Category Archives: relationships

Gossip, Connection and Feeling Valid

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day waiting to meet someone, and I overheard the conversation going on next to me. It was two women talking about another woman, who had yet to join them. They weren’t saying anything particularly harsh, but not particularly nice either. When their missing friend showed up, and one of the first two women excused herself to the restroom, the conversation turned. Now the remaining two were discussing the new absentee. Again, not particularly cruelly, but not lovingly either.

I felt genuinely sorry for all three women. As I sat there waiting for my meeting, I found myself lamenting the fact that even the “safe” places we create are not as safe as we might think. And then I thought about gossiping in general and how it seems if someone is willing to talk to you about someone else, they’re probably willing to talk to someone else about you.

So, why do we do this?

Well, I think the answer is simple, yet twofold: 1) we want connection, and 2) we want to know that we, ourselves, matter.

We want connection. This is a simple human need. Brené Brown’s research has suggested that it’s a hardwired (biological) component of being human, much like dogs are hardwired to live in packs, or deer in herds. We’re wired that way. And, in lieu of making positive connection, we’ll take anything we can get – even if it involves disparaging another human in the tribe.

I think it’s that last sentence that gets me. We are willing to “disparage another human in the tribe” in favor of our own self connecting. This puts the individual ahead of the group. Which is somewhat antithetical to our tribal hardwired nature. Which brings me to point #2: We want to know that we matter.

i think we have gotten so disconnected from each other (for SO many reasons I can get into at another time), that we have begun to feel like we don’t matter. Like our lives are not valid. And the way to find validity in a situation like that is to create a hierarchy of worth. Hence, we put people down, in order to connect ourselves up – to belong “more” to the tribe than the other person.

Sadly, this is cyclical and feeds on itself.

So, how do we break the cycle?

  • We reach out.
  • We create deliberate and intentional connection in communities, fellowship, or tribes that share our common values.
  • We seek out connection without hierarchy or measurements of worth.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, we learn to value ourselves enough to not feel the need to put anyone else down and gain some sort of temporary balm from disparaging another.

This is not easy work, but it’s doable. I know, because I have done it. I’m not perfect. I have certainly joined in on my fair share of gossip over the years, but over the years it has decreased more and more as I have become more aware of how it made me actually feel inside (aka: awful).

Years ago, my tolerance for gossip increased like an addiction until I was living almost entirely outside of myself, relying on anecdotal stories from my external world… and I almost died. My spirit almost died, and, frankly, my body probably wasn’t far behind.

While the externalizing (gossiping) has pretty much ceased, my life is still a work in progress as I am still slowly cultivating my tribe, or my community, and that’s ok. I’ve learned to love my own company more than anything, so I rarely feel lonely – which means I rarely feel the need to gossip or disparage another in order to feel worth. It’s quite amazing, really. And the conversation I was unintentionally privy to last week was a beautiful reminder. It reminded me of how wonderful it can feel to love oneself, because it means many of my self-loathing-fueled externalized behaviors have been replaced. Thankfully.

Mutual Admiration Society

I’m a member of MAS: the Mutual Admiration Society, and I wish everyone could feel this way. (Wouldn’t that be a game-changer for our planet?!)

I wrote to a friend and colleague last night and shared a few simple truths as I see it, or my two cents. Nothing earth-shattering, in my opinion, no eloquent words or faux-flatterings… just truth from my observations. She woke up to that email. Then I woke up to this:


And now we have both felt WOW upon starting our days. See? Mutual Admiration Society. And all because we shared the simplest of truths: our experience of each other’s loving presence… which is our true nature, of course.

It doesn’t take special glasses to see it in others. It’s not a “gift” – it’s natural. Everyone can do it. The reason we don’t, I think, is because we’re too busy looking for everything else in what we’re seeing, and preparing ourselves to respond to what we think might be there that we don’t like. We’re always on guard. Or, we’re so focused on maintaining our own facades, that we haven’t reconnected with our own loving nature, so we no longer recognize it in others. Neither one of these scenarios make for a very loving society. Alas.

But I know that can change. How? Because I did it myself, and I’m a stubborn reluctant learner. Or I was. I used to look externally for everything, and I was miserable inside as a result. It took me a while and a lot of hard work to come out the other end of the tunnel, but I did. And frankly, if I can – then I know that anyone else can, too.

So, Mutual Admiration Society — who’s with me?? 😁

Don’t Fix, Listen.

Recently I had to go shopping for some new boots. Hiking boots, to be exact. Now, I wasn’t looking for boots in order to go on some big trek, or, indeed, even to be hiking. I was looking for good hiking boots that I could wear on a regular (almost daily) basis, in order to try to support the possible healing of an injury in my foot. After trying numerous other solutions, and practically exhausting our options, my doctor came up with this idea: If we really stabilize the foot and ankle and give it the space and support to rest, even when in use, it might begin to heal on its own. This is perfectly aligned with what I believe: Space and time create possibility for healing.

So, one afternoon I found myself in the outdoors store, feeling somewhat out of my depth, looking for a new pair of hiking boots that would meet this need. Luckily, the footwear sales associate was a young woman who was pretty knowledgeable about their selection of footwear, which was vast. I say luckily, because what I learned during my 2 hours of experimenting with different boots was that she was the only associate who listened to me and tried to meet my needs. Everyone else wanted to simply fix it.

When I arrived in the shoe section, she was helping a male customer, who upon listening to my conversation with her decided that for the next 30 minutes, he should chime in and tell me ALL the things I should be doing for my foot, as he has had a similar (but not the same), problem for nearly 15 years. I listened, patiently, and repeatedly explained to him that I had, in fact, already tried most of what he was suggesting, without success. He didn’t believe me – because he didn’t hear me. As I continued to try on boots with my sales associate, he continued to offer unsolicited advice based on his experience, without ever actually listening to mine.

If it had stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. But it didn’t.

Over the course of the next 90 minutes (and at least 25 pairs of hiking boots!), about 5 other sales associates all decided to come and “help,” without actually helping. Here’s why: not one of them listened. They were all experts in knowing footwear, but they weren’t experts in knowing my foot. Currently, where my foot is concerned, I’m an outlier. I don’t even fall on the spectrum of normal, and so I need to search for solutions that match my needs, not solutions that match a statistic of information.

For some reason, Zoe, the sales associate who helped me throughout, seemed to understand this, and the only reason she did was because she listened.

Toward the end of my shopping experience, after 2 hours and narrowing it down to two pairs, I felt relieved and simultaneously frustrated. I looked at Zoe in appreciation and said, “Thank you.” She replied simply, “You’re welcome.” And I took a deep breath, but then I paused. What was I thanking her for? Obviously, I was thanking her for her help, but it was more than that. I felt grateful to her for listening, for trouble-shooting with me, and for massaging a solution. So, I told her that. And without ceremony, she turned to me and said, “Well, I’m glad. Because that was a lot of mansplaining going on.”

I admit to being shocked and surprised at her response. But as soon as she said it, I agreed. I realized that each additional sales associate (all of them male) as well as the original customer who thought himself helpful had all tried to fix my problem, but none had actually listened to it. Instead, they took the approach that they probably knew better, and offered their solutions, ideas, and unsolicited advice without once asking me a question. I’m not saying their intentions were wrong. I actually think they were trying to be helpful, even though they were anything but. It wasn’t until Zoe confidently and casually named it (she wasn’t being derogatory in her words) that I realized what had truly happened. There was a clear gender divide in the approach to the problem and the solution. There was even a female customer who had been looking for boots at the same time as I was, and upon reflection I can say that her words and actions reinforced my statement about this divide.

Personally, I have never used the phrase “mansplaining,” though I can certainly look back at my life and find ample examples of it. Zoe’s introduction of the word so effortlessly in conversation shows me just how much things are shifting. How much the old paradigms are falling away (often while putting up a fight). And I’m glad. I’m glad for many reasons, but in this instance, I’m glad for one:

If we are to come together more as a society, we need to communicate better.

The first step to communicating is listening. We can’t fix a problem if we haven’t actually listened to what’s wrong. Only then can we tease out the best and most appropriate solution, often through a period of trial and error. Trust me, I didn’t want to try on 25+ pairs of hiking boots (my poor fingers were rubbed raw from the lacing), but I did because I needed to find the best solution available to me. And the only way to do that was to listen. I needed Zoe to listen to me, and then I needed to listen to my body – my feet – as I zeroed in on what felt best.

So, while I wish it weren’t true (I’m ever the optimist), I accept that I was mansplained during my hiking boots excursion. What this means for me is that I will double-down on my listening, in the hopes that I can share, embody, and teach a different way. Or at the very least, I can offer a respite from a society focused on “fixing” as Zoe did for me.

xoxo,
Martina

My NEW boots!

My NEW boots!

The Surprising Gift of Triggers

I’ve recently been having conversations with a friend that are proving triggersome. (Is that even a word? Ah well, it is now.) Basically, the sharing and exploration of ideas, dreams, and desires is bringing up a decent amount of triggers for me – triggers that I didn’t necessarily expect, though probably knew were there, lurking behind some vision board somewhere. In other words, though delightful, they are also somewhat challenging at times.

What is a trigger? Well, it’s something that can blind-side you and almost always causes a reaction much greater than the stimulus itself. I liken it to poking the bear. One poke in just the right spot might awaken it and turn it into a crazy raving animal. The reaction outweighs the stimulus.

In all my years of traveling on this journey of mine, I can safely say that I’ve never welcomed the pokes… until now. Now, something has shifted, and I see the triggers as little gifts. I see them as opportunities to address and release (or properly catalog) something that needed attention, something that was unknowingly holding me back from being my whole self more consistently.

It’s a different approach that I am enjoying discovering and playing with. On the one hand, rather than just being triggered, I am also aware of the triggers, which actually makes the trigger less powerful. It also splits my attention between that of witness and main character, which is intriguing and leads to a tiny bit of a fog sometimes as I navigate the new terrain, but is pretty cool to walk through. And on the other hand, I find myself feeling excited for the shift and the change that I know is in progress, and so I am more tolerant of the ebbs and flows of thought, emotion, and questions that are arising. In short, I am finding that I am more peaceful and compassionate with myself, while also feeling curious about what’s going on.

The result is that it’s allowing me to engage in these discussions with my friend from a different place. A healthier, stronger, more curious place, because I don’t have any specific attachment to anything. I don’t have an agenda other than to be open to the change in me that these interactions – these triggers – are manifesting.

There is an old saying that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, and I believe that to be mostly true. (I think everyone is in our life for a reason). I think some folks move in and out of our lives seasonally, like stitches in clothing; while others run alongside us for lifetimes like sidewalks across a road. Both are worthwhile, and both can trigger us at different points – hence, both have their reasons. We just don’t always know what the reason is.

For me, these conversations are a gift, because they’re allowing me to create awareness to things that needed my attention. So, I don’t mind being triggered. It means I’ve been given an opportunity to let go of something that no longer serves me. It also means I’m creating an opportunity to live more fully, deeply, and with greater joy, passion, and meaning. The definition of ‘win-win.’

xoxo,
Martina

The Gift of Triggers

I’m sorry… Thank you. (a love letter to my body)

For those of you who know me, you know that I have spent the better part of the last 15 years working on my health and wellness. It’s a journey, a journey that never ends, so we might as well settle in and enjoy it along the way, right? It’s taken me the better part of a decade to realize that truth. And, it’s also taken me longer than a decade to shift my focus from the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health to the physical.

For me, the physical is the “final frontier,” so to speak, of my wellness boot camp. I’ve gone head first into the other three, but always kept the physical at bay. Why? Oh, I could give you so many reasons, but the bottom line is: it wasn’t time – I wasn’t ready. I certainly did many things along the way to improve my physical health, but few of them took hold, or worked, or mattered enough, actually, to make lasting change. Plus, the spiritual, emotional, and mental frontiers were simply easier for me to understand and apply successfully. And, truth be told, I somewhat assumed that if I focused on those, the physical would just fall into place.

Alas, it’s not that easy. Not for me, at least.

So, here I am, finally in a place where I have been deliberately and diligently addressing the physical aspects of my health for the better part of  the last 1-2 years. I have an amazing team of wellness professionals helping me meander through the various bits of information, and it’s been a lot of trial and error, the results of which have been, at times, discouraging. There have been days when I have literally decided to “resign myself to my fate” of not being as physically healthy as I would wish. Of course, I know this isn’t true, but I’m human and vulnerable to the array of emotions that arise from feeling the struggle.

And then, a couple of weeks ago my dear wise friend, Kate (@wisdomofone), posted this quote on her social media:

14114770_10153736997641466_5172646785627773202_o-2It’s a quote from starting, by Nayyirah Waheed.

It gave me pause – as all good things do. It was a new approach that I hadn’t heard before. What I knew previously was echoed in one of the first few comments, which suggested that instead of saying sorry, we should say thank you. We *should* align with the energy of gratitude when dealing with our physical health. It’s a common message these days, touted by every spiritual thought leader, guru, author, and teacher: Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude… the cure all.

Yes, but… But there was something about this quote that tugged at my emotions and made me sit a little taller.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition… why can’t we do both? Say “sorry” and “thank you?” And what happens if we do?

If our physical health has been suffering (at our own hand, or otherwise), it seems to me that it would make sense to BOTH apologize AND say thank you. It seems to me that the most powerful approach to wellness includes an acknowledgment of our responsibility as well as an opening up to possibility. The minute I read this exchange on social media, I knew that was what I, myself, needed. I needed to humbly kneel before my own vessel and apologize, asking for forgiveness while also embracing it with genuine gratitude and joy for all it has done for me throughout my transgressions, whether conscious or unconscious.

And with that, I wrote this note to my body:

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I’m sorry for the way I treated you when I didn’t know better.
I’m sorry for the way I treated you when I knew better.
I’m sorry for when I didn’t make you a priority.
I’m sorry for when I let others treat you poorly.
I’m sorry for when I ignored your messages.
I’m sorry for taking you for granted.
I’m sorry for not loving you enough.
I’m sorry for not loving you more.
I’m sorry for not loving you.

Thank you for taking care of me when…

… I treated you poorly.
… I allowed others to treat you poorly.
… I didn’t make you a priority.
… I didn’t listen to your messages.
… I took you for granted.
… I didn’t love you.

And perhaps that’s how we should look at all the aspects of our health: By taking ownership for our role in the patterns we have created (consciously or not) and apologizing, then expressing gratitude for what’s worked. And maybe, hopefully, this can be a model that we can take out into the world with our other meaningful relationships.

xoxo,
Martina

Perspective, Fat-Shaming, and Truth

Well, this week I’m getting more personal. It’s a blog, though, isn’t it – so, in many ways it’s about being personal. For over seven years I have shared my thoughts and perspective on myriad things, usually from a place of having vetted the topic through many many filters of experience, knowledge, and teachings. This week, I’m getting a bit more personal, and you’ll see why when you read what I have to say.

Many of you know me and/or know much of my story. Many of you don’t. Either way, you’ll get a glimpse into how I became who I am today from this week’s piece. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’ve experienced anything similar for any reason – know you are not alone. (For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you may have already seen this as a post earlier this week.)

I just made the mistake of reading the comments on a beautiful story of a discriminated segment of the population standing proud and doing something that goes against stigma… And the majority of comments were horrible. I had hoped that they wouldn’t be on such a lovely piece. I was wrong.

It made me pause and think. I haven’t mentioned what “segment” this is. Did you have an idea in your head when reading my above paragraph? What if I’m referring to disabled individuals? Or African-Americans? Or LGBT? What if I’m referring to the elderly, or the poor? To immigrants?

I’ve seen many posts in recent times about all of these groups doing something against the stigma, and the majority of comments have been “you go girl!” or “well done,” or even “about time!” But because I’m NOT speaking about any of these or similar groups, I see a different trend in the commentary.

Would it surprise you to know I’m speaking about plus-sized women? More specifically, Plus-sized women dancers who have more flexibility and strength in their bodies than many other people on the planet? And still…they are demeaned as nothing more than a number on a scale, or a size on a label.

These strong women are dancing beautifully, breaking a stereotype and a stigma, and attacked for doing so. They are called “fat” and “obese” and told that they shouldn’t be dancing because it “glorifies” being fat, when they should be hiding it away and working harder to be thin. (Because “thin” = “healthy” apparently.)

This makes me mad. Nobody – NOBODY – has a right to judge another. Unless you can walk in the other person’s shoes, you simply don’t know (and you can’t, and even if you could, there’s still no place to judge). If these comments were directed at any other discriminated population, the perpetrators would be called “racist” and “bigots.” But for some reason it’s still ok to fat-shame. An entire segment of the population is routinely put down (negated, attacked, dismissed, shamed) because of their appearance and the social stigma attached to it, and it’s simply wrong.

I speak from experience on this. I’ve been thin(ner), and I’ve been fat. I currently carry an extra 60lbs of ’emotional scar tissue’ from my marriage. But I’m alive. It’s increasingly harder for me to shift the weight, but I’m working on it with a team of experts. And I’m alive. Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you have no right to judge me and how I look – and yet…I’ve been judged. I’ve received comments, and stares, and messages (unsolicited offerings of advice and help), because people “care” for me or (in actuality) are uncomfortable with my weight. Well, luckily, they don’t have to be the one carrying it.

And I smile and nod in “appreciation” because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to seem grateful for the thoughtful/less suggestions than it is to say, “f**k off!” And I build a story around it: “…but I’m alive,” to justify others’ discomfort at my appearance.

Well, no more. I’m tired. I’m tired of being looked at as ‘lesser-than’ because I have a ‘bit-more’ than others. Because here’s the truth of the matter:

I’m fat. I gained 60lbs during a (mostly) dysfunctional marriage, and I’m having a hard time getting it off, because of an injury. But…I’m alive. In the last year of my marriage I was certain I wouldn’t be for long, either at my own hand, or his. So, I’m alive, and I’m fat. And I have some health concerns that I am working on with professionals – (mostly the result of my silly toe that stopped bending – the rest of me is healthy by the numbers). And I’ve had relationships since my divorce with (attractive/slim) men – should I not have, because I’m fat? Because I’ve been told that, too. Yes.

And…

And I’m SO MUCH MORE than all of that. It’s just one ~ one ~ piece of my story. A story that is always evolving and growing, and includes:

I’m alive. I survived. I’m beautiful, smart, funny, creative, and strong. I’m fat and flexible, happy and whole. I’m intuitive and blessed, grateful and living my life with purpose and passion – I’m living, because I’m alive, and I survived. And I’m everything I ever was and will yet be, because of that.

People are more than their bodies. #Stopfatshaming

Post-Note: Unless we learn to regularly take perspective, how can we invite compassion into our lives, or expect it from others? The key to creating change in humanity includes this very crucial first step: taking perspective.

A Return to Authentic Joy

Over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing heavily on the roles Hope and Fear play in our lives on a daily basis. In light of world events, it seemed to be a topic I needed to address. It’s not enough, however, to talk about Hope. Though it’s important, it’s equally as important to discuss Joy. And frankly, we all could use a bit more joy these days, don’t you think? But how do we find our joy? What does that even look like?

One of the primary issues my clients come to me with is a feeling that they’ve lost their way. They wake up one morning, usually later in life, and say, “How did I get here?” or “What’s this all for?”

It’s a bit like an existential crisis – though over the years I’ve narrowed it down to more of a lack of authentic joy. As a result, one of the early questions I ask clients who are expressing this need is:

“When you were five years old, what brought you joy? What made you belly laugh?”

This question not only serves to create a language and discussion around joy, but it reminds them that they know what joy feels like, and that they once experienced it effortlessly.

In a recent example, I had a client whose answer was simply: “My dog,” which, in a panic, she immediately followed with: “But I don’t want to have a dog right now!”

I reassured her, “Don’t worry – you won’t have to go get a dog to rekindle your authentic joy.”

After talking through her experience of having a dog at 5 years of age, and why it was the first thing she thought of when asked about joy, we uncovered what the dog represented for her, which turned out to be:

  • play
  • unconditional love
  • companionship

This client was single, had great friendships and relationships with others, but felt she was missing the elements that she thought would allow her to play, feel free to be herself, and share that joy with someone else.

Once we identified this as the path back to adding more joy into her life, we could then work out how, when, and why these things were important – as well as how she could incorporate these various aspects in her life.

As children, we laugh freely, love openly, and live joyously. Our lives are mostly well-cared for by someone else, which allows us to be ourselves more completely. As adults, the reverse is true. Not only do we feel that we often need to “be” something other than what we are, we also spend a lot of time managing things for others. As a result, we can feel disconnected from ourselves, and from authentic joy.

In my experience, the path back to authentic joy involves these steps:

  1. Remembering what brings us true unabated joy,
  2. Understanding what it represents,
  3. Seeking it in a new way, and
  4. Adding it back into our lives.

This is the recipe I have developed for returning to a more joyful state of being. For me personally, it looks like having music playing throughout my day (I like to sing), making time to reconnect with friends near and far, and prioritizing time in nature. What does it look like for you? 🙂

The Importance of Having a Lover

I think everyone should have a Lover.

To be clear, I’m not referring to what Hollywood defines as a “lover” in its stories of lust and betrayal. No, this Lover is different – this is a Lover with a capital “L.”

A Lover is someone who loves you unconditionally exactly as you are and simultaneously inspires you to be better. A Lover touches your soul, while embracing your humanity. They don’t “complete you” (as Hollywood would have us believe) – they invite you to be your complete self. Without judgment or expectation, a Lover holds space for all that you are, and all that you can be… mind, body and soul.

IMG_4660

Having a Lover is not about betrayal, lies or secrecy. It’s not about having an affair, cheating, or keeping someone in the shadows. Though sexual intimacy may be involved, a Lover transcends the act of sex.

So, who is the Lover?

Well, you might already know them. They might be your partner (lucky you!), a family member, or a friend/acquaintance. Or you might not have met them yet. What matters is understanding why it’s important to experience this kind of relationship in your life.

A Lover is the person who opens you up to yourself. It’s the person who somehow magically holds the key to your inner kingdom, a kingdom you may not have even been aware existed, and they invite you home.

You meet this person, connect (often times faster than your time together reasonably warrants), and suddenly you start to know yourself better. And when you’ve stepped away from your true self, from your core, the Lover gently and effortlessly nudges you back. Even when it’s direct and blunt, it feels like love and grace because of its deep honesty. The Lover is your friend, your confidante, your teacher, your student, your coach and your teammate.

The Lover asks nothing of you but to be who you are.

And, yes, the Lover can be your lover – and when that happens, the Universe is set afire.

When your Lover is also your lover, sex and pleasure take a back seat to connection in such a way that they are enhanced beyond comprehension. Love-making becomes about union – two inner kingdoms uniting, powerfully, peacefully. A simple embrace shifts the surrounding energy for miles, in a ripple effect.

It is a connection of souls who have known each other forever, who seek to unite, create, and experience deep bliss and freedom in their union.

More importantly, however, having a Lover means being a Lover. One is not possible without the other. A Lover is not here to rescue, save, or liberate us from our internal cages. We must first have found that wisdom and strength within ourselves, dissolving all bars and locks to who we are. Only then can the true power of having and being a Lover manifest, not only in our relationship with each other, but in all that we do.

And finally, perhaps most importantly, when we look in the mirror, may we all know it is the Lover who is looking back.

The Secret to a Happy Life: A Life Manual

This picture came across my newsfeed yesterday. I’m sure it’s not new to many of you, but it was new to me.

I saw it, read it, and paused. And then I said, “Yes. That’s what I’ve done – that’s all I knew to do sometimes.”

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There were days of cursing, years of crying, and lots of fighting within myself sometimes. It wasn’t always pretty. In fact, it often wasn’t pretty.

I battled depression, anxiety, loneliness, being overworked, underpaid, and in an isolating, often loveless, marriage. And I refused to let it get to me – so I stayed. Longer than I should have perhaps, but as long as I did. Until one day I left.

In my life, my short 44 years, I’ve seen and experienced a fair amount of tragedy, illness, and challenges – and when I fell down, I got up. Sometimes it’s almost instant, and sometimes it’s days or weeks, but eventually, I get up. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

Paulo Coelho has a quote about the secret of life: Fall down seven times, get up eight. I think this is what resilience is. In the face of adversity, challenges, obstacles, tragedy, and illness, the secret to success – to living – is to get back up. Whether it’s 5 seconds, 5 hours, or 5 days later…. we get back up.

Sometimes we need support from others to help us find our feet again, but nobody stands for us, nobody can. All anyone can do is stand beside us and remind us that we have feet and legs, and if needed, they can demonstrate how it’s done.

In my life, I’ve been lucky enough to have people who stood patiently for years beside me as I stood, fell, stood, fell, and stood again. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts anyone can give us: their presence. I am grateful every day for those that continue to stand beside me, and allow me to stand beside them.

Perhaps, then, that’s the real secret to a happy life: To stand on our own, together.

What Matters Most in Life (When a Fire Alarm and a Typo Became a Messenger)

How do we identify what’s truly important in life? (And why does it matter?)

There are always the quick answers, such as: happiness, family, and health, but these are somewhat theoretically cliché and intangible, however true. It’s getting to the more tangible answers that eludes many of us until we are faced with crisis and/or tragedy.

Last week I went through two unexpected situations which resulted in my having a direct and very clear understanding of what’s important in life (for me, anyway), and I found that there was an underlying message I needed to hear.

When I sat down to write this week’s InspireBytes™ I took note of what the Universe was trying to tell me through these experiences, which turned out to be this:

  1. Know your Self and your core, let the rest fall away.
  2. Slow down, prioritize, and make time for what matters most.

Let these be your guide.

But first, let me tell you what happened.

Early in the week we had a fire alarm in the house. For those of you who have been following along in my life, you know that my father had a stroke almost 10 years ago and is disabled as a result. A fire alarm is no small thing when you are able-bodied, but when you’re disabled, it can create a sense of helplessness and panic. A few years ago I wrote about the fire alarm that went off in my apartment building, and how it clarified for me what mattered most in my life. This was the same, except that now, instead of one animal there were four, and instead of one person there were three, one of whom was incapacitated and wholly dependent on others.

Why the fire alarm went off we don’t know, because there was no fire. No smoke, no flames, no emergency. But in the few moments between the alarm and the assessment, everything became very clear. What you take with you in a crisis or emergency is a cheat sheet to what matters most in your life. For me, it was anything that was breathing (people, animals), followed by a means of escape and shelter (car keys), and communication (cell phone).

The second situation, however, was a bit different:

Later in the week I received my mammogram results. It’s an annual event that, no matter how much I rationalize it, always generates some level of concern during the waiting period. Sadly, I think we all know someone who was “perfectly healthy” who received a life-changing result after their annual exam. It’s this knowledge that creates the background soundtrack of concern or worry until the results are in.

A few years ago, I had a mini-scare that turned out to be just that (thankfully), and have a dear friend who went through that episode with me. I am aware, therefore, that the concern while waiting for results extends beyond the borders of my mind to people who care about me. Once I had the results in hand, which showed no sign of cancer, I felt relief and wanted to share that relief with my friend. In my haste to share the good news of my results, I typed too fast and had a typo.

My typo basically told my friend that the exam had detected cancer. Of course, having been emotionally blindsided, my friend called immediately. I didn’t understand why until the error was pointed out.

I felt truly awful, and though I chuckled for a moment (to relieve the strain of the heartache I had caused someone dear to me), it wasn’t funny. My friend was given an unnecessary blow, and it was all because I rushed.

In that moment, without hesitation, I realized what was most important to me: Life. Health. Friendship. Connection. And … slowing down.

The last year has been such a whirlwind with publishing my first book that I have developed a bit of a habit of either being overly rushed and pressured or somewhat detached and slow – probably to compensate for the stressful times. In fact, much of the last 10-15 years have been the same, for myriad reasons.

So, that was the message I was receiving loud and clear from the Universe: Slow down, focus on what matters, nurture that.

The week before, I had polled my friends about which blog they would prefer to read next, since I had two inside me competing to come out. The first was on Competitive Spirituality (which won), and the second was something I’m working on about Self-Promotion, which is still being finished because something felt off. I now realize what that was for me:

Trying to reconcile the rushed and detached states to arrive at balance; maintaining a sense of Self and presence while still engaging in marketing.

For me, Self-Promotion is about being who you are, not who you think you should be, and trusting in that. But in this noisy world of social media and 24/7 internet, cable and satellite channels, it becomes a gladiator-style arena of “fight to the death.” In this case, it’s the death of your voice, your brand, your presence – your Self. And it’s a shame, really, because there are amazing people out there, doing amazing things, whose voices are being drowned out by those who are louder, bolder, or have more money to put their faces everywhere.

And yet, it’s not. It’s not a shame, because it pushes and requires people like me to hold fast to who we are, the work we do, trusting that it is more than enough, that we are more than enough, and to nurture that. And if we do, if we hold true to our Self, and what matters most, I believe that at the end of our lives, we will reflect with gratitude and smile.

So, in the end, a fire alarm and a typo made me realize that what matters most to me is being true to myself, to who I am. It means being more deliberate and intentional in my relationships, my health, and my presence – especially with my Self. This connection is what drives me to keep working, creating, and helping others to re-connect to what matters most to them, to who they are. Too often we have lost touch with that knowing, but hopefully it doesn’t take a crisis to remind us.

Hopefully, we can get back to that by simply slowing down, making time, and re-focusing on that which makes us smile in gratitude and joy.