when we are bravely willing to examine the terrain of pain, we are also liberating ourselves. She offers four simple yet powerful soul-provoking questions:

“Is it true?”

“Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

“How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

“Who would you be without that thought?”

When I was twenty-six, my husband died. For years, my denial, not over his death, but over my feelings surrounding his death, were too painful to bear. In Judaism, when someone passes, there is a formalized mourning period known as Shiva. The immediate family of the deceased is not meant to do anything but mourn. Mirrors are covered. Food is brought to the mourning family. There are no distractions from the loss. The Shiva provides a way through the pain.

Unfortunately, I didn’t sit shiva or sit at all with my pain. I returned to work within a week, started dating, dancing, doing anything and everything to keep myself busy, busy, busy. The idea of sitting alone with my thoughts terrified me. My avoidance took the form of a jam-packed schedule, running to the brink of exhaustion, my M.O.

Fast forward to today, and I am a woman who misses the young man who was my sweet and thoughtful husband. It took facing my fear, asking questions like the ones above from the wise Byron Katie to begin healing. I went from avoiding the pain to embracing it and finally, made peace with my beautiful husband.

Our relationships, all of them, are an opportunity for us to know ourselves better. Once I embraced the pain of losing my husband, I was able to embrace myself in a way that rendered me more grounded and comfortable in my skin than before I even knew him.

If there’s something in your life that is keeping you in the Land of Denial and you are ready to make a change, I highly recommend delving into Byron Katie’s four questions: https://thework.com

A New Way to Measure Success

How we measure success determines much more than our bank account.

My uncle has four grown daughters. Each year on his birthday, he will spend the day complaining about which daughter took the longest to call, why none of them call often enough, and how he can relate to Rodney Dangerfield’s, “No Respect.”

On the other figurative hand there’s my dear friend Steve who wanted but didn’t have children. His phone regularly rings with calls from the many former students who want to thank him for changing their lives.

Both men grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in dysfunctional and abusive homes. 

So, how did these two men end up with such different lives? Why does my uncle repel company while Steve attracts it?

There’s an old saying by Buddhist, Haruki Murakami:

“Pain is inevitable: suffering is optional.”

While my uncle and Steve both experienced some particularly bumpy roads in their childhoods, my uncle kept his wounds company, allowing them to fester and bleed into the landscape of his adult life; Steve, however, allowed himself to feel those wounds and learn from them. If my uncle were a character in a play, he’d be emotionally stuck in Act I. He hasn’t stepped away from the events of his youth and looked at them objectively, so he’s a mouse in a spiritual maze, destined to experience suffering.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s not to measure success solely on the external. As of this writing, 612,000 people in the United States have died from COVID; 4.19 million people worldwide are no longer on this beautiful Earth due to the respiratory virus. COVID doesn’t care if you drive a Ferrari or a Ford, it doesn’t care if you wear Ferragamo’s or flip flops, and it certainly doesn’t care if you work on Wall Street or a Walmart.

COVID has shaken the infrastructure of our economy, our politics, and our personal and professional relationships. COVID is The Great Wake Up Call to consider success from a place that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.

Remember: Pain is temporary and inevitable in this life; suffering is, thankfully, optional.

So, what is this new measure for success that COVID cannot take away from us?

Joy. Fun. Laughter. Our free-will choice to perceive this life from a different perspective.

Author and life coach, Gabrielle Bernstein offers the following insight:

“It’s our job to find the fun in everything. Some of the happiest people I know have the innate ability to find joy in the most joyless scenarios.”

We all possess this ability to find joy, regardless of our circumstances. My uncle has the choice to be grateful that all four of his daughters are healthy and enjoying their adult lives. The irony here is that if he stopped focusing on his perception of lack, more would flow to him: his daughters would want to call him—and not just on the obligatory birthday time. Respect is a natural by-product of self-respect. My uncle only needs to look within for his suffering to abate.

Steve finds joy in helping others, in learning, in using his body and mind in equal measure; my uncle spends his days blasting the news, intermittently yelling at the anchors on television who cannot hear him. 

When we measure our success by the sense of pleasure that we experience, instead of the external world that will continue to alter, we are living a successful life. Everything else is just gravy.

So, savor that cup of coffee, relish the scent of fresh cut grass, and notice how tonight’s sunset makes you feel. It’s our job.

Source: The New York Times, Miracles Now, Wikipedia

The Gift of an Appetizer

Appetizer Accomplishment Thinking Increases Our Motivation to Get-Stuff-Done!

I’m a single Mom, a full-time teacher, an author, an actor—on camera and on radio. Whew, even just writing that sounds fatiguing! And why is that? Because we all know that each role comes with a generous serving of responsibilities and there are just so many hours in the day!

My family and friends have asked me, “How do you do it?” Did I mention I am a yoga and ballet barre enthusiast as well?

We all have those 24 hours in a day; we all need to sleep; some of us have less commitments than others, but have you ever noticed you get more accomplished with less time?

I refer to the taking-Time-by-the-hands mindset as “appetizer accomplishments.” You know, those mini-quiches or hotdogs in a blanket? They aren’t exactly a meal and they aren’t dessert either. They are these micro dishes of food meant to give one a sample, a little taste. If you’ve ever found yourself ravenous at a wedding or other formal event, you know the power those appetizers have to stave off your hunger pangs and normalize your blood sugar again. 

Appetizer Accomplishments work in a similar way: they offer a sense of getting-stuff-done without feeling overwhelmed or lazy. Much like their edible counterpart, the Appetizer Accomplishment helps keep us going.

Here is one of today’s Appetizer Accomplishments: I washed the shower faucet—no scrubbed the shower faucet today. Didn’t do the entire shower stall or the bathroom itself at all. Nope—I just had time for one area of domestic cleaning today (It looks fantastic, BTW). And now when I walk by it, admiring its shiny surface, I’m already motivated to scrub the shower door tomorrow.

Another Appetizer Accomplishment: I secured a team meeting with the core group of teachers I work with. This took less than five minutes.

Another Appetizer Accomplishment: I wrote back a dating site that is interested in having me write another blog piece for them. Again—this took less than five minutes.

There is a power in momentum. Each action builds upon itself, creating a cumulative effect in both our outer and inner reality. Appetizer Accomplishment thinking keeps us in a delicious zone: fostering our sense of purpose while simultaneously preventing burn out.

I challenge you (and would love to hear from you, to choose one Appetizer Accomplishment you could experience right now. 

“Serving Yourself a Pause”

What is Your Hunger Telling You?

School starts this week—for me, a middle school English teacher. The kids arrive virtually next month, so this is the time we educators start to ensure all of our academic ducks are in a row.

There is an uneasiness that often comes with the unknown, and virtual teaching in the midst of our pandemic is no exception. How will I effectively reach my new students? How will I effectively engage and connect with these young minds I have the gift and responsibility of educating?

Last week’s post focused on the magic-like pleasure experienced when embracing your passion. The example I shared was my love of writing and acting—a venture I reveled in manifesting and sharing with you on my YouTube channel.

Sometimes, we can get so caught up in a creative endeavor, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Last week, I was so hungry to combine my passion for writing and acting that I lost sight of the bigger picture: the optic and auditory effects of my comedic characters on the audience. 

My characters were meant to connect us, to create belly laughs and to promote my book. In my hunger to tickle your funny bone, I inadvertently eclipsed the gravitas of my book. So, I’ve taken the comedic characters down from my YouTube channel (I did keep my dear Sylvia Richmond. They may resurface as they were or in future comedic bits on a separate channel—apart from my book. I’m not sure where I want to go with them—and that’s okay. Like all of us, I’m learning as I go in this surreal experience called life.

The Friendship Diet is a book that focuses on the deep connection between our edible and emotional nutrition regarding our personal relationships. This includes our relationship—first and foremost—with ourselves. Today I write to you, aware that my emotional hunger is telling me to serve myself a heaping plate of pause, of rest, of time. My students deserve a teacher who is focused and hungry to educate and inspire her students. 

Whatever is happening in your life right now, if you are feeling overwhelmed and like the figurative walls are closing in on you, it’s more than okay—no, it’s vital that you serve yourself a pause dish. When we serve ourselves a pause dish, we are better serving others.

Ingredients for Success

Everyone’s definition of success is different; the key is to discovering YOURS

Back in the day (1980’s), before social media existed and heading online meant you were literally waiting in an actual store until it was your turn at the register, I spent oodles of pleasurable moments creating characters and acting them out for family and friends. Summers were spent rehearsing SNL-inspired scenes with friends in a musty basement and then “wowing” our peers and family members with a show in someone’s willing backyard.

Creating characters on the page and then bringing them to life filled me with an intense and lasting pleasure. Hearing the laughter from the crowd, palpably knowing that what my friends and I had plucked from the vortex of our minds had made such joy possible, was a true high.

The pandemic has caused many of us to not only physically retreat but spiritually reflect as well. We are challenged to consider alternate ways of life as we know it and, by extension, pushed to ponder new ways of living. Author and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Ronne Brown (From Mopping Floors to Making Millions on Instagram), articulates a mid-life crisis shift that often occurs at sixty; with our pandemic, this mid-life “alert” seems to be occurring at any age:

“You’re at the ‘sorry, but I’m not going out like that phase.’ You have faked it for the last…years because you were afraid…. Now, you’re at a place where you feel like, you know what, ‘Screw that.’ You begin to tell yourself, ‘I am really going to focus on that passion before they put me to the ground.’”

I love teaching. I love writing. I love acting. So why do I need to pigeonhole myself into one-size-fits-all category? Why can’t I create a path that combines my passions?

A book’s success is not dependent on a quality book alone. It requires savvy social media skills, persistence, out-of-the-box marketing…and REVIEWS.

So I thought: that little girl, who still resides in me, misses acting so very much. And The Friendship Dietneeds reviews. Why not combine my two loves: creating characters who review The Friendship Diet?

Enter, my brand (no pun-intend;-) new YouTube Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF7fUS-FGfbg8jLPtnKJj5g?view_as=subscriber

Determining the “right” ingredients to success greatly depends on your definition of success. For me, success means living an authentic life. This includes living my passion. For someone else, success might mean gobs of money in the bank; for yet another person, success might mean an organized life.

Once we possess a clear awareness of what success looks like for ourselves, we can take action and choose “ingredients” that bring us closer to living that definition of success.

Regardless of the potential answers to our collective definitions of success, when we look for the quality of what success means, the outer effects of that success become significantly less important. For example: success for me is living authentically. By promoting my writing through performing, I am living authentically, on my terms. The by-product of this action isn’t something I can control, nor does it determine my motivation.

When we look within for the ingredients that drive our definition of success, we will find a dish that always satisfies.

“Serving Boundaries”

A dog feeling the strain of someone’s lack of boundaries…

Last week, I had the pleasure of virtually speaking at an Author Talk with Rabbi Dan Gordon and his Temple Beth Torah congregants to promote my new book, The Friendship Diet. The book explores the deep, often-overlooked connection between our edible and emotional nutrition.

One of the participants asked a powerful question about boundaries that I would like to address here now: “How do you create important boundaries when you encounter “cilantro” that you don’t like?”

The cilantro is a metaphor in my book, referring to times when we encounter something we don’t care for the taste of (in my case cilantro) yet tend to ignore in an effort to please others. When we continue to ingest our respective “cilantros” we can feel bitter over time, if not downright sick to our spiritual and physical gut.

So back to the insightful question that was asked at the Author Talk: 

“How do you create important boundaries when you encounter “cilantro” that you don’t like?”

Those boundaries are going to look different based on the nature of the relationship. After all, the boundaries involved in limiting your child’s screen time is going to look very different from the boundaries invisibly erected between an intimate couple and what they share about say, their past romantic relationships.

Yet regardless of what kind of boundaries we are wanting to create in the face of said “cilantro,” they will all begin to manifest as a natural by-product of the internal work YOU do.

There’s a famous quote by motivational speaker, Tony Gaskins:

 “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”

Chances are, if you are receiving a dish of poor boundaries, you are serving a plate of low self-esteem. Change externally needs to start by altering our perceptions internally. When you care about how you feel first—regardless of what is going on externally in your life, you are sending a signal to others that you matter. That invisible but powerful signal is real and will affect all of your relationships, from your partner to your colleagues.

For many, learning that poor boundaries is often a by-product of low or weak self-esteem is a tough pill to swallow. There’s a reason growth is usually associated with pain. On the other side of that pill is clarity and awareness—beautiful harbingers of inner growth and change.

I encourage you to do the guided writing prompts in my book, The Friendship Diet. If the pandemic isn’t a time to examine the inner contents of our metaphorical fridges, I don’t know when is!

I’ll close with some auditory and visual food for thought with the link to our Author Talk: (Available on YouTube)