How to Stop Living in the Land of ‘Should’

Mute swan Cygnus olor gliding across a mist covered lake at dawnOne of the big illusions about life is that somewhere out there … it’s better. Someone other than me is working harder, delighting more readers, and generally looking a lot hotter.

And so, presumably, they are on track to be the so-called winner. Maybe they even get to take home a big stuffed bear.

A part of our brain often gets fixated on how our lives should be … as opposed to how perfectly satisfying and wonderful they are right here and right now.

My friend Jon calls this sad habit ‘shoulding on yourself’.

As in ‘I should be working 50 hours weeks building my empire,’ or ‘I should have a massive list by now’. And let’s not forget that perennial favorite, ‘I should be ten pounds thinner.’

If you’re like me, you slip into shoulding without even thinking about it. I notice I get particularly should-y when thinking about my work, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. And no matter what’s going on in my life.

For instance, in five days, I’m getting married. These are the days of wine and roses, right? Yet my mind has been squarely parked on how much work I could cram in before the guests start arriving … purely out of should-i-ness.

Have I been getting all that  work done? Not really. I’m too distracted! I want to take a champagne bath, and try on my wedding ring fifteen more times. I want to call all the family and friends who are showing up for the big day.

I want to hold my love and look dreamily in her eyes. I want to lie around and think about this big, gorgeous step I’m taking, savoring every minute of these pre-wedding days.

Which I would do … except for that old taskmaster, Should, in my head. Silently, she taps her stick against her hand and regards me with dismay.

Here’s the supreme irony of it all. We don’t actually get that much done when we are being ‘shouldy’. We’re much more likely to really rock the results when we let go completely and honor what’s happening here and now.

Jon, who is a very wise soul, reminds me that even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us. After all, God’s not standing around, impatiently waiting for results.

Instead, God, or the Universe, or Spirit (or whomever you recognize that great guiding Force to be), invites us all to let go and slide into the slipstream of love. Here we flow from one task to the next, effortlessly.

Here we let go and surrender and find our way to whatever would feel right next. So instead of a ‘To Do’ list we keep a ‘Why Not?’ list.

Why not take a walk and watch the clouds for as long as you want? Maybe inspiration will descend. And maybe it won’t …

Why not call someone you love and tell them so for no good reason. Then perhaps your heart will expand just a little more greatly. Or someone else’s will.

Or why not take a chance and submit a story to that hot media outlet you’ve been craving because suddenly … it just feels right?

That’s flow, baby. I highly recommend inviting it into your life.

When we get ball-and-chained to our To Do lists, there is no room to breathe and we forget the very core of our aliveness. This is how we get so very, very tired. We can’t keep up, and the strategies we’ve invested our time, our money, and our belief in begin to crumble.

This is when the ‘shoulds’ begin in earnest. And rightly so because (gasp!) we are behind. And we know in our hearts we will never catch up.

This is how we wind up soundly parked in self-doubt. Which is exactly where I was when I spoke to my friend Jon. I needed to hear him say that that there is no ‘there’ there. There really is nothing to push towards.

There is only the here and now, one beautiful day at a time.

May you join me in embracing what is true right now, for all of its warts, bumps and obvious gaps. This, too, is God’s will … just as you are.

You have been given a sacred job of simply being, my friend. So the question remains: is that good enough for you?

Me? I say yes!

Why not you, too?

How to Finally Decide You Are Enough … Just As You Are

f5529885d921ca3510d8e8d81e578fd8The image was frightening. Hannibal Lector’s face, complete with face mask, peered out from inside a small cage. The metal bars covering his mouth glinted in the sun.

No, this wasn’t Silence of the Lambs 2. It was my dream, and it annoyed the hell out of me.

 

Because for me, the message was clear:

Stop locking yourself in a cage of your own making, refusing to be heard.

The previous day I’d been in a slump, damning myself for not being more productive, more inspired, more ‘fire in the belly’.

Now in my fifth year of grief after the death of my daughter, now at the ripe old age of 57, I should be all better. Or so argues my mind.

I should be just like I was before her death — even though I am now a significantly different, older person. And even though my life has been profoundly changed.

Somehow it feels like my current level of productivity is not enough.

Enter Hannibal Lector.

When you suffer a shocking loss, you grow and evolve differently as a result. You can’t help but be changed by it, and perhaps that is the point. For what is life but a non-stop series of tumbles, splats, triumphs and recoveries?

This is how we learn.

Furthermore, we are designed to take big hits, so if we choose we can rise up again. Still we won’t ever be the way we once were. Nor should we be. We will be altered forever by our misfortune, and hopefully become wiser as a result.

For me, I am definitely humbler. I don’t need to wave flags and get all eyes in the room on me anymore. And my spirituality has grown deeper and far more connected. Part of me no longer cares about my prospects for success, either.

Yet at the same time I often feel like I just don’t quite measure up.

My mind wonders … is this softer, gentler me who lacks ambition really okay?

Is it alright, after years of grief, to not need to burn the world up anymore? My needs are met. I have everything I could possibly ask for.

So is this life I’m living actually enough, right here and right now?

Even in this driven world of striving and ambition?

At such times I always come back to an important set point. There are only two things that matter to me now. Self care, which includes the deep love I share with my partner, and my call to become a better person and share that path, step by step, with my readers.

But when I’m locked in my cage of self-doubt, I forget all of that. Then nothing I’ve done seems significant at all.

The Buddhists say I’m at choice here. I can give in to the voice of dukkha, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’, in my head and really milk it for all it’s worth. Or I can just observe it, acknowledge it and let it go.

It’s sort of like turning off the Trump-Clinton presidential debates, and deciding I don’t need all that negativity in my head.

So I am cultivating a practice of letting my feelings of weakness simply be. Because that’s all they are — just feelings and nothing more.

They are not a pronouncement about my worth in the world. They aren’t predictors of my future. And they certainly aren’t reliable signposts.

For this, too, will change. Today I might feel weak and indecisive. But tomorrow, I could get a whole new outlook on life. We are always in flux and that is an exciting thing. We never really know what could happen next.

What’s important today is to forgive myself for not being as ‘on’ as I once was. I need to give myself a compassionate pat on the back, and allow myself to do what I can comfortably do … expecting nothing more.

Then, magically, I am enough and the cage door swings slowly open. So I emerge once again, ready, willing and able to help.

Ironic, isn’t it?

But then isn’t this the sweet process of life as it unfolds, one day at a time, ever pushing us forth to become better, humbler, kinder … the embodiment of love.

 

 

What Donating My Daughter’s Organs Taught Me About Love

3a334400f50811a048df700714c76033Three and a half years ago, I sat by my daughter’s bedside, watching her slowly die as I held her hand. As machines were unplugged and the minutes ticked by, a strange new reality settled in around me.

I was losing an inextricable piece of my heart. My beautiful 22-year-old girl — who only days before was buying books for her college classes — would instead be returned to dust.

Her father, her brother and I watched, dumbfounded, as the Neuro-Trauma team went about their end of life tasks.

In an instant, life had turned radical on us. Save for one small grace.

Because of the nature of Teal’s death – a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest – her organs and tissues could be easily donated. Lives could be saved, and so my own shattered life could somehow begin to make sense again.

Today I find myself awash with gratitude.

Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard about this experience. And I’ve extracted some precious truths. For donating life is not a cut and dried experience; it lives in your heart and soul like a small, eager plant, winding its tendrils around your everyday experiences.

If you let that precious vine of love do its work, you can, in fact, be renewed. I know I was.

One of Teal’s kidneys and her liver went to two women in their fifties. Her heart and her other kidney were received by a free-spirited young woman not much older than Teal. A young woman I’ll call ‘Amy’.

“It may sounds strange,” Amy wrote to us in a letter overflowing with gratitude, “but I feel your daughter and I would have been good friends if given the chance ….”

This young woman and I have never met, though we’ve corresponded and spoken on the phone. And just those few conversations have been enough to blaze a path through my soul, as a tiny bit of light cracks open around me.

This is a really hard thing to get.

A life was saved. Like .. saved. Yes, someone’s life was actually saved.

By me. By us. By our small consortium, standing in the Neuro-Trauma unit of San Francisco General Hospital making a decision on an August afternoon. Somehow the celestial joined us that day, and waved its fairy wand.

And so a life was saved. Maybe even several.

There is someone walking around out there – a young woman, like Teal but not like Teal in her own beautiful way – who can walk up hills now without becoming faint, and who has color in her cheeks again. She can roar through the woods on zip lines, and travel around the world …

There is a young woman out there who is now free to find the career of her dreams. She can marry, have children, and pursue anything else she so desires.

There’s also a mother out there, who can rest easy at night now, knowing her daughter won’t die tomorrow. All because Teal died and we agreed to donate her organs.

So I ask you — isn’t this the point of life, to share the love, however we can? At the time, I had no idea how big this gift was – nor did I understand how it would keep giving back to me again and again.

Yet, that is exactly what happened.

You give an anonymous gift from the heart, simply because it feels like the right thing to do. And that heals your own tattered heart.

Now I understand both the fragility of life, and our own power to support and save each other. But more importantly, I understand the critical calling to save someone you may never know.

So I become uplifted every time I think of those people who have Teal’s cells, organs, and DNA in their bodies. I don’t have to know their names … I just need to know that now we are a little bit closer, these strangers and I.

We are invisible friends in the unified field of love – a magical place that unites us all. For in the end, what are we beyond bones, skin, tissues, and organs?

We are love, my friend.

In the end, we really are just love.