I’m the first to admit it—I’ve been a control freak in most aspects of my life.
Control involves a lot of mental planning. We ruminate over all possible outcomes. We make detailed check lists. Schedules. “Five-Year Plans.” We send follow-up text messages to make sure everyone remembered our get-togethers. We investigate a lot of “what ifs,” and even rehearse possible future conversations to ensure they go over well.
Yup. That was me. And as much as I bent over flippin’ backwards to try and create my “ideal” outcomes, they hardly ever turned out that way.
This effect is potentially most obvious in my personal relationships. That “ideal” my mind created was a harmonious bond between myself and my loved ones, where we were both free to express our deepest truths, feel completely understood, and (here’s the catch) never hurt or leave each other. Totally doable, right?
It sounds ridiculous, but there must have been some part of me that believed it was possible, otherwise I wouldn’t expend so much emotional energy making sure everyone’s feelings were in a “good place.” But, as humans, we inevitably mess up. And no amount of preemptive planning can avoid that, despite our most genuine, noble intentions.
Things fall apart.
Though all evidence in life points to this truth, we put in an awful lot of effort trying to prevent it from happening. We could call this pure ignorance and stupidity, but I try not to cast off our actions with this type of judgement anymore. It’s not helpful.
So why do we try to control life anyhow?
I’ve come to understand that beneath it all is a deeper issue: lack of trust.
Think about it: If we trusted that things would work out the way they needed to, and that we (and all others involved) were capable of rising to the occasion in the moment, we wouldn’t feel the need to manipulate external conditions, massage people’s impressions of us, or mentally prepare for future events.
We could just live.
But it’s not as easy as just saying, “Trust yourself” or, “Trust the process.” In fact, if we’ve lived through some sh*t (and who hasn’t?), statements like those are, at best, out-of-touch or, at worst, completely insulting. If we’ve endured a childhood of abuse, or a completely shocking layoff, or a natural disaster wiping out our home, it’s incredibly difficult to trust that life’s got our back.
So we control. We control everything we can to keep ourselves safe.
But the fatal flaw in this dynamic is that, whether or not we trust life to support us, the unexpected still happens. And the more we’re in our heads trying to plan for a future when everything is stable and going the way we want, the less we are able to handle curveballs in the present.
This is, perhaps, the only enduring condition in life.
But what if we’ve been dealt a lifetime of adversity? If historically evidence has shown us that life is dangerous and hurtful, how the hell do we trust that we won’t get pummeled, inevitably and repeatedly, for the rest of our days?
There is only one way.
We have to prove to ourselves, that we are the trustworthy ones. That we can handle whatever comes, whenever it comes, however it shows up.
When the love of our life leaves us, we still love ourselves.
When the job falls through, we hustle and get a new one.
When we get sick, we learn how to care for ourselves and heal.
And when we fall, time after time, we get back up.
Unlike faith, trust is built on action and time-proven evidence, so for those struggling to feel this sense of self-trust, do not despair. It can be earned.
Start small: Adopt a simple, enjoyable self-care practice and build it into your week. Learn what it feels like to be there for yourself in simple ways. Cook a nutritious meal instead of eating chips for dinner. Get enough rest so your mind is fresh for work in the morning. Stand up for yourself (calmly) if someone speaks critically of you. Be honest, always, even when it’s scary.
Over time, these small acts will build in strength and we will begin to see with our own eyes that, despite the unpredictability of life, we can be quick on our feet and make the best choices for ourselves without needing control or a plan.
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What kind of card do you give the father you don’t speak to?
This is the question that hung in the front of my mind while I stared blankly at my grocery store’s festive Father’s Day display.
“World’s #1 Dad!”
“Thank you for your never-ending support and love.”
“You are, and will always be, my hero.”
Tears welled in my eyes as I fought the impulse to dart away. It all felt so disingenuous—but how could I say nothing? It’s Father’s Day and I still have a dad. I still love him. I still want him to know how much I care.
But after a lifetime of struggling to “make it work,” I made the decision to take a break from our relationship, and I stand by this choice.
My eyes floated over to the sympathy section of the carousel. Somehow “I’m sorry for your loss” seemed more appropriate.
I left the store with two avocados, but no card.
Although this is the first holiday I can’t pick up the phone, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t struggled to do so for several years. “Will he be in a good place? Will he be mad? Will he use this opportunity to pressure me into things I cannot do?” Anxiety, mixed with love, mixed with god knows whatever cocktail of buried feelings unearths every time I see his name.
I know I am not the first person challenged with complicated feelings on Father’s Day. And I don’t blame them. Our parents are our original caregivers, and as much as I truly believe they raise us to the best of their ability (even if their best is hurtful, distant, or altogether absent), most often our parents are our original heartbreakers too. We were young; we trusted them with our lives and our deepest truths, and in that tenderness we learned what is lovable and what is “unacceptable” about ourselves.
That sh*t doesn’t resolve itself. It takes work. It takes dedication, patience, insight, and time to heal and rewrite the impressions our parents made on us.
I actually believe that taking time away to get right within ourselves and to understand what happened between us is the greatest Father’s Day gift we can offer. We give the relationship a real chance in the long-term. For some, even this may not be possible, and disconnecting completely becomes the only self-loving option for a healthy life.
I wish this for no one, but I understand and support those who have made (or are considering) this choice.
I know my father has always loved me and he didn’t mean for his words and actions to be received as hurtfully as they were. I know he’s had a hard life. I know he’s sensitive on the inside. I know he ultimately wants me to be safe, stable, healthy, and happy. But historically, I haven’t felt that way with him. And the thing is, I want those things for myself too.
It’s not as easy as “good dad/bad dad.” Every dad is just human—trying to learn and live and figure it all out, and sometimes we kids get caught in the web of that. Because we’re human too.
It’s all just so very…complicated.
Which brings me back to the cards. Standing in the grocery store aisle, where all the prior thoughts came to mind, I found myself wishing for more emotionally-inclusive options to better reflect the melting pot of father-daughter relationships.
So I decided to write my own.
Here are nine alternate card inscriptions to reflect the mixed-feels of Father’s Day:
“I don’t know what to say, but I’m thinking of you anyway.”
“I wish we were closer.”
“I am working on forgiving our past.”
“I know you never meant to hurt me.”
“I miss you, even if I can’t see you right now.”
“I know you tried.”
“Thank you for all you did, and didn’t do. I’m grateful for it all.”
“I wish you nothing but healing and peace.”
“I love you, and I always will.”
For the children with complicated father relationships out there, my heart goes out to you. And your dads. And perhaps most of all, to my own father. There is nothing we want more than to be loved by our closest relations, and it hurts on both sides if that experience of one another is not intact. I believe where there is love, forgiveness, and understanding, there is hope.
Know you are not alone, you are lovable, and you are under no obligation to reach out to a father-figure just because one out of 365 calendar squares told you so.
May we have a peaceful Father’s Day, and may we all become the fathers we needed most.
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Indeed, a “highly sensitive person,” as my closer companions often call me—“HSP” for short. And I’d like to acknowledge for a moment that it takes courage to share this identification with the world.
We pay a lot of lip-service to sensitivity these days. Brené Brown’s Power of Vulnerability skyrocketed from bestseller to instant-classic-manifesto status. We proudly proclaim ourselves as “empaths” (albeit with a twinge of self-pity) and we find ourselves riding the wave of the millennial self-love revolution. “Staying in is the new going out!” read lifestyle magazine headlines. And I can’t argue with any of it—most of the time I’m in full agreement—but does our culture actually mean what it says?
Frankly, I’m calling bullsh*t.
At the end of the day, we live in a high-pressure world. The new American Dream demands us to rise up, keep up, and make a name for ourselves—all while being 100 percent self-sustaining, “healthy,” environmentally conscious, and making a thriving living off our entrepreneurial dreams. In a culturally-relevant (i.e. expensive) urban oasis. Oh, and honoring our sensitive nature.
I have a hard time believing our culture is sincere in supporting this sensitivity. We can be sensitive as much as we want—off the clock. We can be sensitive as long as we are still highly-functioning, profitable members of society. Ultimately, we can be sensitive if we keep it to ourselves.
Does this pose a dilemma for you? Because I’ve been mulling it over for months, if not years. How do we honor our sensitivity in this high-pressure world?
First of all, we have to honor it within ourselves.
This is easier said than done—but it’s a must. It starts with a simple acknowledgement: “I’m a sensitive.” Hey, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Honoring our own sensitivity requires deconstructing the judgments we hold against it. I am in firm belief that our true nature is one of self-acceptance, so sourcing our inner-critic requires a little personal archeology.
Who said it wasn’t okay to be this way? Was it the boss who told us to get our sh*t together after a breakup? Was it the parent who signed us up for countless extra-curriculars, or demanded academic perfection? Or perhaps it was the schoolyard peers who said crying is for sissies. Dig deep and find the root of the belief.
Once I understood why I didn’t accept my sensitivity, I was able to have compassion for myself and change the script. While the outer world may still supply this message, I was no longer one of the voices. I became my own voice of care.
Then, honor it with our actions.
This often requires compromise. I hate to burst the invincible bubble, but we actually cannot do it all. We are human beings. As a sensitive, this is even more valid. Honoring our sensitivity means assessing our energy-level frequently and respecting where we’re at. Checking-in with our physical and emotional bodies allows us to make loving and informed decisions about how to fulfill our deeper needs.
We aren’t going to be up for every invitation or request. This requires saying “no” to others a lot more than we’re likely comfortable with. Start practicing. If we need to, we can say “no” in small ways and work our way up. “I’m sorry, I can’t drive you to the airport next week. I have a lot on my plate.” could eventually become “I love you, but I can no longer engage in this relationship.” or “On second thought, I never wanted to be a doctor.” If it was scary to read that, don’t worry. Baby steps.
Lately, I’ve scaled way back on the expectations I put on myself in my spare time. I spend a lot more “me time” at home: cooking healthy meals, playing music, journaling, or reading inspiring books. I love people, but when I acknowledge my sensitivity, being an on-the-go social butterfly doesn’t fit my life right now. Maybe again someday, but what’s important is I’m listening to my needs in the present and making the kindest choices I can to reflect that.
Get clear on priorities.
Sensitivity is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for life’s difficulties. There is no such thing. Sensitive or not, there are aspects of life we have to face to survive (and ideally, thrive) in this world. And I believe it’s entirely possible for us, so long as we’re clear on our priorities.
I like to think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for this thought exercise. I’ve literally drawn the pyramid out in my journal and made commitments to each layer of personal development. The base of the pyramid is “physiological needs,” meaning food, shelter, and sleep. If any of these aspects are out of whack, it’s highly difficult to feel balanced and healthy, much less engage with the world without getting drained. So we start there. Prioritize a good night’s sleep. I know it’s not “sexy,” but you know what else isn’t sexy? A zombied-out HSP.
Then, prioritize a stable, sustainable work and home situation. Sensitives are more impacted by change than others, so finding a good fit long-term in these areas is super important. Despite my sensitivity, I’m highly ambitious, so I used to set myself up in harsh, demanding work environments for the challenge and prestige, but ultimately would burn out and return to the same ungrounded, high-risk place I started in.
I’ve learned my limits and I’m clear about them with everyone in my life, so now I’m confident in the long-term potential of my current life choices. I go to bed before 11 p.m., I maintain a nutritious diet, and I created a cozy, modest home that feels good to return to. Much peace arises from these choices.
Lastly, commit to self-care practices.
Reclaiming my sensitivity began when I learned (and consistently practiced) meditation. This is something I believe all sensitives would benefit from embracing. Meditation is, quite simply, taking time to be with ourselves. Free of demands, judgment, pressure, or misunderstanding. Sitting with ourselves allows us to get to know what’s actually going on in our minds, bodies, and hearts. How else could we know how to best take care of ourselves? After several years of practice, I now receive direct, intuitive insight in my meditation sessions about the best choices to make, and answers to questions I’ve struggled with off the cushion.
There are infinite other self-care modalities we can adopt, as unique as each of us. I have a friend who is devout about her yoga practice. Another who is basically a mermaid and jumps straight for an Epsom-salt bath. Another swears by reiki to rebalance after tough weeks.
We all benefit from different tools at different times. Usually, quiet time writing does the trick for me, but other days I just need a long talk on the phone with someone who loves me. When sh*t really hits the fan, I break out my emergency first-aid kit (“When Harry Met Sally” and a very large bowl of popcorn).
I write all this in hopes that I, and my fellow sensitives, can embrace who we are and empower ourselves to build our strength, restore our health, and live out our best lives. I don’t want to view this quality as an adversity; it’s just another part of how we walk through the world.
We can, and we will, rise to meet every day with integrity, honesty, and the beautiful sensitivity we have to offer. We are everything we need to be. We are enough.
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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” — Shunryu Suzuki
I’d like to share my thoughts on Shambhala Buddhism and their Level I training course:
This weekend I attended a three-day meditation training, hosted by my local Shambhala Meditation Center. Before getting into this specific course, I’d like to introduce Shambhala for those who aren’t familiar:
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“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
– Leonard Cohen
It’s easy to aspire to strength.
It’s easy to offer a solid shoulder to someone we love when they’re suffering. It’s natural, we are empathetic beings after all. We conjure thoughtful quotes, or recommend a good book, or wrap them in our arms and say, It’ll all be okay, it just takes time.
But I don’t feel okay. And every day that passes feels like a years worth of grief. I’m heartbroken. In the past, I’ve learned how to move on. I’ve put my head down and got through it. I got dressed and went to work. I sent well wishes into the Universe with hope it would reach the Soul of the person I was letting go.
And then I felt better.
But this is different. You are gone and it feels like my heart left with you. No matter how I try, nothing can make me feel better right now.
Not the yoga classes, the healing sessions, the Skype calls with loved ones, or the healthy dinners and Buddhist podcasts I force myself to gulp down every night. Not the morning meditations, or even the long cries.
I’ve been on what I considered to be “the spiritual path” for about three years now, and it seems it has all led me to this moment. I’m drawing on every tool I know. It’s easy to be smart and strong when nothing’s wrong, but what about now? What happens when we’ve lost this much?
Feeling helpless, I bowed before my altar this morning and prayed, What more can I do? Help me.
And, somehow, through the roaring tidal wave of emotion, the soft and tender voice of Soul arose: Learn to live with your broken heart.
And the tears came again. I got my answer.
All week I’ve been searching for the vision of a future where my heart was mended, but nothing came through. I felt hopeless, but now I understand.
My heart will never be the same again, but I no longer want it to.
Now there is nothing between me and the heart of the world. The slightest eye contact brings me to tears. A genuine moment of compassion surges through my body like a river. I feel everything—everything I built a life around trying not to feel.
And while I may be broken, now I am free. I can finally put down my shield.
I know now I can no longer walk through Life guarding my heart like precious china. I cannot truly love that way either. It doesn’t matter how much affection is in me if I can’t touch the world or my beloved, just like a china cup can’t serve its purpose sitting behind glass on a shelf.
I don’t want my love to be precious, like some untouchable piece of art, I want it to be ordinary, every day, and real. Just as it is built to be. I want to hold my heart in my hand every morning, glide my thumb over the chips on its edges, and know it is still worth giving. I want to offer it as I would offer my most cherished belonging. Because it is.
What more can I give than my genuine, broken heart?
In breaking, I am no longer afraid. Now, I want to love so hard that I break this much every day. Because in breaking like this, I am broken open. I am forever changed. Even if it’s what we fear most, this is actually the greatest blessing we can receive in this human life. This is how we know our whole hearts.
That isn’t to say that I don’t need healing. Because right now, my porcelain pieces are scattered on the floor. It will take great attention and care to bring my heart back together again, but I’m willing to do it because now I understand why it’s worth it. I know what I was missing.
In this moment, I am reminded of the Japanese art form called kintsugi. Translating to “patching with gold,” this craft is the process of repairing broken pottery by rejoining the clay pieces with a golden lacquer. The fractures become the most valuable places. We don’t discard and replace a perfectly good cup, we honor its breaking, illuminate the cracks, and in doing so create something even more beautiful.
So I’ve given up trying to fix this, or even feel better, and in doing so I’ve restored my faith that somehow this heartbreak has opened me to a lifetime of genuine, raw, human love.
Now it’s time to master this craft—this healing—trusting one day, when I set the table for two, you will walk through my door with your kintsugi heart and learn how to love mine too.
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