I’ve noticed that relationships change and get more difficult when the talking stops. The creative, imaginative, attuned, fun-loving, communicative talking turns into grunts and short answers. Communication becomes stale and perfunctory. We feel dull or lonely.
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” –Marianne Williamson
Since I started writing regularly, most of my blog posts have skewed toward a pensive, reflective, often sad bent. The posts have been cathartic to write and have typically received great feedback from you. Like I wrote two weeks ago in Pivotal Moments, I’ve been undergoing many changes since moving. If you recall, I mentioned that people often don’t know they’re undergoing a pivotal moment until getting some distance and taking a little bit of time away to marinate. In the last three+ weeks, I’ve said yes more frequently and have made the decision to make more magic in my daily experiences.
A couple of months ago, I participated in an online project to recognize all of the gifts that come my way. This program, “The Receiving Project”, reminded me of so many blessings I experience on a daily basis, from working with amazing clients to being offered special opportunities. It is fitting to attribute some of my recent positivity to this project and also remind myself that I used to wake up happy 9 out of 10 days. In the last year, I did not wake up happy most days, and instead, I woke up with anxiety, sadness, or anger. I missed my old self.
I feel a physiological, mental, emotional, and even a spiritual shift knocking on my door. I’m welcoming her with a gracious hug and a big smile. Recently, I’ve had so much fun: I’ve gone to a Dodgers game, spent time in Laguna Beach, watched Independence Day fireworks from an amazing, secret beach, cooked and baked new dishes, gardened with my favorite chef, laughed with my nearest and dearest, exercised, and most excitingly, I took a wonderful adventure to San Diego for a burlesque show and met some amazing new friends.
My life used to be joyous and nearly care-free, and then I took a nosedive to hell. I’ve treaded water and felt stuck for a very long period of time because of energy vampires and very difficult situations. I felt small, voiceless, concerned, and generally, untrusting. Something shifted and now I feel like I’m back! I see my eyes brighter in the mirror, I’m also able to reflect your joy. I feel myself smiling and laughing many times throughout the day and feel like I’m returning to the strong, capable, independent woman I always used to be. Sometimes I even want to shout and squeal that my life is back!
It would be false to advertise that in my brief encounter with my old (happier) self, I’ve only felt joy. No, I’ve felt a wide spectrum of emotions. Somehow, I know better how to handle the challenges quickly and more efficiently. This has helped me immensely, along with the insight of one of my teachers I met about a decade ago. His name is Michael and he lives in Israel. He discusses feelings of personal slavery and new-found freedom, as if trudging through a desert after being imprisoned for many years. “We began to form our communal consciousness in that physical and existential ‘lack’. We learned to appreciate the ability to trust the unknown and unpredictable, to love the temporary, to experience the ‘here and now.’ All of this experience had one main purpose – to teach us to let go of the illusion of control.” He suggests that the times we are walking consistently through the smoldering desert with seemingly no end in sight, questioning and banging our heads for the best answers, represent the self-searching that people are encouraged to experience. This is crucial so we can “learn to listen to the soft and powerful tune of our souls. Yes, it does help to put all those daily distractions aside. It may involve a certain level of detachment from the physical and the convenient.”
So how does this relate to my extreme joy? Michael, like the Tom Petty song at the top of the blog called “Something Good Coming” suggests that in order to feel the delight and joy, we have to experience the pain and suffering. This extreme yin-yang of life is natural, though extremely frustrating when not going the “right” way.
And I’m in for the long run,
Wherever it goes.
Ridin’ the river,
Wherever it goes.
And I know that look that’s on your face,
There’s something lucky about this place.
There’s something good coming,
For you and me.
Something good coming,
There has to be.
–Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Something Good Coming”
I feel a sense of peace and faith that things are coming down the pike favorably, in the way that I’ve set myself up for success with seeds having been planted a very long time ago. I think joy and laughter stem from feeling relaxed and relinquishing a false sense of control. Instead, joy is felt momentarily by truly recognizing “how good things really are” like Marianne Williams says.
I’d like to add one more thought before finishing, which I’ll likely write more about in future blogs: For me, the joy I’ve been experiencing is a result of deciding to make it so. Before doing some of the marvelous adventures recently, I’ve told myself a little mantra. I’ve set the intention to make the experience magical and fun and to allow myself to really feel the happiness that’s happening. To end on a short, sweet, high note, I want to acknowledge that I’m back! Not only is something good coming, it’s here! I’m experiencing extreme joy and I feel great! What a lovely feeling this is, and I’m delighted to share it with you!
One of my best friends, Shirley, and I took a long walk last week and came across a picked over yard sale. The family was trying to pare down their junk and was loading a truck with the last vestiges of kids toys, mismatched drinking glasses, and other odds and ends collected in drawers and closets over a lifetime. One of the items on the table was a cardboard box full of cards. It turned out to be a game called “Food For Talk: Bringing Families Together One Conversation at a Time.” The family ended up giving us a few cookbooks, a deep dish pizza pan (!), and this game.
I hosted a pizza party at my house the next night and my friends and I decided to try the game. One of the prompts asked us to describe a pivotal moment in our lives. One of my dinner guests has recently lost over 100 pounds as a result of diet and exercise, and he named joining CrossFit LA as a pivotal moment in his life. Two other guests became CrossFit coaches as a result of joining CrossFit LA and their lives changed dramatically, as well. One guest stated that when he played football his freshman year of high school, he learned about camaraderie and it helped shape him into the man he is today. Without thinking too deeply, I also said that joining CrossFit LA was a pivotal moment in my life.
Cut to a later conversation and I was speaking to a friend on the phone who challenged my response. He could not fathom that an exercise regime would be so deeply transformative for me, when I’d already accomplished many other things and experienced more “serious” or traumatic events. This gave me pause. Over the last week, I’ve been exploring this idea of a “pivotal moment.”
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” — Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
This pivotal decision “which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism” grants same-sex marriages in all 50 states. It came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of the unions. Given that the Supreme Court and so many Americans finally support gay marriage; it’s about time!
So what does it mean to pivot, anyway? Wikipedia states that a pivot is “the point of rotation in a lever system or more generally, the center point of any rotational system.” I think of pivoting primarily in terms of basketball, and asked my brother, an NBA superfan, how he describes it. He says, “it’s when you have the ball and one foot is firmly planted and you are changing directions in order to pass or shoot.” Pivoting is a fundamental footwork movement and is done on the ball of the foot. The ball of the pivot foot must be in contact with the floor at all times and must not slide sideways. When one pivots, he or she actually spins around on the ball of the pivot foot. Another friend told me that pivoting is a way to change directions or create space so [in basketball] you have more room to act.
Thinking about pivoting from a basketball perspective is similar to thinking about life’s transformational moments. We have a foot planted on the ground and the other foot is finding better placement for the next best thing. To elaborate and apply this to my life, I’m thinking in all seriousness about some of the pivotal moments in my life.
1. Attending college (Penn)
In my family, going to the best college possible (and even simply going to college) was not a question. It was part of our culture. Getting good grades, studying for the SAT, writing thorough essays, and interviewing were all part of my plan for myself. However, this was all in preparation for the actual attendance and experience of my college education. Going to Penn and everything that came with it was pivotal for me during all four years. There, I really learned how to think more critically, how to write better, how to live on my own, and how to make and keep lifelong friends.
Living in Philadelphia was transformational; I grew up in a working-class, coal-mining town in Northeastern New Mexico. We were the only Jewish family. Raton, my hometown, has a population of under 6,000 people, half of whom are Hispanic and the other half, Caucasian. At Penn, there was racial, religious, and class diversity, true city life with public transportation, and really smart people who challenged my beliefs. It was a different world. I learned that I could work hard and achieve the things that I desired AND that there needs to be certain timing in order for things to work out. Going to Penn was four years of privilege; it has had far-reaching effects on my development and even the people I know.
2. Yes, CrossFit was a pivotal moment for me, I’ll be honest, but not in the way you’re thinking.
I’m not talking about losing tons of weight, getting leaner (which I did), getting stronger (I did that, too), or being able to deadlift an ungodly amount. Rather, I’m talking about the whole five-year process. For some people, walking in the doors to a gym is transformational. Not for me. I’m good at trying new things, especially if it’s exercise related. I’ve done pole dancing, krav maga, Thai kickboxing, belly dance, spin, yoga, running clubs, and tons of other trendy workouts. The pivotal “moment” for me was realizing that I would stay with it, and grow. Just like Andy Petranek (the Founder of CFLA) used to say, we would “chop wood, carry water.” Going to CFLA was part of my routine. There were lots of days that I didn’t feel like going to the gym but I showed up anyway. I practiced all of the movements I despised, amidst my friends and also with myself. I cried through a horrific wall ball workout and felt better for having completed it (rather than quitting), laughed doing animal walks, and sweated amongst my peers. I met amazing people (whom I’m honored to call dear friends) and found a new community in LA as a result of my gym membership. I don’t think I’d have done all of this if I were training on my own. As Coach Kenny Kane discusses, I “put in effort and showed grit”. I faced physical movements that related to emotional memories (in much the same way that yogis experience growth in the pigeon pose). In sum, I felt myself physically and realized that I am an athlete.
I’m not doing CrossFit now. I needed a break. I carry this memory deep within my heart and am so grateful for these five years.
3. Grad school>Therapy>Coaching
“Having an idea and being passionately committed to it is important. But so is being clever enough to realize when it is not working,” says Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist.
I went to graduate school thinking I would become a Marriage and Family Therapist. That was the plan. I completed my classes, all of my hours, worked in multiple different community mental health centers, and even had a private practice. I worked with over ten supervisors and trained for seven years in the Gestalt modality. Some of it was amazing (all of the Gestalt stuff) and some was horrific (one of the sites). A year ago, after a series of difficulty in my personal and professional lives, I decided to leave my therapy practice and start fresh as a Gestalt Coach. I had been working with a supervisor for over five years and the relationship was tenuous. For years, I wanted an ounce more warmth and positive feedback and felt like I got pounds of criticism instead. Feeling worn down, I adopted her suggestions and didn’t feel better in my role as a therapist.
It didn’t occur to me to leave and find a better fit. Rather, sticking it out is what I thought I “should” do. And then the universe basically conspired against (with!) me and I had to leave. I had an intense, honest discussion with my supervisor and was able to speak to everything that hadn’t worked for me. I felt a surge of growth in that moment and major confidence for the decision I was making to transition into coaching.
I have not looked back with regret. I know what is expected of me, where I need to be, am nimble, agile, and feel comfortable with where I am.
4. My move
I lived in Los Angeles, primarily on the Westside, for twelve and a half years. Six months ago, I moved to Long Beach, a city about 30 miles away but with traffic, can take an hour and a half, making me occasionally lose my mind. Making the decision to move felt okay, but actually moving has been pivotal.
I thought I needed a change, a break, a reset. I also thought a relationship would “work out.” Ha! I needed a reset from my patterns, and now know the relationship was hinged to a rusty, tattered, broken belief system. Basically, I tried my best and it didn’t work. Well, after now living here and trying to make friends, build community, and start a life here, I realize my pivotal moment is still happening. I’m not where I want to be and am in the process of learning what’s next. I have a foot planted and my pivot foot is creating space for the next best thing. I’m looking for my teammates to pass the ball and am ready to get clear and make the basket when they pass it back.
Reflecting on pivotal moments this week has been incredibly thought-provoking, and has led to deep, authentic conversations with friends and clients alike. My mom and dear friend Stephanie both agree that we make decisions, even if they’re risky or scary, thinking that things will only be better. They posit that we would not make decisions if we thought, going into the decision, the outcome would be far worse than what we’re already experiencing. It’s certainly easier to stay in status quo mode than to take a risk. However, I believe that a pivotal moment is actually something that has been reflected on after the fact. I don’t typically know that meeting a new person or trying something different will be pivotal. It’s truly only pivotal when acknowledging the work that has gone into getting there and then sticking with it long enough for it to make an impact. In the afterglow of the experience, we realize that a “moment” has been pivotal.
Finally, it occurs to me that most pivotal moments are actually setups for comebacks. Many times, a pivotal moment comes after defeat. In the Supreme Court, it’s taken years for marriage equality to be sanctioned, and tons of people have felt defeated, disheartened, and oppressed as a result of the lengthy process. With the recent NBA draft, all of these young men have spent their entire childhoods preparing for the “pivotal moment” of being drafted to the LA Lakers or any other amazing franchises. They typically had support from families and coaches, as well as personal determination mixed with good timing. My pivotal moments have not occurred when I’ve walked through door number one; instead, they’ve been a mixture of timing, willingness, a little luck, and preparation. I usually recognize them after they’ve happened, rather than in the midst of the event. It’s only later that I realize something “big” just happened.
Clearly, I haven’t had just one pivotal moment. I’m agile and continue to assess decisions based on the information I have, enabling me to turn and move with the turning events in life.
“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” –Buddha
Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. Anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems.
But excessive anger can cause problems. Increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger make it difficult to think straight and harm your physical and mental health.
Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology
I’ve known lots of angry people, but haven’t been part of this select group for 99% of my life experiences. Well, that’s changing now. Recently, I’ve felt my blood boil at so many unfair, inequitable things in the world, from class and race inequality to the treatment of prisoners, refugees, and immigrants. I’m mad that America still has racist terrorists, that there are still wage problems for women (women earn $0.70 on the dollar), that big businesses control politics. I’m incensed that gay marriage isn’t legal in all 50 states. I’m mad about Los Angeles’ parking and traffic problems and that our environment is full of pollution and many people still don’t believe in global warming. Those are all systemic, big problems I’m mad about. I’m angry when I call my credit card company that I’m routed to a call center in Bangalore (Americans need these jobs). I’m frustrated that there is so much bureaucracy surrounding everything and it’s hard to get things done because there are policies and procedures that take so much time (try bringing your MacBook Pro to the Apple Store without a reservation and you’ll understand what I’m talking about). I’m annoyed that my neighbors’ children constantly whine and cry and the parents don’t seem to listen to their kids. On a personal level, I’m mad that I was stuck for a year and my life was in a holding pattern. I’m mad that the Buddha, God, and so many “enlightened” people tell me to stop being so mad, and to accept problems, find a new path, and let go.
In recent weeks, I haven’t been able to move forward or relinquish the stronghold on my anger. For all of my life, I’ve held massive amount of compassion and understanding. I’ve been known to be so forgiving, accommodating, and loving. Thich Nhat Than says “when you express your anger you think that you are getting anger out of your system, but that’s not true. When you express your anger, either verbally or with physical violence, you are feeding the seed of anger, and it becomes stronger in you.” In other words, only understanding and compassion can neutralize anger.
Researching anger and Judaism, Rabbi Naftali Silberberg writes, “through the course of life, every person experiences the pain of being treated unjustly by others. Although sentiments of anger and vengeance are counter-productive and often destructive, they are natural reactions to such occurrences.” He’s right that every person experiences pain. However, at this moment, I don’t believe that anger is counter-productive. The way I see and feel it right now is that anger is a fire that’s helping me make changes. There have been times when I’ve been paralyzed in sadness, complacent with contentment, apathetic to problems around me. No more.
Buddhism teaches that “anger is never justified.” The Buddhist practice is to cultivate metta, a loving kindness toward all beings that is free of selfish attachment. ‘All beings’ includes the guy who just cut you off at the exit ramp, the co-worker who takes credit for your ideas, and even someone close and trusted who betrays you. What about entities like institutional racism, sexism, classism?
For this reason, when we become angry we must take great care not to act on our anger to hurt others. We must also take care not to hang on to our anger and give it a place to live and grow.
I spoke to Jeremy Jones, my former CrossFit LA coach and dear friend. His experience with anger is that he’s spent a lot of time building a story around something that really wasn’t true. I realized I’ve been doing the same thing!
I was wronged and thought it meant something about me. I’m beginning to realize that what happened, happened, and has nothing to do with who or how I am. Something happened, and I was involved by virtue of being close to someone. I could have moved on, but I stayed longer (and that’s where I get tripped up in anger). So now, with this new awareness, I have more choices. When I think about it in these parameters, it’s easy as pie. However, I’ve been known to over think (remember my post on thinking?!) and I rarely am able to move forward so quickly. Here’s what I can do now:
I can stay angry, and ruminate on the situation.
I can shout and break things, probably cutting my hand in the process.
I can walk away. Does this mean forgiveness? Or, could it mean devising a plan that is better?
I can brood.This feels like analysis paralysis.
I can tell myself stories that may or may not relate to the facts.
Another friend asked me to consider action. He asked me if I’m going to “do” anything? Well, there’s not a lot to do. I’m certainly not seeking revenge or plotting some crazy, stalking, mean-spirited activity. I’m not also one for impulsive behavior, so really the answer is no. His point is that anger can push people into action. Ang Lee, the film director, states that, “Sometimes you have to get angry to get things done.” So, if I do need to “do” something as a result of my anger, I can devise a plan and execute it with a clear head. Anytime we act in a moment of rage, we are really showing too much vulnerability.
I’m learning that spite and anger are giant motivators in business. The “I told you so” mentality is a great driving force to getting things done. It’s the fire-in-the-belly attitude that pushes us ahead. Anger often drives art and creativity, as is the case now for the this blog entry.
Side note: when googling “anger,” the main search results also have the word “management.” This tells me we are not encouraged to feel our anger or to experience a range of emotions in the human feelings. Ironically, when googling “appreciation” or “joy” there’s not management to be had. Nobody is encouraging me to move through appreciation mode faster because it’s uncomfortable (for them or for me). Instead, one of the antidotes to anger is appreciation. It’s really as if emotions are rated in boxes as good or bad, and the bad ones are to be felt quickly, if at all, and the good ones should be felt longer.
I’ve decided to use my anger as a propeller or motivator to make decisions faster. I’m not quite ready to be done with the anger, but I am ready to allow myself the opportunity to explore what’s in store for me next. I’m trying to relinquish the stories I’ve created that certainly don’t serve me.
Everyone is creating something out of nothing. It’s all a game of trial and error and taking a long view to know that what we produce today will give us experience for the future. Additionally, efforts we put in today need to be viewed as a commitment to the current process.