Nearly three years ago, I enlisted the help of three kind, unsuspecting strangers to break my car window. Last week, an unknown number of less-than-kind strangers offered their unsolicited assistance in doing the same thing.
My car was broken into last week in a busy neighborhood in broad daylight in the middle of the day while I was meeting a friend for tea. When I discovered the car, I was pressed for time, and I had no choice but to jump in and drive sans windows through the 20 degree day to retrieve the babe from preschool. When we returned home, I set about making plans for a repair and conducting a mental inventory of the contents of the stolen bag. Despite my burst of productivity, I felt deeply frustrated.
As I shared details of the incident with friends and family, they all expressed sympathy. Each time, I responded with the same mantra: "No one was hurt, everything was replaceable, and it was just a window." I believed what I was saying. I knew it to be true. But I remained stuck in an unhelpful thought pattern. Every time I felt my frustration well up, I was simultaneously hit with judgment from within: Why are you so worked up? You have a family member recovering from major surgery. Your good friend was recently robbed at gunpoint. And you are whining about a broken window and a stolen yoga bag? Get over it already!
It wasn't until a few days later after the window had been repaired and most of the stolen belongings replaced that I was able to recognize the cycle. Had I simply allowed myself to sit with the frustration, I could have acknowledged it and moved on. Instead, by forcing myself to ignore my feelings and respond in what I thought was the "right" way, I prolonged my discomfort.
We are all human beings with human feelings. Bad things happen, and even minor inconveniences can trigger unwelcome emotions. Our work is not to dismiss them outright, but to allow ourselves to experience them fully. Only then can we move forward with grace.
Next time you are subject to a less-than-desirable emotion, allow yourself to sit with it and learn the lesson(s) it brings. Treat yourself with the compassion you would extend to a friend in the same circumstances and put yourself in a position to grow.
When my daughter started preschool last year I was anxious to know everything about the seemingly interminable three hours she was away. It was our first experience of sending her into the world and relying on her - and her alone - to share the events of the day. No nanny or babysitter to give us a detailed summary of activities - no one to introduce us to the other children with whom she would develop independent relationships. The classroom and its inhabitants were largely a mystery to us.
Initial questions - if answered at all - gave little information and left much to our (active) imaginations... So we began telling her about our days and waiting for her to reciprocate. This opened up a new mealtime ritual that has endured and grown richer with time. Wherever, whenever, and with whomever we dine, she initiates conversation around two questions: What was your favorite part of the day? And what was your least favorite part of the day?
At first it was charming. Then it began to be a bit tedious. After all - most days follow a similar pattern of events, and many of the highs and lows derive from the same sources. How many different ways can I say the same thing? But then I started listening - REALLY listening to her answers, and I experienced a tremendous shift in perspective. The four year old mind is endlessly creative. The highs and lows she recounts are as likely to feature imaginary friends as her classmates. And the smallest things - sitting next to someone at circle time or helping her teacher prepare a snack - are as likely to be named a highlight as a carefully crafted, meticulously organized, and energy intensive mama-driven event.
The exercise has inspired me to be more mindful as I move through my day. Cataloguing the kindness of the stranger who took time to hold the door open - or the fleeting moment of complete clarity in savasana. It has also given me the space to acknowledge, then let go of, the moments I don't need - or want - to carry forward.
Give it a try - at the end of the day today take stock of what you experienced. Celebrate the highlights (large and small) and acknowledge, then set free, the memories you don't need. How might it change the way you approach your days?
Last week I celebrated another trip around the sun. After consecutive weeks of illness and other interruptions to our family's routine, I was ready for a celebration and a fresh start to the year. While my husband was traveling on the date in question, my mother made a special trip to D.C. for the occasion, and I was determined to make the most of her visit. My daughter had the day off school, and I envisioned a leisurely day with my two favorite girls - taking in a new art exhibit and perhaps a park visit - followed by an elegant evening out on the town. But that isn't quite what happened...
Despite her reputation (and reality) as one who NEVER gets sick, my mother awoke that morning more than a little under the weather. She spent much of the day resting in hopes of a quick recovery, but to no avail. Feeling terrible for her (and a bit sorry for myself), I began mapping out an alternative plan. Instead of sharing a fine dining experience, I would treat myself to a rare evening yoga class and a quiet solo dinner at one of my favorite neighborhood spots. And as I did so, I quickly shifted my focus to plans for the following day. When my husband returned to town, we would enjoy a night out on the town. But that isn't quite what happened...
His flight arrived right on schedule, and I began previewing the online menu in anticipation of the meal we would enjoy. As evening approached, I retreated to my room to dress for dinner, but no sooner had I donned my little black dress than I received a call from our sitter. Her daughter was sick, and she wouldn't be able to come. Feeling bad for her and her sweet girl (and more than a little sorry for myself) I immediately shifted back into planning mode - scanning the calendar for a future day to celebrate. But as I considered the options, it occurred to me: maybe this is exactly how it was supposed to happen...
Viewed through a different lens, a great yoga class, good food and drink in a comfortable setting, and an opportunity to enjoy an evening all to myself was a rare treat! And a quiet evening at home with my family after a busy stretch of travel and other commitments was a refreshing end to the week. More importantly, I completed another memorable year and have the opportunity to continue the journey.
Sometimes life unfolds just as we hoped, but when it doesn't, we have an opportunity to take a closer look and see things differently. Next time you find yourself facing the unexpected, can you change your perspective? What might you see?
I had grand plans for February. Fresh off New Year goal-setting and determined to make progress before the frenetic energy of Spring arrived, I had it all figured out. I established timelines. I created metrics. I ensured the elements I was adding to my life didn't require more time and energy than I had to give.
But then I got sick. I could feel it developing but couldn't be bothered to slow down. Yes it was a weekend - and theoretically the perfect time to rest, but we had a full slate of birthday parties, baby showers, and long-ago scheduled dinners and brunches with friends. A virus wasn't an interruption I was interested in acknowledging, so I didn't. I opted to drown the symptoms in tea, Vitamin C, soup, and healthy dose of denial. I maintained my full teaching load and populated the calendar with meetings, plans, and projects. Phew - I'm glad I got that out of my system. Now where was I??
Right on cue, my daughter fell ill. I was filled with sympathy for her, but at the same time, frustration welled within. I can't stay home today. I have updates to present at a meeting this morning. I have clients counting on me. I have a million things to do. I don't have time for this...
But this time I couldn't completely ignore the interruption. A tiny human was counting on me to take the situation seriously. So I did - if somewhat grudgingly - and she recovered. We may even have enjoyed the luxury of an unstructured day... I justified the lapse by promising myself, Tomorrow I'll double down and FINALLY catch up!
And then we learned about an unexpected setback in the health of someone near and dear to us. This time instead of resisting, I surrendered completely. Without a second thought, I closed my planner, put my agenda on hold, and bought two plane tickets. Rather than bemoaning the items that would not be crossed off the list, I embraced the interruption. I let go of my "need" for productivity and focused instead on what we could gain from our time away. As a result, we were able to soak up special moments with family, make meaningful memories, and reinforce important connections.
I know you have been there. Despite our best efforts to take charge, we are at the mercy of so many factors beyond our control: A child brings a virus home from school. A car window is broken. A friend needs our help. A family member receives an unexpected diagnosis. And just like that - whatever was on our agenda for the day, week, or month gets pushed aside.
At that moment we have a choice: we can waste our time on a futile fight or embrace the unexpected and learn the lessons it brings. A sick day offers a chance to recharge our minds as well as our bodies. Time spent caring for someone else is an opportunity to shift our focus off of ourselves and gain some much needed perspective. An impromptu trip gives us the space to to create special memories.
Next time reality interrupts your carefully crafted plans, can you resist the urge to fight? Can you embrace the interruption?