Who Are You Trying To Control? Why?

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The other day at a coffee shop, I was talking with my colleagues when a strange man interrupted our conversation. As we were talking about teaching, one of my favorite subjects in the world, he said:

“I think students should just do their work and stop complaining. I tell my daughter all the time to shut up and stop whining and get her work done.”

Oh boy, was I angry. Angry! Here is my thought process:

HOW DARE YOU interrupt us?

HOW DARE YOU voice such an insensitive opinion?

HOW DARE YOU treat your daughter in such an uncaring and mean way???

HOW DARE YOU

I huffed, “I’m glad you’re not a teacher with that attitude.”

He looked at me, unmoved.

Then I jabbed back, “I hope someone listens to your daughter.”

And then I walked off in a snit.

There. I said it. I walked away. I got away from that awful man. I had enough of him.

And then, although I was so angry at the time, my car ride home and the day following kept bringing up a very deep sadness for me. That people would think that way. That a parent would shut down their child that way. That someone would add themselves to a nice conversation I was having and have the power to aggravate me and hijack my emotions that way. I thought I was tougher than that.

And yet…

helicopter-983979_960_720I wanted to control him. I wanted to lecture him. I wanted him to shut up.

Shut up and stop whining and get your work done. That’s right. A taste of his own medicine. That’s what I wanted to tell him to do. The exact same cruel thing.

Shut up. Then I won’t have to deal with you.

Shut up. Stop. Change. Be more like I want you to be.

And then I saw it. A pattern that has surfaced over and over in my life. I wanted to be in control. I wanted another person to act the way I wanted them to act and not be as human and real and messy as they actually were.

Why do I want to control people? Why did I want to control this guy in the coffee shop? What did I want from him anyway?

heart-700141_960_720I want him to be kinder. I want him to be gentle. I want him to be loving and open hearted and willing to be wrong. I want him to make the world a better place and not a cruel place where we shut down kids and shut down other people.

At the heart of my desire to control is that awful four letter word: fear.

I am afraid I won’t get what I want if I don’t control people to get it.

I am afraid people are not kind and gentle and open hearted.

I am afraid that I am not kind and gentle and open hearted.

I am afraid that other people can affect me so deeply.

I want to be protected and safe. I want to be heard. I want to be loved.

Tell your daughter she is safe with you. Tell her she is heard. Tell her she is loved.

Hey beautiful, controlling, human reader: Who are you trying to control? Why? What do you want from them? What do you want from yourself? What do you want from the world? Are you willing to speak the truth of what you want? Are you willing to speak the truth of what you need? Are you willing to give all of that and more to yourself?

Of course, we cannot go back in time. However, if I could, here is what I would say:

“Hey, seems like you want us to validate you and hear you and respect your opinion. That might also be what your daughter wants. I know that when I’m upset, I want to know that I am safe, I am understood, and I am loved. That’s often all anyone wants.”

And then, I would leave the situation, get in my car, and say this to myself:

Hey Georgi, you are safe. Always safe with me. And you are understood. I see that upset you. That’s ok. It’s ok to be angry and sad. I hear you. I understand. And I love that you care, that you want to be kind, and that you are passionate about your students and teaching. I love that about you. You are loved. You are safe here, Georgi. No matter what. I will hear you. I won’t ever leave you. I will always love you.

And then, I would drive away, and leave that in the past. And let it be ok. And let people be who they are. And move forward in my life with an intention to be kinder next time.

Whatever has happened in your life that you are trying to control, please give yourself the safety and space to figure it out, to understand yourself, and to offer yourself love and compassion through it all.

What do you want? Do you have to control others to get it? Could you gently ask for it instead? And are you ready to offer it to yourself?

Loving you out there. XO

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What is Your Pain Telling You?

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When I need to make a decision, I get a pain in my left shoulder. It’s a finger pressing into the top of my back, pushing into my skin and urging me forward.

Stubbornly, I want to stand still. The finger of pain is brown black like tar and it’s sticky and persistent. It doesn’t move easily, it’s glued to my body. When I sit with it and talk to it about what it wants, it says, “Decide. Make a decision. Move forward. We are tired. You are tired. You are exhausting yourself.”

You may now be thinking that I’ve officially lost it. That’s ok.

I talk to my pain. I admit it.

Do you ever talk to your pain? Maybe you try to avoid it. Drown it in Cabernet. Dull it with Doritos. Assuage it with funny movies on Netflix. Throw a tantrum about it and refuse to believe that, after a PhD and a successful career and amazing friends that you still, to this day, have to deal with this crap.

Pain doesn’t seem fair. We do the right things. We’re good people. We try. So why do we still, after all these years, have to deal with pain?

In my emotional intelligence classes, I teach that emotions carry messages. I wonder sometimes if I listen to myself. I wonder if I’m walking my talk. Yes, I think, I have become so much better.

heartache-1846050_960_720Emotions carry messages.

Are you listening to your emotions?

Do you hear them?

Can you sit with pain?

Pain is the opposite of pleasure. Oh, pleasure, you sexy, chocolatey, instantly gratifying and delicious lover.

We, and our terrified little kid brains, want PLEASURE all the time.

Don’t want that pain stuff.

Except… if you can’t stand pain, how much pleasure can you stand? You can’t know ecstatic, heart bursting joy without an intimate understanding of pain.

When people take antidepressants, they numb pain, and also joy. They remain in a midspectrum of emotion. I’m not judging those who medicate, I’m just stating the fact: You can’t knock out your pain without losing pleasure.

So try sitting with pain. There is a long term payoff. And there is a message.

Sit and breathe. Locate the pain. Where is it? What does it feel like? Does it move? Does it have a color? A consistency? Can you soften around it at all? Could you move it from inside your body to outside your body? Can you talk to it?

When your pain talks to you, what does it say?

Georgi, please make a decision. We are hurting. Please relax about this. Please reach out for help. Please tell people that you care, that you love them. Please take that chance. Please visit that place. Please hang out with those people. Please laugh that off. Please slow down. Please say no.

What will your pain tell you? If you don’t listen, don’t worry. It will grow louder.

Courageous, successful reader: Pain is going to visit and revisit you through your whole life, even when you are killing it at work and feeling great in your body. Even when you have a wonderful lover. Even when you have paid off your mortgage.

Pain is natural, human, and carries a message. Start listening. Get curious. You may find you have something to say to yourself, and it’s really, really, good stuff.

You might also find relief. A twinkle of light. Strong arms that flow with flexibility through your yoga class. So much ease. Extended pleasure. Endless appreciation and awe. Exquisite joy.

Loving you out there. You can feel both the joy and the pain. They have something to say. Get quiet and learn. XO

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Three Tips for Tough Times

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This is the final week of classes at my university. Next week is final exam week. These are two of the tough weeks on a teacher or student’s calendar. And let’s face it. They’re sometimes tough weeks for anyone connected to teachers and students.

We all have tough weeks. Some are in retrospect, “Geez, that was a tough week,” but for many of us, we know when a tough week is coming. Holiday weeks are tough for a lot of people.

After 14 years of teaching, these two weeks every semester are still tough for me. And so, I have developed some tools to deal with them.

#1: Tell all friends and family that this week is different for you

I remember bursting into tears over something ridiculous a few years ago and yelling to my partner, “You have to leave me alone! You have to leave me alone! It’s finals!!!” He stood in shock and said “Of course. I understand.” And he did. Because he’d been through a few semesters and seen it. So, luckily, he cut me a lot of slack for a few weeks.

takeaway-40354_960_720I was emotional. I picked strange arguments. I was crabby. I couldn’t bring myself to cook a meal whereas throughout the rest of the year I loved to cook and eat at home.

It’s ok to have a week of all takeout where you cry inexplicably. Tell everyone it might happen. Let it be ok.

People can be so understanding when they know what’s going on. Tell the people you love this is a tough time for you. Watch the compassion flow back in your direction.

crook-1332306_960_720#2: Cancel or delegate all unnecessary obligations. Do not add anything new to your schedule.

If you’re a social person like me, you want to do fun things with friends and go to events. It’s just that, during a tough week, you might be crabby and super tempted to overeat and overdrink. You might use social events to procrastinate and avoid your tough week.

If you can, resist the temptation to start a downward spiral. I’ve gone down the party path, and I’m telling you that it makes a tough week tougher.

But you know what? Maybe you are trying to see how tough you are. In that case, go for it. Experiment. You’re not going to believe me until you try it. When you do, you’ll start to see the beauty of saying no. No, I can’t make it. I can’t do that. I’m going to give you the number of someone else who could help. I’ll see you in a week or two.

map-2527433__340#3: Love yourself fiercely through your week. Give yourself time and space. Pep talk the crap out of yourself.

Mindfulness practice really helps you to notice your thinking. Are you expecting yourself to be perfect? That’s not going to feel good. No one is perfect.

Are you expecting to be happy all the time? That’s not human or possible.

Are you mad at yourself for experiencing so much negative emotion this week? Try being compassionate. You are doing your best. You can make it. It’s all going to be ok. We all get stressed sometimes.

Are you tempted to deal with stress in an unhealthy way? You can deal with it in a healthy way. You can go to bed early. You can ask for help. You can skip a hard workout for an easy walk. You can drink a hot cup of herbal tea. You are going to make it.

Gorgeous, hardworking reader: We all have tough times. You can make it through. Alert your inner circle that you’re having a big week, eliminate or delegate all unnecessary stuff, and love the crap out of yourself through the process.

And then, repeat whenever you need the old 1-2-3.

Loving you out there. See you on the flip side of this week. I’m ordering some takeout. XO

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Feeling Stressed? Consider All the Free Things

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Lentils and Romanesco, charred broccolini and Marcona almonds, butternut squash and mushrooms, pork tenderloin and smoked heirloom tomatoes… the beautiful, savory dishes kept coming to our big table at Handle in Park City.

Mmm.

Mmm.

Mmm mmm mmm.

“This is so good,” I kept saying. “Wow. This is so good.”

We were a table of big gestures and big belly laughs and big love. It was a big beautiful birthday dinner for my friend Sara.

And then, after several hours of savoring, I waited for the bill that never came. I was told to put on my coat because we were leaving. Reaching for my wallet, my friend Betsy said not to worry. What?? My eyes were wide. Really?? She laughed her amazing extended hahaha laugh and said it was wonderful to see me, and she would text me later.

It turns out a man I had just met that night paid for our whole table. And my other friend bought several bottles of tequila for the kitchen staff. And I was the beneficiary of so much generosity and kindness.

santa-claus-1819933__340A free meal.

We all love a free meal. We love friendship and joy and laughter and beautiful, mmm mmm mmm food.

I texted Betsy frantically that I was so grateful. She replied, “I wasn’t expecting it either, but it made for a magical end to a fun night of laughter and friendship.”

Well said, I wrote. So well said.

Ever since then, I have felt so happy about the kindness of strangers. And I have contemplated all the free meals I have been gifted with. Some of my favorites were free pizza or a free bagel. Last week, I bought my class free pizza and it was so fun.

It’s fun to get a free meal, and it’s fun to give one too.

Have you ever gotten something for free? Something wonderful and unexpected?

card-1835447__340Take a moment and remember: What have you received for free? Look around you: How many wonderful things are free?

I sat down this morning and started making a list of all the amazing things I get for free. All the resources in my community that are free to everyone. All the things going on at my university that are free to everyone. All the beauty in nature that we all marvel at that is free free free free free.

Of course, cynics will say that there is a cost to someone. But how often do you give thanks for all your benefits? How frequently do you acknowledge all the gifts that people are giving or trying to give you?

What are the gifts that people give to you? Are you receiving them? Are you appreciating them? Can you see them everywhere?

Beautiful, gorgeous, holiday reader: ‘Tis the season for gift giving… but it doesn’t have to be contained to a holiday and a time of year or even a special occasion. People are giving you gifts every day: Do you accept them? The world has resources to offer you: Are you finding them? Your community is reaching out to you to join them: Are you listening?

Look for the gifts in your life. Surprise! They are everywhere. Some are delectably and deliciously generous, and some are small and subtle.

Open your heart to the gifts that people want to give. Accept them. You are worthy.

Loving you out there. Mmm mmm mmm. XO

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Thank Your Challenges

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Sometimes, around the holidays, people say, “This has been a tough year,” or “This has been a really challenging year.”

Have you been challenged this year?

Difficulties facilitate growth. Rejection is redirection. Challenges create change.

This year, if you’ve had difficulties, try saying, “I have grown a lot this year. I have learned a lot this year. This has been a year of tremendous growth and insight.”

sunflower-187985_960_720Every day can be a good day.

Every year can be a good year.

Sometimes it is a challenge to calm your mind. To slow your breathing. To return to the present instead of mining in the past or fearing the future.

Challenges create change. Try to stay present today as you give thanks. And then cultivate that practice as often as possible.

Grateful, thankful, happy holiday reader: Thank you for reading. Thank you for practicing the art of staying present. Thank you for growing. Thank you for changing. Thank you for all you do to care for yourself and others.

This is a beautiful moment. This is a great day. This has been an amazing year. These are times of growth and insight.

Happy Thanksgiving. Loving you out there. XO

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Obsessing Over Your Mistakes? Be Kind to Yourself in a 5:1 Ratio

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This semester, I teach one class in one building, then run to a second class in a second building, then run to a third class in a third building. When I first saw my schedule, I thought I was going to be in hell this semester. Except, there’s a little bit of heaven in every hellish situation.

Because I run from class to class to class, I have little time to do what I usually do: obsess.

Do you ever have a conversation and then immediately obsess over how you could have said something better?

Do you ever do something and then immediately think of all the ways you could have done it better?

Yeah, me too. That’s my entire life. Except this semester, as I run from place to place to place, I don’t have much time to do it. And then, by the end of the day, I’m so tired that I’ve forgotten most of what I said anyway. And then I fall into bed.

And you know what? It’s been so good for me.

achievement-3772064__340John Gottman is a famous relationship researcher who has found that, in the best relationships, there is a 5:1 ratio of compliments to criticisms.

I try my best to treat other people really well. I treat my students well and I try with my friends and family to be kind as much as possible.

And right now, I don’t have a partner, so it’s just me and me. I’m seeing that that relationship could use a better ratio. I’m noticing that, when I have a lot of time on my hands, I spend it being mean to myself.

Reviewing my life and pointing out flaws. Reviewing my past and thinking I could have done all of it, every moment of it, better.

Do you ever sit alone and beat yourself up for the past? How does it feel? Yeah. Makes you want a glass of wine, huh?

It’s hard to accept that the past is over and we can’t change it. So… now what?

We change. We evolve. We learn and we grow. It’s called evolution, and we can help our own evolution or beat ourselves up for it.

swallow-3584915_960_720I’m learning to help my own evolution with a simple tool: I’m being nice to myself in a 5:1 ratio. I’m being in a relationship with myself that has a 5:1 ratio. I’m going to love myself like crazy in a 5:1 ratio.

Since developing a mindfulness and meditation practice, I can catch myself being mean. I can feel it and recognize it. When I start telling myself that I should do more and be better and achieve more, I feel it. And then I stop.

  • What are 5 things that you did well today?
  • What are 5 things that you appreciate about who you are?
  • What are 5 things that your friends would say about you?
  • What are 5 things you are proud of?
  • What are 5 things that you did to take care of yourself today?
  • What are 5 things that you are really good at?
  • What are 5 things that you like about the way you look?

Beautiful, gorgeous, hard on yourself reader: The most important relationship of your life is the one between you and you. Be kind in a 5:1 ratio. Don’t give your critical inner voice so much air time. Crowd it out in a 5:1 ratio. Be supportive to yourself in a 5:1 ratio. Be encouraging in a 5:1 ratio. Be the best partner you could ever want for you.

You know what? I’m glad I wrote this blog. I’m proud that I’m willing to be vulnerable and share my struggles. I like that I write this blog thinking of you. I appreciate that I try my best to be a good person to others. I do the best I can with the tools I have.

What are 5 things you appreciate about yourself today? Practice that ratio.

Loving you out there. In a 5:1 ratio.

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I’m Feeling Unmotivated and I Need Help

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“I feel so unmotivated,” my student said. “There’s so much to do, and no matter what I do, it doesn’t seem to make a dent in what I need to get done. I get so frustrated. Then, I watch Netflix, and then I feel guilty for doing that. I don’t know what to do.”

I said, “I understand.”

He said, “So what do I do?”

I said, “You give yourself a break.”

He looked at me, unconvinced. The whole class looked at me like I was a teensy bit crazy. Give ourselves a break? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WE NEED TO GET DONE???

YES, I DO. I know how much you think you need to get done. I know that our whole nation thinks there is so much more you should be doing. And I know that the good old NOT DOING ENOUGH train of thought is a very popular ride. I’ve been on that crazy train. Every stop is frustration station.

man-1246277_960_720How do you get off a crazy train? You don’t need a meditation retreat. You need a minute. Give yourself a break.

Slow down. You have a minute. Take a minute. Take a deep breath. You can speed up that crazy train, and you can slow it down.

Tried, true, and well-traveled neural pathways are called “trains of thought.” They move fast because you practice them. My crazy train sounds like this:

You are never doing enough. Never skinny enough. Never good enough at your job. Never good enough to your friends. Never get your dog enough exercise. Never make enough of a difference in the world. Always screwing things up.

AAAAAAAAAAA THAT FEELS TERRIBLE. UGH UGH UGH. Are you ready to get off that train? Well, before a train can switch tracks, you need to slow it down.

Deep breath. Exhale. Another. Take a minute. Slow it down. Practice this:

It’s ok. I’m feeling frustrated. That’s ok. My smart brain is running old programs. My busy brain is tired and afraid. I can be compassionate with myself. I can observe my thoughts. I can question my thoughts. Are they true? I know I am ok right now. I am ok right here. 

cat-914110_960_720This past weekend, I heard Tama Kieves speak. She said that when you get upset you’re like a shy kitten hiding under the barn. How would you deal with a shy kitten hiding under the barn? Would you yell at it?

No. You soothe a shy kitten. You coax a shy kitten. You put out a saucer of warm milk.

I said to my student, “It’s ok that you’re watching Netflix. Watching Netflix is legal. There’s nothing wrong. You are calming yourself down. Let that be ok. Let yourself relax. When you relax, you will think of a better idea. You will calm down and make a plan. You will calm down and focus. You will calm down and reach out to a friend. You will calm down and seek out help. It’s all ok. Everyone in this room can relate to you right now. You are brave. You can do this.”

Hey, kitty cat: I know you think you have so much to do. I know you think you aren’t doing enough. I know you don’t believe me when I say it, but you really need to give yourself a break. Who you are right now, today, is enough. What you do every day is enough. Enough is enough. Refuse to judge and shame and ridicule yourself. You don’t think that way.

You give yourself breaks. You let your crazy brain calm down. You stay on your own side. You know that, from a calm place, you always find a better way.

Slow down, step back, deep breath. Over and over again. All day long. For the rest of your life.

And maybe… just maybe… you might even start to realize that you are way better than ok. You might even realize you are doing more than enough. You might even realize that your brain just wants to protect you. You might realize that you are becoming mindful and compassionate and courageous and brave.

You may even start to believe that you’re purrfect. Oh, yes. Mmm hmm. That feels right, shy kitty.

Meow.

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