Barton Springs is my favorite spot ever since I arrived in Austin, April 2009. During summer, my husband and I go there on Saturday afternoons to connect with friends, juggle, swim, and take it easy. Others around us do acro-yoga, hula hoop, and play music.
The water is spring fed and constant 68 degrees all year, even when the Texas sun brings us temperatures of 100 F or more. The water feels cold, very cold. The only way I can get into the water, is by jumping or diving in. Walking down the steps feels like torture.
When I scheduled my Mikveh at the springs, I asked my Rabbi if I could jump in, instead of walking down the stairs. He had never had that question, and answered “Yes, I think so”. I felt relieved.
We gather on Friday evening September 8 for my Mikveh. The outside temperature is 85 F and the sun is setting. The Rabbi explains why we have gathered. I share why I chose my Jewish name Elisheva (in honor of the name Elizabet my beloved parents gave me), I say my prayer, and I head to the water.
Without thinking, I simply walk down the stairs into the water. It doesn’t feel cold at all. It feels comfortable, almost as if God is embracing me, as if I’m coming home to a very safe, loving place.
My surprise at being able to comfortably walk into the cold water makes me think of how my perspective influences my experience and changes the opportunities I see.
If we think we’re a loser, we’d probably feel sad, discouraged, or depressed. We don’t see many opportunities. “Why bother with the effort? We’ll lose anyway.” If we see ourselves as a unique person, worthy of love, we might feel creative, or secure, trusting that there is support when we need it. When we see ourselves through the eyes of our biggest critic, we might think we don’t do enough, we’re lacking, and we can’t rest. When we see ourselves from the perspective of our biggest fan, we might see how kind, caring, and giving we are. We might know that our lives are filled with connection, love, and opportunities. We see our innate goodness.
I believe we can choose which perspective we take. And with that, we can influence the opportunities we see.
How? Try this experiment:
- Pull up a table you can easily walk around, empty it, and place something in the middle that represents you.
- Walk to one side, and say out loud whose perspective you’re taking. Maybe it is your inner child, your future self, your biggest fan, or your loudest critic. Say how you see yourself from this perspective, and which opportunities you see for yourself.
- Walk to the spot left of you, and take on another perspective. Again, share how you see yourself from that spot, and which opportunities seem available.
- Do this six times in total, including both negative and positive perspectives, ending on something positive.
- Now choose the perspective that resonates most strongly with you and experience what happens.
Which perspective do you take on yourself? Let me know, I would love to read from you.
Hurricane Harvey approaches Texas. The weather forecast calls for 35 mph winds in Austin. I feel scared.
I look at the trees that are marked by Austin Energy. They are to be trimmed, because they endanger electric power lines. One tree in particular worries me. It leans heavily against the power lines next to our bedroom. I imagine that the storm winds might swing it back and forth so strongly that it will break the lines and cut power to our house and our neighbor’s.
It’s early Friday morning and my husband is still asleep. I decide to act with vigor and determination and keep our neighborhood safe. I’ll cut down the tree.
I get a saw and start sawing. Not too bad. I cut through quite easily and the tree falls in the planned direction. I feel satisfied.
Until I look up.
The tree is not leaning against the lines anymore. It’s hanging on them. With it’s full weight.
OMG! That’s not good. That’s not good at all. That’s horrible! The weight will certainly tear down the electric lines, and we are only hours before Harvey hits the Texan coast. No electricity for days and Austin Energy will probably have something more important to do than restore the power to our little house.
Unless it ignites a fire! Oh my goodness! I start to panic … Okay, breathe in, breathe out … I tell myself: “Pick up the trunk and move it off the lines …”
Despite all my weightlifting practice, I can’t move it an inch. Worse yet, with my moving it, the tree gets more entangled.
I breathe in, I breathe out …
I remember Thich Nhat Hanh saying “If you’re in a hurry, slow down”. Okay. “Elly, don’t act — think.”
I know I can’t stay for hours holding a trunk that’s way too heavy for me. And I don’t see or hear anyone who is within ear distance to call out for help. I conclude it’s up to me to solve this, for better or worse.
I succeed at pushing the trunk into the ground far enough that I think it won’t slide away and the tree will stay upright rather than dragging down the power lines. I run to the shed to get a ladder to get closer to the higher branches. It takes me half an hour and a lot of mindful breathing to fix the problem and get the tree out of the way of the power line. Nothing is broken. We are still safe.
That’s when a tornado of self-critical thoughts engulf in my head: “You absolute, stupid, idiotic moron! You could have killed yourself, you stupid, idiotic moron.” Some of them in Dutch. All of them extremely painful to hear.
I feel super grateful that we just offered our Self-Compassion workshop. I remember that self-compassion is not reserved for those situations, where our suffering is triggered by others. Self-compassion is especially needed when our suffering results from our own mistakes.
Yes, I was unconscious of my incompetence in tree cutting. I feel ashamed and embarrassed for the potential harm I created. That doesn’t make me a person undeserving of compassion, love, and belonging. On the contrary, I need it now more than ever. With some extra attention to my breaths, and some kind words in my head, I start to feel relieved, and even a bit amused by the whole situation. After all: this is the stuff newsletters are made of.
When do you need self-compassion the most? Let me know, I would love to read from you.
I’m babysitting my friend’s dogs. I find them super sweet: when I wake up in the morning, they greet me with excitement, puppy ears up, tail wagging, head a bit slanting. I can hear them asking: “Are we gonna play? Are we gonna play?”.
When we go to the dog park … it becomes, hum … a bit of a challenge … As long as there are other dogs, Sol is fine. He can release his energy by running around with them.
But today, there are no other dogs. Sol decides to run off by himself. Into the fields. Chasing whatever he smells on the ground. I can see the tip of his tail happily wagging above the tall grass.
Then I see nothing. Nowhere. For five minutes. For ten minutes. I call him. I squeeze his squeaky ball — no sign of Sol. I call louder, squeeze the ball harder. I get anxious. What if he ran to the river stream, apparently home to coyotes? What if he got trapped and dies?
My anxiety turns into panic. My calling becomes yelling.
A fellow dog owner asks entertained if I lost my soul. I understand the pun.
I am not amused.
Then I see his wagging tail, followed by his perky ears, and big, brown eyes. It takes me another five minutes to break his hunting spell and get his attention. When I finally do, he runs up to me.
Sure, I feel relieved. But mostly I feel ashamed and deflated, and full of self-critical thoughts about my “shitty” pack leadership qualities.
Then I think of Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings about taking things personally. His message is: whatever someone says and does is an attempt to meet their beautiful needs. It is NOT a reflection of who WE are.
I look at Sol: whatever he does, it is a reflection of his needs, not a reflection of who I am. He probably needs exercise, or express his innate drive to hunt. He is certainly not trying to demonstrate that I am a shitty pack leader.
Sure, I haven’t succeeded yet to channel his energy and innate drives, so he follows me, not a scent. I’m not yet trained to be a pack leader who supports both play and safety of the pack. But that doesn’t mean I’m less worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Sol is in charge of my sense of self-worth. That’s still up to me.
When we are aware that any behavior is an attempt to meet needs, we can take things less personally. Without the self-judgment, we can learn to balance all needs as effectively as possible, instead of trying to avoid shame.
What helps you to not take things personally?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.
Cockroaches and Self-Compassion
My husband and I cherish our vegan household. We don’t eat animal products, we don’t buy leather shoes, we don’t spread poison to kill bugs.
As a result, we have our occasional cockroach visitor.
Since we don’t want to kill or harm them, we try to catch them and transition them to the compost pile in the backyard, hoping that’s nirvana to them.
It’s not easy. Cockroaches are fast, and have a magic ability to disappear between cracks I didn’t even know existed.
So when we spot them, we have to stealthily get a glass bowl from the drawer, put it over them, shove a piece of firm paper underneath the bowl, and run carefully to the compost pile.
My success rate is around 60%.
I am pleased with that, until a friend tells me it’s not difficult at all: you just pick them up and throw them outside.
Well, I don’t know which countries he has visited. Maybe Tibetan cockroaches have more equanimity and are happy to be picked up, but our Texan friends are fast, really fast.
Irritated at hearing his claim, I prove my point by acting out my catching strategy on the living room floor.
Exaggerating the speed in my demonstration, I land badly on my thumb. I can hear it pop. It’s extremely painful. I feel the blood drain from my head and I can barely get up. Still feeling the original irritation, I pretend as if nothing happened, waving him goodbye.
When he’s gone, I hear a roar of critical thoughts swell in my head: “You stupid idiot, you are unable to regulate your irritation! You made a fool of yourself by being caught up in your own self-righteousness! You deserve a sprained thumb!”
It takes a few hours, before these elements of self-compassion surface:
- Awareness. Just noticing my pain and suffering around these critical thoughts and my thumb. “Ouch, that hurts, that really hurts.” We cannot foster self-compassion, if we don’t acknowledge we’re suffering.
- Befriending myself, being on my own side. Just wanting myself to feel better, caring about my needs. Something like “I wished I didn’t suffer.”
- Shared humanity. I start thinking of all the other people who hurt themselves while trying to impress others. I breathe in their pain, heaviness, and suffering. I breathe out love, light, and relief to them. “May all beings be happy, peaceful, and light in body and spirit.” Myself included.
Working with these elements of self-compassion, I feel better. I see myself for who I truly am: an ordinary human being, whose behavior is sometimes a tragic expression of unmet needs. I don’t need to judge myself for that. I need to reaffirm that I am still unconditionally worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging.
How could these elements of self-compassion help you to accept your mistakes and learn from them?
Let me know. I would love to read from you.
“I feel frustrated with my marriage. I am done with it! I don’t want to deal with his anger and resentment anymore…”
“What would the absence of his anger and resentment bring you?”
“A sense of peace. Someone who is available to me, someone who is willing and able to listen and support me. Maybe just enjoying life… You know, I am 43 and I don’t want to spend the second half of my life with someone who is constantly dissatisfied with life. That was not my vision when I married him.”
When you are married to someone who struggles to hold his unmet needs in a way that respects your needs, you might take it personally. You might start losing your self-respect and self-worth, and think you are at least partly responsible for his anger and resentment.
If so, Steven Stosny suggests four choices to reconnect to your own basic goodness, your core value as a human being:
- Appreciate. When you appreciate what brings you joy, a sunset, the flowers of the plant you carefully nurtured, the smile of delight of your baby, you reinforce your values, your sense of self. You reinforce your inner goodness by appreciating outer goodness.
- Connect. When you connect to people who stand by your side no matter what, you realize you are lovable enough to receive love, acceptance and belonging. Even if your husband doesn’t meet those needs. It doesn’t really matter whether your friend is a human being, your pet, the nurturing part within yourself, God or nature. Any connection with someone who has an unconditional, positive regard for you helps you connect to the place of positive regard within yourself.
- Improve. When you improve your life, you restore your sense of self-agency. You are not in control of how your husband feels, thinks or acts. You are in control of improving your own life, whatever he does. It might be cleaning up your room, finishing chores, weightlifting, taking a class in ceramics: anything that makes your life a bit better. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to get better.
- Protect. Protecting what you care for, something that is vulnerable and precious, calls upon your inner warrior. The one that protects and defends. Not against anyone, but for someone. It is not reactionary, it is pro-active: “This is important to me and I won’t let you contribute to harm, because I care for this and for you.” You appeal to the compassionate core value of your husband. You call upon him to be more than his unmet needs and act from the place within himself that wants to contribute and protect.
Try these strategies out and see if they help. I also suggest you read “Love without Hurt” by Steven Stosny. I find it highly valuable to maintain your core value.
Have you ever met your inner child?
At the Mindfulness Retreat I attended with my Thich Nhat Hanh Sangha last weekend.
I was enthralled by the workshop Gale and Curt organized for us. I valued the support for deep self-connection, the safety of our group, the sharing in our circle, the individual and pair work it offered.
I cried a lot.
And yet, I was not suffering. I was not even sad. I was just touched to spend time with my inner child.
My inner child has a sense of innocence, happiness and excitement about life. She is curious and eager to learn and contribute. She is satisfied with where she’s at and doesn’t need much.
She certainly doesn’t need the forcefulness of a protector — a protector who lives in the fear and responses she created when I was around eight years old. A protector who still thinks it is 1973 – who believes she has to scramble to get a pancake before they are eaten by her siblings. A protector who still carries the fear that her siblings will start to talk over her as soon as she starts to tell about her day and stutters.
My inner child knows better.
She knows that was then and now is now. She doesn’t fear that there isn’t enough, or afraid that she doesn’t matter. She simply trusts that we share our basic goodness and that the world is a fantastic place – waiting to be explored and enjoyed. My inner child engages people and life with openness, authenticity and vulnerability.
I am so moved to meet her.
As I look at her, I understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s Second Mindfulness Training in a whole new way:
True Happiness: “…I can live happily in the present moment, simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy…”
I always thought that those conditions referred to my material well-being, my physical health, my marriage and friendships. This weekend I learned they do not. The conditions of my happiness are the unconditional acceptance and love I receive from my inner child. With her I can relax. With her I can manifest my true self and realize my dreams.
Contact me 512-589-0482 to understand and nourish the conditions of your happiness.
Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this blog at such a late notice. My life is richer by your support.