How to Respond when Tragic, Awful, Overwhelming Sh*t Happens in Life.

alesia-kazantceva-364341-unsplash-700x466.jpgShit happens.

I remember seeing this saying on a bumper sticker and loving it. I have always felt its accuracy in describing life.

Today, when I scan the news and take in the problems of the world, I find myself repeating these profound words—shit happens.

It is true. Shit happens all the time and everywhere.

While opening my news app this morning, the first thing I read was a tragic death—a head-on collision involving two moms and six kids in Oregon. Nobody survived, including the driver who caused the accident.

As I looked up from my phone, I could feel the darkness, the rabbit hole egging me on to jump in. In that moment, I had a choice. I could continue reading through the problems of our world, or I could look up, take in the beautiful sky welcoming the traces of clouds dancing by, birds flying between trees, the sun shining upon the green grass, the innocence of children, so filled with love, and how it is a miracle just to be alive.

We all have a choice. We can concentrate on the shit or the miracles, dwell in the darkness or the light. It is all out there for the noticing—the miracles and the shit.

I am only so readily able to do this, to forgo the negative, because of how often I used to dwell there. Still, I slip, I forget, and I get lost in a problem or a tragedy. It is an old pattern—to become entrenched in fear or worry—and it is something I have observed in my parents, as well as so many others.

Focusing on the miracle, while becoming gracious and humble, is also a pattern that we can cultivate.

I am certain that, if we thought we had a choice, we would all choose to focus on the miracles. Yet, we believe we have no choice. We think we have to blindly follow the news reports, allow our minds to wander down the rabbit holes of worries and what-ifs, and accept the conditioning that was handed to us as if it were truth.

We have a choice.

It was over two years ago that a miracle was brought into my life. It was so blatant that I could not have missed it if I tried. It changed everything for me. It was the moment I knew I had a choice and that I was not victim to the news reports or my conditioning.

It was 4 p.m. The day was unusually hot for the beginning of summer. The phone rang. As a parent, picking up the phone and hearing your child in tears and unable to speak fills you with panic. With my own heart in my throat, I asked what was going on. In between sobs, my daughter was trying to give me the pieces of a story, one that included an ambulance, a child, and a beautiful afternoon at a lake turned horrific in the blink of an eye.

The story, which I finally got out of my daughter, began like any other summer afternoon. Many families had gathered by the lake for a few hours of fun, swimming, and barbecue. My daughter was there babysitting a three-year-old girl.

As they were getting ready to swim, a mother came screaming by the edge of the water—she could not find her seven-year-old boy. It seemed he had disappeared, and they feared the worst—that he had wandered into the water.

The first miracle: fire department first responders happened to be at the beach that day. Along with a nurse and lifeguards, they all sprung into action, combing the lake.

Almost 10 minutes had passed when the second miracle happened. One of the responders accidentally stepped on the boy, who was facedown in five feet of water, unconscious. They performed all necessary medical procedures and rushed him off to the hospital. Things did not look good.

“He drowned! I saw them pull him from the lake,” my daughter’s words rang in my head for days as I obsessively scanned the obituaries and the local news. I found nothing. Her sadness cut deep into my heart.

Tragedy, death, and accidents are the shit that happens, and as parents we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this dark reality of life. We know it happens, but we just want to keep our distance for as long as possible. We want to fill everyone we know up with cotton candy, laughter, and bear hugs. We want to keep them safe and happy.

Yet, life is unexpected, and we cannot control what happens to us or to others. We can hope and pray that our loved ones are safe, that we don’t witness the shit, but sooner or later it is right in front of us. We hear about a famous actor committing suicide, a cancer diagnosis, or a teen passing on from a car accident. But death is a part of life, whether we think about it or not. We cannot protect anyone from the shit.

And maybe the point isn’t to try to control and protect. Perhaps the point is how we respond and how we choose to spend our time. We can choose to love, see the miracles when they are brought into our lives, dwell in gratitude instead of misery, and allow ourselves to feel through the shit when it happens.

Four to six weeks after that call from my daughter, she took off on a three-week trip to Tanzania. Her heart was still aching for that boy, but her zest for travel and discovery was healing the sadness and carrying her on. On a whim, I texted the family she had been babysitting for that fateful day, asking if they had heard anything further about that boy. I received this response: “If you talk to Lia, tell her the boy survived. No brain damage at all. A true miracle. His name is Nicholas.”

We have all heard the saying that bad things come in threes. So do miracles.

We all have a choice to stop, breathe, notice, and make a different choice. It takes practice, but it is possible. Whenever I find myself pulled into the messiness of life, the darkness and the void of the rabbit hole, I think of Nicholas, and my heart opens.

Life is beautiful and amazing, and Nicholas is a wonderful reminder of the miracles that happen every day in life.

Shit does happen, but not always. If we’re keeping score, there are far more happy moments, amazing sights, incredible acts of courage, loving connections, and even miracles in life.

The next time we find ourselves looking down into that rabbit hole of worry or fear, we can look up, consider whether we want to focus on the shit or the miracles, and remember Nicholas. I do.

My post was originally published on Elephant Journal. As it has been placed in the most popular posts section, I wanted to share it with my blogging audience. Thank you to Elephant Journal for editing and sharing. Here is the original post: 

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/08/how-to-respond-when-tragic-awful-overwhelming-sht-happens-in-life/

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The Gift of Anxiety

Change is about becoming uncomfortable, but change also leads us to a life we have only dreamt about – a life of abundance, peace, joy and love.

 

Anxiety is tough, isn’t it? I get it. I’ve been there – many times. I don’t have it always, but when it comes on, I want to get rid of it, and fast. Like everything else, that affects our mental health, there are different levels of anxiety. There is acute panic symptoms which can be accompanied by sweating, increased heart rate, rapid breathing. Then there’s the long-term generalized anxiety – that uneasy feeling that seems to hang around more often than not, like termites gnawing at your insides. Anxiety can manifest as specific fears, which can be about anything. The two strangest I have heard of is:

  • Nomophobia: Fear of Being without Cellphones. 
  • Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: Fear of Long Words.

We are programmed from an early age to be fearful. “Don’t step on a crack, or you will break your mother’s back.” As we grow, we continue to hear messages of fear. We cannot turn on the news without some fearful message plastered across our computer or television.

But let’s go deeper. Let’s get personal. It has been my experience that all anxiety is a cover up, a warning, a message that something is lurking beneath the surface. Something is trying to get our attention. The more we resist, the more anxious we become.

Well before the feelings of anxiety erupt, the seeds of denial, avoidance or repression are planted. Seeds grow, and over time, and it is natural for the seed to want to break through the surface and find the sun. Whatever you are repressing from your awareness, trying not to think about or feel, is attempting to break through the surface.

When the seedling wants to find the light, it is like a pot of water, boiling, with a lid rattling against the top. If you remove the lid, the steam and bubbles are free to just be. But if you keep the lid on – it will rattle you to the core.

Whether you feel anxiety or fear, here is what has helped me. It is a process that involves 5 steps – changing your state, becoming curious, allowing what arises to be felt or known, surrendering, honoring your truth.

  1. Changing your state with gratitude – if you are busy focusing on what you are thankful for, you are giving your mind something to focus on other than fearful thoughts. I like to play the Gratitude Alphabet Game. I start with A, and think about all the things I am thankful for that begin with A. Then, I move to B, and so on. Somewhere along the way, I begin to feel calmer.
  2. I surrender control – anxiety and fears worsen, when we try to control, manage or stuff it down. It is like holding down the pot lid, when it wants to come off.
  3. Curiosity – anxiety and fear cannot coexist with curiosity. I ask my self what is it really about? Where in my body am I feeling the most anxious? What is behind this anxiety?
  4. Allowing – whether is it an awareness, memory of feeling, I let it come to me without judgment.

Here is the final step. I separate it because it has become the most important step for me to grasp.

5. I honor and love all of me – every quirk, feeling, thought, behavior; every weird bit of me.

Let me explain.

It was a few years ago, when my intuitive gifts began to emerge. I was talking with a woman who was telling me her dog was limping – that she thought she must have hurt her leg while chasing horses on their farm. I heard the words “She has Lyme Disease.” I said nothing because I thought it was strange and I had not idea why I thought that. I left without telling her what I heard. Over the course of the day, the anxiety began to build. It got so bad, it was not until I went back and told her what came into my mind that the anxiety dissipated and I felt calm and peaceful again. Turned out, her dog had Lyme.

This happened again and again. Images, thoughts, gut feelings, song lyrics, messages – kept coming into my awareness without my asking. Because I am stubborn, I kept resisting. I didn’t like them. I thought it was weird, and I didn’t want to be weird.

Eventually, I gave in. What I realized is, whether I like it or not, I am an empath. I can hear messages from beyond my body. I see images in my mind’s eye. I can feel someone who has already passed away and what they need me to hear. I have no idea where they are, but they sure have a lot to say. I can also feel what someone is feeling who is sitting beside me on the bus, or across the world. Like anxiety, I used to think my empathic abilities were a curse, now I know they are a blessing. It came down to a choice. Honor who I am, or feel anxious.

My advice is to let your feelings, thoughts, memories out! Say it, write it down, honor the truth. If you were not ready to hear it, feel it, know it, you would not be feeling anxious. Anxiety is always a gift. It encourages us to go inward, express ourself, feel and acknowledge our feelings and our true self.

Perhaps you can look at anxiety, as a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudge. Change is about becoming uncomfortable, but change also leads us to a life we have only dreamt about – a life of abundance, peace, joy and love. Coming out with who we are, speaking the truth about our past and our self, feeling everything, promotes peace and well-being.

I used to pray to figure out my life’s purpose, why I was here. I didn’t expect to be an empath, a messenger. I was thinking it would be more like – opening up a coffee/book store, a business professional or serving drinks under a cabana on the beach.

Finding my purpose is where I have found peace. And anxiety got me there. Now, I am grateful to find, not the road less travelled, but the road I am meant to travel. And if we cross paths, do not forget to give me a high-five. I will be the one that keeps on walking, feeling, figuring out who I am, and why I am here. And just maybe I will also be the one serving drinks on the beach.

 

 

 

 

One Spoonful, One Single Act of Kindness

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It was 1977. I was scared, but I knew I was in a good place. Surrounded by 10 other girls my age, I was just dropped off at summer camp for the first time. I was a shy, but athletic kid. I could overcome my social awkwardness by kicking one of those slightly squishy oversized red balls over the heads of the most hopeful of outfielders. Always, I was the first picked for any teams, and the fastest runner. Yet, none of my strength or speed helped that late morning, when I first stood at the foot of my bed, watching many of the other girls, laughing and reuniting from last summer.

It was a moment of relief, when one of my counselors walked over to me, sensing how I was feeling. “I’m Gina,” she said, pointing to her name tag. I smiled, shyly. “Come on, let’s go meet the other girls.” I let her lead me over to the group, still feeling awkward, but joining in a game of jacks. By the end of the morning, I was already feeling better, thanks to Gina. At that moment, I could not know that 10 days later, Gina would reach out to me again, in the moment I would need it most.

As a former recruiter, I know you can only find so much about a person before you hire them. You ask questions, scan resumes, but in the end you must make assumptions that you hope are right. Most of the time, you get it right – but not always. Some people look good on paper or over the phone, but do not end up being the best fit for a job. Others – you don’t realize just how good they are. That summer at camp, I had both. An incredible counselor, Gina, and a less than optimal one, Nancy.

It was about 10 days into camp (so 10 months), and we were all sitting around our dining table. Servers, who were also bunkmates, were moving back and forth, bringing bug juice, cups, plates, and whatever dinner was prepared that evening. I was a picky eater. No worries. There was always peanut butter and jelly on the table – my favorite.

Dinner that night was some sort of meat. I think it was pot roast -not my favorite. I went to reach for the peanut butter and jelly, the loaf of soft white bread, glistening against the wooden table. Nancy stopped me in my tracks, “No!” She uttered, grabbing my hand. Nancy liked to exert control over us, because she could. Her moods affected her action more than common sense. More often than not, she made up her own rules. We did not know when and where she was going to strike, but when she did, we listened. I took my hand back like I had been burned, and held it in my lap.

Tears sprung to my eyes at the thought of going hungry, or worse having to eat the pot roast. But it was more than that. I was tasting the feeling of fear upon my tongue. I knew that feeling well, as it was a familiar feeling at home, one akin to walking on eggshells. Sometimes the mood was better, and you felt free to be yourself, but then the rules could change in a heartbeat, and you got burned.

But this was camp, my safe place. Yet, there I sat, helpless, my plate empty, waiting for Nancy’s emotions to calm, and her need for control to pass. There I sat, helpless, trying to make myself invisible in a room full of screaming campers, feeling scared and alone as I did that first day. 

Problem was, dinner was ending, and having run around all day, I was really hungry, and afraid to speak up. It was then, I felt it. A tap on my knee. I looked beneath the table, and there was a hand. It was Gina’s. Her fingers held on to a spoon, filled with peanut butter. I realized in that moment, I was not the only one afraid of Nancy. We are never alone – we just think we are.

I looked up at Gina, as if that spoon was a scalpel and we were about to do surgery. She nodded at me. Take it. her eyes pleaded. I nodded back, and took the spoon, got up from the table, away from Nancy’s disapproving eyes. I hid in the corner, eating that spoonful of peanut butter, feeling both shame and relief. Feelings that would fight for bragging rights over the course of most of my life, until I would finally name them both.

As I reach into the my memory box, clearing away some of the cobwebs to come up with the details of this story, I admit to not even remembering if Nancy is her real name, while Gina’s name, I will never forget.

If Gina had not reached out to me, I could have gone a bit hungry that night, but probably not. Nobody went hungry at camp. We were likely getting canteen, candy in an hour or two, or making s’mores by the campfire. But she did, and it meant more to me than she will ever know. She reached out to me, not knowing the impact. 

There were many people in my life, that went on to hand me spoonfuls of peanut butter. My incredible life long friends, my dear husband, my former kind and patient boss, my children and my dogs – all scoops of peanut butter. Playing cards with my father when I was sick, sitting on the grass in the college quad with my wonderful poetry professor, laughing till our sides ache with my husband – all scoops of peanut butter. I have even learned how to scoop my own peanut butter with a nap on the beach, a walk through a wooded path, a funny movie and a warm fire on a icy winter morning.

Summer camp, as it turned out would become one big scoop of peanut butter after another, a place even my daughters would eventually call home, many years later.

I am sure Gina would not remember that night, or knew the impact of such a small act of compassion. Just as we do not know if our smile at a stranger or a quick text to a friend could brighten their day, or even prevent him from hurting himself. Kindness can have more of an impact than abuse, hatred and drama – especially when someone has been the recipient of both. One spoonful, one single act of kindness – so simple and yet so meaningful. We can all impact each other, choose how we connect. Why not choose kindness?

Today, I sometimes wonder where Gina is – if she has a family, what jobs she took on, if she travelled as a single warrior woman, or made a home, nestled in the security of suburbia. I would like to think she is still handing out spoonfuls of peanut butter wherever she goes.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Make Yourself Uncomfortable.

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I had a creative writing professor in college who told me I was a terrible writer. Ok, well she never looked me in the eye and said my writing was no good, but she tore apart everything I wrote and encouraged the class to do the same. Apparently, she never heard of a compliment sandwich. I remember feeling unworthy and embarrassed of anything I wrote during her class, and left each day feeling like I should never write again. Week after week, my writing worsened and I could not wait for the class to end. I will never forget this professor.
 For some strange reason, I decided to continue to follow my passion for writing in college, and took a poetry writing class. My professor was encouraging and pointed out everything that was beautiful and spot on about my writing. I remember feeling engaged, and always left her class feeling inspired about my writing. Each week, as I reached deep, I expressed words and phrases that I never knew I could find within myself. My writing got better and better, and I was truly saddened when the class ended. I will never forget this professor.
 In the end, I decided to continue writing, as it brought me so much joy, and despite my first professor’s opinion, I have found that others have responded positively to my writing.
 Looking back, both professors were important in my learning, but the one that caused me discomfort, taught me the greatest lessons. I would like to share these with you, in hopes that you can look deep within yourself and know you are valuable, worthy, and inspiring, no matter what someone else may tell you, and that everyone and everything is here to help you.
 What did I learn from my professor who was full of negativity, criticism and doubt?
1. I learned to look within myself to find the truth.
2. I learned to not give my power away.
3. I learned that people are subjective in their opinions.
4. I learned to give myself what I needed to succeed.
5. I learned that everyone is truly doing their best.
6. I learned that a life lived without awareness, creates actions against others without awareness.
7. I learned to use discernment in who is giving me information.
8. I learned everyone and everything is here to help us.
9. I learned there are gifts in the strangest of places, and the cruelest of faces.
10. I learned there is no such thing as constructive criticism. That if you give people enough love, support and guidance, the best will be brought out of them naturally.
 No matter what we choose to do in life, we are so often met with obstacles, rejection and mountains to climb. But we must remember that it is in these challenges that we find the greatest gifts. If everything was easy, what would we learn?  How would we grow?
 We are stretched from getting uncomfortable. When someone steps into our world and tries to knock us down, give their opinion or is just plain rude. It is in that space where we ask the most pertinent questions. Is this my truth or is this their truth? How is this helping me?
 Everything we could ever want out of life is just beyond our comfort zone. If being uncomfortable were easy, we would all welcome it with open arms. But it is not. Being uncomfortable is tough. We feel like our lives are out of control, our days are chaotic, the moments uneasy, and this can all really freak us out. We can feel like all we know is being taken from us. We can feel fear, doubt and even paranoia.
 In order to deal with this discomfort we may turn to addictions, blame, blindly reacting to others, or helplessness. When this happens, and we dodge the feelings that arise, we never get beyond our comfort zone, and never receive the gifts.
 The way to have all we aspire to have is through this discomfort. Let the feelings come and go. If we tread gently with ourselves and others, we can rise above the uneasiness, by sitting within it. We can look not what is right in front of us, but what is just beyond the horizon. And then we can act with awareness, consciousness and know exactly what we need to do without any morsel of doubt. Sometimes we take action, and other times we sit still.
 If we can hold on through the discomfort, we will be receiving exactly what we need, what is in the highest and best outcome for all. Then the letting go occurs and upon our arrival we receive the gift we have been waiting for – all that we could have ever imagined for ourselves and our lives.
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 So, the next time someone gives you their opinion, triggers you, or flips you off in traffic, say thank you. Instead of reacting, check in with yourself. For, they may have just given you a gift of pushing you smack into your discomfort zone. And here, may be all you have ever wanted. Life gives us challenges and tests, don’t be fooled by the ones that cause us discomfort. These are the greatest gifts with the ugliest wrapping paper.
 Want help or more information on navigating life’s discomfort zones? Contact Beth today.

Count Your Blessings

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We have all heard the saying count your blessings.  Be grateful.  Appreciate what you have.  Say thank you. Sometimes this feels fake. Does it not?  When we are having a bad day, or things do not go as we had hoped. When we lose someone we love, become ill, have a child that struggles socially, or just don’t have the life we want, we don’t want to appreciate what we have! And at that moment, we shouldn’t. We are not ready.

It is not the time to count our blessings but to become brutally honest, and shout,”Wow, this sucks!  I do not like this at all.” Allow ourselves to feel lonely, sad, pissed off, as deeply and thoroughly as possible.  To be disappointed, frustrated, jealous, heartbroken. To leave judgment aside, and stop labeling our emotions as good or bad. If we are angry, be freaking angry or unbelievably sad. Scream, punch pillows, be a bitch. Most of us, don’t allow ourselves to feel. Instead, we want to blame someone else because we don’t like what we are feeling. Sometimes it is another person, or even God that we blame. Yet, hiding, judging, blaming or denying our feelings is what keeps these emotions hanging around like an unwanted house guest. And we never actually get to count our blessings.

Just this week, I was given a chance to feel the gamut of human emotions. I allowed them to come and go like a summer sun shower. At the end of the week, after a particularly long day, I sat and watched my son, Drew, in his Tae Kwon Do class. Having struggled with gross motor coordination, he has progressed beautifully, and watching him attempt to follow Master Kwon was beautiful. Yet, I was distracted, as news of my daughter’s torn ACL ligament was fresh in my mind, and a mother’s worry about an serious injury, trumps roundhouse kicks. Emotions such as anger, frustration, fear, sadness, disbelief took their turn, emerging from my heart in succession. In fact, I was so completely engrossed in details of picking up her pain medications, scheduling surgery, canceling college soccer ID camps, I did not notice a boy, much older than Drew, who had run off the mat, crying, until he was right next to me. The boy sat huddled in a ball so tight, it seemed he wanted to disappear. After a few minutes of encouragement by his mother and instructor, the boy returned to class, leaving behind tears imprinted upon his mother’s heart.

I was about to go back to the mindless chatter in my head, but life had other plans. The  boys’ mother spoke to me, as she wiped away her own tears.”He had a brother who was eighteen years old.  He died a year ago.”  She pointed to her younger son, now back out on the mat. I observed his arms folded protectively in front of his chest, adamantly protesting his participation in class. “He has never been the same,” she added, before turning away.

I knew her wounds were still fresh, a year is drop in the bucket when it comes to losing a child. Without trying, I pushed aside my worries and listened compassionately. I did not know what it would be like to lose a child at the tender age of eighteen, but I offered up the information how Drew struggled when he first started class, and how great the instructors had been with him. I explained his sensory processing disorder. How his confidence is often compromised because of all he has been through.

The mom then uttered,”Is that okay if I pray for your son?”

I was speechless.  How harrowing an experience she has been through, yet she was praying for my son. I thanked her, and could not gather my thoughts as before, nor could I tap into the feelings. I could only begin counting my blessings. There are no accidents. I had allowed myself eight hours of worry, anger, sadness and honest frustration at life. And now it was time to see the gift life had just planted in my lap. The gift of remembering that life happens when we are making other plans. And sometimes what happens in life is shitty, and sometimes it is horrific. It is not about denying our feelings, but being honest with ourselves.  And only through honesty, can we somehow become thankful for all that we have, come to know that it is not what happens to us in life, but how we react to it. And it is not about all that we do not have, but how beautiful and giving life is, no matter what we are feeling. How living life from this higher perspective, sends  a wave of appreciation out into the world, or at least to the person sitting next to you.

Of course, we cannot rush it – that moment of appreciation will appear when we are ready.   It may take eight hours or eight years. Grief will run its course as our the tears we shed, wash away all that clouds our vision, until we begin to know how lucky we all truly are. How crappy things are often dressed up in an ice pack of pain, yet honesty reduces the swelling of unfortunate events, until we allow ourselves to open our eyes to what is next for us. How there is a time for everything, and if we do not get there on own, life will help us out. We often have little control in this life, but we can make the choice to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

I did silently pray for both the mother next to me, and her son. And then I thought about how I could ruminate on all that my son is not, or I could admire his strengths, his gifts and the beautiful person that he is.  I could focus on the hill that my daughter will be climbing, all she may be missing, or I could bring to mind what life may be bringing to her during her recovery – opportunities she may not have had, new experiences, and a strength deep inside that she had never before witnessed.

We can never know what life has in store for us, and we can say, “Really life?  Is this the best that you got?” And then we can say, “thank you.” For our hidden treasures are often wrapped in a tattered quilt, and when we spend the time expressing our hearts no matter what, life will drop a beautiful gift into our laps. And when we are ready, we can open it, and at the right moment, give it away to someone else.