Aloha, Dad. And Aloha, Self-Compassion.

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Sometimes, the Universe decides it’s time for you to learn or practice skills.  You notice the same lesson or situation repeating itself until you figure it out.  I believe that if you open your eyes to subtle messages, support and solutions, they are usually waiting in the wings at the ready.  Well, apparently, it’s my time to further hone my self-compassion and quiet the droning voice of criticism and not-enoughism.  Universe, I hear you loud and clear, and I am working on it.  Dude.  Uncle.  Whatever.

Let me set the scene.  Last week, I was visiting family on O’ahu.  Yes, I realize the fact that my people are all in Hawai’i is a good thing when I make my yearly visit home.  My kids spend a week hiking trails tourists don’t usually visit, eating shaved ice known by locals to be the best, playing on uncrowded, breathtaking, and a little harder to find beaches and hanging out with other kids.  Not a bad deal.

For me, it was a little more complicated, of course, as visits home often are.  My dad passed away almost a year ago, and his ashes have been waiting to be scattered.  My sister and I had a distant and difficult relationship with our dad.  As an adult, I see that his life was bubbling over with challenges.  I can understand why he wasn’t fully available to anyone.  He drank, he cheated, he fought hard, and sometimes, he didn’t come home.  When he was home, it wasn’t peaceful.  Police showed up.  I went to sleep praying for quiet at home.  He didn’t remember our birthdays.  Not sure he was certain of his grandkids’ names.

When he was given 6 months to live, my father’s communication with us ramped up.  He told us he loved us.  He wasn’t afraid of death.  He donated his body to the medical school, and asked that we scatter his ashes in a bay that just happens to be a wildlife preserve with deadly currents.  Seriously, Dad?

A month before he died, his girlfriend of 20 years evicted him from her apartment.  He rented a room with a bed, a desk and a tv in an apartment with three men he had never met before.  He deteriorated steadily and relied on my sister to deliver groceries and do his laundry.  Hospice nurses checked on him, but there was no bed available for him in the facility.  He died sitting up in his bed, tv blaring, roommates home but unaware.  Not the best death, but somehow fitting.

Last week, my sister and I paddled a canoe out from the beach in our hometown early Saturday morning.  We shared memories, tears, and laughter, and forgave our dad for his dreaded fish stew, among other things. We remembered him singing happily along with the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, and Simon and Garfunkel. We prepped the water with flowers, and together, dropped his ashes, contained in a sea salt urn, into the ocean that he so loved.

My Guilt

Here’s where the self-flagellation comes in.  And trust, I excel at the self-flagellation.  Imagine each of these statements delivered with a pointing finger and head shaking, brows furrowed:

Didn’t Dad deserve to end up where he wanted?  The thought of hiking the rocky ridge to the water’s threatening edge with my kids scared the BeJesus out of me, but, really did he ask for much?  It was yet another disappointment in the picture of his life.

Was he scared and lonely as he left this Earth?  I flew all the way across the Pacific to see him before he passed, only to leave his apartment hours before he died.

Maybe I should have traveled back more while he was dying.  My sister was stuck with so much responsibility.

Should I have taken him into my home?

During our vacation, I brooded, I cried, I snapped at my family.  I wanted someone to take care of me.  I had to cancel a client call that was scheduled on a particularly rough day for me.  That was a first, and I didn’t feel like much of a professional.

Divine Nods

Here’s where I found support in unexpected places. I gratefully received it.

I decided earlier this summer to participate in an online retreat with two inspiring and rocking women, Christine Arylo and Kristine Carlson.  Immediately after I returned from this trip, our group call centered on the topic of Self-Compassion.  One woman shared her experience of choosing to cancel a work meeting so that she could be available to her family amid a collective emotional crisis.  It was an act of self-compassion. Necessary and forgivable.  I could so relate, having just done the same thing.  Thank you, Universe. I so needed that.

Christine spreads the message of self-love to women and girls, and Kristine, who exudes calm and grace, helps others navigate life and its rocky times with greater ease.  I had no idea when I signed up for their program that I would find both of these women so instrumental in helping me recognize and shake off my self-imposed guilt.  On our trip to O’ahu, the book atop the bedside table of our rental house was a collection of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff writings by both Kristine and her late husband, Richard Carlson.  Bedtime doses of kindness, comfort, and inspiration.  Thank you, Universe.

Divine timing.  One of my most intuitive and present friends in Oakland just happened to text me a message of support as I drove to the cemetery to have my father’s ashes transferred into a biodegradable urn.  I was torn about where to scatter him.  I was upset.  Her words healed and lifted me.  The urn available for my dad was hella heavy.  That took the hiking idea out of the picture.  The mortician was a young, warm, and affable woman (another surprise) who assured me that I was doing the right thing.  Salve for the soul. Thank you, Universe.

I got the message.  I was supported. Now it was my turn to treat myself with kindness and compassion.

My dad’s story was his, not mine.  As much as I would have liked to give him the fairy tale ending, it was not to be.  Honestly, I was as present as being a wife and mother of three living across the ocean could be.  I called weekly and flew home as often as possible.   He would have been miserable at our house, having little patience for children and spaces in which he could not smoke, and being displaced from his home of over 50 years.

I thank my father for teaching me, in his own way, how important it is to be present for my kids.  I will do everything in my power to make my family know that they are precious, safe, and my priority.   Many of my childhood experiences have led me to choose to live in love.  I honor him with a legacy of presence and connection I hope he can find in his new journey.

I am at peace now.  I know I gave me as much as I could, without compromising my own family and wellbeing.  I know I did my best.

So, here’s what I suggest if you need to practice self-compassion:

Remember, you do the best you can in any given circumstance.  We are always learning and growing.  Each experience provides new lessons and opportunities to evolve.  You are being the best you at any given time.

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  Are you as generous with yourself as you  are with loved ones? Do you speak to yourself as kindly as you do your friends and family?  If not, what do you expect to gain from punishing yourself?  We learn more when relaxed and open.  You deserve love too.

If you seek guidance, watch for it.  It may appear in your surroundings in a lesson from a mentor, in a feeling you just know to be true, or in an image or message you seem to hear repeatedly.  Practice connecting to your intuition.  You’ll be surprised at how much it reveals.  The wise voice deep inside knows the truth, and if given the floor, will stand up in your favor.

 

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Holding onto Hope While the World Implodes

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An airplane carrying almost 300 passengers shot down over Ukraine. Parents sending their children away, because detention at the US border is more promising than life amid Central American violence and poverty. Palestinian children gunned down while playing on the beach. Eat that with your oatmeal this morning. All this heartbreak and heaviness brought right to our fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

 

So, I am shutting it out and sending love to the victims. I’m instituting a news limitation in my house. Especially around my 7 year old. I spend many evenings soothing her worries. Will we have water to drink? Always? Why are the polar bears and bees dying? Why do some grown-ups hurt kids? I’m afraid someone will break into our house during the night, Mom. I weave a quilt of comforting responses to concerns that also chill me.  I do whatever I can to divert the constant assault on her innocence. Or on both of our optimism.  Both are precious.

 

Vitamin H.  Hope doesn’t just feel good.  It helps keep us healthy.

 

One of my favorite recent reads was a book entitled, “Mind Over Medicine”, by Dr. Lissa Rankin. She has collected data and explored the effect that mindset and beliefs have on health. She eloquently illustrates the importance of optimism to wellbeing by pointing out its association with longer life expectancy, improved immunity, dramatically lower rates of heart disease, less depression, and happier relationships. Who doesn’t want to experience all of these benefits? Let’s keep the hope rolling!

 

But, HOW?

 

How do we keep our attitudes on the upswing in the face of all this global pain? I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to spend my life fearing the next crisis or terrorist attack. I want to wake up excited for opportunity, for improvement, for growth. I subscribe to the belief that focusing on the positive will create even more positive, and that immersion in darkness makes happiness seem elusive. I’m not saying to pretend it’s not out there.  Pain is part of life.  When pain visits, feel it, listen to it, acknowledge it, give it the time it needs, but know that in the end, it will all be okay.  Remember that the difficulties pass.  Life moves on.  Keep the faith.

 

Keeping Hope Afloat:

 

  1. Be very selective in what you feed your absorbent mind. Take a break from the news and downer discussions if you are feeling overwhelmed or sad.  Dose yourself with the positive. Say YES to any depiction of:

–       laughter

–       compassion

–       learning

–       connection

–       love

 

  1. Notice beauty in everyday moments, like:

–       the joy in your dog’s face when you say the word, “walk”

–       the smell of your favorite meal cooking in the kitchen

–       the feel of cool grass on your bare feet

–       sharing raucous laughter with friends

–       lying down in a bed with fresh sheets

 

  1. Set aside time each day for quiet contemplation. Find stillness in your breath, your heartbeat, and your thoughts. Know that no matter what happens around you, you will be fine. It will all be okay. You have an endless reserve of  peace that lies inside of you.

 

  1. Imagine solutions. If we spent more time discussing fixes instead of the problems, we’d be a happier bunch, and we’d get a lot more solved.  Keep moving forward.  Don’t get stuck in the misery or hardship of an event.

 

  1. Exercise in a way that makes you feel free. For some, running is the ultimate cathartic. For others, the solid thuck of a tennis ball smacking against a racket brings satisfaction. For me, nothing is better than dancing the day or night away. Whatever it is that gives you that happy escape, do it. Regularly.  Better yet, have a few activities from which to choose, and mix it up.

 

  1. Help others. Buy someone a few more minutes of metered parking. Help a friend move. Surprise your mom with a letter of appreciation. Give a few hours at the community food bank. Be a positive force in a world hungry for it.

 

  1. Soak in each happy moment and let it absorb completely into every cell of your being. Immerse yourself completely in the time you spend laughing, feeling peace, and loving. Appreciate the many, many positives in life. The more we look for them, the more we realize they surround us.

 

Life is filled with frightening, infuriating, and tragic events. Let them remind you that there are no guarantees in life. Instead of letting the trying times terrify you, use them to motivate you to be and do your best.  To love bigger, hug tighter, laugh harder, and to make the most of the time we have.  Push your limits past your fears and shine more. Take every opportunity to counter the bad with good, and help foster hope in ourselves and in others.

I choose to tuck my daughter in bed at night and share stories of happy times, overcoming challenges, strength, and love. I want her to incorporate these messages into choices she makes and the way she views the world around her.  Hope is one of the most precious gifts we can give to others.

How do you stay hopeful?  I’d love to hear!