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Stay.Right.Here.

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Life seems to be serving up the same lessons that I seem to either forget or think I will eventually master.  In this week’s servings there was nothing over the top out of the ordinary, but none-the-less the challenges of parenting and adulting and relationshiping drudged up old responses that I thought I had out grew.  Just like an old, familiar space my responses were filled with anxiety and worry and a nagging voice that I-am-just-not-doing-enough and that I-will-never-be-enough.

These are the ghosts of my past who somehow fill my present and urge me to problem solve a future that still has yet to become.  

And so I do the old patterns that I’ve learned do not serve me well and this is that I try to control for the circumstances in which I have no control.  Usually how this looks is I try to out do myself– be better– be perfect– be a perfect mom– present a competent, well-put-together adult self for co-workers, be the best listener to my friends, have the patience of a saint for my children, stave off exhaustion or weariness, appear brave, commit to being a giver and resist being a receiver…

I know this is usually a fruitless, soul draining endeavor for me.  I know that the more I live in my head to be perfect and to present perfection the less I live authentically.  Authentic for me is to be in the moment– open to whatever life offers so that I can learn and grow.  Authentic also means that I am where I am… I’m giving what I have… I’m receiving what I can hold and I’m listening in the here and now.

And I’ve learned in the four decades of my life that the efforts to control exhaust me and wear me thin yet, I found myself doing this by default– just easing into this old pattern without giving it a second thought.  In my 20’s and 30’s this likely would go on for a long time, but thanks-be to the development of skills like mindfulness and self-awareness I was able to eventually notice that this pattern had snuck back up.  I was able to evaluate myself and make some different decisions regarding the anxiety and stress I was bearing and the response I wanted to extend to myself.

When I got down to it I realized that the anxiety I was holding was about an uncertain future that I have very little to no control over.  I mean to get really honest with myself I had to realize that I cannot predict or control what is to come and that scares the shit out of me.

I mean…

I can pour every ounce of parenting energy and wisdom into my children, but what they do with that… how they actualize is not in my control.

I can love with every ounce of love my heart and body can muster and I can’t control the outcome and the return of love or of loss or of illness or of death.  (Loving my mother meant taking care of her body and her health toward the fruit of her returning to complete health– I could not control for how her illness was going to compromise her and ultimately take her)

I can make all the ‘smart’, future forward career investment decisions to ensure a future of bright opportunities and financial security, but I can’t guarantee that these opportunities will be extended toward me.

And this lesson presented to me what it always presents to me– that what I have is right now.  I have today.

A few years ago, I did some crazy stuff.  I left everything behind: a marriage, a career, a community, a belief system– on the notion that leaving the toxic aspects of my life would lead to more health and growth.  I had a certain kind of optimism or hope about that decision.

In terms of my mental and emotional health I can say that I’ve seen the fruits of that decision produce the capacity for me to think and to breathe and to live in peace.  It’s in part, why I can presently be more mindful, but in terms of what the future holds I have no certainties and I think that some days I’m still waiting and watching with bated breath– I’m peering into the future, anxieties rising, lungs full– wanting, longing to control the outcomes.  And then life (sometimes in gentle ways and sometimes in not so gentle ways) brings me right back to where I am and says stay.right.here.  Don’t get ahead of yourself.  You have today.  You have this moment.  Stay right here and listen– don’t lose this moment.  Don’t let it slip away.  Bask in it.  Let the sun shine on your face and breathe, because this is what you have and this is what you can be certain of– this- right- here.

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Sisters, go ahead embrace your too muchness

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I recently saw this blog post that a friend shared on FaceBook called: I am A “Too Much” Woman .  It is a fantastic follow up to the blog post I posted the other day Hard Ball for Women.  Ev’Yan Whitney elevates the conversation of embracing the feminine voice, standing firm in our womanly expressions and being confident in our sensuality  to a whole other level.  Complete liberation in our voice requires women to do the self-exploratory work on a holistic level– spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and sexually.  Whitney gives a model for the process of embracing ourselves as whole and beloved people on her blog Sex Love Liberation.   Check it out.  For now here are a few thoughts:

Too Much Women are Women who

 “A hedonist, feminist, pleasure seeker, empath. I want a lot—justice, sincerity, spaciousness, ease, intimacy, actualization, respect, to be seen, to be understood, your undivided attention, and all of your promises to be kept”. By Ev’Yan Whitney

1. We need not fear people’s judgments of our too muchness.

The way we take space emotionally, intellectually, physically, sexually and relationally is not a threat to other people’s right to take their space.  Taking space is a natural extension of living in an unapologetic, authentic way.  We just do what we do and we celebrate others freedom to spread out and take their own space.

2. Remember that the shaming responses to you embracing your gifts are not based on truth, but rather insecurity and the desire to control.

When you live authentically know that when you receive messages like, “You’re too loud”, “You’re too intense”, “You’re too difficult”, “You’re too wild”, “You’re too needy”, “You’re too sensitive”— these are shaming messages.  Shame that is imposed on an individual by outside observers are meant to diminish, encourage you to shrink back and essentially control you so that you remain someone that is palatable and conforming to cultural rules.

3. All the parts of your identity are good and enough.

The one thing that is wonderful about getting to a place of embracing our whole selves is that it takes so much pressure off of us to work for outside approval and validation.  We know what we bring and we know we’re not perfect, but that doesn’t scare us.  It doesn’t scare us because we are dedicated to being life learners.  The freedom from this bondage of fear liberates us to put energy in people/places that are important to us.

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Hard Ball for Women

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I recently had a professional experience that can only be described as an adult “mean girls” situation and all because I had a professional disagreement and stood my ground.

A few days later I was called in by my colleagues and told that in a nutshell, “they felt tension” and wanted to resolve it… What they really meant was, “DeAnza, you need to be fixed, because you are not playing by our rules”.

After further reflection I realized that the real issue in my group wasn’t that I had a professional disagreement… The real issue was that I was not complying to some unspoken set of rules and expectations that the other group members had for me and I was vocal about my thoughts and feelings.

Standing firm and confident in one’s voice can be difficult. As women we are told all kinds of things when we use our voice…

“You’re too emotional”.

“You’re not a team player”.

 “You’re the cause of conflict”.

 We believe all this stuff, because we’ve been told this for a long time. It becomes so ingrained into our consciousness that sometimes we don’t even question it. Most women I talk to describe a set of “rules” that include:

Be polite and nice at all times.

Take care of those around you.

Do not be too direct. You don’t want to come off as opinionated or pushy.

Do not speak your mind— you are not the authority on anything.

Be soft and gentle.

Be the one that everyone can come to when they need to vent.

Take one for the team and when you get tired do not show it or you’ll look like you’re rebelling.

Be soft spoken.

Be careful as to not look stressed.

If you’re in physical or emotional pain suck it up or your competency, strength and capability will be questioned. More importantly, you can’t be a burden to others.

Make people feel good by smiling and laughing at their jokes even when they are offensive or inappropriate.

When you’re in a mixed gender situation be prepared to be the hostess—making sure that everyone present has refreshments and clean up after everyone.

Be pretty.

Never get angry.

Recently I read an article in the LA times called Angry While Women. It reviewed the negative response to celebrity women’s expression of anger. Everyone from Beyonce, Kelly Ripa and Jada Pinkett Smith—women who have been vocal in the media about their disgust and anger at mistreatment in the workplace and their personal lives. These women went on to not only express their anger, but also to demand change—they put up a clear boundary— They said:

We deserve better.

 We won’t accept anything less than respect.

 We matter.

 We are no longer willing to compromise ourselves.

And to say these things and express the fact that we are fed up with anything less gets us all kinds of labels:

Women who raise their voices are shrill.

 Women who are angry are controlling.

 Women who speak their mind are the b-word.

 Women who say enough is enough are crazy.

 Women who establish boundaries are selfish.

There was a time in my 20’s and even in my early 30’s I would compromise far too often. I’d compromise my feelings, ideas and convictions—believing that I didn’t know what I was thinking anyway. In a way it was a means of survival, but in the end I slowly began seeing myself fold into the shadows. It was not a thriving, healthy existence and led to all kinds of complications like depression and isolation.

It was easy to turn on myself, because the idea that my existence mattered less than everyone else was reinforced by nearly everyone. In fact, I didn’t even hear that there was an alternative until I was in my women’s studies class in undergrad.

The characteristics that were reinforced to me as a child was that I was very gentle, sweet, quiet and cute. I was rewarded for these characteristics by nearly everyone. And so for a time it worked until it didn’t—until I realized that to be that person was to not be me. These reinforcements had me believing that I didn’t need to use my brain or my capacity to critically think because what mattered more was “how I made everyone else feel” not what I thought or valued. I started feeling very used up. This greatly impacted many of my adult life choices—my relationships, where I worked, the friends I had, etc.

When I made the conscious choice to reject this construct that I had inherited from all the women before me… I was told I was rebellious and asked what had happened to that ‘nice’ girl. Some went as far as to question my faith… My values as a mother… Whatever it would take to help me see the error of my ways.

Recently I established a boundary in a relationship where I was taken for granted, mistreated and abused and I was told by other family members that my behavior was rebellious.

Setting limits goes against everything we’re taught about what it means to be a woman in this society.

A book I had in undergrad was called Hard Ball for Women. While reading it in undergrad I wasn’t able to process it thoroughly, as there was an inner conflict of maintaining the “nice, sweet, pretty, girl” role and these new ideas. The following take aways have stuck with me and I’ve adapted them over time.

HARDBALL:

Women need to refrain from taking on more responsibility then is ours to own.

Something I practice in my personal and professional life is transparency. This includes being able to say when I’ve made a mistake. When I voice that I’ve made a mistake I find that it frees me from having to be perfect. When someone brings something to me about where I’ve messed up I can be less defensive and more open to the process of learning. However, there is a fine line in accepting one’s personal flaws and imperfections and taking ownership of other people’s behaviors and actions.

A former boss had dropped the ball on funding deadlines. He proceeded to place the blame on me for his oversight. As his employee, I internalized his complaint and took on the responsibility and vowed to never let it happen again. Taking his responsibility on had me questioning and doubting every decision I made in my job. This affected my work and my self-perception for years to come. It took many a- therapy sessions later to realize, “Ohhhhhhh yah! That wasn’t on me—that was on him”. I learned from there that I wasn’t willing to take on more then what was mine to own, because of the consequences it had on me. I set this as a boundary.

Women need to stop fearing conflict and tension.

 True— conflict is not fun. Conflict doesn’t feel good. Conflict is stressful.

However, women describe to me that some of their greatest fears is ‘being the cause or instigator of conflict’. When women have shared mistreatment in their workplace and I’ve affirmed their feelings and interpretation of the mistreatment—I usually inquire further to find out what she may need to do to advocate for herself. The response to this usually has something to do with the fear that if she speaks up she’ll be viewed as the one ‘rocking the boat’. The overwhelming fear sometimes has women choosing to put up with the mistreatment.

Here’s the thing: conflict happens. We have been taught for so long that we are supposed to avoid conflict at all costs that we don’t even consider that maybe the conflict is present because of someone else’s choices and not our own. Standing up for ourselves and putting an end to mistreatment does not mean that we are the cause of conflict—it means that we are addressing the conflict and setting limitations for our own self-care and health. The conflict exists whether or not we say anything—the question is how long do you want to endure manipulative and bullying behavior? What’s the cost to you?

Women need to reject the notion that we exist to make everyone else happy.

 Women often confuse compassion and kindness for the idea of ‘making everyone else happy’. When you set limitations for your life it does not mean that you are being unkind or unfair. The thing is your boundaries will likely not make other people happy with you. People do not like boundaries because it means that you are not going to flex to their whims and ideas of what they think you should do and who they think you should be. This doesn’t make people happy, but it’s also not your responsibility to make sure that people are happy.

I remember the first time I told this to my mom. She disagreed with a life decision I had made and she was trying with all her might to ‘get me back in line’. After trying every tactic from guilting, shaming, punishing… I looked at her and said, “Ma, my life doesn’t exist to make you feel fulfilled or complete or happy. I love you, but I recognize my choices will not always make you happy and I think we can agree to disagree”. I didn’t mean anything unkind or disrespectful by it, but I needed to vocalize that I recognized that we wouldn’t see eye to eye on this subject—oh and by the way we- need- not- ever- have- this- conversation- again. In that present moment it wasn’t necessarily appreciated, but over time my mom and I experienced a greater respect of one another.

Women need to stop apologizing.

I hear women apologizing for all sorts of things that they are not responsible for.  All this apologizing has a deeper subtext– an apologetic posture for existing.

Women’s ideas and thoughts and values may not always fit the conventional mold and guess what– that’s okay– nothing to apologize for.

I catch myself apologizing and I realize that it has become an automatic response– a reflex to societal stimuli.  I’ve recently taken on a mindful practice where I consciously practice being unapologetic.

  • Whoops I forgot to sign my kid’s request form… Okay I’ll get that tomorrow.
  • Oh I’m pitching a proposal that doesn’t fit your expectation– okay.  Maybe we’ll get it next time.
  • Oh I just posted something on Facebook that doesn’t match your politics… Okay… well it wasn’t personal to you and hope that we can continue a dialogue.

It takes a great deal of work to shift these beliefs about ourselves.

In the end, what I learned about this professional scuffle was that I wasn’t willing to give my power over to anyone and I’m not going to apologize for that.

I’m not proposing that if you follow these simple steps everything will be magical and conflict will dissolve into the cosmos… Many of my life experiences where I used my voice took years to resolve in my relationships and some still haven’t resolved and I don’t know that they ever will resolve. The thing is I am more at peace being true to me… And these days peace is something that can’t be taken for granted.

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Maya, thank you

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I join the chorus in remembering and commemorating, our dear sister of soul, Maya Angelou.

A few years back I had the great fortune of hearing Maya read.  It was (I believe) to be her last reading tour– She was approximately 83 years old.  The experience was like no other.  It wasn’t really a reading it was a speaking, as words just seemed to fall from her mouth onto our expectant ears.  Here we were child-like perched at her feet– bright eyed and waiting with hopeful anticipation.  And boy did she deliver.

She made her way to the podium…

silence filled the room…

And then she spoke.

Her voice– like a bell rang so clear, so precise, so resonant– lodging into the fibers of our beings immediately.

Her voice– commanding.  It could have just been her and I there in that room for all I knew because her voice had the poise and ability to evoke that kind of intimacy.  And I felt loved.

She spoke that evening of the suffering and the tragedies, the longings and the hopes, the breaths bated and loves thwarted.

She spoke of broken childhood, the rising of a woman and the aching of her aging bones.

Her memory was clear and differentiated.  She held no ties to societies definitions of femininity or beauty.  She stood tall and on her own terms.  She gave the rest of the sense that we, too, could join in that resolution.

She welcomed us into the joys of conceiving and birthing our deepest dreams and yearnings.  She taught us that the sweat, pain and groans of birthing give way to authentic selves.  She called us to never lose hope and reminded us that self-preservation is a lie.

That evening she told us of the process of losing her sight– paying all dignity and honor to the gifts that her eyes gave her over the years and with grace releasing her eyes from the need to strain or maintain.

I know I was one of hundreds that night and yet, I felt like she knew me.  That is what Maya has been doing all these years teaching all of us that we are known, as she exposes her story and the rich tradition of giving voice to tragedy, fear, triumph and courage.

She’s led all of us on this feminine tradition of telling.  There is no need for secrets or hiding here… come as you are naked and open.  Maya along with many other female voices (Adrienne Rich, bell hooks, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem) have been modeling for us this woman tradition of rising up and taking our place and we will ache in her absence.

I was so lucky to participate in that evening.  I’ll never forget it nor her.