Matthew asked me for ear plugs the other day before heading into school.  The strange thing is I actually had a whole package of them in my car, my sensitive ears like to be prepared, but it was full because I haven’t needed them in quite some time. I passed my noise sensitivity on to at least a couple of my children, and he is most definitely one of them. It’s turning out that this overly conscious sense of hearing reaches to other areas of my life. Maybe it comes with age, or getting more clear on our own goals, but I have an overwhelming urge to cut out the noise and keep things simple these days.  Noise that used to create so much friction in my mind passes through quickly now. There is peace of mind and a braver response to my life when I choose to reflect, respond, or walk away from a thought or situation. The difference in being able to do that, or react too quickly, comes from a steady state of calm. Calm is clarifying. It’s taken me the better part of 40 years to learn how to chill out and access that zen feeling, my nervous system was on high alert for a long time. But it may have happened just in time to be able to teach my kids a few of the things I’ve learned about what does, and doesn’t matter in this life.  

 Being the creature of habit that I am, I find some concentrated wisdom in the Finding Mastery podcast that I listen to every week. This week’s was with Mick Fanning, a World Champion surfer who has survived a shark attack, on camera nonetheless, during a competition in South Africa.  My favorite question in a great interview came at the end, when Dr. Mike went through a list of World Champion surfers, including Mick, and his friends like Kelly Slater and the late Andy Irons, and asked what made them the best. Mick’s answers to what made each of them rise to the peak of their sport ware different for each one of them, from more steady states of flow, competing at all costs, and accessing his inner underdog, each of these greats had a different mentality that equated championship skills. The answer was fascinating to me. .

We connect with others through our common experiences but it is our ability to recognize and hone our uniqueness that allows us to reach the greatest heights in whatever our pursuits are in this life. There isn’t one way to win or achieve success, but self awareness is always a cornerstone. 

  The biggest piece of the success puzzle for me is finding calm. The more often my mind can find stillness, the quicker it can reset from one of the crazy twists that life throws at me. There are a few rules of thumb that help keep life on the quieter, more peaceful track, even when one of the spokes on my wheel is out of whack. 

  1. Don’t give too much thought to what other people may think. The key word here is “may” because really we have no idea. Our own minds can get away from us, cooking up ideas, when really people are much more concerned with their own circumstances. But let’s say we are right, and someone is thinking the worst thing about us, stop and consider if an outside opinion, from someone that doesn’t have the benefit of knowing you or your story, should change your trajectory? Again, the better we understand ourselves, our motivations, and our goals, the easier it is to silence the noise and go with our own instincts. Judgment usually has far more to do the personal circumstances of the person judging, not the one being judged.

  2. Don’t criticize other people. I work hard on this one because judgment seems to be a natural state for us as humans. But this rule is the flip side of the coin for not internalizing what other people think or say. Looking for, and pointing out the flaws in other people, takes energy away from our own journey so why spend time there? If I notice I’m hanging out in that place, I know now to ask myself if what I’m observing is trying to tell me something about my own life. It’s often an area of my own insecurity that I need to get a handle on.

  3. Work on myself instead of trying to fix someone else. There is so much in this life that is outside of our control but if we don’t stop to identify that, it creates a lot of unnecessary noise. The filter I use for this also comes from Finding Mastery - there are only three things we can train - our mind, our body, and our craft- so these days I try to keep my efforts focused there and let other people make their own way. Real connection is never gained through controlling means, so this process has actually strengthened my relationships and cut out the noise created when we try to handle other peoples business for them.

  4. Make sure my priorities and my actions match up. Getting clear about what we want out of our days is a very empowering process. Once we know that, looking at the way we spend our minutes is what makes our goals become reality. Besides parenting, writing, and exercise are my first two priorities in order to move my life forward and fulfill my potential…so I do them first. This also helps me see what to say yes and no too, a very valuable lesson in owning your own life story. There is so much noise that can distract us from our priorities if we let it…mindlessly scrolling social media, binge watching your favorite TV series, saying yes to things out of guilt rather than purpose, you know the drill. Prioritize your progress and then schedule your recovery time and things start falling into place.

Solitude and self awareness are uniquely connected and If we can string together moments of quiet, intuition has a chance to speak and the path becomes clear.  When I feel the calm that comes from that experience, it’s as if time slows down and my mind and body are in tune to respond to any situation. These are the skills that have allowed me to stop using the ear plugs that Matthew still thinks he needs…so I guess I better keep teaching. 

Life slowed down a bit for me this week, like when my kids were little and someone woule get a fever and you had to stay home. I remember secretly enjoying the excuse to stay in and cuddle whoever was sick, as long as I didn’t have other healthy toddlers that had to be kept alive at the same time. At this point I don’t  have that problem, I just had to recruit my own mom to move in and do the driving for the ones I left behind when I went to Texas.  This time, it was my college freshman, Lauren, who, after being diagnosed with mono almost two weeks ago, called on Sunday and needed some extra care to get this nasty virus turned around...so off I went. Regardless of circumstances, good things and experiences always come out of the time we spend together and once some of the meds they gave her started to give her some relief, this time was no different. Besides a great Monday night game between the Seahawks and 49ers (Lauren has been able to talk football with any group of dad’s since she was 12), we binged on a little Modern Love, Gray’s Anatomy, and Big Little Lies. I’m still way behind the rest of the world on these shows, but TV drama, like a good novel, always illustrates some human truths that make for good conversation for us and keep me thinking afterward. 

One of these thoughts came when we were watching Big Little Lies and Lauren, observing the relationship between Ed (Adam Scott) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) said

“There is a low maintenance person out there for for every high maintenance one.”

I knew what she meant, she was talking about “opposites attract” or the “yin and yang” theories where partners balance each other and create a harmonious relationship. In Big Little Lies, Ed is such a chill guy to have chosen Madeline to be “the one”, it’s hard to imagine the relationship could actually be a fit, but I see the romantic beauty in her thought. The couple of decades of life experience I have on her had me answering back quick though. 

“It doesn’t necessarily work that way. I don’t want to be the low maintenance one, chasing high maintenance or the high maintenance one expecting to be balanced out by the low maintenance, I want to be one of two low maintenance people who support each other.” 

She got what I was saying, her comment wasn’t meant to be a deep one, just some banter back as forth as we watched this overly dramatic show. But of course, my mind kept breaking it down further as I thought about the nature of my experience with human relationships and the life that surrounds them. 

These days, I’m thankful for my low maintenance ways even more because of life’s often high maintenance circumstances, because although life is full of simple pleasures, a lot of days it doesn’t feel so simple and the people that we choose to spend our days with need to add more connection and less complication to the flow.

Despite what Jerry McGuire had to say back in 1996, connection, not completion, is what the best relationships are about. Connection isn’t either complicated or simple, it’s just conscious. Consciousness allows us to think of the other person without obsessing, and helps us understand that expecting all of our needs to be met by someone else is bound to create some drama, and robs us of our own freedom. Interdependence over codependence.. Expecting someone else to make us happy or fulfilled, or having them try and fail to create that place for us is not how trust, longevity, and stability is built. Healthy relationships are only available to us when we first have a strong sense of our own worth and the ability to soothe ourselves. From this place, we can build and have fun together, knowing that we always have our own autonomy as the source of our strength. This keeps us from falling into controlling patterns and allowing us, and our partner, to move freely through the world. Love is a choice, when we learn to love ourselves, we give others the choice to love us without strings attached. 

With the right person, mundane and calm feel like a gift in this crazy life. But if we have been used to too much chaos in our life, or are trying to numb some unresolved feelings or trauma, calm doesn’t feel right to our system. We have to be able to sit quietly with ourselves and sort out our feelings and thoughts, or we will always look for the big events to sweep those uncomfortable feelings under the mat. Don’t get me wrong, trips and tickets to great events are fun, but the best relationships enjoy the simple things, anywhere, anytime, because simple is never boring together. 

The best writing, even fictional, like Liane Moriarty’s, who wrote the book Big Little Lies, which I loved long before it was turned into a TV series (although good for her), is grounded in universal human truth. I’m realizing the reason I don’t watch much TV is because life’s drama is enough for me on most days, so a lot of the time I am just seeking quiet. Today, I aim to be the low maintenance to life’s high maintenance, and although that partnership is working out pretty well, it’s a partnership that I’m not looking to replicate.

P.S. - I’m happy to report that Lauren is doing so much better. Thank you to all of the people who reached out with good vibes and prayers for her. She’s hit the not so miserable stage of mono where she just needs to sleep it off:)

Sh#t happens. It was an explanation given to my youngest son (not by me) when he asked an adult in his life about divorce one time. The words hurt me pretty bad at the time because I didn’t like the ending of a 20 year relationship being summed up that way, it of course sounded insensitive and made our marriage sound so insignificant to me at the time.  Healing happens though, and today I would say and maybe there is an ounce of truth to the crass and simplistic statement.  What I would add to it though is

“Sh#t happens…but that isn’t the end of the story.” 

Sh#t happens for a reason, and it’s up to us if we want to follow the trail and figure out why, or if we want to keep stepping in our mess over and over again.  I haven’t met anyone who’s family has been spared some generational trauma, so why do we feel so ashamed, or like no one else will understand and then end up trying to hide behind a facade of perfection? I had to figure this out through divorce, but there are so many areas of life that can teach us if we let our struggles, and overcoming them, make us more self aware. 

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend with a group of high school friends who illustrate this point beautifully in thought and action. There isn’t one of us that hasn’t been challenged by the serious issues this world can throw our way.  Relationship struggles, addiction, parenting through difficult circumstances, bonus kids, finding the courage to be who we were born to be - whether that has made us struggle with the expectations of others, how we show up and love in this world or being able to free ourselves from the judgment of others enough to find that beautiful space where we can find our own alignment. It’s always good to get together and reminisce because had we known in high school what life was going to bring, it would have scared us to death, and its always good to travel back and remember the more carefree days we were afforded back then. Even the minor rebellion at that age had the advantage of strengthening us and today, we have all done the work, weathered the storms, set the boundaries, and asked the tough questions. Although we are all still works in progress, the conversations are real and offer the support that encourages living the authentic life. When I get on this side of those talks, I am filled up, even when the surrounding circumstances are difficult and I wonder why we as humans fight against ourselves so much when the freedom on the other side is so blissful. My best conversations are with people who will open up…better out than in I always tell my kids.  So daily, I pay attention to the reasons that keep me seeking higher levels of self awareness and they give me inspiration to keep doing the work to fight off more sh#t happening, even on the down days. If you need some practical reasons to stop hiding and adopt this transparent lifestyle, where we get to talk about what really irks us, hurts us, and also makes us jump for joy, I have some ideas. 

  1. End the shadow talk (i.e. gossip). When we haven’t answered the questions for ourselves about what we are about, where we are headed and what makes us happy, we turn our emptiness on others. We throw shade at anyone we perceive is ahead of us, happier than us, or possesses something we want, and try to take them down a notch with our words. These conversations never lead us to our higher self. We have forgotten that our journey is not a race, and our perception of what others are experiencing in life is oversimplified. It’s rare that we know the whole story and we are better off spending time figuring out our purpose and charting our course than worrying about what anyone else is doing. When we hide behind the image of perfection we are scared to death of anything else being the case. We lose our capacity to be empathic to the situations around us that would benefit from our care, and end up building more superficial and small minded relationships that are stifling and lonely. Learning to show up for other people in a supportive way can teach us a lot about ourselves, and our strengths, and allow us to build off our those but validation of our own path is an inside job. No amount of trying to knock others paths will make your own path straight so build yourself up by working on you instead of trying to bring others down…it never works anyway.

  2. Raise Your Vibration. Have you ever felt the difference in how you respond to the world and how the world responds to you when you are joyful instead of burdened? When our vibration is high, opportunities show up in the form of relationships and experiences that make life a genuinely happy and productive place. When we are living in the shadows of fear, guilt, and shame, we have a lower vibration and cannot access our highest self. We can raise our vibration when we find purpose, things that make us laugh, and spend the time and effort to take care of ourselves through exercise, diet & a mindfulness practice. Vibrations can’t be faked, it’s only through doing the work of self awareness that we can find the free feeling of showing up in the world as ourselves and keep working towards our personal best. Once we get started, the small victories build on themselves and motivate us to move down that path.

  3. The script repeats itself over and over again. Maybe the best reason to figure out why sh#t happens is that if we don’t, patterns continue to repeat themselves. They are part of our subconscious and so much of our activity stems from that place that place below the surface. We have to do the work to move from a fear based thought process to one that embraces optimism and potential. If we are willing to be honest and look at the patterns that have brought us to today and then identify what we want to change, one small change begins the shift. It doesn’t have to be done overnight, but it does have to be done…or guess what, the same sh#t will just happen, over and over again.

Everyday, I challenge myself to wrestle with my old patterns and flip the script. Sometimes the  fear still creeps in or the unworthiness surfaces but I recognize it for what it is, send it to the backseat and keep driving.  So today, even if sh#t happens, I’m confident that it’s going to be different sh#t and I’m going to learn from that too. 

Why do we look for comfort in sameness? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot this week.  I hear myself say, "she’s one of my people”, or “she’s like me” and the moment it comes out of my mouth, I groan a little bit inside.  As a kid I felt different, I wanted to be older, I didn’t always relate to my surroundings the way I wanted to, and often felt out of my element.  I felt both timid and shy, but then also like I understood more about what was going on around me than anyone knew. 

The power of observation and listening instead of talking should never be underestimated.

I still can’t say where my sweet spot was, I just knew that life kept getting better as I got older, and what held it all together was that I expected each day to be a little better than the last.  I learned to be kind, listen, and pay attention to what other people were feeling and seemed to need.

We have to come a ways through childhood before EQ, instead of just IQ is recognized as important. 

All of these things were good, but the trouble, at that point of my life, was my definition of better. Was I going to wake up more popular, feeling smarter in school, or a stonger athlete? That is certainly what gets you recognized in the world’s eyes. Well, ironically, as I grew, those worldly markers actually seemed to fall into place for me well enough…I always say college was four years of no bad days, and aside from a gnarly ankle injury, it was pretty much the truth.  Things stayed on the up and up for awhile but little by little, as life tends to do, adulthood caught up with me, and reminded me what I felt like I knew when I was young;

What is great about each of us is what is different, not the same.

Parenting is an amazing journey, one I have been on for almost 20 years now, stretched across four awesome kids. The last 12 have tested my strength and intuition as the gut feeling I had when Matthew was only six weeks old created its path to an Asperger’s diagnosis when he was six. Ironically, Asperger’s isn’t even in the DSM anymore (does that mean he doesn’t have a diagnosis?). I bring this all back to Matthew because when he struggles, our whole family struggles, because that’s how families work. And these challenges are a pretty daily fixture lately.  Some of the things he struggles with, like making friends and eye contact, aren’t easy on any day, but it becomes particularly difficult with the onset  and awareness we gain with adolescence, and he is standing on the edge of it and staring it down. I think it’s hard to learn to honor our uniqueness at this age, under any circumstances, but gaining understanding of a diagnosis gives it an extra rough edge. I can see the reality of something being “incurable” in his 12 year old brain hitting him hard, and I have to remind him that he is the same kid he has always been, before his awareness of doctors and diagnosis peaked, and that even more, he doesn't realize how far he has come, because up until just recently, showing up for speech or OT or neurofeedback was just normal to him.

The message that keeps coming back to me loud and clear the more we talk is how can I teach him to work from his uniqueness if I am not doing that myself?  I can’t teach him to embrace his different, if I can’t accept what is different about me.  No striving to be the same, looking around to see what everyone else thinks or does. I have to teach him it’s ok to take the long way around, as long as you are listening to your own heart. It’s ok not to want the same things or do the same work as the others. Every story and path looks different.

We find connection not in our sameness, but when we have the courage to share with the world what is different about us and let them learn from it and see what they can add to it.  

The vulnerability lies in giving people a chance to show compassion, kindness, or understanding because sometimes they won’t, and it hurts like hell, no matter who you are.  But resilience is built by being knocked down and getting back up, even if we need a hand in the process…and mine will be here outstretched and waiting to grab his and pull him up, because he has proven that he capable of walking solidly on his own two feet. He is not a diagnosis, he is one of the most emotionally intelligent human beings I have ever met and I drew the lucky hand of guiding him because I have been training for this stuff my entire life.