Accepting Myself

 

img_8941My grandson spills milk on the floor.  Not a peep of criticism from my daughter.  She simply laughs and states that she can’t say anything to anyone for spilling and dropping things because she’s worse than anyone in the family at just those things.  She beautifully demonstrates an important principle.  To give love and compassion to others, we must first give it to ourselves.

Perhaps my daughter got this propensity for dropping things from her mother.  I frequently drop and spill things. However, unlike my daughter, I often hear a voice in my head calling me unkind names; such as clumsy or incompetent.  This same name-calling inner critic has other choice names for me at other times — stupid, inept, or lazy. These labels may intrude upon my thoughts; however, they are no longer invited to make themselves at home.  At least that’s my goal.

In spite of these mental trespassers, I have come a long way over the years in learning to love, forgive, and accept myself.  This certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t work to improve myself.  It simply means that I’m okay,  just as I am right now —  a work in progress.

When I can smile at my defects instead of taking on guilt and self-condemnation; when I can accept myself — flaws, mistakes, and all, I find that loving, forgiving, and accepting my spouse and others just as they are, comes naturally and easily.  And, I am the first to receive the gifts that I give.  .

I may not be perfect, but I am excellent. 

– Author Unknown – 

 

The Gifts of the Pause

GivernyAfter my exercise class, I drive by my favorite bargain-hunting store.  On a whim and without a thought, I allow my car to turn into the parking lot of this shopping mecca. Two hours later, with empty hands, I emerge from the store, wishing I could have my two hours back, and the energy I left in the aisles and fitting room of the shop.  Another time, allowing anger to talk, I say something to my spouse I deeply regret.  In yet another, I give him the benefit of my unsolicited advice about something that has nothing to do with me.

These kind of situations rarely turn out well.  The problem is that I don’t always know what is in my own or others’ best interest.  I may think I do; however, experience has shown that I am often embarrassingly  wrong.  Seeking pleasure through acquiring things or having others behave in a certain way is not the path to real happiness, which flows from a peace deep within ourselves.

Unfortunately, I often wish I had chosen differently.  I have learned that I can have much more satisfying results with my choices when I first receive the gifts of the pause.  The pause is that space I create in my mind when I stop my own rambling thoughts long enough to ask for guidance from Divine Wisdom.  And, I want to stay in that pause long enough to listen for the answer instead of plunging on, doing what I wanted to do, or what I thought I wanted to do.

I can benefit from the gifts of the pause any time I choose.  I can simply stop my thoughts and listen to the silence.  It may help to focus on a tree or a flower or the singing of a bird or my breathing.  With this simple act time seems to stop while peace folds over me in gossamer stillness.  And, I will know I can trust the answer when it comes from this place of peace.

I will choose the gifts of the pause today.  My spouse and others in my life will receive the gifts along with me.

 

 

If Only


IMG_0042If wishes made fishes, we’d  have a fish fry.            
Author unknown

Hindsight has shown me that many of the decisions my spouse and I have made over the years did not end up as we had hoped.  We especially seem to have a penchant for choosing workers for home repair and remodeling who do less than desirable work.  Each time we thought we were choosing reputable companies.  For example, several summers ago, we had a water leak under the slab of our utility room.  The plumber didn’t tell us that there were options to jackhammering up the floor to get to the leaky pipe.  We had never run into this kind of situation before, so we didn’t know that some plumbers can cap off the offending pipe and reroute the water lines through the attic.  As it was, we ended up having to replace all the tile in the utility room and the kitchen. 

With situations like this, it’s so easy to try to relieve my discomfort by taking it out on my spouse.  If I’m not careful, I may find myself making some subtle, or not so subtle, comments that thinly veil my desire to blame him.  

The truth of the matter is that I blame myself.  The I-should-have-known mantra plays through my head. I slap myself against the forehead and exclaim, “If only.”  I may not be so dramatic as this; however, I have caught myself lamenting my choices on many occasions — often these sneaky little thoughts are so subtle that they just creep into my thinking without my awareness.  And, before you know it, I’m beating myself up for being so “stupid.”  Now this makes no sense at all.  My decisions may appear to be “wrong” in hindsight; however, this does not negate the fact that I made the best decision I could have with the information I had at the time.

No matter how often I replay a situation in my head, it’s not going to change.  So, all my efforts to beat myself up or to hope I can still make it “right,” leave me depressed and limp with fatigue. What possible purpose is served by my wishing I’d done differently.  When I’m under the spell of these devious thoughts of “if only,” my energy is depleted as I spray it into the world around me — after I’ve effectively run it through this negative energy converter.  These thieves rob me and my relationships of peace and happiness.

So what to do? This question answered before I had finished it.  The Serenity Prayer never fails me when I finally surrender my destructive thoughts to its healing power.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

As this prayer aligns my thoughts with sane thinking, my shoulders and brow relax and all things look lighter and brighter — even a new tile floor.

Today I will be vigilant for the sneaky “if only” varmint in my head and refuse to give it entrance into my thinking.  I will accept the grace of the Serenity Prayer, or another prayer of my choosing, that I may move in a gentle world that blesses me with serenity..   

 

Mister God


images“And as for Anna, she had simply moved out and let Mister God move in.”                                                                                           from
Mister God, This is Anna, by Fynn

A committed relationship flows most happily and most peacefully when one or both  partners are not seeing through the eyes of their own limited perspectives. If I listen to the self-seeking voice in my head, I will notice that it looks upon all things and asks, “How does this affect me?”  It automatically sorts everything into categories of approval or disapproval.  If I allow this voice to reign, I can go through life with my peripheral vision cut down to a minute “me-sized” space.  This causes me to exclude the vast majority of other viewpoints and insights. It effectively keeps out compassion, tolerance and love. It is also suspicuously canny in keeping me locked inside myself, quite alone and separate from others. It is the birthplace of hateful arguments and hurt feelings.  Not the voice I want to be in charge of my life or my marriage.

But, I have another choice.  If I notice the self-seeking voice chattering, demanding my attention, and trying to be the center of the universe, I can choose instead to follow the example of  the child named Anna.  I can simply move out and let God move in.  With this new perspective everything changes.  I no longer see my interests as more important than my mate’s.  I realize that we share a common goal.  I recognize that  his behavior and his words are just attempts to find what we all want —  happiness and peace.  With Mister God’s vision, I will see him through the eyes of love and compassion.  

When I move out and let God move in, everything changes.

 

Shared Moments

IMG_5576My spouse is getting ready to leave for work. He stops a moment to listen to me read a poem. I make it through almost to the end of it before my voice breaks, and I have a hard time reading because I am so moved by the words.  My spouse understands and agrees with me that the poem is quite moving. He shares my respect for this poet.  A tender moment, a we moment — one of the many gifts of a shared, committed relationship.

How different from those moments when we, the same two people, seem to live in totally different worlds, when nothing the other says makes any sense at all.  But these too can be shared moments.  For in these times, we are two beings trying to work through a disconnection to a reconnection.  

Sure, I may be trying to push my agenda or shove my perceptions down his throat, but could it be that my goal is to get to a place of agreement, a reconnection?  Perhaps this seems to be a twisted approach; however, deep down I want  him to agree with me so we can reconnect and share the moment.  This longing to reconnect in the face of disagreements can be quite painful.  We long to be connected.   If it weren’t so important that we reconnect with each other, maybe we wouldn’t try so hard to “sell” the other on our particular viewpoints. Maybe if I remember the real goal in these moments of heated debate, my approach will change.  Underneath the seemingly separate desires is a common goal –two people seeking to agree, seeking to reconnect.  If I can move my thinking to that place, the right words and actions will follow.

Today I will see through the eyes of shared goals.  

 

I See You

Unknown-1In the earlier days of our marriage, I did some crazy, immature things and said some unnecessarily hurtful things to my spouse.  I didn’t really want to hurt him, even though it felt like it at the time. What I really wanted was for him to see me.  So, I cried, I ranted, I accused.  Once I even got out of the car in the middle of nowhere — great drama.  All in pursuit of just one thing:  I wanted to be acknowledged by him, for my needs to matter to him. 

But, he was locked up in the prison of his own wanting, his need to be heard, to be acknowledged. Some couples spend a large portion of their time in their separate prisons.  They will stay that way until the pain gets so great that they will flee the relationship or decide to make a change.  So, what to do?

As Ghandi instructed, “Be the change you want to see.”  So, if I want to be heard by my spouse, seen by my spouse, I can begin by truly listening to him. What is he saying?  What is he needing?  It may help to ask some questions, such as, “What do you need, my Love?”  “How can I be helpful to you?”

But what if his needs conflict with mine, as is often the case?  I can ask, “Is there a way that we can both get our needs met?”  Sometimes, the need is not really in the form that one of us is so strongly advocating.  Rather, it is the underlying content of being acknowledged.  Often, the whole emotional exchange melts away when I give up my agenda long enough to really see him.  Interesting how he begins to heal as I heal.   

Today I will give my spouse that which we all want.  Perhaps I can learn from the movie, Avatar, by letting him hear me say, “I see you.”  

 

Things That Matter

IMG_5303We had lived in our house for over 22 years.  Over time our needs and lifestyle changed and this house did not feel quite right anymore.  So, we went house hunting and eventually found a home that felt perfect for us.

Even though we had a preference for a new home, we were not dependent on having it for our happiness together as a couple. 

This is evident to us when we contrast what we wanted in our new home with a very primitive cabin in the mountains, which has been in my husband’s family for nearly 50  years.  Even though it clearly lacks the amenities and conveniences to which we are accustomed, we always enjoy our time together there, which often includes other family members and friends as well. When vacationing there, we depend on a wood-burning stove for heat and cooking, which requires splitting wood.  We lack modern plumbing which means a trip to the outhouse when nature calls.  Not always desirable when it is raining or pitch dark outside.  There is no television or radio or cell phone reception, no wireless internet connection, no dishwasher, and no washer and dryer.  Although, lacking in modern conveniences, life is peacefully simple there. We are always happy and quite content in that primitive home.

These experiences clearly demonstrate to us that the external things in life are not what make us happy together.  We may have preferences, but we needn’t have them to be happy.  Rather, our happiness as a comes in the moments of true human connection. Those moments when seeing someone as “other” melts into a moment of experiencing ourselves as we are, as one.  This happens in little ways, such as a moment when our eyes connect, or we share a joke, or enjoy a beautiful sunset together, or suddenly laugh at an argument in which we  had just been so passionately engaged.   We can connect wherever we are:  at a wedding or a funeral, inside or outside, surrounded by luxury or the bare essentials, in a crowd or totally alone, in pleasant weather or in a storm.  Clearly, our happiness does not depend on our surroundings.

If I find myself obsessing about the things I think I have to have to be happy, I will pause to reflect on all the things that really matter. 

 

Positive Thinking or Denial?

IMG_9482“What’s wrong?,” I ask. “Nothing,” he replies. But, I know him too well to not know that something is eating on him. It may be something I said that didn’t sit well with him. Or, heaven forbid, it may not be about me at all. 

In the past few years, I’ve noticed a change in his response to the question, “What’s wrong.”  It’s clear that he has learned it is healthier for himself and for our relationship and others in his life to admit that there is indeed something bothering him.  Even though his first response may still occasionally be that nothing is wrong, after he thinks about it awhile, he usually tells me what is causing his droopy spirits. 

When the situation is about something or someone other than me, he may not tell me exactly what it is; however, he does admit it to himself.  He may simply reassure me that his low spirits are not about me and that he is working on the situation. That’s enough to put my mind at rest.

In past years I too had the tendency to put a smiley face on unpleasant situations.  If I felt sad or disappointed or angry, I quickly tried to find the silver lining in whatever situation was bothering me.  I took the concept of “positive thinking” too far.  It is good to think positively; however, as a good friend once advised me, “You can’t put frosting on a cow patty.”  No matter how sweet that frosting is, it can’t disguise what it’s trying to cover. I’ve found through experience that if I look at my circumstances and my accompanying feelings head-on, I can move through them more quickly.  Once my feelings are out of hiding, they lose their power over me.  Then I’m in a much better position to deal with them in a healthy manner.  

Today I will accept and face my circumstances and my feelings and take appropriate action to deal with them.

 

Options

IMG_2002“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em.”

                                                                      Don Schlitz, songwriter

They had enjoyed 42 good years together until he left this world for the next great adventure.  As his widow and I chatted about the gifts of marriage, we concurred that most couples work through at least one very challenging time in their marriages.  She said for her and her spouse, it was when she became aware that she needed to do more than be a stay-at-home mom, which is what her husband preferred.  She dreamed of starting her own floral business.  After praying about the situation, she chose to follow where her heart led.  She happily and successfully ran her own business for 22 years.  Her husband ended up being very proud of her, and her enjoyment of her work actually enhanced their union.

This reminds me of one of my favorite guiding bits of wisdom that I used often in my professional life, where my role required me to help resolve opposing points of view — “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em.”  I find this serves well in marriage as well.  

But, how do I know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em?  If my spouse and I don’t see things the same way, it often means something or someone has to give.  For me, the first step is to pray.  Next, I work on being willing to see things differently, including my spouse’s point of view. If I am not willing, I am not in a good position to make a decision based on what is in the best interest of us as a couple.  I want to wait until I am willing.  

Then I may ask some insightful questions.  How does the decision affect the marriage as a whole? Who is most affected by the decision? Who has the most invested in the outcome?  Does it even have anything to do with me, or am I meddling in his business, figuring I know what’s best for him?  Then I pray again —and mean it. It’s easy to trick myself into thinking I’m asking for God’s answer when I really just want God to support what I want.  When I feel a deep certainty about my decision, I can be comfortable that I’m on the right track.  What follows will most likely bless both of us.

I will take steps to reach that place of quiet certainty before I decide whether to hold firm or yield.  If I decide to yield, I may discover that I like my spouse’s plan more than mine.  Or better yet, we may come to an agreement that we both like better than anything we had considered before.

Just Let It Go

IMG_6269When my two granddaughters were teenagers, sometimes I heard my daughter command, “Just let it go.”  This was her response when one of the two seemed convinced that if she could just say this one more thing, everyone could see how right she was and she would be vindicated for holding such strong feelings about the subject at hand.  She wanted so badly to have the last word.  It was extremely difficult for her to “just let it go.”

It’s easy for me to see the folly of this kind of behavior in others. It’s quite a bit harder to see this kind of behavior in myself. However, my dear teenage grandchildren served as a wonderful mirror for my own behavior in certain moments of insanity when I don’t want to “just let it go.”

Much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I don’t want to let go of an argument until I’ve had the last word — until I’ve convinced my spouse that I was right or that I was justified in seeing things the way I do.  Surely, after all these years I’ve made progress and I control myself better than when I was a teenager, but the teenager still lives within and occasionally comes out to try to have the last word. 

I am grateful to my granddaughters for having reminded me that if I don’t stay alert, the emotional teenager inside me can come out and try to hold on, unwilling to “just let it go.

Am I reluctant “just to let it go”?  If so, I can try a new response today and see if I like the results better.