Tag Archives: life balance

A Sensitive Year: The Bravest of Them All

It took me months to admit I might be Sensitive.   I hated the idea since the admission seemed to carry with it a connotation of weakness.  As I’ve learned more about the trait and living the life of an HSP in our hyped up world, I’ve adjusted my thinking.

I suppose it seems weak if a person can’t sit through violent movies.  I suppose it appears to be weakness if a man chooses to go home after work instead of going for a drink with the guys.  I suppose it looks as if a woman is weak if she becomes overwhelmed quickly in a highly stimulating environment.  I’m sure it must suggest weakness if a person is constantly empathizing with others instead of getting on with life.

While all those scenarios are true of HSP’s, it must be remembered that we don’t like or do those things because of a weakness, we behave this way because our wiring. Which means most of what we do requires a level of bravery that others don’t need to employ.

It’s a brave soul that moves beyond the constant fight or flight tension to engage with a stranger and get to know them.  It’s a brave man that speaks out against an observed injustice in the workplace.  It’s a brave woman that disciplines her involuntary empathy to pass up a relationship with a narcissist. It’s a brave person that notices the oddball in the crowd and pulls them in to feel more comfortable.  It’s a brave individual that pushes back the fear and reaches out to help, teach, guide, and care, because we don’t just see the suffering around us, we feel it as equally and as vividly, and we’ll do damn near anything to ease the suffering in this world.

It’s a two sided coin for sure.  HSP’s appear to exist along the sidelines, preferring less exposure since we’re already inherently exposed; yet we often lead the way in situations that necessitate diplomacy, empathy,  and the ability to see details while simultaneously observing the big picture.   The only way we have the ability for doing so is by literally ignoring, or overcoming, or swallowing the energy of every alarm system going off within us.  Such acts require a deep well of bravery that only HSP’s possess.

We are the bravest of them all.

Yours,

Frankie

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Dark Polish

Finally, today, I can break out the fun colors.  Pinks, purples, corals, blues, and even bright happy teals.   I’m talking about fingernail polish.   For the past year I’ve confined myself to wearing only dark, dark shades.

I’ve done so as a means to mourn the death of my mother.

The traditional ways of mourning the death of a loved one have fallen by the wayside in our shiny, busy world.  I mean, I thought about wearing black for an entire year, but that wouldn’t go over so well at work because of uniform requirements as well as the nature of the job.

There was a moment I wanted (needed?) to stay home for a couple of weeks and just be sad.  I was feeling like I couldn’t contain myself and would break down into a puddle of mush any minute – I didn’t want to do that in front of my colleagues. But, of course and like most, I’m only allowed a couple days off for a family death. So I mustered the strength and with  monumental effort shoved aside all that pain, plastered a smile on my face that I was certain looked as fake as it felt, and drove myself to the high school where I worked.

I had to get creative.   I had to find a way to mark the grieving period,  a way to show respect to my mother who lived a life full of challenges yet exhibited a toughness and fierce independence, she deserved that honor.  So in my own little corner of carved out existence, I thought about some gesture that could fill the job of acknowledging my grief, at least to myself, while still going about the business of being a citizen in a frantic society.  I realized that one action I could take was to wear only dark fingernail polish until the first anniversary of her death.  I made a vow to do so.

It was indeed a small gesture, but to my surprise it was exactly the right one.  It wasn’t easy.   This decision came at the beginning of summer when bright orange or yellow would typically decorate the end of my phalanges, shouting to the world that I was ‘with it,’ and ‘on trend’ with the fashionable hues.  Besides, I am generally a big fan of  vividly colored fingertips, they scream fun!  energetic!  this is me!  Yet, there I was with mud browns, black purples, and dark blues that captured zero light and received no compliments, living out the promise I made to the universe that I was setting aside this time for my mother.

Winter came and went, including a couple of firsts that were difficult to endure:  mom’s birthday and Christmas.  It wasn’t so hard to keep to dark shades then, the weather and lack of daylight was in keeping with my mournful aspect.  But I did find myself growing weary of the same five nail colors and when I usually break out an iridescent orange in the middle of January as an instinctive reaction to missing the sun and yearning for summer, I instead slathered on one more layer of ‘Gunmetal’, but with a smile of contentment: I found it somehow healing to deny myself this small thing out of deference to my beloved mom.

Spring arrived after enduring days and days and days and days of rain.  I ran out of two of my favorite dark colors and was rotating between just three others.   On the premise of “I only have a few more months left, I don’t want to waste the money.” I didn’t purchase anything new.  I found I was okay with the narrow selection anyway:  as the anniversary grew closer, the more meaningful the memorial became.

I was able to end that memorial yesterday, the first anniversary of my mother’s death.   There’s a sense of relief in it’s arrival – all the ‘firsts’ are out of the way, I’ve survived them.  Her birthday will come and go, but none as painful as that first one without her.  I can announce to myself that I am done mourning now.  I can throw out the three remaining dark shades of polish, and keep bright happy colors on my quick typing fingers the rest of my days, if I want.

Grieving the death of a loved one is work.  It requires time and attention and the ability to step aside from life for just a moment in order to process the pain and adjust to a new reality.  The society we’ve built in the US doesn’t allow us that.  In fact, it would deny the mourning process altogether if it could.  I recall the words of President Bush after 9/11 when he urged us to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible.   After the loss of a loved one, there is no normal as we know it.  We MUST have time to reflect and assimilate our new life.  Anyone who has denied themselves the room to grieve will attest that doing so only makes it worse to deal with later, or it solidifies into a mass of anger which no one can identify.  In our current society, we have to be strong and rely on our ingenuity and adaptability for ways to mourn the departed while still functioning at the hundred-ten percent capacity required by the system. Maybe its a once a week trip to the Synagogue that you normally wouldn’t take, maybe it’s a black tie that can be worn every Wednesday, maybe it’s a black curtain in the kitchen window, maybe it’s strictly dark nail polish for a year.  Whatever the solution, there still remains the ability to set aside holy time for a loved one, in some way, that enables the healing process.  I encourage you to find one that works for you if ever the unfortunate need arises.

Yours,

Frankie

 


Happy New Year! My Year of Being Open

Happy New Year to all.  I hope this post finds each of you inspired at the bright shiny twelve months ahead of us.

As we recollect on 2016 and make out our calendars for 2017, it does some good to reflect upon where we are and where we’d like our year to go.

This year my reflections are upon the concept of ‘openness.’   The notion stems from the tenant that ‘like attracts like’:  if I am open to energy and resources that are positive and helpful, then those things will attract themselves to me.  Cool!  But it’s a bit of a concerted effort to be conscious about openness.   Our everyday lives, the news, some health scare, or just the fast-paced society we live in can remove our focus and daunt our thoughts.  Being open is a state of being, a constant choice,  because life is busy and it’s too easy to get distracted.

There’s another element to being open that I’ve been thinking upon as well.   It’s about being open to change, and changing.   If I am willing and consciously open to the universe and it’s positive energies, then I should expect some of those energies to illicit changes in my behavior by enlightening me to better ways of doing and being.

It’s one thing to become aware of something needing my attention, but quite another to enact the change necessary to bring about improvement.  I need to be open, therefore, to a willingness to change, grow, evolve.  After all, we’ve only gotten this far as a species because of our very ability to adapt, that is to change.

Being open is also an important trait to utilize at this particular moment in US history.   Tensions are high within our society and our instincts would have us ‘build walls ‘or  ‘stay inside’, but these actions only tend to further our  problems and they certainly prevent any kind of translation or communication across social lines.  Openness requires a kind of strength in this case since we are forced to override our instincts to close up.

Openness takes some effort.  But our brains are great at rewiring themselves if we’re willing to exert enough conscious energy, so it’s only a matter of focus.   Yet openness itself isn’t quite enough.  We must be willing to adapt and change to new information as it comes along and inspires us.  In our current social/political climate, openness feels opposite to the actions our instincts might have us take.  Awareness and attention will allow us to keep our spirits malleable instead.

May the year be as gentle as possible.

Yours,

Frankie


“Hey Girl” A Lesson About (Self) Compassion

It’s a rough world.   Life is hard.  There are no guarantees. So, we need each other.  We need others to let us know it’s going to be okay. We need someone to sit beside us and hug us and validate our fears, our failings.  That’s why we have friends and why we take care of each other.

The song “Hey Girl”, out on Lady Gaga’s newest album puts this notion to a musical twist.  It’s a collaboration with Florence Welch and the track is musically reminiscent of Elton John’s ‘Bennie and the Jets” with a hit of a bridge containing some heavenly harmonies.

But, as usual, I look for the deeper meaning and found that the song works well when you sing it to yourself…

“Hey girl, we can make it easy if we lift each other…Hey girl, we don’t need to keep on onein’ up each other…If you lose your way, Just know that I got you..” is some powerful stuff to hear yourself tell yourself.

I’ve recently been turned on to Dr. Kristin Neff’s work concerning self-compassion.  It’s about becoming a friend to yourself, instead of the critic that we all grow up with.  You know, that self-talk which typically admonishes and scolds, instead of helping and caring.  It takes work to change that gig around, to come to the rescue of your self in a moment of hurt or anger.   Most of us go right for the throat of our selves:  “If you made this choice instead, you wouldn’t be in this mess,”  “You deserve this because (fill in the blank).”  “Why can’t you figure this out?”

But – what happens when we approach our self from the side, with an arm around our soul and a voice soft with support?   “Hey girl, if you lose your way, just know that I got you.”

Magic happens.

Suddenly, we become our own best advocate.  Think about how we will pretty much drop whatever we are doing and go help a sister.   Now consider how that same energy can be channeled into self-compassion as we learn to drop everything else and go help ourselves. There’s a peace that is acquired.  More than that, there is a kind of neutrality that can empower a person.   If I know I can comfort myself for my deepest, darkest wounds, then no matter who comes at me or what stands in my way, I will muster through because I know that I ‘got myself’.   I know that I can come to my own rescue.  I know that even if I am experiencing the worst imaginable pain, I can be my own source of solace.

Yes, it is hard.  Damn this life is difficult.   But there is a way to manage, and it begins with self-compassion.  Try it out, at least once….”If you lose your way, Just know that I got you.”

Yours,

Frankie

 


Election Reflection: Turn Inward

This was intended to be a general ‘life is rough’ article, but as events unfold and we reel from the recent election, it seems prudent to change the angle a bit.

I mean, after all, we are a hurting nation at the moment.

Many fear for the security of their lives since it has been threatened, and like most humans, allow their ‘fight or flight’ instinct to overcome reason.   I understand the protests.  I will never condone the violence.

Many are in shock at the idea that a bully could have garnered enough support as to be elected to the highest, most respected office in the land. They are concerned about international politics and fear permanent damage to allied relationships  as well as world economic functions.

Many are happy.   They wanted change (I completely understand this sentiment) and they got it.   Whether it plays out in their favor or not, time will tell, currently the president-elect is filling his cabinet with very cozy Wall Street employees so I personally don’t hold out any hope.

Some are gloating.  In my hometown a high school student was passing out home made ‘deportation notices’ to the minorities in his classes.   An elementary lunch room in Michigan was the scene of chants of “Build that wall,” instilling fear and shame into Latino children.

On top of all this, we each have our personal problems to deal with.  A friend of mine is a recent widow.   Another friend just lost her sister.  My niece is bound for lung surgery this week.   Someone, somewhere is going through a divorce.  Someone, somewhere was just betrayed by their best friend.  Someone, somewhere is dealing with a child who is struggling with a heroin addiction.

Life is pain, meanwhile we must be kind to ourselves.

What does that mean?  It means giving the world some space.   We can’t control everything (we can control very little) so quit trying to control everything and turn inward towards yourself.   Allow  yourself to validate your own feelings, allow yourself to accept shortfalls as part of the human experience rather than some defective character flaw, allow yourself to just be and gather strength from ‘mental stillness.’   It is empowering.

Go for walks. Getting in touch with nature never fails to put things into perspective.   The

mtshasta

photo credit to the author 11/09/2016

leaves are turning and littering the earth right now, another summer is over, another cycle consummated, time goes on, we are but a mere speck within it’s marching.  In this bigger picture, our troubles are less taxing.

Meditate.  Shut out the world, listen only to your breathing.   Connect with the universe as a part of it, not separate from it.  Speak gently to yourself.

We must be kind to ourselves at this moment as we reflect on the election and what it means to us personally,  so that we have the capacity to be kind to others.

There are many who need it.

Yours,

Frankie


Acquired Strength

Against my back is the rough texture of oak tree bark,

I give it my entire attention, for it is here that I find my strength.

Fragile spine against a layered trunk of experience and trials,

I am inspired by it’s sturdy habits.

At times, strong winds bent it nearly to breaking, yet it remains upright;

Reminded of the forces that have threatened my own grounding,

I am reassured that I too will stand tall once more.

Long limbs reach down and like a crone’s overgrown nails

scratches the itch within my soul, their shadows hug me close to the earth.

Invisible cocoon that welcomes and nurtures,

I sit with my back against the rough texture of an oak tree,

and there acquire the strength to live.

 


Embrace

“You don’t know my mind, you don’t know my kind. Dark necessities are part of my design.”  RHCP

We stood in the hallway of my mom’s little home, saying our goodbyes. My mom, observing my sister and I, made the comment that we were as different as light and dark.  The silence that followed needed no explanation:  we all knew who could identify with which description.   I was the dark one.

I wrestled with this, and only now that I’m ‘middle-aged’ am I finally getting a handle on its meaning.   Darkness is often, in our society, associated with everything bad, revolting, and horrible.  I know myself not to be that kind of person, yet it’s obvious my choice in movie and book genres always portray dark forces that cripple the hero so that he or she must overcome monstrous challenges in order to declare victory, rather than finding my entertainment in comedies or romance.   I know that I tend towards sadness more than happiness, pain more than pleasure, and I’ll almost always choose the unknown adventure over promised security.

Yet, it is a necessity to have such darkness in our midst; this is an age old philosophical idea.   We would not know those among us who tend towards the light, for one thing. Could my family identify my sister as the ‘light’ if she were also compared to ‘light’?  And without a measure of darkness to strike against, how do we know how light it really is and to what degree it exists…is it bright against the dark like a welcoming porch light in the winter storm, or is it a small glimmer that only elucidates the next step of the path?

Besides embracing the notion that I personally have a bent toward the darker aspects of life dynamics, I’ve also navigated the difficult task of embracing the darkness that dwells within.   This is some of the most important time of introspection I have experienced.  It is difficult to look in the mirror and finally notice the shadow behind my eyes; the feelings behind some of my moods.  It is even more difficult to hold the image and acknowledge it for what it truly is – a part of me as much as my happiness.  It is even more difficult still to wrestle with that part of me and accept it, to find a place for it to sit within my soul; to understand that it doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ person for doing so.  In fact, it makes me a better person as I am more inclined to sympathize, more conscious of my self.

There’s a relief in it for me as well, I confess.   Coming from a Christian upbringing, I was taught that anything ‘bad’ was to be blamed on demons or the devil, some outside force over which I had no personal control or even understanding (hence our societal perception of ‘bad’ mentioned earlier).   The comprehension that ‘bad’ exists within as a means to compel me towards goodness rather than the idea that I am subject in some way to an outside boogeymen gives me a sense of control precisely because it enlightens me to certain undercurrents in my personality – awareness is everything.  And, I think,  when we can balance within ourselves the daily struggle most of us undertake to do the right thing and be ‘good’ against the inherent ‘bad’ we all possess, it’s not a stretch to claim that we gain a kind of confidence and strength, our steps become surer, our actions more and more deliberate when we do so.   Therein lies relief – and empowerment.

Embracing our own individual darkness is not a new concept either.  Luke Skywalker’s venture into an unknown cave revealed the face of his enemy instead…Harry Potter closed his eyes to see Lord Voldemort…Jesus’ forty days of wandering tested his personal weaknesses…The story line runs throughout human history as clearly as our DNA can be traced to certain areas of the world.

When considered at a personal level, and embraced as a necessary “part of our design”, darkness is not so scary and becomes a natural component of our world-view – this awareness empowers us in very real ways.

Yours,

Frankie

  • this short audio clip was helpful to me when working through the process of acknowledging my own darkness, it speaks of Carl Jung’s ability to do so within himself and how it empowered his world view.

Partner, Instead of Master

I have been training a puppy for the past two years.It’s no small feat considering the

dozer2

“Dozer”

handful of personality and energy that he encapsulates: he’s a combination of two parts lab, one part st. bernard, one part border collie.  We’ve had our ups and downs; he’s wont to make his own decisions at times but he’s done well overall, and, like most dogs he only wants to please. In the past three or four months, just after his second birthday, he’s gone through a bit of a maturity spurt and has earned my confidence in areas where before there was conflict between my desire for his behavior and his own independent impulses.  As a result I’ve shifted my position a bit with him in terms of our relational dynamic.  I’ve stepped off from the role of Master position and stepped beside him in a role as a Partner.

Its a feeling of accomplishment to be able to do so.  It means there’s a deeper level of trust between us:  he understands that I trust him to behave a certain way and have given him considerable freedom because of it. He trusts me to treat him more as a team mate, on somewhat more equal footing and his wont to please rises to the occasion – if I am his Partner, then he’s going to put his heart and soul into doing right.

The dynamic of shifting from Master to Partner was never so clear to me as it was in this instance and it got me thinking about other relationships and where it might apply as well.

Work?  Yes, this applies to my work life directly!  I am privileged to work with teenagers, and this year my colleagues and I find ourselves interacting with a more high maintenance, high energy group of kids.    As usual at the beginning of the year, I set very clear, immovable boundaries and at first will err on the side of being more harsh than soft when it comes to enforcing their validity (a lesson I learned from my own jr. high school teachers and seems to be fairly effective).  This year I am taking a slightly different approach and utilizing my newfound epiphany: I’ve made the boundaries clear, but I find that if I take a moment to consider the one on one relationship with each student and conceive of some way to Partner with them instead of try to Master them, I get a much better response and they seem be settling in with more ease.  The element of conflict that can inherently exist between a Master and Student is replaced with a mutual trust and common goal; sure I am still the authority figure but my willingness to engage from the side instead of from the front assures them that, on some level, they have a certain amount of respect and trust from me at the outset.  They seem to be responding by rising to the same level of respect.

Partnerships seem to work better than Mastery on the creative level too, I’ve observed.  I’m sewing a quilt for my niece at the moment, she’s beginning her freshman year in college, away from home and family.   If I employ my newfound nugget of wisdom and work with the machine and fabric on a Partner level, as a team mate instead of a Master, I notice a difference in the process.  There is a sense of enjoyment in the mix.  It’s holistic in a way; it’s not just my energy but the way I work with the energy of the machine as well that effects a kind of harmony, instead of subjectivity, and together something new and meaningful is created.

On an intrapersonal level, the idea of trading a Master for a Partner has, for me, been one of the most important adjustments I’ve made in my life.   I don’t know about you, but I am much harsher with myself than I am with others and I’ve definitely had a Master approach when it comes to self-discipline and correction. If I step aside though, work WITH myself instead of against myself in my head and heart, I find a peace I hadn’t experienced before, and whatever issue I am wrestling becomes manageable instead of a kind of drudgery. Furthermore, I find I have more trust in myself to do the right thing where before I might have contradicted the ideal simply for the sake of outdoing my harsh ‘Master’.

I understand this idea doesn’t work in all relationships and I also concede that there are some instances where we must always be “Master.”  But whenever possible, from now on, I will look for ways to Partner instead.   The benefits are mutual and more vibrant, and much more satisfactory to the soul.

Here’s to Partnerships instead of Mastery.   May we find ways to morph some of the latter into more of the former…

Yours, Frankie


Examination of Death, by an Atheist

Just a few days ago, my siblings and I gathered together at an idyllic place in the mountains and, one by one, scattered the remains of our beloved mother.

Many of my family take solace in the thought that they will see her again someday ‘across the River Jordan’.   Yet as my husband and I discuss heady topics such as parallel universes and quantum entanglement, I am instead, solaced by the thought that my mom is more alive now than she was while bottled up inside a frame of skin and bones.   This is the examination of death, by an atheist.

Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, so sayeth science.

restingplace

Photo credit to E.W.

This is the reality in which we live. It is incontestable, it is there in the math as assuredly as one plus one equals two. So when the essence of a soul, whatever energy is caught up in our being, is no longer caged by the laws of physicality, then we have to conclude that our energy is dispelled and scattered again throughout our universe, to be employed for newer enterprises (nature is brilliant at recycling and repurposing).   There is great comfort in the thought that my mother is not relegated to just here and just there.  She is all around now, freer in a manner that none of us can conceive, able to effect any number of possible outcomes.  She is life, and that more abundantly.

I will miss her, make no mistake.  I have keened for her passing and will do so again in days to come, I am sure. I will never again feel the sweetness of her kisses upon my lips nor hear the admonishing tone of her voice when my wild nature conflicted with her demure soul.  And while in days past, I might have taken comfort in the hope of ‘seeing her again,’ today I am pacified by a more solid idea.   My mother is ever with me, in every breath I take, in each word I write – in all manner of ways that her energy is now part of the universe itself, I am ever a recipient of her freedom.  Though I may be heartbroken; I am content in this examination.

Yours,

Frankie

In Remembrance:  HEA


Promises

Losing a child is an unfathomable event, but these things I promise you:

You will feel like your body has failed you.  It hasn’t.  And someday it will prove this to you.

You will feel as if the darkness inside has no end, and no matter how bright the sun, there will never be a light in your heart again.  But the darkness will eventually give way to light, time is your friend.

You will feel that you will never be able to manage a genuine smile again.  A day will come, though, when that smile crosses your face and you realize you have survived somehow.

You will feel like no one can understand your pain.  You will be right, but there are those who would at least help carry it for a minute.  There are those who will at least validate your heartbreak.

You will feel robbed, indeed you have been.  Yet, there are gifts that arrive with the pain – deeper understanding, greater appreciation of joy, the ability to live in the moment.

You will be tempted towards bitterness, it can’t be helped.  The human spirit however, is strong and resilient, you will be able to find peace instead.

You will be angry.  It’s okay.  There is nothing fair or right or just about this, anger is justified.

You will die inside from grief, but I promise you will live again one day for happiness.