Filling the Void

Today marks the 25th anniversary of my mom’s passing. And it was not until I faced the end of my marriage that I’ve started to actually process the impact of her death on my life.

I lost my mom suddenly at the age of 14. At a time when I was just becoming a teenager. When I was trying to prove myself and fit in. A year before my mom passed I became an adult in the eyes of the Jewish religion.

But at 14 I was still just a child.

I remember the last year with my mom. Not wanting to go to Bat Mitzvah practice. Fighting with her about a dress that I wanted but she did not think was mature enough. I was at an age when I was so worried about what other people thought of me. You might venture to say self-absorbed… but really aren’t all 14 year olds?

My mom passed away in the summer before I started high school. I remember friends and teachers reaching out to me saying they were sorry for my loss.“I’m fine.” I would reply quickly. I was a freshman. And just wanted to fit in with everyone else. I was not going to let my mom’s death define me and wear a scarlet letter that said “Feel Sorry for Me”.

I got involved with sports and clubs. I had a lot of friends. I was social. I always had a boyfriend. I was never alone. My social circle and activities gave me the comfort I longed for and a sense of belonging.

In high school and college, I pushed myself hard to get good grades and seek approval from my teachers and my father. It felt good to be recognized for my hard work. And likely the birthplace of my A-type personality. I constantly pushed myself to do more. To achieve more.

I felt valued based on what I accomplished and the praise I received from others.

Six years after my mom’s death I met my now ex-husband. We were together for 18 years. The marriage fell apart for a number of different reasons. But one thing I now realize is that I was not whole when I entered the relationship. My heart had a huge void that I relied on the external world to fill. And he was a major external force in my life. I put expectations on him to complete me. To nurture me and affirm my place in the world. To offer me the kind of love and compassion that we traditionally receive from a maternal figure. I expected him to make me feel whole. To make me feel happy.

Inevitably I would get disappointed when he could not meet those expectations. And that’s because I operated in the relationship from a state of desire, need and want. I so desperately wanted to be loved and taken care of. For him to fill the huge void left in my heart from my mom’s death. I needed him to love me because I had never developed the capacity to self-love. To accept myself. To affirm my own place in the world. To offer my own self some compassion.

In retrospect I realize now that he could never meet those expectations. My recent journey has taught me that we cannot place expectations on others to make us happy. Acting from a place of desire will just lead to pain and suffering. Happiness and feeling fulfilled needs to start from within. And once we can accept ourselves and believe we are worthy can we realize true love.

I know that no one will ever fill the void created when my mom left me — but what I also know is that I can feel whole again by loving myself first.

The pure yogic truth:  The love you experience at any time with any person is not coming from them; it’s coming from inside of you. It’s your experience of your true self.  In other words, the other person is a stimulus that allows your own love to be uncovered. — Happy Yoga, By Steve Ross

*Follow my journey by joining my Facebook community or liking me on Twitter.*

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Freedom to Fly

For a year a large sticky note has hung upon my wall with the words “Freedom to Fly”. I posted this note as a visual reminder for me to remember the inspiration that launched me on to my current journey.

Exactly one year ago this weekend I was in a very different place.  Reflecting back now I am amazed at how far I have come. A year ago I was just 4 months into my marriage separation from my husband and partner of 18 years. I was completely lost. In a fog.  Going through the motions of life in survival mode. Trying to pull it together for my two young children. The emptiness I felt inside was filled with anger and resentment. Thoughts of the future only brought about darkness. I was stuck and could not see a way forward.

As is custom over holiday weekends a colleague asked what my plans were for the 4th. The truth was I had no plans. Still adjusting to alternating weekends without my children, I had nothing to do. My kids were with their Dad and my married friends were tied up doing their own family stuff. So I sarcastically responded “Celebrating my independence!” Because isn’t that what are you are supposed to do when you divorce? Make jokes like it’s no big deal?

That Saturday I attended a workshop at my yoga studio, appropriately named “Freedom Flow”. It was at this class that I had my awakening. The words my teacher (more like spiritual guide), had been saying for years finally hit me. I remember it clearly. We were doing a pose honoring Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. The story of Shiva is that he sits upon a mountain top in a state of meditative calm until he sees evil and then swoops in to destroy it. He teaches us “to let go of what no longer serves us, so we may move forward on the path to enlightenment and that destruction is necessary for re-birth” (source: Sivana Blog)

The pose entailed us sitting in chair pose (like Shiva about to pounce on evil), repeatedly lifting our arms in the air and then quickly dropping them to the floor. As if we were reaching up to grab the evil and then forcefully throw it to the ground destroying it. Our teacher kept repeating the phrase:

Let go of what does not serve you.  Let go of what does not serve you”

At some point during this repetitive sequence I closed my eyes and went inward.  And was hit with an enormous emotional rush that brought me to tears.

What was I holding on to that I could let go of? What could I destroy so that I could move forward?

It was in that moment that I realized I was holding on to my past. I was holding on to memories. I was holding on to plans I made for our future. I was holding on to the life I thought I was going to live. I was holding on to what I thought marriage and relationships were supposed to be like. And I was definitely holding on to anger and resentment.

So I let them go. I detached my grip and destroyed all of them. Holding on to them did not serve me. They weighed me down and prevented me from moving forward.

After letting go I immediately felt a release and a lightness. Like I could fly. Like I was free. I had found my freedom to fly. The freedom to change the course I was on. The freedom to explore new destinations. The freedom to start over. The freedom to be happy again.

Today I am still enjoying my freedom to fly. And even though it’s scary at times, because I have lost the ground beneath me and don’t have a flight plan, I am allowing myself to soar and see where the wind takes me.

Life’s Obstacle Course

A couple of weeks ago my best friend and I competed in the Krell Adventure games. Krell is another in the mix of recently popular races that take you in the woods to complete a series of obstacles and challenges in a time bound period. It’s different from other races in the fact that it includes both physical and mental challenges. More like the show Survivor – without eating bugs. It’s also a paired team race.

When she first approached me to do the race – my initial reaction was an adamant “NO”. Why would I possibly want to throw myself in the mud to do a bunch of crazy obstacles that looked hard? No thank you. Not my thing I thought.

I could tell she was disappointed in my response and continued to sell me on it. She just recently got back into exercising and was really motivated to set a stretch goal for herself. And then she said the words. “You are the only person I can imagine doing this with”.

Pause.

That’s when I realized that my visceral “no” to the race was because I was SCARED. What if I could not do it? What if I did not have the strength or the endurance? What if I failed? I had summer camp flashbacks of being left behind and being made fun of by the other kids. But who better than to help me overcome my fears than my best friend? I needed her as much as she needed me……. So we signed up as TEAM ROAR and paid the registration fee.

And then something shifted in the way I looked at this challenge. You see as an A type, I am naturally drawn to competition and trying to win. Gold stars and pats on the back make me happy. But “competing” in this race was not about winning or external recognition. Not even close. Our participation was about pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone. It was about tapping into an inner strength that we wanted to fuel — an inner strength that could help us face some of life’s real obstacles.

Here are just a couple of the B-life lessons I learned along the way:

LIFE WILL REVEAL ITSELF

There are so many times I get stuck in my head on something because I fear the unknown. I play out all the possibilities and scenarios of how things might go in an effort to overcome uncertainty. Yet the reality is that I can’t control the future no matter how much thinking I do. The race really helped me put this principle to the test because it’s designed to have the obstacle course revealed when you show up.

The night before the race my best friend and I (both nervous) tried to plan out
different ways we would approach mapping our route. When we showed up at the start line and received the list of obstacles we had to completely scrap our13347016_10154103967805985_5997990767990012564_n
plans. We did not plan for the scenario in the form it was presented in. Yet – we successfully quickly adjusted in the moment.

Lesson learned – I can’t plan everything. I do not know what life will reveal. Be in the moment and trust myself to have the ability to respond to what is in front of me.

ONE STEP AT TIME, SLOW AND STEADY

One of the obstacles involved using two wooden crates as a means to move us forward 25 meters. The rules were that we both needed to be on a crate at the same time before moving to the next crate. Way harder than we anticipated. We would get started and into a groove. One throwing the crate with her foot while the other using her outstretched arm to help the other across. Eager to finish the short FullSizeRender (7)distance we would begin to go faster, fall and then have to start over. It was frustrating (and at times funny as evidenced by the picture). I can’t remember how many times we had to start over. And then the volunteer gave us a piece of advice ‘One step at a time, slow and steady’. Those words were enormous. We realized we both were so intent on getting to the end we would wind up rushing, losing our focus and fumbling. When we finally did pay attention to just taking the next step forward we successfully finished the challenge.

I can’t tell you how many times this translates into my personal life. It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed when I think about all of my responsibilities and never ending to do list. It seems like I will never get to the end. I wind up trying to do too much at once and spiral instead of moving forward. But what if instead of focusing on the end I just took one step forward, slow and steady?

IT’S WORSE IN MY HEAD

Leading up to the race I was nervous. I imagined all sorts of crazy obstacles that would be extremely hard and challenging. I would get on the Krell website and examine pictures of past races. I told myself — those people looked a lot tougher than me. The morning of the race my best friend and I made a pact that our goal was to finish 5 out of the 20 obstacles. Our result ………13 obstacles completed!

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In reality, the race was not as bad as I had pictured in my head. And isn’t that usually the case? We think something is going to be a lot worse than it really is. Our minds have an amazing capacity to make up stories that are far from reality. One phrase that has helped me manage uncertainty and sort truth from illusion is “the story I am telling myself is ____”. That way I am able to detach and observe the thought as simply a thought – not reality.

MY BEST FRIEND IS ALWAYS WITH ME

This race was an amazing experience to share with my best friend. We lifted each other up, encouraged each other and pushed ourselves to do something bigger than ourselves. Yet I do not need a grand gesture of an adventure race to experience these things. Life is a series of facing fears and unknowns. And there are many times my best friend will not literally be next me to help me overcome one of life’s obstacles. Yet figuratively she is always with me. I have the ability to channel her voice when I am scared. To offer myself encouragement. To lift myself up. And to push myself to do something bigger than myself.

I Should Stop

I should be writing more in my blog. I should be doing more meditation. I should be getting more sleep. I should be getting up earlier. I should journal more. I should exercise more.  I should volunteer at my kid’s school. I should read that book. I should reach out to that friend…

I should stop saying “should”.

There exists a countless number of “should’s” in my life. Thoughts that cycle in my mind as I go throughout my day. Thoughts that pang with me with guilt, disappointment and shame. Thoughts that make me feel like I am failing at life. It’s amazing that one little word can have such a profound impact on my self-worth. The word SHOULD is loaded with judgement and criticism. It reminds me of what I am not doing. That what I am currently doing is not good enough. And that I need to be better.

Now I am a big believer in self-improvement and seeking ways to better yourself. But not in a way that breeds shame and unworthiness.

So I started to wonder­­ –– how could I stop this cycle of negative feelings brought on by this one little word?

I recognize that I cannot really put a stop to “should” thoughts. They will always pop up into mind subconsciously and be out of my control. However, what I can control is my reaction to should thoughts and letting go of attachments to that word.

Here is what I am working on:

Letting go of judging myself for what I am not doing and honoring everything that I am doing. I work hard to balance a full-time career and single parenthood. I make time to exercise and eat fairly healthy. I read, snuggle and laugh with my kids. I try my best to stay connected with friends and family.

Letting go of expectations of how things “should be” and appreciating what is right in front of me. My kids are happy. We are healthy. I live in a great neighborhood. I love my job and colleagues. I have amazing friends.

Letting go of perfection and adopting a “good is good enough” mindset. My worth is not dictated by what others think of me, how much is crossed of my to do list or how clean my house is. Life will pass me by if I keep waiting for perfection to start living. Accepting B grade work for a given task allows me to devote time and energy to what really matters most in my life.

Letting go of self-criticism and replacing it with self-love. This one is the hardest. I am my toughest critic. It’s so easy to harp on the negative and lose sight of the positive. Love starts from within. It’s not about external validation and others telling me how great I am. It’s about believing deep down in my soul that I am good enough and I am worthy. That I am whole and not broken. Loving myself is about noticing the good and accepting what is. I recognize and appreciate that I have dealt pretty well with what life has thrown at me. I have cultivated a strength and resilience that even surprises me at times.

The path to happiness first starts with awareness. I know that getting out of a “should cycle” will take practice. These prompts help me remember that I have the power to change the course I am on.

 

Zoning In

 

There are two hours in my day that completely disappear. I put the kids to bed at 9:00pm and then BLINK— it’s 11:00pm. In a world where I feel strapped for time how am I somehow losing time just before my eyes?

I am not a TV watcher so know that is not sucking my time. I don’t have a spouse to talk to. I am not getting back on my computer to work.

So where does my time go?

For the past couple of weeks, I set out to increase my awareness and observe my behaviors at this particular point in time. Here is what I discovered. I don’t stop doing. I walk around the house in circles (maybe doing some clean up?) completely lost in thought. Or I sit at the edge of my couch, phone in hand, surfing Facebook, social media sites, and reading a bunch of random articles. Basically I am totally ZONED OUT. By the time I get into bed I am completely exhausted. I pick up a book to read and barely make it 1 page before I crash hard.

It makes sense. I have had a long mentally draining day of working and parenting. I deserve a little bit of zone out time – right?

I started to think about the idea. Do I really deserve zone out time?

And the more I thought about it the more I realized – I actually zone out all day long. My day is filled with external forces that I need to respond to. Work demands. Kid demands. Home demands. I never turn inward to respond to what I need. I never really stop.

So I wonder – is zoning out at night actually creating a ripple effect of negative action and suffering in my life?

Mindlessly walking around my house and surfing my phone does not seem to relax me. I am up too late. I don’t sleep well. I wake up in the middle of the night anxious with thoughts running through my mind. I snooze my alarm clock and get up later than I want. I get mad at myself. I rush to get the kids out the door. I get mad at myself. I get to work late and start my day off scrambled. I get mad at myself. It’s a constant cycle of me beating myself up.

My days are neither starting nor ending right.

What if instead of zoning out at night I zoned in? What if instead of walking around mindlessly I sat, meditated and observed my thoughts? What if instead of checking other people’s statuses on Facebook I paused to check in on my status? What if instead of reading articles I wrote in my journal?

What if zoning in could actually create a ripple effect to more happiness?

Sounds like it’s worth a try.

 

You Complete Me

I am supposed to be on the road to my yoga retreat right now. On the road to a weekend of disconnecting and slowing down. A weekend to do some yoga, attend guided meditations and enjoy nature. A weekend to sit, reflect, journal and go deep inside myself. A weekend to not worry about my to do list and just BE.

But instead I am sitting on my back patio – connected to my laptop with my to do list open. Why? Because yesterday I made the decision to stay home and not go on my yoga retreat. And I feel at peace with the decision.

Wait. Correction. I now feel at peace with the decision — it was admittedly a bit of a struggle to get here.

Let me take you back two days. It’s Wednesday evening. Day 5 of my week-long “spring renewal” vacation and I….AM….STRESSED. You see my original plan was take the week to de-clutter the house and the weekend to de-clutter the mind. I only had one day left before departing for my retreat and had barely made a dent on my house de-cluttering efforts. I told myself “You can get it done Jen…Just wake up at 6am tomorrow and work into the night!”

My entire body tightened.  I felt enormous pressure.

And then a voice popped into my head — cancel the retreat.

No way I thought. I can’t cancel the retreat! I just launched a blog about living the B life. I can’t stay home to get things done. That would be completely hypocritical and contradictory. What would people think?

Cancel the retreat.

There it was again. That little voice – or more likely that intuition thing I am learning to pay attention to.

Struggling to make a decision I chose to sleep on it. I woke up Thursday morning (not at 6am mind you). Thoughts were ping ponging in my head. I stopped to journal and offer myself some self compassion. I asked myself “What would you tell your best friend if she was in this situation?”

My response was simple.  I would tell her “Do what makes you happy. No one is judging you except yourself. What is your heart telling you?”

I placed my hand on my heart.

Cancel the retreat.

My body relaxed. I felt enormous pressure lifted.

It was right then and there that I realized I do not need a weekend to escape to the B life —what I need is a way to find balance in my current life. I need a way to cultivate a state of being when I also have things that need doing. I misled myself to believe that my journey is from A to B. It’s about integrating the A and the B. It’s finding the yin to match my yang.

So I canceled my retreat. And I very much look forward to a weekend at home to slow down, enjoy nature, reflect, do yoga AND……. clean out the kids closet.

Train Watching

So those that know me personally will know that I am a fast talker. Like super fast. I used to chalk it up to my NJ roots, but even fellow New Jerseyans have no clue what I am saying sometimes. My quick witted rehearsed response when someone tells me I talk too fast is “I don’t talk too fast – you just think too slow.”

But beyond the hilariousness of that response (I think it’s funny) there lies some truth in the statement. My fast talking way is most likely connected to my fast thinking brain. It moves so fast that sometimes I can’t keep up. I am trying to do one thing and my brain is off to the races thinking about the next thing and the next thing and the thing after that. And that translates to both how I speak and how I behave. Have a conversation with me and I promise you it will not be linear and a bit scattered. Walk into my house and you will see things not put away in their place, half folded piles of laundry and pens left with their tops off.

I am aware that I don’t like this about myself. I envy the people that talk slowly and articulately. I have always desired to be the woman with her purse zippered and things nice and tidy put back in their little compartments. That is not me. That may likely never be me. One thing I have learned this year on my spiritual journey is that desire is a source of suffering and letting go of what you cannot change is the path to happiness.

But what if I can change my fast thinking brain?

My mindfulness and meditation practice has shown me that it’s possible. I love the notion that meditation is not about clearing your mind of thoughts – it’s about becoming a witness to your thoughts, observing them and not reacting. One technique I learned is to think as your thoughts as a moving train – but you are just sitting on the platform watching the train move and never get on.

And that is what I am working on. I accept that I cannot change my fast thinking brain. There will always be a fast moving thought train running through my head. But what I can change is choosing to not get on the train.

The “To Be” list

Today I woke up with what felt like a B life hangover.

First some context. I took a week off from work for what I called my personal “spring renewal” break. I have (had?) grand plans to do some serious spring cleaning in the house and de-clutter. (Remember I mentioned the KonMari method in my first post?) My thought process was that de-cluttering will help solve the root problem of what I am facing in my life  –  CHAOS. To be more specific – the feeling of chaos and being in survival mode when I am a solo parent of a 5 and 3-year-old.

I had planned to get two full days of decluttering in on my days off without the kids. But that did not happen. Not even close. I shared in my first post that I was riding the high of spontaneously starting my blog and happy that I abandoned my plans for the day. And at the time that was genuinely and authentically true. I was drunk on living the B life!

Until this morning. I woke up with tremendous guilt and anxiety. I get my kids back tonight and the house still feels chaotic. Nothing on my list was crossed off. I accomplished nothing. I failed.

For two hours I swirled around my house trying to multi task and salvage some of my weekend’s intentions. That just made things worse. I now had about 10 things started instead of 1 thing finished. The anxiety was mounting. I had so many things I wanted to do!

And then I stopped. I forced myself to breath and reflect. What was going on with me? Why this pressure TO DO so much? I became aware that I was fearing the inevitable feeling of chaos and being in survivor mode again when I got the kids back.

Pause.

I then asked myself – What do I want TO BE today? I closed my eyes, took a long deep breath and said – I want to be calm, present and happy. I want to be in the moment and enjoy my time with kids – not fear it.

I instantly I felt calm.

I realize I have the choice and ability to control how I want to be. Right here. Right now! I do not need to cross off things on my to do list to get there. All I need to do is shift my mental state to find the calm in the chaos. If I wait for the day when my to do list is finished to feel calm I will miss out on life around me. Instead, I am going to start to work on cultivating my “To Be” list. Seems a lot more doable and a better way to approach my day!

Let’s see how it goes.

 

Feel what I feel

I am so grateful for the support I have received in the 24 hours since launching my blog. It is humbling, motivating and scary all at the same time. I have just announced to the world (well my small little Facebook world) that I am doing this. Gulp – I now need to deliver on this expectation! People are waiting.

So my MBA marketing brain is firing and saying things like – you need a content calendar! create a schedule! learn about Google analytics! But my heart is saying. JUST WRITE. You see my friends, as part of my transition to becoming a “B”, I am learning to listen to my heart to guide me. And not only listen — but also physically become aware in my body to feel what I feel. And right now I feel it in belly and my heart.

I believe this is what INTUITION is. I have been thinking a lot about intuition lately. For so long I have ignored my intuition and not trusted myself to have the answer. I have always sought validation from outside resources (friends, books, etc) and been afraid to make the wrong decision. At times making even the simplest of decisions has been crippling for me as I seek to maximize all feedback and options. I am becoming aware of this behavior of mine. It shows up in all aspects of my life from deciding on a birthday gift, making a decision about a work project, to the more profound questions about life. True story – when I was married I would find myself googling “Did I marry the right man? or “Am I happy in my marriage?” hoping that Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s brilliant invention would somehow give me that answer.

But the answers are inside of me.

Imagine if I just trusted my heart and my gut – how much I could ease some of my own suffering! But why is it so hard sometimes? Even just writing this post about intuition makes me feel uncomfortable. My mind is saying I have not done any research on this – what credibility do I have to offer thoughts on this topic?

Yet as I place my hand on my heart I know writing this post is the right answer. I can feel it. I am trusting my intuition. I have something to share that feels right to me.

Thank you heart for being my guide.

The Courage to Start

Today did not go anywhere close to as planned. And I couldn’t be happier.

First I will share that this is one of my solo weekends. I admit it took me a while to adjust to not having my kids every other weekend. On one hand I felt selfish for enjoying the time to myself. On the other hand I missed them terribly wondering what their smiling little faces were doing. I have now found the balance of using this time to re-charge so I can be more fully present when I do have them since I am “on” 100% of the time as a single parent.

The plan for today was to spend about 5-6 hours applying the KonMari method* and clear some physical clutter in my house. I set an intention last night to get started at 10am and tackle the girls room (age 5 and 3) and discard/tidy all the of their clothes and shoes.

As I do on most Saturday mornings, I woke up and started to journal to figure out what was swirling around in my monkey brain. In the course of my journaling I found myself writing “just be, just be, just be”. That kicked off my creative juices and I started to think how that would be a great name for a blog – JustB. That took me on a journey of exploring available domain names, (discovering JustB was taken but Journey2B was not!), logging into WordPress, creating some social media sites, writing the My Story page and……. 5 hours later ultimately unleashing my platform to share with others!

You see six months ago I took myself on a personal retreat and had a strong calling that I needed to share my journey through this life change with others. I didn’t know why or how. I just became aware of it as a powerful force inside me. For months I have sat with this feeling afraid of how to start because I did not have a plan. I put it in on my “to do” list and it felt like a chore more than a calling.

I was afraid to START because I did not know the END.

Today I had no plans to start a blog. And I do not have a plan for this blog. I am not sure where it’s going to take me and that’s actually a little bit exciting. I am riding the high of facing my fear and having the courage to just start. That’s the beauty of living a B Life – run with what life presents to you at the moment.

*The KonMari method is the way to declutter and organize your home from best selling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.