Words I Can’t Take Back …

sometimes the healing is in the aching

Once the words are uttered, you can’t take them back.  And honestly, I hope I never want to take them back.  I am typically quite cautious/deliberate about tasting my words before I spit them out … but nonetheless, sometimes the most caring and loving thing any one of us can do is be authentically straight up with another human being.  Tactfully. Thoughtfully. Compassionately. Not with the intention to harm, but rather … with the intention to help.

There are times when people inadvertently get in their own way.  I see it so often with my clients. I’ve done it myself.  I still do, on occasion.  But honestly, we can’t see it while we are doing it.  So, we tend to blame others for the tattered and tender condition of our heart.  And then … we get frustrated, because things don’t change.  We can’t see, however, in those fragile moments that our finger might be pointed in the wrong direction.

It is during those tenderly tentative times that we need someone to be loving enough, courageous enough and supportive enough to actually inform us about our blurry blunders. It is never kind, however, to completely blind-side people with these uninvited ‘truths.’   We need someone to gently open our eyes … as kindly, caringly and purposefully as possible, because it can really sting to discover that, unbeknownst to us, we are somehow complicit in generating our own unfavorable circumstances/situation/relationships.

And so, we all deserve a chance to muster the courage it takes to welcome the ‘ache’ that this awareness might invoke.  Usually, I will say to my clients: “I have a suggestion for you, if you’d like it?” or “If there was another way to see this, would you be open to looking at it?”  or “I’m having a thought … but it might pinch a bit.  Would you like to hear it or should I just keep it to myself for now?”

Questions like this give folks a chance to say “no, not interested” … or at the very least … time to emotionally brace themselves.  And, it’s important that I both respect their preference and honor their response.  I will rarely share potentially prickly perceptions unless I am invited to do so by the recipient. And even though there are times when the invitation is clearly implied (e.g. with blogs, Facebook posts, editorials etc), I know I can’t take the words back once they are uttered. I also know that it’s not usually helpful, supportive or therapeutic for me to persistently press these perspectives onto others (even with the best of intentions).

Not even with my loved ones.  Maybe especially with my loved ones.  One of my clients once said, “Your kids are so lucky to have a counselor as a mother.” But, that is not the way it plays out. I am not their counselor.  I am their mom. And, it is critical for me to honor that distinction.  I try to be careful not to push my ‘professionally’ oriented perceptions onto my family members without permission to do so. My ‘wisdom’ might not be welcome.

It’s a disquieting paradox though, because as Martin Luther King points out: “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal.”  And, I have learned that our spiritual growth is typically tucked into those unflattering ‘truths’ that often seem too risky for our friends, colleagues and/or loved ones to dare speak aloud.  To our faces. Nonetheless, the most salient shifts I have ever experienced were because people were brave enough to risk my wrath and acknowledge something I couldn’t see for myself.

My education with The Ford Institute For Transformational Training was filled moments like this.  Achingly hard, but critical moments like this. As integrative coaches, we were trained by the incomparable Debbie Ford, to be ‘ruthlessly compassionate’ when invited to support others. Debbie was an absolute master at candidly shining a light upon the self-sabotaging thoughts, words and deeds that were compromising our best efforts to grow, stretch and transform beyond our perceived ‘stuckness’.  And although it really stings to let an unflattering awareness land in our hearts rather than promptly rejecting it, I owe the lion’s share of my personal growth to my coaching family for being such clear mirrors for me.

And I would venture to say that many of us are holding onto ‘undelivered communications’ that we think might benefit someone we know and love … but we are too scared it would hurt our relationship to share them. And it might. Some relationships may not be strong enough to bear the weight of such an honest exchange.  But, it may also be true … or even truer … that some of our relationships won’t survive without that level of transparency.  Unspoken resentments can be terribly toxic … even lethal. The strongest connections hold precious space for us to be caring catalysts for each other … to help us lovingly lead each other out of our own covert culpability.

But the most important caveat here is this: Our intention in sharing must always be to help not harm … and typically most effective when invited by the recipient. Because … these are words we can’t take back.

Trusting that “sometimes, the healing is in the aching” … Karen

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Well, I Had a Dream …

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Somewhere, very early on in my life, I decided that inspirational quotes like this one were the answer.  I have been collecting them for as long as I can remember. I have viewed them as the exquisite blueprints for creating the life of my dreams and, not surprisingly, I have deeply internalized the notion that I should be pursuing a big, juicy, delicious life.  And I really have been … BUT …

As inspiring as it sounds and although many of my dreams have actually become realities … I have learned something that those inspirational quotes don’t tell you.  Pursuing any one of those dreams can be exhilarating … pursuing all those dreams can be exhausting.  Unless you are not a dreamer. But, the problem for me, is that I have so darn many Dreams, Desires and Delights on my 3D List as my bestie Marie renamed the infamous ‘bucket list’.  (If you would like to view my 3D List, please request the password.)

And yes, I am eager to live out my days in high-def ‘3D’ but here is the thing: I often feel like my mouth is completely stuffed …  so jam packed with delicious, delectable morsels that it’s difficult to sufficiently savor of any one of them in particular.  And, because I am so passionate about it all, I can’t fathom the idea of spitting anything out.  So I keep chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing.  And, although I am nourished in some very wonderful ways … there is also a part of me that longs to simply stop all the jets, come screeching to a halt, and just settle into a more mediocre but manageable ‘one bite at a time’ existence.  These competing desires have created a conundrum for me … as well as some health issues.  Argh.

BUT …  I had a dream.  Not to be confused with Martin Luther King, who also had a dream.  My dream was not a dream of that magnitude, but rather … it was the kind of dream you have in your sleep.  I could have chalked it up to some silly nocturnal nonsense, but upon deeper reflection, I’m thinking that this dream might be the dream that I most need to follow in order to actually create my biggest, juiciest and most delicious life EVER!   Let me explain …

In my dream, my husband and I were teamed up in a foot race around the world (kind of like The Amazing Race). We started off in some remote location in the woods with a winding dirt path that led up to a rustic old log cabin that was to be our first pit stop of the race.  As we started racing up the road, I fell into a faster than usual pace for the ‘runner’ within me only to be advised by my husband to “run slower”.

I shot him the ‘what the hell would you know’ glance that unequivocally questioned how he (the non-runner) could presume to know the right pace for me?  Without accepting my invitation to spat about it, he reasoned that it would be downright impossible to sustain that pace for the whole distance.  He humbly suggested that we could maximize our time and optimize our physical resources by slowing down.  Hmmm … maybe he was right. I hate it when he’s right, but I knew I had no time for self-righteous bantering.  I reluctantly conceded that maybe this was one of those Tortoise and the Hare times when slow and steady wins the race …

And, we were “The first team to arrive!”at the quaint, old-fashioned store constructed out of ginormous logs … that sold all kinds of hand-made eats, crafts and memorabilia specific to that area of the world. Now, in my wide-awake life, whenever we travel anywhere, I always buy a Christmas tree ornament because nothing pleases me more than fondly reminiscing about my 3D experiences while dressing the tree each year.  So there I was … in my ‘racy’ dream (sorry – couldn’t resist the pun) torn between finding a meaningful memento to mark this memory or dashing out the door to maintain our first place lead (not that I am competitive).  🙂

I headed out the door, but as soon as the gravel crunched beneath my first foot step,  I could vaguely hear that small inner voice pleading with my sensibilities: “Just how much are you willing to lose in order to win?”

Huh?? That provocative question sparked me to pause in mid stride. As I considered going back for my ornament … I gazed back over my right shoulder and caught a glimpse of the most idyllic purple, orange and pink sunset. It’s spectacular splendor stopped me right then and there. I instinctively gasped as I paused to inhale the magic in that miraculous moment.  Just then … the awareness struck me … if I had just kept on running in order to ‘win’ the race, I would have ‘lost’ that precious but unexpected prize.

Absorbed in awe of the colors, I found myself questioning how many other unpredicted, un-pursued but munificent moments like this I had missed as I sped through my days doggedly determined to claim my biggest dreams, desires and delights.  It became exceptionally clear that if I wanted to win something big, juicy and truly magnanimous by participating in this race …  I would need to do three things:

1. Run … more slowly.

2. Pause … embrace moments and collect memories.

3. Notice …  the unexpected magic along the way.

I’m sensing that my dream was a humbling metaphor for my very full, busy ‘follow your dreams’ life.  It strikes me that it is far too easy to confuse a ‘big, juicy and delicious life’ with a ‘busy, demanding and overwhelming life’In order for something to stir the soul … one needs time and space.  And when I get real with myself, I can see many places in my life where I have unwittingly traded depth for breadth.  And, when I get really real, I can see that I am weary.  I have been racing through my life at a ridiculous pace … claiming many dreams at the expense of missing other blessings that weren’t/aren’t on my radar.

And with this awareness, I have been seriously flirting with scaling back to a “one bite at a time” paceI remain entirely befuddled about how to actually operationalize that desire.  I have no clue how to prioritize my bites … and the fears of not being able to ‘do it all’ makes me edgy and uneasy in the most prickly ways.  My anxious mind warns me that, at my age, I am over the hill and on the home stretch.  If I don’t keep moving quickly, I am going to run out of time and miss out on the miracles. 

But … I am also open to the possibility that many ‘unexpected’ dreams, desires and delights will be surreptitiously tucked into a more slow and steady presence.  And, I want to leave enough space to savor them.  I really do.

Wish me luck and sweet dreams to all of you … Karen

 

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Maybe being nice isn’t always nice …

Be a nice human

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I’m perpetually seeking inspiring quotations to ‘share’ on my business Facebook Page and when I came upon this one it seemed like such a noble recommendation …  but then I remembered.  I remembered the times in my past when my commitment to being ‘nice’ trumped my willingness to intervene on my own behalf.  I remembered the times when being ‘nice’ unwittingly  condoned the wounding of unguarded hearts.  I remembered the times when being ‘nice’ silenced me on  issues where it would have been  far more prudent  to take a firm stand and dare to defend the marginalized and oppressed.

Ultimately, I remembered that being ‘a nice human’ is only good advice in particular contexts.   I realize I might be confusing or even frustrating some of you right now … but, in all honesty, I am no longer convinced that being nice  is a universally noble quality nor an unequivocally desirable human attribute. Let me explain …

I was having  a little pity party for myself a few years back and remember woefully lamenting  to a good friend of mine that it felt like people were more willing to let me down/take me for granted than they did others.  My friend caught me by surprise when she casually but candidly responded with “they do it because they can.” Huh?  She clarified that  “it is safe to do it to you.”  It took me a minute to wrap my head around what she was actually saying!  We ended up discussing how people trusted:

  1. I would be understanding.
  2. I was compassionate and empathic enough to put their needs first.
  3. I would not hold any grudges.

In other words, I was ‘nice’ and folks learned that I would typically step over any perceived transgressions between us.  Wow … it was an ‘aha’ moment of gargantuan proportions because I had no idea that by opting to always be ‘nice’ I was actually co-creating my own suffering.  I was not aware that when I predictably allowed others to disappoint me without experiencing any sense of discomfort themselves, I was implicitly making it safe for them to continue to do so.  Who would have thought …?  It was such a profound lesson.  Thank you Kimmy!

I’ve also come to recognize that in order to be ‘nice’ it might be necessary to compromise our own inner truths. Being nice can stop us from saying “No, I really don’t have time to help” or “Sorry, that doesn’t sit right with me” … or … “No thanks, I don’t like mushroom soup“.  There are countless times like this (in all of our lives) when silencing ourselves (in the name of being nice) can foster all kinds of internal heartache. Furthermore, if/when being ‘nice’ unconsciously morphs into habitual self-denial and persistent self-sacrifice, we ultimately end up resenting those very folks we were too ‘nice’ to be honest with. As a result, our relationships begin to suffer.

Another downside of always committing ourselves to being ‘nice’ is that we may have to withhold a powerful ‘truth’ regarding someone else.  Nice always looks very, very pleasant … truth can sometimes seem cruel.  If I committed myself to being a  ‘nice’ counselor, I would have to deny myself permission to speak the hard truths that people often need to know in order to stop sabotaging themselves.  It may not be easy for them to hear, but as a brave feminist once wisely shared: Gloria Steinem In keeping with that (and on a more personal note), I will never forget one of the times when I was floundering desperately in the parenting trenches and my husband dared to say: “Sometimes you can be so mean”.   Whoa.  Me?  Mean?  His honesty pierced through to the core of my being because I would never, ever (not in a million years!) have considered myself anything vaguely resembling ‘mean’.  Some might argue that he was being mean in saying what he said.  Perhaps he was … and I could have rejected his unflattering observation on those grounds. Instead, I decided to let his hurtful words land in my heart and humbly notice how what he was saying was might be true.  I remain forever indebted to him for helping me see what I could not see for myself in that moment. It was a gift of growth that would have been left unwrapped if he had opted to be ‘nice’ instead.

I have also learned from clients there are times when being ‘nice’ will keep you in situations that are not healthy.  I’ve noticed that the people who typically tolerate more abusive exchanges in their relationships tend to be the nice, compassionate, strong ones. Interesting, isn’t it?  These seemingly noble qualities can actually keep them from standing up for themselves.  Their ‘niceness’ allows an abusive partner to manipulate their perceptions of who is responsible for their unhealthy relationship dynamics. Their ‘compassion’ allows them to excuse and forgive their partner’s disparaging behavior, time and time and time again. And, their ‘strength’ gives them the capacity to ‘soldier on’ long after a more nasty, intolerant, and weak person would have declared “I can’t take this anymore.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me.  There are countless situations where being  nice is clearly meritedNo one would argue that our world would be a much brighter, lighter space if we all made an effort to be nice to the new kid at school.  Perfect context for being nice. Or, maybe at the grocery storecould we offer a frustrated parent (obviously embarrassed by “the little monster”) a compassionate smile instead of a scowl?  Might we invite them to go ahead of us in line? Nice place for nice.  Or, maybe we could choose to be nice with someone in our day to day interactions who doesn’t share our religious beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation or politics. Perhaps we could resist the temptation to make them wrong/less than?  Maybe nice is especially critical here! You’ll get no argument from me about the virtue of being nice in these particular moments …

I’ve come to believe, however, that ascertaining whether  human attributes are virtuous/noble OR reprehensible/undesirable is entirely dependent upon the context in which they are being expressed.  A characteristic that may seem like a noble quality in one context may not be virtuous in another situation.   For example, we all know many mothers who resist being ‘selfish’ because they believe ‘a good mom‘ always puts her children’s needs first.  Unfortunately, this ‘selflessness’ may actually come at the expense of their children because empty, stressed and exhausted mothers are simply not great gifts to their families.  There are times in life when being ‘selfish’ enough to put the needs of your children’s mother first is clearly the wisest and most loving thing to do for the children!

Along the same lines, there may be times when a loyal commitment to being ‘generous’ is counterproductive.  Consider all the young people who have developed a debilitating false sense of entitlement because they have been given everything.  These kids become demanding in their expectation that other people must take care of their every need, want and desire.  In an effort to be generous, parents can actually rob their children of learning how to independently make their own way in the world.  Too much generosity can undermine a person’s opportunity to build confidence in their own abilities and pride in their own accomplishments.

Paradoxically, there are also times when seemingly negative attributes like being ‘rude’ or ‘disrespectful’ might actually serve the greater good.  In the presence of a bully, a ‘nice’ request for them to stop might fall on deaf ears. We might need to ‘rudely’ interrupt them in order to get their attention as soon as possible. Although many of us have be taught it is rude to interrupt …  we all know there are things that should be interrupted.  That said, many of us have been taught not to disrespect our laws, cultural norms or elders, but … thank goodness Rosa Parks dared to disrespect the segregation laws.  I am equally grateful to all the women during The Suffrage Movement who bravely protested for gender equality and earned me the right to vote . If we are to be honest, we owe thanks to Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and so many others for disrespecting the prevailing doctrine that dominated beliefs in their time. In the right context, disrespect may lead to great gains for humanity.

I could go on and on pointing out times when seemingly positive (light) human qualities  may actually not serve the greater good … and … when apparently negative (dark) human characteristics could actually come bearing great gifts.  As a result of doing the liberating shadow work inspired by my training with Debbie Ford,  I am reluctant to agree with anyone (or any dogma) that suggests we should always be something.  Rather, I would suggest that we should always make room in our lives to be everything.  As Debbie explains in one of my favorite books of all time (The Dark Side of the Light Chasers):

We live under the impression that in order for something to be divine it has to be perfect.  We are mistaken.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  To be divine is to be whole and to be whole is to be everything: the positive and the negative, the good and the bad … (pp. 12-13)

If we can give ourselves permission to express both light and dark attributes  (in the appropriate context)  … we can embrace being whole humans! No one would contest that a whole day contains both light and dark.  Even a whole atom contains both positive and negative electrons!   If it is only positively charged … it is an unbalanced atom.  If it is only negatively charged … it is also unstable.  What if humans are no different?  If we remain 100% committed to being ‘nice’ and light in all circumstances, might we lose our balance and stability too … ?

So many of us reject important aspects of ourselves by trying to only express the ‘right and good’ parts of humanity. We beat ourselves up mercilessly for even feeling anything perceived as ‘wrong and bad’.  In doing so, are we losing our capacity to wisely discern which human attributes might actually serve the greater good in a particular context and which might not….?  Maybe being nice isn’t always nice …

Maybe it’s not the attribute itself that defines the merit in any moment, but the intention behind it.  As we have discussed, we can unwittingly use our perceived ‘good’ qualities to do harm … and … we can just as easily use our perceived ‘bad’ attributes to help.  Maybe it’s just not as black and white as we have been led to believe … and maybe it doesn’t have to be!

I guess for me … the truth isI don’t want to just be a nice human.  I would rather be whole. How about you …?

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

Slowly learning to embrace it all,  Karen

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