Oh darn! I’m the Frog! Why it’s Sometimes Hard to Do Nothing.

I have just emerged from the Cave of Gloomy Things, after taking up residence there after the death of my dad in late October 2013 converged with the holidays and an unexpected downturn in my business. As an entrepreneur, much of my mental energy is tuned to a sense of urgency, driving me to anticipate a clients needs; start another project; write another blog post. The momentum is always there. The voice in my head that said, “Find something to DO!” was louder than the rational yet unfamiliar whisper that said, “Do nothing, it’s time for healing. It will all be okay.”

So I caught the flu. Well, not the flu exactly, but some sort of bug that zapped my energy and directed me to the couch where I played Angry Birds and caught up on daytime TV. I white knuckled it through the holidays and the time of little sunshine, when after about a week of doing nothing, I realized I was feeling a whole lot better. And not just physically.

Even though I know that “doing nothing” is a proven way to restore my sunny mood and supercharge my creativity, I can see now that I had been blind to the increasing percentage of work versus restorative play. Was I that driven to be productive or else I didn’t feel good about myself? Darn it, I realized I was like the frog who was put into the pot of cold water. He didn’t jump out of the pot to save himself as the water heated up because he got accustomed to the incremental rise in temperature. By the time it boiled he was cooked.  Most of the time we are human, but every now and then we are frogs. Returning to self-care by doing nothing and getting out of the hot water is Love Applied.

But hey! Aren’t I “doing something” by writing this post? Time to stop. There is Nothing that is calling me.

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“B”-ing My Mom

When my grandmother was pregnant with my mom, she and my grandfather were so convinced that they were going to have a boy that they didn’t choose a girls name.  And when my mother popped out as a little baby girl in 1930 (surprise!), they named her for a boy anyway:  Willie “B”.  The ‘Willie’ was after my grandfather, and “B” for no particular reason that I could ever discern.  Mostly, she goes by “B” unless it’s someone she has known since childhood, then it’s Willie “B”.

Image

I’m told there is a family resemblance.

I don’t know if a girl named for a boy was the female equivalent experience of a boy named Sue, but my mom has shown some pretty fierce determination through the years.  My grandfather contracted tuberculosis, which he did not want to treat, and my mother firmly told him that she would not risk exposing me and my sister to him unless he went to a doctor.  I have one memory of visiting him at the sanatorium, and it was only much later as an adult that I realized how difficult, yet clear it must have been for my mom to stand up to him.

She ensured that we practiced our piano lessons, made it on time to cheerleading practice, and insisted that we attend church each and every Sunday, despite my best teenage pouts and delaying tactics.  I never did win that one. When a mammogram discovered a pinpoint speck of cancer when she was in her 60’s, she drove herself to radiation and listened patiently to other patients’ troubles while declining the need to talk to a counselor herself.  “The Lord listens to me just fine,” she explained.  “No need to complain.”

At 82, she takes care of my increasingly frail father, who will be 91 in May.  He doesn’t always know where he is; would rather eat brownies for lunch instead of chicken and vegetables, and gets anxious when she is out of his sight for too long.  I can’t say she is always patient with him, but she is always loving.  And this is what I learned about Love from her.

1.  “B” Accepting and Not Judgmental.  Mom always seemed to grasp that the situation where her friend’s teenaged daughter turned up pregnant would not be helped by criticism or judgment.    She accepted people as they are and doesn’t indulge in tempting displays of gossip and sarcasm.  “Everyone has their point of view, Melinda”, she would remind me.

2.  “B” demonstrative to those you love.  Everyone in Mom’s world knows that she loves them.  She has always taken the attitude that the more love you give away, the more you will have.  “B” is free with “I love you”’s and hugs and kisses.  On each holiday there is a little trinket that she picked up at the Dollar Store that “just reminded me of you.”  For my Mom, Love is clearly an action.

3.  “B” there if someone needs you. “B” was the one to initiate family gatherings; to visit a sick cousin in the hospital; and volunteer at the church to help serve dinner on the grounds.  If a neighbor called to invite her over for coffee, then the vacuuming could wait til later.  “People are more important than a little dirt”, “B” explained.

I’m quite sure that I was as much of a handful growing up as any teenager can be.  I never doubted that my mother loved me, even when I was dreadfully embarrassed at some of her quirky sayings or rebelling against going to church for the second time that week.  But I too buy silly trinkets for those I love; take friends with cancer to their doctors’ appointments; and look for the best in people.  I am happy to “B” my mother, my original teacher of Love Applied.

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To Feel or Not to Feel

Melinda WalshA longtime friend called me with a question. “I’m in a dilemma and I am not sure what to do. Would you give me some perspective?” he said. “Do you think Love is a choice?

He told me about a female friend that he’d known for several years, who was newly sober and freshly out of a relationship. The two of them were platonic and were clear that they were just friends, but he suddenly found himself having feelings for her, despite knowing that this she was in a vulnerable state and wouldn’t be a good choice for a relationship for him.

This is  our conversation.

FRIEND

He’s been single for a number of years.

How do I stop these feelings?  We single folks crave touch, and how can I stop wanting that? My head knows that there are red flags with her all over the place but I keep having feelings for her.

MELINDA

“First off, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re human and humans get lonely, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that you feel this way. You’re normal!

FRIEND looked surprised, as if I had just told him that he was going to sprout wings.

What you’re really craving is not her, but the way you feel when you’re involved with someone. We all want companionship, to love and be loved. And that’s what you want. You’re clear on it, your head knows not to get involved. But don’t suppress your feelings, either. They will come and go like the tide.”

FRIEND

You mean they will go away?

MELINDA

Not altogether. You have to learn to manage them without coming up with a story that inspires you to give in to them. That’s where the trouble starts— most people don’t know how to tolerate feelings of loneliness so they choose relationships that really don’t serve them in order not to feel that anxiety. Your job is to learn to just allow your feelings to flow—and choose healthy actions, while tolerating those feelings.

FRIEND

But that’s uncomfortable! I don’t like that!

MELINDA

Laughter

Of COURSE it’s uncomfortable. You can give in to the discomfort and end up in a crappy relationship or learn to manage it while choosing actions that serve you and honor your integrity. It’s up to you. What’s it going to be: short run or long haul?

FRIEND

He is quiet for a moment.

I was thinking there was something wrong with me but I’m really just human, aren’t it? So, how do I manage those feelings?

MELINDA

Journal. Say out loud, ‘This feeling sucks,’ ‘I hate feeling lonely’. Cry. Talk to a friend. Go for a walk or work out. Eventually you will learn that you can manage them and that makes you feel really confident when it comes to relationships.

I do believe that Love is a choice to some degree, but the more important choice here is to evaluate your feelings and your actions separately. Don’t let your feelings talk you into doing something that soothes the anxiety of loneliness in the short run, but goes against your integrity in the long run.

MELINDA smiles.

I know you’ll do fine.

Learning to Love isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to learn to tolerate discomfort in service to a bigger objective. Feelings are just feelings, there is nothing wrong with having any of them. It’s what we choose to act upon is truly Love Applied.

Through Whose Eyes?

I saw this Facebook post today from my good friend Tamyra Bourgeois, a psychotherapist and author of “Once Upon A Blue Moon: Memoirs of a Woman in the Middle of Her Life”.

From Tamyra:

“I had a favorable opinion of someone, and the person I was with did not. They starting spewing negative assessments about that person to me. And with great clarity, I stopped them and said; “I feel you would rather I see this person through your eyes and not my own. I’m not willing to do that.”
The person with me fell silent and didn’t speak about that other person again. I felt really empowered and clean, and living in my inner integrity. Not every time I have an exchange like this do I catch myself. Too often I pretend to agree. But I feel I’m growing up in this way. I feel good about that.”

Reading her post made me reflect on how often that dynamic pops up in conversation. Tamyra nailed it as an invitation to see a situation or person the way the other person sees it. It can be indulgent to vent and it’s a natural human tendency to surround ourselves with those who agree with us. I certainly grant someone the right to their opinion, but occasionally find myself at a loss for words when someone is spewing. I don’t want to join in and usually either say nothing (which leaves me feeling a little cheesy at not having defended someone) or simply, “I don’t see it that way,” which almost seems like a version of “Yeah she is”, “No she isn’t”, “Yeah she is”. I like Tamyra’s wording, and will likely adopt it.

Any time we can clearly state the essence of the dynamic that is actually happening instead of what is just being talked about, it has the ring of clarity and avoids making the other person wrong.

Given a choice, wouldn’t you rather someone see you through loving eyes than critical ones? Choosing our words thoughtfully is Love Applied.

And the Director says…..”Cut”!

“You’re not in love with them—you’re in love with the person they used to be, or the person you wish they were.”

— Jerry Springer

Not that I’ve actually watched the Jerry Springer show or anything, but he can come up with some wisdom from time to time.  That quote came from a show where one female guest just could not let go of the relationship with her girlfriend, a woman who clearly wanted nothing more to do with her.  Have you seen this before?  Or maybe it’s happened to you (me too!), where despite a sea of red flags, you stubbornly held on to the fantasy that somehow, one day, you’d wake up and it would all be magical again.

So, the question is, how DO you let go of a former love?  The trick is to realize that you not only grieve the loss of the actual interaction (the relationship itself) but you also grieve the loss of the fantasy of what you hoped your future together would be.  We humans are as masterful at creating inner movies as any Stephen Spielberg.  We’re quick at it, too, often by the end of a first date we have the rest of our lives together already scripted, shot, edited and wrapped in the theatre of our mind.  And all too often, we don’t think to check in with them to see if their inner movie has the same plot as ours.

It can be difficult matching the reality of a relationship that is on the rocks with the movie of what you hoped and wish it could be….or the movie of what it used to be.  Springer was right.  We fall in love with our inner movies to the extent that if we’re not careful, it blinds us to what is actually happening right in front of us.  We excuse and accept poor treatment from others, justifying it in creative ways, in order not to feel the grief we know we’d feel from looking at reality.

By being willing to take a clear look at what is actually going on in your now-defunct relationship and acknowledging those red flags you have been ignoring, it becomes easier to see that what you are grieving is the loss of what you thought you were going to have.  Doing so doesn’t mean that you’ll have to give up on the dream of loving someone and being loved in return, it just means accepting that you may not be able to have it with that particular person.

That’s a wrap, and that’s Love Applied.

The Litter of Love

Love Applied

“May love litter your life with blessings.”

 
When you read these words, what comes to mind? For me, it’s a feeling that there is something wonderful to bump into, to pick up, to see, to step over everywhere I choose to look. It’s a reminder that we have a choice as to how we see the world, we choose what to focus upon.
The word ‘litter’ also implies trash, debris, something discarded and unwanted. So it’s an interesting exercise to think of being ‘littered’ with love’s blessings, almost like being sprinkled with glitter that has the effect of making you see the world through joyful eyes instead of looking for the worst. What is it like to be filled with so much Love that you have extra to spread around?
It also makes me think of how our interactions with others leave aftereffects. Is it a trail of love’s blessings that brightens their day? Or is it the litter of discouragement or resentment?
So for today, ask yourself what you can do to spread a little of Love’s ‘litter’ around. A kind word to a stranger? An extra hug for your children? A thank you to your spouse? Putting loving actions to loving feelings is what Love Applied is all about.

Tiny Changes, Big Impact

 

The other day I had coffee with a reporter friend of mine, who told me that she had an interview with a graphic artist whose specialty is designing typefaces.  I shared with her a story I had read about the change in fonts on highway signs from Highway Gothic to Clearview, which was described as being like ‘putting on a new pair of reading glasses:  there’s a sudden lightness, a noticeable crispness to the letters.”  The changes made to the font were subtle but effective:  lightening up stem weights and increasing the interior space of certain letters, like a lower-case ‘a’ or a capital “B”.  The result is an easier to read font that ultimately enhances safety.

So it got me thinking.  What tiny changes can have big impact in a relationship?  One of our practices is that the first one to bed gets a glass of water for the other and puts it on the nightstand.  A small gesture, for sure, but it sends the message “Your comfort is important to me.” And that’s Love Applied.

What are some the tiny things you do or someone has done for you that mean a lot?

Relationships and All That Jazz

I love it when my Sweetheart plans a date for us. “I’ve been missing just spending time with you and I’d like a date”, he said. He had been working a lot and so had I, and it made me feel really loved to know that he is equally dedicated to the care and feeding of our relationship as I am. So off we went to a wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a Chilean jazz singer that neither one of us had ever heard of.

Love Jazz

I must confess here that I wasn’t initially taken with the idea of going to a jazz show. Although I am many, many years out of practice, I trained as a classical pianist from childhood through my first year in college. Classical music appeals both to my inner artist and my inner engineer: beautiful and logical all at the same time. But jazz? I could appreciate a beautiful voice or adept musicianship, but the spontaneous, unpredictable structure of it quarreled with, let’s face it, my occasional desire for control. And who knows how long the obligatory drum solo could last? It could theoretically go on all night and I sometimes get impatient. Even though we had attended a wonderful jazz performance in the early phase of our dating and had a great time, I was still a little hesitant, wanting to keep things fresh and at the same time, not wanting to spend the energy to break our routine.

On the other hand, I recalled that an effective strategy for keeping the bonds of connection over time strong is to do new activities together that neither one of you had done before. At the start of a relationship, everything is new and surprising, and it follows that over time, your partner becomes predictable (and so do you!)

From New Love: A Short Shelf Life, by psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky writes,

“Surprise is a potent force. When something novel occurs, we tend to pay attention, to appreciate the experience or circumstance, and to remember it. We are less likely to take our marriage for granted when it continues to deliver strong emotional reactions in us. Also, uncertainty sometimes enhances the pleasure of positive events.”

There is a lot of nodding in Jazz. The musicians nod when they are riffing, the audience nods along as if to say, “I’m with ya, brother.” The venue was small, intimate, the performers only a few feet away. I found myself being drawn in by the singer’s apparent bliss at sharing her talents with us. I nodded, too.

There is a lot of nodding in good relationships. We ‘nod’ whenever we thank the people we love for what they bring to our lives. We ‘nod’ whenever we listen to our Sweethearts even if we are tired and want to watch Downton Abbey. And perhaps most importantly, we ‘nod’ to the improvisational nature of our romantic relationships when we get out of our thinking ruts and risk keeping our love fresh and sustainable. I’m with ya, brother.

And that’s Love Applied.

One Year, Two Years…

Two years ago today, my Sweetheart and I met.  It was really just coincidence that it happened on Valentine’s Day although now I choose to see it as the Universe’s way of saying, “Hey, here’s someone special for you.”  Plus, it does make it easy to remember our anniversary date of meeting:-)

Over that time, we’ve experienced the sudden illness and passing of a close friend of mine; a six-week breakup to wrap up some old, unfinished business (which turned out to be a very good thing); and lots and lots and lots of conversation about both mundane and serious topics.

Melinda WalshI think a lot about what it takes to make a relationship work over the long haul, and that’s how Love Applied got started.  I’ve posted lists and practices, and today I’m thinking that mostly what it comes down to is just choosing every day to find something you love about the people in your life.  If I could put on a pair of Love Glasses, I would, so that I would always see everyone in a loving, compassionate light.

Don’t we wish someone would do that for us… to forgive our less than perfect moments and just love us anyway?  I believe the best way to get that is to give it.  And that’s Love Applied.

Facing your Fears

When you think of being in a relationship again, what are you most afraid of?

It’s easy to look in the other direction instead of looking at what scares us.  Only by acknowledging where you are can you begin to address it.  Usually our biggest fear is of getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

I learned that I held a belief that went something like this:  “Being vulnerable is really scary for me and I only do it when I really really really trust you not to hurt me.  So therefore, in order to honor that trust, you must never ever ever ever do anything to hurt me and you must magically know what those things are without my having to tell you.”

Poor Sweetheart:-)  The day I spoke this to him out loud was the day we both had a good laugh and I came to terms that since we are all human, we are guaranteed to do something that will unintentionally hurt someone we love.  By disconnecting my choice to be vulnerable with someone from “You had damn well better not hurt me” it opened up a space for more intimacy.

What relationship fears have you addressed?  Was there anything you were afraid of that turned out to be unfounded?  How do you practice Love Applied?