Broken Spirits…..Part 2

After much reflection and filling half a journal, I have peeled off a few more layers of understanding about the impact that our protective armor can have on our spirits. I actually had a really big AHA moment this morning, which is the reason for this addendum to yesterday’s post.

What started this search was an explanation of how I fell back into old childhood patterns so late in my life. The clues were hidden in the fibers of my life story. I have often said that I lost my compass after Skip died in October, 2002. Now I can see more clearly just how incredibly true this was. But there’s some backstory that also deserves attention.

In September of 2001, my daughter Brelana was just beginning high school at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia. This was her decision and anyone that knows my strong-headed girl can appreciate that she was all-in for this empowering decision she’d made for herself. Her devoted step-dad Skip was a graduate of VES and it was evident that she embraced this fresh start for herself as a chance to “belong” in ways that made her feel worthy and valued — by association, being the “daughter” of a respected, congenial graduate of this boarding school. While I supported her decision, my heart was aching because I knew I would miss her terribly. I knew all the reasons she’d made this decision, which is a story for another time. Just know that she was desirous of a clean break from a confusing pattern with her dad as a result of our divorce. While I would not have been able to articulate it at the time, I now know that I was very angry at having to pay the price of being separated from my daughter because of my ex-husband’s behaviors and choices. This pattern of paying the price for someone else’s actions has a very long thread in my life story and those origins lie in my childhood.

Skip urged me to go with him to Scottsdale Arizona where he was conducting an international banking conference for a week. He thought the distraction would be good for me. Bless his heart — he hated to see me sad and he could tell that I was struggling with emotion about my baby girl being so far away from me for months at a time.

Skip knew the bond that Bre and I have – he often told me that Helen Reddy’s Song, “You and Me Against the World” reminded him of the two of us. Each time he passed a bubbling water fountain in the Philadelphia plaza near his office, he would toss two pennies in it as a symbol of his pact with God to protect us.

Perhaps if I had stayed home, I could have processed all my emotions. The anger about who and what had prompted such a decision, the gratitude for Skip and the role model that he was for my daughter, the sadness about being apart from her and not having conversations over cookies after school.

But as often happens in life, that big life event got swept under the carpet very quickly. While the banking conference had indeed been fun and a distraction, it came to an abrupt and tragic halt on the morning of 9-11. Just typing 9-11, I can feel so many strong emotions coursing through me, the memory of that morning returning with such clarity that I can feel it in my bones. Skip’s adult children were scattered across the country, as were my three children. Phones were jammed as we frantically tried to make contact with loved ones. Bre’s classmates at VES had parents who worked at the Pentagon. The VES faculty were scrambling to keep kids safe and address their fears. In a split second, our world had changed so dramatically. Collectively we all felt fragile, vulnerable, scared.

Skip was a hero in my eyes with how he conducted himself at that conference, being a source of comfort and resilience to so many. Again, the full scope of his efforts are a story for another time. I have shared some of it in an earlier post. We got home, to a small apartment in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It wasn’t really home. It was a temporary place for us to live while our house was being built. Home for me was our cute townhouse back in Millersville, full of happy memories, familiar furniture, treasured keepsakes.

Ironically Skip had to leave shortly after our return for an international business trip. Flights had resumed and although there was much uneasiness in the day to day life routines, everyone was trying to get back to some sense of normal. That is, all while keeping a watchful eye out for suspicious white vans or shady activity. So I was home alone, in an apartment, where I did not know any neighbors. I’d go to work each day at PNC Advisors, grateful for friends and something to do to pass the hours. But things were changing rapidly at work due to the terrorist attack and safety precautions being instituted to protect clients and financial affairs. It was overwhelming to process it all especially with a healthy dose of fear added to the mix.

Cell phones did not get good reception in those days. We had not yet gotten a land line installed in the apartment, so I would go to a payphone outside the apartment complex gym to call Brelana or await a call from Skip. A few weeks of standing in the dark, talking on a pay phone hoping that I sounded cheerful, calm, and comforting.

Just one month later, my mother died suddenly. A blood clot from a surgery I did not even know she was having. Now my mother and I did not have a really good relationship, but we had been trying to get it back on track. Oddly enough I had heard some church bells ringing in the distance while walking our small dog at the very moment she passed. As I realized that coincidence, I took a little comfort from it. A sign that in the end, we were ok.

In 2002, I had high hopes for the pendulum to swing back to more positive experiences. The house Skip and I were building was a source of joy for both of us. But only two months after we had moved in, my beloved Skip passed away in my arms…..having just returned from a 2-1/2 week business trip in Cairo. My world went dark….and extremely quiet. So did I. There was just not an ounce of grit and determination left in me. I was beyond worn out. For a very long time, I felt numb. I think it is the body and soul’s way of protecting us — cocooning us when things seem so unbearable.

I know this story of mine is beginning to sound surreal — so many big, impactful life events all unfolding like dominos….one right after the other, without a moment to catch a breath, cry it out, start to heal.

Yet I am sure that if you look around, you will see similar stories that are unfolding right now — through this current collective event of a global pandemic. It is the impetus for me sharing all of this. To open your eyes and hearts to the many events and experiences that are breaking spirits of others.

A key similarity to my life experience and the pandemic is isolation. When Skip died, I was all alone. We had moved from my hometown to the Philadelphia suburbs. No family, no friends yet. Too much isolation during my darkest hours.

I believe that it was that isolation — that long lonely recovery period of grieving — that really put me in a tailspin and sent me spiraling backward into unconscious behavioral patterns.

In my post yesterday, I shared how even experienced practitioners can get snagged on emotional baggage from their past. These deep emotional experiences can have very strong currents that pull on us when we are most vulnerable. So often, we then begin to sift through old memories and excavate other painful experiences. I have done this myself, stringing together a series of past events where I was alone, vulnerable, in struggle. It amplifies our emotions and can flood us to the point of overwhelment.

I have witnessed this happening to people I love. They ask questions I cannot answer and those questions reveal the unhealed parts of their life that still snag them.

This is why I am sharing such personal vignettes with you today. It has only been through a lot of inner work, with the help of a cherished friend, that I have been able to go back and process what needed to be faced and healed. I was dragging around of lot of old baggage for far too long and allowing it to hold me back. This is precisely why we need to help each other with non-judgment, kindness and an abundance of empathy.

Broken Spirits

I have often shared how it was a broken heart that put me on the path of personal growth. The truth is that I also suffered from a broken spirit, one that was decades in the making. It was my fragile, broken spirit that needed to be healed first. I just did not know that at the time.

This morning I was reflecting on those first few weeks of being on my own after that painful breakup — how I wrote in my journal that I wanted peace, to feel safe and to be free to be myself. Ironically I thought that living alone was the best way for me to achieve those three things. What I should have been asking myself is “why were you not finding these things within your relationship?”

An inventory of both past and present relationships might have revealed some truths that required further investigation. It dawned on me that when I am behaving and feeling most authentically myself, then I am both at peace and feeling safe — both alone and within my relationships. No one else is responsible for ensuring those core values are ever present but me.

What became very evident was that I need to untangle myself from a complex combination of childhood trauma, learned behavioral patterns, exhaustion from hustling for my worth, and a heavy trunk of unprocessed emotions. It was this complex combination that had been breaking my spirit, slowly and consistently over time. I was completely unaware of the toll it was taking — on me, on how I showed up, how I reacted, on the dynamics of my most cherished relationships.

One thing became crystal clear to me. Those times in my life when I felt most at peace, safe and my buoyant, resilient self was when I was with people who saw past my flaws, who recognized my potential and who mentored me through role modeling and coaching.

My young broken spirit was often mended by my beloved Aunt Betz, my church choir director, a high school teacher, a cherished friend. These are the marble jar people that Brene Brown talks about — those who are so trustworthy that we feel safe to take refuge in their care. These earth angels give us little footholds to help us tap into our innate worthiness and foster our growth. I don’t think that I would have been able to cope with all the chaos in my family’s dysfunction without the help of these incredible people. They not only gave me a safe place to land for a while, they gave me wings to fly a little higher than my circumstances. When I was young, they were helping to untangle me from the baggage that was breaking my spirit.

As I dug deeper into personal growth work, two things really began to gel for me. One was that it is our responsibility as adults to do the work of untangling ourselves from outgrown narratives and old baggage. The second was that even the most dedicated practitioners also get snagged on their past, and fall into unconscious, unhealthy patterns from time to time. It is often in times of high stress, great loss or adversity that trigger us to fall back.

Much as I would like to pretend that this did not happen to me in my 60’s, it did. I fell back into old uncomfortable but very familiar pattern reminiscent of my childhood without even being aware of it. I slipped into the role of helper extraordinare and then followed that unhealthy path down a rabbit hole into enabler and co-dependent. Completely unaware of my blind spots, I became the one who was instrumental in breaking my own spirit. The warning signs of resentment, stuffing my emotions, and feeling so uneasy that I was jumping out of my skin at sudden noises only fed an old story line that I was not good enough, not worthy, falling short –again. Unbeknownst to me, I had drifted into the very unhealthy end of my enneagram spectrum. I was in a strange and complex paradox of trying to get my needs met while accepting behaviors that were in direct conflict with those needs.

To add to my confusion, while I was falling so short in that relationship, my friends and family members saw me as an easy going, cooperative, optimistic and encouraging person. How was it that others could see those good parts of me but my partner could not? This paradigm is common actually — as I discovered through long conversations with friends. Could the answer be in how we “show up” differently without so many deep rooted emotional entanglements clouding the waters. If so, what is it about ourselves that we do differently in our closest relationships that contribute to this conundrum?

For me, it was the fear of making things worse by bringing up something important to me. The tap root of my unwavering need for trust that was broken repeatedly in my childhood. So often when I would speak up for me and my brothers, the consequences were far worse than the initial event.

This pattern began to appear in my relationship and I got hooked on old insecurities. Trust unraveled and my spirit took a hit. I did try to explain this to my partner once but I was clumsy about it. It is a textbook example of why we need to get skilled at having hard conversations — both in the way that we articulate our truth and how we listen to learn.

The better we understand ourselves as well as our basic needs and desires, the healthier our relationships can be. I only wish that I had been introduced to the enneagram earlier in my healing journey. You see, the enneagram sheds a lot of light on childhood roots of learned behavioral patterns and what it is that we each need in order to feel fulfilled, loved, valued and safe. The enneagram is truly one of the most valuable self-awareness and self-discovery tools we can access. A companion resource for the enneagram is Brene Brown’s powerhouse book, The Gifts of Imperfection. This book illustrates so well the armor that we choose to protect ourselves from the core motivations and fears that the enneagram reveals to us.

Check out Yung’s deeper explanation of this wisdom in the Recommended Resources at the end of this post.

As I was working on my draft of this blog post, the above quote from Yung Pueblo landed in my inbox. It was so timely and his accompanying insights dovetailed with my own experience and the wisdom I’m striving to impart. While Yung Pueblo leans heavily into his meditation practice to peel back the layers of his patterns, I turn to the enneagram for course correction. When I find myself feeling off kilter, I know I am drifting into the unhealthy end of my spectrum. I heed the warning signs of resentment or feeling unappreciated as cues that I have overcommitted myself or failed to set a boundary.

These examples really just scratch the surface of all that you can learn from the enneagram. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts is helping us to see others in a whole new light. When we understand that each of the nine types has a dominant way of showing up in life, it releases us from taking things so personally. That creates a bridge to understanding and empathy. We can begin to recognize the bids for connection that others are making even when they might be clumsy about it.

When I reached the point of being able to trust myself enough to know what I needed to feel at peace, safe and valued, I knew that I was making meaningful strides in my goal of being my authentic self. Admittedly this was hard work and requires ongoing practice. Shedding the armor of being a people pleaser or shape shifter to feel like I fit in or was liked has been the equivalent of shedding unwanted pounds. It is easier to express my emotions and my needs now without all those old entanglements getting in the way.

This brings me back to broken spirits and broken hearts. Everyone experiences broken spirits and broken hearts in their lives — and sometimes that brokenness takes a very long time to heal. So often we do not realize just how much another is hurting, in need of empathy, compassion and trust. Sometimes we project our pain onto others because we lack self awareness. Sometimes we take things too personally because we ourselves are fragile. When we are not skilled at having hard conversations, we can inadvertently shame or blame others. This is why I believe Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability is crucially important. Self-awareness and vulnerability are two of the strongest gifts we can give to ourselves and each other. Deeper, more fulfilling relationships are cultivated in these rich spaces of trust, honesty, acceptance and understanding.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Yung Pueblo — Author of Clarity and Connection. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook for daily insights on personal growth, maturity and growth mindset partnerships.

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest Hanson

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-how-to-create-a-relationship-that-lasts/

Sharing this episode from the Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron about the Gifts of Self-Awareness. Spoiler Alert: Amy Porterfield not only shares my name, but my enneagram Type 2 also! https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/07/10/amyporterfield

Scattering the Seeds of Change

A puffy snow white dandelion is absolutely irresistible to my six year old granddaughter as she skips across the front lawn to pluck it and blow enthusiastically, sending tiny seedlings airborne on wispy tendrils. “Where will they travel, Gigi? Where will they land?”

This timeless joyful outdoor activity is the perfect metaphor for what I am witnessing in family members and friends who are doing the same with the seeds they are sowing on their own personal growth journeys. Immersive conversations with several close friends have been so inspiring and uplifting. As these women have peeled off the layers of personal narratives that no longer fit, and shed the armor no longer needed, they have become invaluable resources for sons and daughters, for siblings and friends.

I’ve planted a few seeds within my immediate family over the past few years. I’ve nurtured and nourished those seeds with patience, shared personal experiences and even hard conversations. I can see and feel them sprouting now — and it fills my cup with joy, gratitude and hope.

While I wished for these kinds of results in the past, I am now well aware that I had a lot of personal weeding to do first so that I could discover the places where old conditioning, old triggers and outgrown behavioral patterns were stunting my growth and contentment. Now that I am tending my own personal growth in a healthier way, I am able to see more clearly and empathically where others might be entangled or stuck.

My friends are experiencing this very same thing in their immediate families. They share stories of how their adult children are embracing personal growth much as they would a new nutrition plan. They see the benefits of doing this preliminary work earlier in life (in their 30’s and 40’s) so that they don’t end up like Bob Marley chained to a lot of baggage that restricts them from evolving through life.

What are the seeds we are planting? For starters, we are showing up differently. This includes a laundry list of shifts like being curious rather than judgmental, listening to learn and understand, refraining from offering advice and asking more questions to help others solve their own problems. We honor other’s feelings, don’t take things so personally and we hold boundaries. People can feel this difference in how we are showing up for both them and ourselves. It is often described as feeling safe, building trust and fostering a sense of agency.

As those seeds take root, it becomes a lot easier to lean in to each other and share vulnerabilities. It opens gateways to ask for help when needed, or to have those really hard but necessary conversations. Deeper connections are forged in these most vulnerable spaces. A lot of misunderstanding gets cleared and a lot of healing takes place.

To be certain, none of this happens overnight. Meaningful personal growth changes take time, practice and patience. It is the consistency of these changes that become so noticeable to others.

Personal growth work is becoming more mainstream. They are so many relatable, useful and game-changing tools readily accessible to us — through books, podcasts, apps, online tools, classes and counseling. Even my doctor’s office has been highlighting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in managing stress, sleep deficits, inflammation and overall quality of good health. There is also a realistic understanding that personal growth is an on-going process throughout our entire lives, just as caring for our physical, nutritional and mental well being.

No doubt the pandemic, quarantine, and ongoing uncertainty about a new normal has also played a relevant role in awakening many to the ruts and routines that were not serving them well. The Atlantic recently featured an insightful article about why so many people are quitting their jobs, moving their families and seeking a new balance for work and family. This reset may be fertile ground for seeds of self-discovery and personal growth to take hold.

I am so elated when my friends tell me stories of the personal transformations they are witnessing with their adult children. We are all feeling so inspired that this younger generation is learning some of these big life lessons much earlier than we did. It is easy to recognize that they will have better skills, resilience and compassion for whatever life has in store for them as the years unfold for them. Some of these wise young adults also recognize that they can pass along multi-generational issues if they don’t do this inner work. They are motivated to change so that they can free their young children from debilitating family narratives and patterns. In some cases, adult children are helping their older parents heal from their past traumas through their own personal growth work. The effort and benefits can truly flow both ways.

A recent conversation with my lifelong friend Judy had us laughing about needing a “Johnny Appleseed” kind of name for those of us who extol the huge benefits of personal growth work. As I watched my little granddaughter joyfully blowing the dandelion seeds into the brisk autumn air, I realized that it was the perfect analogy. Anyone doing personal growth work and sharing their discoveries with others is scattering the seeds of positive transformation. We don’t know where they will travel and we don’t know which ones will take root — yet we will joyfully scatter nuggets of wisdom, empathy and encouragement every day.

Here’s to those who are scattering seeds of positive change — by sharing their stories, by setting examples, by recommending a book or a podcast, by being brave enough to have hard conversations, by pausing before reacting, by offering grace and kindness, by recognizing that we really don’t know each other’s full life stories and being willing to listen to gain understanding.

Recommended Resources:

Brene Brown

Yung Pueblo

Dr. Rick Hanson

Dr. Bruce Perry

Tara Brach

Dr. Dan Siegel

Beatrice Chestnut

Ian Morgan Cron

Tim Ferris

Glennon Doyle

The Journey

It dawned on me as I was chatting with my lifelong friend Judy that our big immersive conversations have shifted quite a bit as we progress on our personal growth journey. A few years ago, our focus was on ourselves –behaviors we wanted to change, what we wanted to heal and what lessons we were learning. While we continue to do this inner work, we have discovered that we are now more naturally attuning ourselves and our focus to others. As a direct result, our conversations reveal that we are more proactively participating in healthy ways to helping others find their own path. We feel more energized, fulfilled and purposeful. The feedback we are getting from others is reinforcing that how we are showing up for others these days is landing just as we had always hoped it would — in positive, helpful and constructive ways.

I recall telling Judy years ago about some wisdom from Pema Chodrun. In essence, Pema said that doing our own personal work was not just for ourselves, but also for others. As we peeled off layers of old baggage and outgrown behavioral patterns, others would notice we were changing. At first they might not care for it because it would feel awkward to them. Over time however, they’d witness how much calmer and present we were and they too might be inclined to do some personal growth work. Pema offered that this is how we pave the way for others. She also explained that as our energy shifts to more positive, resourceful ways to respond to life, we will organically begin to attract more of that same growth mindset energy from others. Judy and I marvel at all the truth that is packed into Pema Chodrun’s wisdom. We have witnessed this transformation in our own lives and in each other. I don’t think we will ever lose sight of all the hard work we did together over these past few years and where it lead us.

Judy and I are both Type 2’s on the Enneagram — the helper. For most of our lives, we were like first responders for family and friends. Although our life paths took us in very different directions, as we revealed our stories to each other, we could easily recognize the all-too familiar patterns of helping too much, exhausting ourselves, enabling others and diminishing our own value. That would be the unhealthy end of the spectrum for a Type 2. We made a commitment to get to the healthy end of that spectrum — together. We would help each other stay on track. To be honest, we knew that there would be times that this might be really hard especially when the truth might hurt. Yet we had a strong foundation of trust to help us with our commitment.

A trusted friend is invaluable when it comes to discovering and addressing our blind spots, tunnel vision and insecurities. It is often so much easier to divulge our fears and vulnerabilities to a friend than to our family members. It just feels safer. Brene Brown calls these our “marble jar” friends.

A marble jar friend is your advocate – and they want you to be successful, happy and to flourish. They hold your confidences, can be trusted implicitly and aren’t judgmental. They are also realists who can sit with you in your darkest hours and hold space for you to cry, to vent, to pick up the pieces. If you have one, you are so fortunate. If you have several, you are truly blessed.

So often, I have heard a soft refrain of “me too” from one of my marble jar friends when I shared something painful or shameful. I can almost feel a space opening up to pour out hard stories when those words are uttered. It feels like a trust fall — “let go, you are safe – I will catch you.”

Judy and I have certainly deepened our friendship as we ventured hand in hand on our personal growth journey. We have also witnessed how our daughters have been watching us – how we maintained a lifelong friendship (with and without social media), how we have celebrated and supported each other through many life events, and most especially how we’ve transformed into healthy versions of our type 2 selves over recent years.

It is this “witnessing” of personal growth work in action that has become the most meaningful aspect of the journey for me. My own daughter sees and feels it in my relationship with her. The same is true for Judy and her daughters. Old patterns that we once had with our daughters have faded away giving us a more expansive space for connection, encouragement and wisdom. Judy and I love helping our daughters navigate the challenges of parenting, marriage, careers, friendship, family and life with the wisdom gained from the lessons we learned the hard way and the benefits of better responses.

Others in our lives have also witnessed — and experiencedhow we are showing up much more authentically now. Just as Pema Chodrun pointed out, others are drawn to the changes they’ve noticed and are asking us about our resources and tools. We are calmer, more energetic and resourceful. We listen more and ask better questions to learn more.

Here is another heartwarming aspect of the journey for me. Where once I was often interjecting my help where it may not have been needed or wanted, I am now legitimately helping others who are expressing a desire to learn and understand.

As we moved the needle toward the healthy end of being a Helper, Judy and I also ended up more closely aligned with our true nature and our purpose, especially at this chapter of our lives. We have always had good intentions, and now we have better tools and skills to support us.

I’ve been witnessing this same progression with my several of my dearest friends. The more we are engaging in growth mindset conversations, the more we are reading, experimenting with new tools and resources and sharing ideas.

I get so inspired by my friends as they share their stories of how they are evolving in their relationships with their adult children. Especially when it becomes so evident that all the work we are doing is shining a light on a new path for that generation — that they are shedding their armor much earlier than we did.

And with any luck at all, we will help our grandchildren travel through their lives with strong emotional intelligence, a firm grasp on their own authenticity and worth, and the confidence to pursue their passions with our wholehearted support.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Being Well Podcast (Two parts) with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson- Debunking Self Help Myths:

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-dealing-therapy-trauma-and-resilience/

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-self-helps-biggest-misconceptions-part-2-no-pain-no-gain-hedonic-adaptation-and-meditation/

Such a great introduction to the Enneagram for anyone curious to learn more. The more you learn about all nine types, the less likely you are to take things personally — and the more likely you are to open up to understanding how another person is hard-wired and responding to life differently than you.

Profoundly Helping the Next Generation

Now that we know just how much our childhood experiences can impact us far into our adult lives, what are the big takeaways that can guide us in helping our little ones to avoid some of those emotional and behavioral pitfalls?

This has been on my heart a lot lately. I watch my young grandchildren, who range in ages from 4 – 8, and I delight in witnessing how their little personalities are developing. It’s not surprising that they remind me quite a bit of their parents at those ages. It makes me ponder what I might have done differently had I known about their early childhood brain development, emotional regulation development and the enneagram.

Admittedly I was pretty naive about parenthood at age 25. I relied on a paperback Dr. Spock baby and child care book and my budding maternal instincts. And yes, I had that list in my head of all the things I vowed I would never say or do to my children that came from my own childhood experiences.

I was often baffled how three kids raised in pretty much the same environment could all be so different. While I laughed about this with other young mothers, I’m pretty sure that few of us really adapted our parenting approaches to the unique personalities of each of our children.

This is where I am finding the enneagram to be such a useful tool. Maybe we can’t truly identify which of the 9 enneagram types a child might be. However, I do think that having an understanding of our own dominant enneagram type can be really helpful in finding better ways to relate and interact with children.

My two sons are now in their mid-40’s and my daughter is 34. We’ve each figured out our own enneagram types and frankly it has been eye-opening for me. I wish I had this insight when they were teenagers. I think it would have alleviated some of my frustration and it certainly would have been beneficial for my kids to understand their own natural hard-wiring.

My oldest son was always on the go as a child. He was the life of the party, sometimes impetuous and always full of big ideas. It was no real surprise to me that he’s an enneagram type 7 — The Enthusiast — fun loving, spontaneous and distractible. Teachers might have labeled him with attention deficit but I just thought he was smart, easily bored and needed an outlet for his artistic talents. I agreed to hold him back a year in school, but supplemented his education with art classes. His teen years were the most challenging for us when his impulsiveness would often clash with his responsibilities. If I had understood his personality better, I think we could have found resourceful ways to strike a balance. Today when he describes his own son’s antics, I wonder if he too might be a little Enthusiast in the making.

My middle son is an enneagram type 9, The Peacemaker. When he was younger, I’d get so frustrated because he appeared so indecisive. If I had known that he would rather harmonize than rock the boat by stating his personal choice for dinner or weekend activity, I could have navigated many conversations much better and empowered him to make meaningful decisions for himself. I often thought he was an introvert, but in hindsight, I think he preferred collecting information and reading a room before engaging — a consummate harmonizer and conflict avoider.

When my daughter was in elementary school, I often described her as my M & M that had been left in the warm sun. She had a very hard outer shell, but inside she was soft and mushy. She was strong-willed and not afraid to push back — and she had a sensitive, tender, loving heart and carefree spirit. She’s an enneagram type 8 — The Challenger. Turns out that my M & M description of her was spot on for a type 8. Her four year old son is so much like her we often comment on the mold not changing much. He can drive her crazy and melt her heart all in 30 seconds flat. Understanding how he is hard-wired diffuses a lot of frustration and points us toward ways to interact to help him feel heard and understood.

As for me, I am a certifiable Enneagram type 2 — The Helper. Over recent years, I have become acutely aware that I often “over-helped” and in doing so may have unintentionally disempowered my children. And because I was so sensitive to their feelings, I would often swoop in to soothe with ice cream, or inadvertently dismiss what they were feeling by telling them “not to feel that way”. What I should have been doing is fully acknowledging their true emotions and adjusting my parenting skills to meet their unique needs.

My middle son recently described his eight year old daughter to me with positive adjectives that I would have used to describe his feisty sister at that age. At the same time, my granddaughter’s mother often experiences the more challenging behaviors she possesses as well. This has me intrigued. I am wondering what enneagram type my eight year old granddaughter might be. Can we find some clues about how she’s hard-wired to help her navigate her emotions and circumstances in healthy ways? I’m also curious about the impact of the pandemic, virtual school and a major change in her familial life.

Like my own daughter at that age, my granddaughter is experiencing divorce. She is now in that challenging stage of dealing with co-parenting, two homes and merging into a new family with dad, his fiancee and her nine year old daughter.

It is only natural that my granddaughter will struggle with her emotions as she’s trying to fit into all the changes. Understanding how things land in her heart, and what she needs to feel safe and valued, will be key in helping her navigate it in healthy ways.

Kids often do not have the skills or language to articulate everything they are feeling, especially when it is a very confusing concoction. This requires some special parenting skills and a lot of patience. I’m beginning to understand more clearly the relevance of that relational scaffolding that Dr. Bruce Perry says is critical for children who are experiencing any kind of trauma and disruption. This is where other family members — and especially grandparents — can provide so much support and continuity for young children and their parents.

I can look back at my own divorce now and have a better understanding of how it impacted my children and especially my daughter who was only 8. When a parent forgets that their innocent children should not be paying the price for an unhealthy marriage or divorce, poor choices and actions can have long-lasting debilitating consequences. It was a compelling reason why I stressed the importance of healthy co-parenting when my son and daughter-in-law separated. I also recognized how extended family members can provide a safety net through divorce and transition. Not choosing sides, but choosing to be emotional glue and unbiased support, can ease a lot of the turbulence.

What if we had a parenting resource that would help us balance “nature and nurture”? I believe that the enneagram just might be the field guide we need.

The enneagram sheds light on the core fears for each of the nine types — and it is easy to spot the correlation to childhood experiences. Core fears include feeling unwanted, unloved, unworthy, disrespected, controlled, or a fear of chaos or of being wrong. These unaddressed fears become the root cause of problematic behavioral patterns that can follow us into adulthood.

The enneagram also helps us identify the core motivations for each type such as having integrity and being good; being admired and successful; being unique and special; having security and guidance; protecting yourself and your inner circle; being wanted and loved; being fully satisfied; and having inner stability and peace. When we are aware of the importance of these core motivations for each child, we can become more skillful at fostering and respecting those needs in healthy ways.

This brings me to another invaluable tool for parenting. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to it as “rupture and repair”. We often have this hope that we won’t mess up or that we will be nearly perfect parents. This isn’t reality — we are beautiful, complex, messy human beings. Disagreements, hurts and conflicts happen in all relationships. Repair is critical — and the sooner it happens, the better. Repair means making up for a momentary and impulsive loss of control. What if we reframe these moments of “rupture and repair” as meaningful experiences in raising kind, respectful and resilient children?

Ruptures are opportunities to strengthen our relationships. If a rupture can be repaired, it demonstrates that the relationship is solid enough to withstand when things get bad, and even ugly.” (Psychologist Adam Rodrigues) Repair builds trust and resiliency.

Painful ruptures can be amplified for our children when they are caught in the cross-fire of divorce. Trust is the one crucial element that gets tested most fiercely for children of divorce.

I found Dr. Siegel’s and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Power of Showing Up” to be a phenomenal parenting resource, especially for divorced parents who have the added pressure of rebuilding trust and showing up in new ways for their children.

We now know that the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain –her whole brain — that develops skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives. You could call it brain sculpting – or brain nourishing – or brain building. Whatever phrase you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling; as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.” — Dr. Dan Siegel

What I am observing is that being present with our young children, giving them eye contact and fully engaging with them and their wide range of emotions is a key component for effective parenting and grandparenting. Often children simply need our full attention and a safe space to share their honest feelings. Too often, we are distracted by our devices, our own emotions or own agenda in the moment.

Dr. Seigel describes “showing up” as bringing your whole being — your attention and awareness–into the present moment when you interact with your child. When you show up with your whole being you are mentally and emotionally present for your child. It is this power of presence that enables you to create an empowered mind for your children — even when you mess up.

Admittedly this takes a lot of practice but the payoff is worth it. That’s the remarkable thing about kids — you will see a shift in their reactions and responses almost immediately. Over time, with consistency, you will see that your child is gaining some agency over his emotions and reactions. It’s that brain re-wiring taking place and it is exciting, just as Dr. Siegel has noted.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t put a little plug in for mindfulness and meditation right here. It’s really hard to shift gears, clear your mind and de-escalate your own emotions so that you can “show up” for your children. Yet it is not impossible. Awareness and practice will help you earn your “calm” badge especially for quality parenting. A bonus is that mindfulness and meditation are invaluable skills in our emotional regulation toolbox that we should be teaching our children, just like good manners.

I believe that each generation embarks on parenting with ideas on how to improve. It’s so encouraging to see young parents today who are knowledgeable about their own personal growth, coping skills and core values. In my heart, I am hopeful that our younger generations will grow and thrive in parenting environments that open them up to their full potential.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Rupture and Repair Article by Nick Bowditch (This article, written by a dad about his relationship with his young daughter is so relatable, honest and encouraging)

https://medium.com/@nickbowditch/rupture-and-repair-48a2d3e408b8

Typology Podcast – The Enneagram & Parenting series

In 2020, Ian Morgan Cron presented a series called the Enneagram & Parenting, and each week did an episode for each of the 9 enneagram types. I listened to them all and derived so much insight and ideas. I’ve shared this series with family and friends and I highly recommend it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_moAPp2fXVg

Nuggets of Wisdom – Personal Growth Insights

I recently spent a few incredible weeks back in my hometown of Lancaster, PA, visiting family and longtime friends. The meaningful face to face conversations I had with people who have contributed to my life felt incredibly good. Our deep discussions revealed some invaluable insights about how our individual personal growth has been having positive impacts on others in our families and circles of friendship. I’m offering these inspirations in this post:

I’ve grown very close to the amazing women in my Beautiful Cheetahs Zoom Book Club over the past 18 months. Most of them are also from Lancaster. It was such a delightful treat to be with them in person.

We are amazed at how much we have evolved in the past 18 months as we took a deep dive into Untamed by Glennon Doyle and opened up our hearts and life stories to each other. We peeled quite a few layers off our onions, crying sometimes and laughing at others. We said “me too” quite often — to the stories that Glennon described in her book and to similar stories in our own lives.

Herein lies the biggest nugget of truth — so many people are entangled in the the narratives, the judgments, the unprocessed traumas and the armor of their past.

Some of our armor protected us when we were too young to be able to make sense of things. We are not forever tethered to our past and our lived experiences. We can — and should — untangle ourselves from our triggers, our insecurities and fears so that we can live unencumbered from false, limiting narratives and emotional baggage.

My friends and I notice that we are showing up differently now for our family members, especially spouses, adult children and grandchildren, because of the personal growth work we have done on ourselves. It inspires us to have deeper, more honest conversations. Our awareness about how we were bound or restricted by our past helps us shine a light onto the path of agency and self-discovery for others.

There were touching conversations that I had with two women I love and respect so much that echoed the same sentiment yet from different perspectives. It was how another can see us in a much different light — and what a gift that truly is.

My lifelong friend gazed at her daughter as she looked at herself in a floor length mirror — each reflecting on that same young woman about to be married. Through her mother’s eyes, her youngest daughter had grown into the most remarkable woman, far exceeding any dreams or expectations that her mother had for her when she cradled her all those years ago. Mom could see her daughter’s past, present and future all at once — and her heart filled with love, joy, gratitude and wonder.

We don’t know just what her daughter might have been reflecting on as she gazed at herself in her wedding dress.

What I do know is that my dear friend wished for her daughter to be able to see herself just as her loving mother did. Is there any greater gift that reflecting to another all the goodness that we see in them?

The second conversation centered on how parents and siblings can get stuck in viewing us through the lens of our childhood – or a much younger version of ourselves. Perhaps they contribute to the narrative that a past event in our lives defines who we are today. My young friend shared how her beloved husband was instrumental in helping her family see her in a new light. Her husband saw the courageous, resilient and evolving woman she truly is. All along, she had been working through her past experiences and growing in remarkable ways — but her family just hadn’t stepped back to fully take in all the positive changes in her. They were unconsciously falling back on the much younger version of her. It was her husband who opened their eyes to the incredible woman she is today.

I’ve witnessed this in my own family. My sons are 10 and 11 years older than their sister. Even though they are all adults now, I have a feeling that my sons still view their sister as 8. This often happens in families where there is a big difference in ages of siblings. That playing field gets leveled as we age and mature. We all benefit by stepping back and reflecting on who that person is today.

This nugget of wisdom is a natural followup to the last one about seeing each other from a fresh perspective. I’ve recently read Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Connection, and have discussed its relevance to hard family conversations with a few of my friends. Just like all the “me too” moments that we’ve found in common for ourselves, many of my friends have shared the fractures and misunderstandings that exist in their extended families. Ignoring these conflicts and estrangements rarely solves anything. I call this the “ostrich syndrome” — sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that we can’t see it (or feel it). Sometimes we do need boundaries if there is a log jam and we cannot make forward progress in healing old wounds. Yet, I am a firm believer that being willing to hold space and listen with the intention of learning is the equivalent of extending an olive branch in familial healing.

Lately I have been discovering that these long overdue hard conversations often shed new light and information on a misunderstanding that provides relief and release from our past. Adult kids begin to see their parents through their own lenses as 40 or 50 year olds. Older parents begin to see how their emotional reactions and patterns contributed to problems for their children. Siblings begin to see each other in a more mature light.

Dr. Dan Siegel emphasizes the value of “rupture and repair” in our relationships. We grow stronger when we make repairs. We are healthier and more resilient when we possess awareness and accept accountability for our behaviors and actions. We strengthen our relationships and deepen trust when we apologize and back it up with positive changes.

Here’s the compelling hope that Dr. Dan Siegel offers — he says that it is never too late to repair a rupture. I’ve heard the stories of adult children my age who had hard conversations with their aging parents and subsequently healed decades of trauma and unprocessed emotional baggage. Those last few years of their parent’s lives turned out to be some of the richest. This should encourage all of us to be willing to have those kinds of conversations much much earlier in our lives.

One of the things I love about my closest friendships is how we help each other stay on track with our personal growth – especially when life throws us a curve ball.

Through all the personal growth work we have done individually and together, we have become good resources for each other when we need a little help to stay on the healthy end of our emotional spectrum. We often use the enneagram as a valuable tool to recognize where we might be slipping into an old pattern.

Sometimes we need a boost of encouragement, a reframing of our perspective, or a reminder to take time to journal and process what we are feeling. Occasionally we need each other to hold space for us, allowing us to pour out our hearts and simply listen, without judgment,

We talk a lot about how we want to be “showing up” as our more enlightened and empowered “best selves”. It takes a lot of practice, a boatload of awareness and a willingness to change. Since we are all at different places in our personal growth journey, we benefit from hearing other’s experiences. We have become that relational scaffolding for each other that Dr. Bruce Perry promotes. Best of all, we are helping each other find purpose and meaning in this chapter of our lives.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

If you enjoy my Nuggets of Wisdom, I hope you’ll start to follow me on Instagram at InspiredNewHorizons. I post several times a week on Instagram…..and it is often my personalized quote about what I am learning through my evolving personal growth journey. I embellish each quote with something relevant that is touching my life in the moment. Hopefully it will be relatable, inspiring an encouraging for you too.

Ian Morgan Cron’s TYPOLOGY Podcast featuring Carey Nieuwhof (Ian has a new book coming out – The Story of You which is about the enneagram. His acronym SOAR will help with self-awareness and change. His guest, Carey Nieuwhof, is inspiring and also has a new book coming out which is entitied At Your Best. This book is the strategy to help you get your time, energy and priorities working in your favor. Listen to this podcast for an engaging conversation about both books and their application to your own personal growth and happiness.

Huffington Post Article: “I Tracked Down the Girls Who Bullied Me as a Kid. Here’s What They Had to Say” by Simon Ellin, Feb. 19, 2021 (This article is a great example of having a hard conversation and what it can reveal, and how much relief and healing can result).

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/middle-high-school-bully-depression_n_602c0800c5b65259c4e52240

Present Day Me in my Hometown

Recently I was back in my hometown where I spent over a half century of my life. So much of my history is woven into the streets, the houses, the buildings and businesses of this now expansive community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I marveled as I drove through city and countryside recalling memories of the younger me. I surely must have had a dozen lives to have such a vast collection of experiences and metamorphoses.

It is cathartic to return to my hometown as a much different woman than I once was. I’ve shed the childhood armor that I carried far too long. I’m beginning to recall and recognize the courageous moments in my younger life where my true nature was pushing through all along.

Maybe that is the way that our growth spurts occur over our lifetime — little nudges pushing us out of our comfort zone and into evolving version of ourselves. Most of it is just the natural, organic process of maturing. Some of it occurs through change — unplanned and unwanted, and some of it through change we pursue.

I grew up in the heartland of Amish farm country — nutrient-rich soil, verdant green fields, seasonal harvests of the best local produce, warm summer sunshine and drenching nourishing downpours. The farms and gardens of Lancaster County represent what is possible with the right environment in which to grow and flourish. This metaphor is not lost on me as I reflect on all that I have learned through my personal growth journey. What insights can I share with younger generations to help them in cultivating a healthier, nurturing, supportive environment in which to reclaim their true nature and embrace their full potential?

We are all products of our environment at some level. The earlier in our adult lives that we claim agency about what that environment needs to be in order for us to be our best selves, the better equipped we will be to handle all that unfolds in our lives. Driving through my hometown, reflecting on my life from childhood through 50+ years, I saw things much differently than I did before my deep dive into personal growth. I could readily recognize the origins of behavioral patterns, insecurities and false narratives that made my life harder than it needed to be. At the same time, I found myself feeling an overarching sense of gratitude for all that I was able to accomplish in spite of those tethers. This awareness fuels my motivation to help others untangle themselves from the impediments that hold them back from living their best wholehearted life.

As I drove through Lancaster County, I was often accompanied by my brother or a longtime friend. We’d share our memories with each other as we took in the things that remained the same and those that had changed dramatically in our hometown. It was often in these stories that we would unravel some of our personal history. Our perspective has broadened over time. Our renewed appreciation for each other’s complex lived experiences deepened our empathy and our connection to each other. My brother touched my heart when he shared with me that he hadn’t truly realized just how quickly I needed to grow up, assuming adult responsibilities for our family much too soon.

Some attributes we honed as children served us well. Other attributes became stumbling blocks or major road blocks. It occurred to me that in many cases, we changed our physical environment by moving out of dysfunctional homes when we were 18, but we brought with us unconscious behavioral patterns and childhood baggage. Our emotional environment was still tethered to our past.

We entered marriages with fairy tale-like visions of what we anticipated, but completely unaware of how our family histories and unhealthy coping skills would tear at the seams of those dreams.

Is it any wonder then that well-worn unhealthy familial patterns get unknowingly passed from one generation to the next? This was especially true of my parents’ generation who preferred the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to hard truths.

Long and deep conversations with my friends revealed that many of us operated believing the limiting and false narratives that originated in our childhood. Those narratives became the voices of our inner critic telling us that we were not worthy, not lovable, not smart enough, or we were too much. Our childhood circumstances did not define us, but in many cases, we blindly accepted that others judged us as though it did.

My close circle of friends have worked hard to break free from unhealthy behavioral patterns that stunted personal growth and shrouded authenticity. People pleasing, shape shifting, conflict avoidance and stuffing emotions did not serve us well as we tried to build a network of genuine friends, foster our marriages, raise children or advance in our careers.

Through many of the conversations I was blessed to have on this extended visit, one thread that weaved its way through consistently was that none of our lives turned out exactly as we had planned or anticipated. We all had highs and lows. Yet we got through adversities, with our inner strength, with the support of family and friends, with love and hope. We rebuilt our lives — often.

I believe that this is also the natural, organic ebb and flow of life. As Dr. Bruce Perry says “none of us gets through life unscathed.” Dr. Perry teaches the value of having a relational web and how that web provides the scaffolding we all need to pull us through hard times and show us what is possible. Relational webs are those people who have our backs, who show up and sit with us in our darkest hours, who help us reframe things with a fresh perspective, who help us discover our inner strengths and who encourage our potential.

My friends and I talked a lot about the hard lessons we learned about the people who were in our lives that we wanted to be part of that web, but who often let us down, or made matters worse. Over time, we learned who we could trust. We began to be more discerning about the people in our inner circle. We learned the value of setting boundaries. We now recognize that this is a very important component of a healthy environment in which to grow, mature and flourish. We need to be surrounding ourselves with people who support us in positive ways. That old adage that you are most like the 5 people you spend the most time with is a sound guidepost.

The gold in my visit back to my hometown was in the warm embrace of all those connections I’d made over 50+ years with family and friends. We talk with ease about some of the hardest moments of our life and what we learned from them. I marvel at the strong women I have known most of my life who have overcome so many hurdles and big setbacks and how they are thriving today. They are incredible mothers and grandmothers. In many ways, we’ve become “advance scouts” for others who want to live life more authentically and with a lot less baggage.

I’m so encouraged about the future for our adult children and our grandchildren for one compelling reason. It is awareness. There is a growing awareness of how our childhood experiences, unprocessed trauma and mental wellness can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. There are so many fantastic resources available to us to support our healing and personal growth. And there are a lot of really awesome grandmothers and grandfathers who are doing their own work and in turn, shining a light on that path for their adult children and grandchildren.

Many young adults are hungry for deep conversations, for mentors and supporters who will listen without judgment to their trials and their dreams, for role models for navigating divorce, co-parenting and rebuilding life. I think of these young adults like the starfish on the beach. I envision my incredible friends making a difference in the lives of others in their families and in their communities by taking the time to hold space for the younger generation and to offer the supportive environment they need to heal and flourish.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This incredible book underscores the importance of being truly present for our children, and how repairing our relationships when we mess up contributes to resilience, trust and healthy emotional attachments.

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/562899/the-power-of-showing-up-by-daniel-j-siegel-md-and-tina-payne-bryson-phd/

Bestselling author, Harriet Lernerm focuses on the challenges and importance of being able to express one’s “authentic voice” in intimate relationships.

The key problem in relationships, particularly over time, is that people begin to lose their voice. Despite decades of assertiveness training and lots of good advice about communicating with clarity, timing and tact, women and men find that their greatest complaints in marriage and other intimate relationships are that they are not being heard or they cannot affect the other person, that fights go nowhere and that conflict brings only pain. Although an intimate, long term relationship offers the greatest possibilities for knowing the other person and being known, these relationships are also fertile ground for silence and frustration when it comes to articulating a true self. And yet, giving voice to this self is at the center of having both a relationship and a self. Much as she did in The Mother Dance, Harriet Lerner will approach this rich subject with tales from her personal life and clinical work, inspiring and teaching readers to speak their own truths to the most important people in their lives. (Harper Collins)

Inspiration from Imperfections

My Zoom book club has taken a summer break and I am missing the camaraderie of good friends taking deep dives into rich conversations about life. Perhaps it is why listening to Brene Brown and her twin sisters, Barrett and Ashley, discuss the ten guideposts of the Gifts of Imperfection has been such a treat. I totally marinated myself in the realness of these three sisters having those big conversations. Honestly, you would never have guessed that this was a public podcast. It just felt like being part of a no-holds barred girls getaway.

Brene and her sisters used the Summer series of Unlocking Us to talk about how they use the 10 guideposts in their own lives. Mostly they talk about how challenging it is to break old habits and integrate new ones; how helpful it is to unpack how they developed learned behaviors earlier in life that aren’t serving them so well now. They took those deep dives into two of the ten guideposts every week. There was a lot of laughter, some very serious aha moments and a warm wash of being heard and valued that felt like a cozy blanket and a hug.

They used the Wholehearted Living Inventory as a starting point for each week. Brene offers this tool on her website and encouraged her listeners to take it before they listened to the podcast. Brene’s approach is to consider using a gas tank analogy for each of the 10 guideposts — measuring how full your tank is on each of the life skills. This is so much better than viewing it through a strength and weaknesses lens. That mindset alone makes such a difference. It is also a relatable and relevant way to look at how we are showing up in life.

As the three women talked about having just a half tank in some of the areas, it opened up a lot of really good dialogue about awareness and change. It was a safe and inviting space to do that exploration and excavation.

And….the reality is that even when we have the best of intentions, it is really hard to have a full tank in all ten of these guideposts at one time. To me, it is the interweaving of these guideposts that creates a strong framework for personal growth. When we only have half a tank in one area and we might have 3/4 of a tank in another. That combines to lift us up — to a better version of ourselves. It is the natural rhythm of life, an ebb and flow of our emotions, events, energy and intentions.

Check out this awesome diagram for the 10 guideposts. The left hand side in bright green are the qualities to cultivate. The right hand side in “stop this” red are the things to work on releasing.

Brene and her sisters use a lot of the same tools that I do to help them integrate the guideposts into their own personal growth journey. The enneagram is a great resource for understanding our core motivations for some of our learned behaviors and best of all it helps us recognize our blind spots. The enneagram also uses a measurement approach similar to the gas tank analogy — it is a spectrum, from healthy to unhealthy. When we move to the healthy end of enneagram type, we are using our gifts and talents in the best ways possible. We find more joy and fulfillment in life and others enjoy being in relationship with us. When we start operating on auto-pilot and act more unconsciously, we move to the unhealthy end of the spectrum. Often this is when we begin to have relationship issues, are prone to numbing to avoid painful emotions and make poor choices.

Being a big believer in both the enneagram and Brene’s work, it was so beneficial for me to hear how using these tools in tandem were so meaningful to Brene, Barrett and Ashley.

Another area that really resonated with me was the candor with which these three siblings could talk about their childhood, the experiences that shaped them as they were growing up. Brene is the oldest and she assumed the role of protector for her younger sisters. Like so many of us, their childhood also had dysfunction weaving through it and this set them up for many of those roadblocks that are in that red column above — being a control freak, having a need for certainty, always comparing ourselves to others who seem to be doing it right, working ourselves to exhaustion to prove our worth.

As they discussed these experiences and how it shaped each of them, they also revealed how they were coming to know their parents in a whole new light — mostly as messy, flawed and big-hearted human beings doing the best they could at that time. This is one of the gifts is truly a blessing that goes both ways — adult children gaining a deeper perspective and parents being given space and grace for all they navigated, often with little support for their overall quality of life. This is where we often discover the root causes of so many of our unconscious behaviors that are listed in that red zone above. Brene research shines a light on the armor we use from one generation to another to be protect ourselves. Getting our family skeletons out of the closet is just like mom or dad shining a flashlight under our bed when we were young, confirming that the monster was mostly a figment of our imagination.

I see a lot of overlap in the discussions that Brene and her sisters had and my Zoom book club. We are taking what we are learning and applying it to our lives — past and present. Applying it to the past fosters healing. Applying it to the present frees us to live authentically. We are helping each other along the way through honesty and vulnerability.

I’m also part of several Facebooks groups that revolve around Brene’s Dare to Lead teachings and Glennon Doyle’s game changing book, Untamed. For the most part, the women and men in these online discussion groups are strangers. Yet there is a clear understanding that we are there to support each other with respect, kindness and empathy. The outpouring of stories, questions and a need for supportive help is profound. Every single day, there are a handful of stories that look and feel much like pages in the book of my life. It is incredibly uplifting to read the touching, encouraging responses. It is even more profound to see how many people have overcome tragedies and adversities and now are shining beacons of hope for others.

So there it is — Brene’s podcast, my Zoom book club and these online discussion groups — all taking that leap of faith and sharing their imperfections and vulnerabilities — and inspiring each other to keep going, keep growing and lean in to those who care.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Check out the Wholehearted Inventory Assessment in the Gifts of Imperfection Hub. Listen to the Summer Series if you’re looking for motivation and inspiration for integrating the 10 guideposts for Wholehearted Living in your life.
https://brenebrown.com
Glennon has evolved through many chapters of her life, often sharing those experiences in great detail in her books. In this one, Untamed, she really pulls the layers off the onion, offering poignant self-examination stories that many of find so relatable.

Please check out Nedra Tawwab — especially if you want some solid footing when it comes to setting healthy boundaries. I discovered Nedra through a Being Well podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest. I follow her on Instagram and absolutely love her Nedra Nuggets! https://www.nedratawwab.com

Nuggets of Wisdom – Visual Images

Visual images are some of the most beneficial aids in my mindfulness toolbox. Today’s post is chock full of my “go to” images that I depend upon to keep me present in the moment and showing up in an authentic way. Even if I’m feeling really strong emotions (mine or others), these helpful tools keep me from impulsively reacting to big feelings.

About 20 years ago, I met the most incredibly calm and benevolent young woman. She was the instructor for my 5:30 a.m. hot yoga class. She would start our practice with a visual image: planting our bare feet firmly on our mat, we were to envision small roots growing into the ground, anchoring us in our yoga practice for the next 90 minutes.

When I was gaining a little traction with my meditation practice a few years ago, I recalled that image from yoga class and thought about how I could create a similar visual to help me take my meditation “off the cushion” and into daily life.

My visual image is of dropping my anchor into my very core of calmness — that place I find when I can let thoughts go and focus my attention in the present moment. In meditation this is returning to my breath. In real life, it is staying present with the situation at hand — and most importantly, not getting attached to my own emotions or those of others. I can make better decisions when I am calm. I will be much more likely to act in alignment with my true nature when I am calm. That mental image of dropping my anchor de-escalates things for me pretty quickly.

A wise mindfulness teacher once said that most situations are benign — they are neither good nor bad. It is how we respond or react to them that makes them positive or negative. What is a big deal to one person may not even get on the radar screen of another. Staying calm and paying attention to how others are feeling, helps me get a grasp on why a situation may be a big deal or a small one for someone else. Often this is more relevant than the actual circumstances.

This may be one of my personal favorites — the visual image of holding a brightly colored spool and letting out a little extra kite string, watching that kite dance a little higher in the sky, adjusting to the currents and gaining fresh perspective.

Sometimes we are just too afraid to let go, even just a little. We chase what we think we need or want so badly. We might micromanage our lives or others. We can be prone to hover or smother, be needy or greedy. We can let fear hold us back from trying new things, or taking that leap of faith.

At this stage of my life, I use this visual image most often when it comes to relationships, especially adult children and extended family. Letting a little kite string out means that I am holding space for others, recognizing that their lives are busy and that they want to solve their own problems. I don’t need to be tugging so hard for attention or to be the one they turn to for advice. I just…..let out a little kite string.

I credit Malcolm Gladwell for this visual. If anyone can look at a situation from a ga-zillion perspectives, it is Malcolm Gladwell. And he does it with a child-like curiosity and unabashed wonderment. To me, this is how it feels to look through a kaleidoscope, twisting and turning it with pure delight, fascinated by the changes.

So often, we view things from our same old vantage point. The fact is that we are changing all the time, and oddly enough so are those chronic ongoing situations in our own lives, in our communities, country and globally.

Listen to a few episodes of Revisionist History podcast with Malcom Gladwell and you will witness a big shift in perspective when a situation is viewed from all angles, and through the experiences of everyone involved.

Remember the old adage, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure? This visual is a little like that for me. I envision myself holding a smooth cylindrical kaleidoscope that has a little weight to it, placing it in front of my eye, and watching the problem present itself in a myriad of ways. It’s a reminder to withhold judgment, get out of my box, stay curious — and make sure I am actually looking at the real problem. (Credit goes to Michael Stanier Bungay and his book The Advice Trap for this wisdom. Far too often we jump in to problem solve so fast, we “solve” the wrong problem).

When I first discovered mindfulness, I had a little cork that I placed in a small clear vase on my kitchen window sill. I would see it every morning when I poured my first cup of coffee. It was my reminder not to get bogged down in rumination, disappointment or sadness. I had read an article in Mindful Magazine that talked about how freeing it is to let go of getting caught up in the negativity bias. The image of letting one’s cork float effortlessly through the flow of life was inspirational to me.

I didn’t know at that time just how much I was actually tethered by old behavioral patterns, my life history and the disappointment of a dream disintegrating. Over time, with awareness and daily practice, I freed myself from those weights and found that I really did feel lighter in many ways. Today when I feel myself growing a little heavy in spirit, I think about that cork on my windowsill. It’s a reminder to look for the good.

The little things that unfold in our daily lives offer buoyancy to us if we are paying attention. Make eye contact with someone when you are having a conversation — you will feel your cork rising when you see it in their eyes that they know you are really listening to them. It’s magic and it’s rare….because too often today our faces are gazing at our phones and not each other. Call a friend or your sibling instead of texting — hearing each other’s voices adds the spice. Don’t be surprised if you learn so much more than you expected. Think about someone who makes your life better — and send them a card or a text expressing your appreciation. Smile more. Laugh out loud. Listen to the sounds of nature. Read a good book. Listen to your favorite music. Dance in the kitchen. Take a break.

Just holding on to those little moments of joy for ten seconds releases happy hormones and that will definitely let your cork rise and buoy your spirits.

I hope you enjoy reading about my visual images. I do love sharing them. Sometimes a simple mental image that is all we need to bring us back to the present moment.

Correlations and Connections…

My son in law gazed at the stack of books on my table and asked me if I found any correlations that ran through the various genres of my diverse interests. How curious that he would ask me this question, for I had just been making that connection. The evidence was in the plethora of brightly colored post it notes jutting from my books with scribbled observations on most of them. There are indeed common threads that weave themselves throughout my books, podcasts and conversations. Consider this a bit like an adult version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”

I recently read Born for Love by Dr. Bruce Perry who was sounding the alarm 10 years ago for our collective empathy poverty. Dr. Perry and his co-author shared in-depth details of real life experiences from their practices and research about childhood brain development. As the case studies were presented, it was revealed just what went wrong in a young child’s brain development that impacted their capacity for empathy and lack of ability to self-regulate. As the stories unfolded, those resulting consequences led to some devastating results for the child, parents, and others to whom they caused harm — often later in life. To be honest, many of these stories were so relatable to me due to my own lived experiences, and through the experiences of family members and friends.

The correlation? All the work that Brene Brown offers on vulnerability has a direct link to empathy. Vulnerability and mindfulness work together to build empathy. When we are aware of our own feelings, when we can witness them, and process them in healthy ways, we expand our compassion for ourselves and our empathy for others. Empathy is being able to perceive what is going on for others. We have the capacity to really connect with others by a genuine relatable understanding of how it feels to experience what they are dealing with in the moment. We know how it feels in our body and how it affects our mind. We connect our own past experience and someone else’s current experience through empathy. Dr. Dan Siegel calls this Mindsight.

The connection? Learning how early childhood brain development can negatively impact emotional intelligence and the ability to self-regulate is a gateway to understanding why people may struggle with behavioral issues. This is a new lens through which to view complex relationship and social issues. Doing our own personal growth opens our eyes to our blind spots and how we might block our own emotions in unhealthy ways. Self-discovery frees us from personal roadblocks to our own vulnerability. Once we grow in self-compassion and personal emotional awareness, we can then strengthen our relationships with others in a much healthier and honest way.

Born for Love is one of those books that has an everlasting impact. It made me reflect on all the changes we could be making to educate young parents about brain development of their newborn, how extended families could be educated and encouraged to provide additional continuity and support for mothers and newborns — and mostly it made me think about all the young children borne in poverty and dire situations who have little chance of being given the opportunity for healthy brain development. Imagine the positive impact we could have for society as a whole if we could just give every child the best “head” start.

The next book I read was How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith. Although this reading order was quite by accident, I am grateful for the timing. My empathy was clearly amplified by my increased awareness of what I had just learned about childhood brain development, trauma and intergenerational impacts from Born For Love. This prepared me to absorb a much deeper understanding on all that I was about to discover. The sub-title of Clint’s book is “A reckoning with the history of slavery across America.”

Clint Smith is a gifted writer who weaves past and present together with a needle of truth and threads of shared humanity. I read his compelling book very slowly. I read it slowly because it is the type of book that makes you stop in your tracks, to reflect what you are learning and to process the wash of emotions that stir from his vivid stories. There is no doubt that the profound historical education I got from this book sinks deeper into my heart because of Dr. Perry’s insights on our persistent empathy poverty.

Clint Smith traveled across the country visiting landmarks and monuments — those that are honest about the past and those that are not — and offers the reader an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our collective history and memory. It was his conversation with John Cummings that drove home the power of empathy for me.

John Cummings is an aging white multi-millionaire who turned the Whitney Plantation in Louisianna into our country’s first slavery museum in 2014. Stop and think about that — a private citizen provided our country its very first slavery museum. A privileged, affluent older white man. What motivated him to dedicate himself to this mission of telling the tragic history of slavery?

John Cummings educated himself about the totality of the oppression that Black people have experienced through the records he acquired when he purchased the Whitney Plantation in the late 1990’s. He has read more than eleven hundred oral histories of slaves and he described the strange feeling that came over him as he took in their words. He told Clint that it felt as though someone was talking to him who never had a voice. He did not feel guilt — he had a feeling of “discovered ignorance.” “How could this have happened and I didn’t know about it?, he said.

The correlation? John Cummings was overcome with empathy for our shared humanity as he read these oral histories. Empathy opened his eyes and his heart to the tragedies and atrocities these fellow human beings endured from slave owners and the social acceptance of slavery. Empathy brings us clarity and a hunger to learn the whole truth. Dr. Perry has recently co-authored another book I’m reading – What Happened to You? I’ve listened to many of his lectures on this book and have been captivated by what a compelling question this is to ask someone. Rather than chastising by saying “What is wrong with you?” asking “what happened to you?” will help us bridge the great divide .

The connection? We cannot heal our country’s collective trauma if we gloss over or ignore the truth about our history. The analogy for me is simply this: Just as we have to be honest about personal intergenerational family trauma and history in order to break the chain and begin healing, we must do this same hard work as a country. We have an opportunity to re-write our collective story and free us all from a past that is holding us back from extraordinary healing and growth.

This brings me to a book I read last spring – A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It is a spiritual manifesto for building a better way of life and building a better world. In his recently launched podcast series, Essential Teachings, Eckhart and Oprah take a deep dive into the chapters of that book. Just a few days ago, It was the chapter 3 episode that grabbed my attention. In turn, I grabbed my post it notes and wrote “labeling and resistance” on them.

Brene Brown has been very vocal about all the harm that is caused by labeling groups of people — and calling people names. It dehumanizes people and in turn it desensitizes those who brandish the labels on others. It is this very desensitization that overrides a person’s empathy and allows them to harm others without remorse. Eckhart Tolle echoed this same message in his recent podcast — labeling desensitizes us to the aliveness, the humanity of another.

I found myself reflecting on all the ways our society uses labels — not just for individuals and groups of people, but also for the hard conversations that we legitimately need to be having. We label these hard conversations, we pick a side or a political party, and we take a strong stance. The media amplifies the label in every news stream. All too often, these labels and their ensuing conflicts distract us from the legitimate issues that need to be examined.

Eckhart also pointed out that whatever we resist, persists. What we fight, we strengthen. Conflict and negativity are not tools for problem solving. He asks “do you want peace, or do you want drama?”

The correlation? How many labels have been used throughout our country’s history to dehumanize and oppress others? How many labels have been used to address chronic, systemic issues? The innumerous examples of how we label and dehumanize on social media are heartwrenching. Are we blind to the many occasions that we witness and accept labeling?. If labeling people, groups or issues desensitizes us, is it any wonder that empathy is in great decline. The us vs. them fight that permeates almost every subject matter today is only strengthening our divide. We seem to be fighting over the very things that those who came before us fought hard to gain for us. We were their future. The connection? Awareness, acceptance and empathy intersect in these books, podcasts and in life. Eckhart Tolle referenced several times about how similar our collective struggles are to our personal struggles. We have the capacity to co-exist with awareness, acceptance and empathy. We do this automatically when a natural disaster strikes, such as a hurricane or wildfire. We did it most extraordinarily immediately after 9-11. Eckhart reminds us that negativity and defensiveness do not solve problems but keep us addicted to unhappiness and drama. Rather, he suggests, make peace with the issues, accept reality. Meaningful, humanitarian and sustainable actions come from compromise, empathy and presence.

Pletohora of Podcasts!

During the pandemic, I added a new element to my self care routine — podcasts. Less news, more learning, wide variety of topics. And this is when I found Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. I was over the moon delighted with my discovery and often binged on them the way my friends were binging on Netflix. His podcast is “a journey through the overlooked and misunderstood –something from the past –an event, a person, an idea and even a song — and asks whether we got it right the first time. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

What I love about Gladwell is his child-like curiosity and his brilliance at connecting the seemingly unrelated in extraordinary ways. I envision Malcolm using a kaleidoscope the way one would use binoculars — that’s how colorful, creative and unique his perspective is on a wide array of topics. It is just this sort of curiosity that we need more than ever. It is also just the kind of multiple perspective lens we need when looking back at history and asking the most relevant question – “what have we learned from this experience?”

I recommend listening to these two episodes to jumpstart this process for yourself: Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment (June 28, 2017) which will shed light on school segregation and black teachers’ fate after a landmark Supreme Court Case; the second one is The Foot Soldier of Birmingham (July 5, 2017) which will reveal how a single photo impacted the country in the midst of one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous marches. The plot twists reveal unforeseen consequences that underscore the importance of solving the right problem — and if we are not curious enough, if we don’t ask enough questions, we just might be spending all our time solving the wrong problem. (I’ll give a nod to yet another book The Advice Trap by Michael Stanier Bungay.)

The correlation? History has a lot to teach us, but it is necessary to have the full scope, the whole truth, if we are to derive the most meaningful lessons. Asking the questions about whether we got it right the first time, and if not, how can we do it better?

The connection? Own the problem — that does not mean ignoring it or fighting about it. Accept the reality of the problem. Leave judgment at the door and get curious. Ask questions, lots of questions — and ask the people who are most affected for their experiences and their ideas. Learn from mistakes. Did you know that “rupture and repair” is the glue for most healthy relationships? Whether it is a personal relationship or a country’s relationship there will be ruptures — misunderstandings, conflicts, issues — but it is the “repair” that not only heals, it fortifies and strengthens the relationship — the kind of resilient relationships that stand the test of time.

Food for Thought:

After reading How the Word is Passed, I scrolled through the online reviews of the Whitney Plantation on their website and was disheartened to see that many visitors treated it like a tourist stop rather than the historical education that John Cummings intended. So often, we just “skim the surface” of things in our own lives as well as humanitarian issues. If we scratch the surface and dig a little deeper for more information, more understanding we will gain insight and even compassion.

Malcolm Gladwell offers that we “think with our eyes” and we “feel with our ears”. He told Stephen Colbert in an interview that books makes us think but that podcasts can make us cry. He also believes that crying is how we get in touch with our own vulnerability. If something brings you to tears, it will stick with you. It’s so true, isn’t it? We can listen to an interview for an hour and it is the 30 seconds of vulnerability, the emotional punctuation in a heart-touching story that lingers with us long after the conversation ends. These are the seeds of connection — that remind us of our shared humanity.

I was living in Fort Lauderdale when the Parkland school shooting occurred. I recall seeing a Facebook posting of David Hogg in a photo-shopped pink crocheted hat with a tag that read “The liberals have found their snowflake.” I cried. I’d see these Parkland kids and their families in the community after that horrific experience. I saw their shock, their pain, their fears. Those raw emotions were palpable in our community — for many months. There was not a parent in our neighborhood who did not express their fears about putting their kids on the school bus shortly after that tragedy. Events like this reverberate to others all across the country and can be the cause of PTSD, emotional triggers and high anxiety. The effects of labeling also reverberate in a similar fashion. Odd isn’t it that one action of dehumanization causes desensitization in the one who labels and over-sensitization in the one it was intended to hurt.

Awareness is the key to many of our individual and collective problems. “Pay attention to what you pay attention to” is a cornerstone of mindfulness. How much of our attention goes to complaining or defending…..and how much goes to understanding and problem-solving? Another cornerstone of mindfulness is “reframing” — an invaluable reminder to shift or expand perspective. Too often we have a blind spot because we just keep looking at things the same old way. “Pass that kaleidoscope, Malcolm, it’s time for some curiosity and creativity to infuse our perspective!”

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

On the bookshelf:

Here are the links to the 2 episodes of Revisionist History that I referenced above: These episodes are so worthy of your time.

https://www.pushkin.fm/episode/miss-buchanans-period-of-adjustment/

https://www.pushkin.fm/episode/the-foot-soldier-of-birmingham/

For stimulating discussions, try some podcasts: