Is it worth it?

A friend recently asked this question: “What makes relationships/friendships worth not giving up on?”

The short answer? If you have to ask yourself if any relationship (romantic or otherwise) is worth it, the answer is that it probably isn’t.

Unfortunately, some people and situations will just be a drain on your energy (as well as your time). What constitutes a drain differs from person to person, but when you come upon an energy vampire, you will know it. How? By the way that you feel.

Take a moment to think about some of the people in your life. Which ones do you consistently look forward to spending time with? Which ones lift you up and allow you to be your best self? Which ones encourage you and support your dreams? These are the relationships that are worth it.

Now, of course, it’s important to look at the overall tone of the relationship. Just because someone in your life has a bad day, or a bad week, doesn’t mean it’s time to give them the boot. But if you notice a pattern of behavior that leaves you drained, depressed, discouraged and exhausted, it’s time to walk.

Likewise, if it feels like the relationship is a constant battle in which your needs never get met, or in which you find yourself virtually begging the other person to consider your feelings and your perspective, it’s time to leave. The sooner the better.

You’ll not regret taking care of you. But you will certainly regret sacrificing your peace of mind and emotional well-being in order to keep questionable people in your life.

The Heat of the Moment

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” – Anne Lamott

One of the important things I’d like to think I’ve (mostly) learned over the years is not to make decisions in the emotional heat of the moment.

Sometimes, in the midst of an emotional storm, it’s tempting to take some action, to relieve the pressure of the intensity of our feelings. We can start to mistakenly believe that if we take drastic action, we will arrive at the solution to the problem, whatever it may be.

Unfortunately, this is rarely (if ever) the case. In my own life, I haven’t yet made a decision in a state of emotional turmoil that seemed wise when I considered it later. As an adjunct to this, conflict resolution became much easier when I learned that every thought does not need to be shared aloud. Indeed, there are a great many better left unsaid.

One of the things I noticed when I started meditating was the sheer amount of garbage manufactured by my mind, on an almost constant basis. I daresay this power would be impressive if it could be put to good use – though I think that’s the idea behind affirmations and positive thinking. But sometimes the mind has to be left to just wear itself out spinning crazy, awful stories.

And they are just that: stories. Fortunately, a regular meditation practice helps make that clear, because when we start to believe our own stories we’re treading on dangerous ground.

Eventually the mind grows tired, and we can step out of the “thought-emotion-action” loop, thereby gaining access to our greater wisdom. If we can weather the emotional storm, watching it until it dies down, and acting in the calm after the storm, we stand a better chance of achieving the outcome we truly want.

It’s a process, and a non-linear one at that. In the words of Anne Lamott, “You can get the monkey off your back but the circus never leaves town.”

That’s why they call it a practice.

Getting Close

I see so many people in my world longing for a real connection. Though there are many ways in which technology purportedly makes our lives easier, it does not seem to help in making that connection. Conversely, it seems to have become a sort of crutch for the socially challenged, making it ever easier to dodge face to face or even real time communication.

Now I won’t deny the convenience of texting. It’s very useful, in certain situations. But it’s certainly not for serious conversations, or any communication with depth or subtlety. (Yes, you can use that phone to make calls, too. Really.)

If we consider that most communication is non-verbal, what happens when the non-verbal is non-existent? When we have only the written word to go on? For concise communications (See you at your place at 7) it works. For anything else, it’s a potential disaster.

Now that we have instant messaging, online dating, cyber sex and even virtual relationships, where does that leave us in our embodied lives? While it’s true that the speed of communication has shrunk the world, and made long distance connections considerably easier than even a few years ago, what does that say about the nature of our relationships?

From where I sit, it looks like people are lonelier than ever. Sitting in front of a monitor chatting with your virtual partner isn’t quite the same as sitting down to dinner with him/her. And as I watch people struggling to form and maintain real emotional intimacy in the here-and-now, I wonder if we’re losing something vital. And how we might get it back.

While I want to maintain contact with those I care about whose lives are at a physical distance from me, I also recognize there’s an equally strong feeling of emptiness that digital communication evokes within me.

As with so many things, perhaps it’s really a question of balance. If we can balance our virtual relationships with our proximal ones we may be able to experience the best of both worlds: satisfying, meaningful relationships with loved ones both far and near.


Getting Comfortable with Endings

Yesterday I went to a workshop on funeral pre-planning. I was by far the youngest person in the room. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking seminars I’ve ever attended.

As a society, it seems like we are in denial of death. This doesn’t make sense to me. Death is a part of life. And our own death, too, is significant, in the sense that it is a reminder of the fact that we don’t have “all the time in the world.”

And since we don’t, isn’t the time that we have, by virtue of its very finite nature, all the more precious? Considering that few of us, if any, know exactly how much time we have, it seems even more important to not waste it in activities that don’t mirror our highest intentions for ourselves.

One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits is “Begin with the end in mind.” And thinking about your own death is one of the most effective ways to do this.

Imagine…your own funeral. Who is there? What are they saying about you? If you write your own eulogy, you will know how you really want to live your life, and what you want to do with the time that you have here.

Recommended reading – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

Living Well, Part II

Lately I’ve been having a surprising number of conversations that go something like this…

-Are you married?


-Do you have children?


-Oh. I’m sorry.

Usually the person asking the questions is a relative stranger, and the conversation ends with some sort of awkward pause during which I’m not sure what to say.

Apparently I’ve reached an age where to be single is unquestionably indicative of some sort of personal failing (at best) or a massive character flaw.

And being childless (or child-free, as I prefer to think of it)? In a word, pitiable.

It surprises and saddens me a little to learn that so many people consider a woman’s fulfillment to be so singularly tied to marriage and children. This goes back to a topic I discussed earlier this year in Scare-City and the Single Life: The Future is Now.

On the whole, it seems to me that people who are married are not necessarily any happier than those who are single. Perversely, it seems that many married people live vicariously through their single friends, and those who are single long to find “the one.” It’s funny because most marriages nowadays end in divorce. So, is finding “the one” more of a fairy tale now than ever?

Maybe the real theme here is that a great many people are not satisfied with the here and now. They spend much time longing for the future, or the past.

I think living well has a lot to do with being satisfied with the here and now, rather than saying “I’ll be happy when….” This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have goals, plans, and hopes for the future. But if those get in the way of living fully today, or if we feel that life can’t start until we have the perfect partner or the perfect family, then we may be denying ourselves the joys of the journey.

Each stage of life has its unique pleasures. When we allow ourselves to experience those fully, we are truly living well.

Good Fences

I’ve been re-reading Anne Katherine’s book Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. Interpersonal boundaries, be they physical or emotional, when clearly communicated, can eliminate a great deal of confusion. It is, as they say, true that “good fences make good neighbors.”

But what about when boundaries are lacking? Without some way of determining who we allow to get close, and how close, chaos abounds. Other people can do and say what they like if we don’t believe we have the power to set limits. Gradually, we might come to feel like our lives don’t belong to us.

At the core of building healthy boundaries is discovering the difference between “me” and “not me.”

Sounds simple enough, right?

But is it really? Many of us have had the ideas and “shoulds” of parents and other adult figures thrust upon us at an early age. From that perspective sorting out what’s ours and what’s theirs may not be such an easy proposition.

Building (or repairing) our fences necessitates important, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. The good news is that having such conversations can build true intimacy. If we are equal to the challenge, we can negotiate our needs in personal and professional relationships to allow for more satisfying interactions.

Photo by Virginia Olson  © 2012

Echoes from the Past

Tonight I was talking with a friend about my struggle to let go of the past, and of my own need to be right about, well, everything.

He told me something someone else once told him…. That if you keep rooting around in the garbage of the past, trying to prove yourself right, eventually you very likely will, but you’ll be covered in garbage. Another option is to leave the garbage of the past behind for more beautiful scenery.

There are, as he said, echoes from the past in everything we do in the present. While we are wise to learn from the lessons of the past, we are unwise to assume that because we were hurt in the past by one person, we will be hurt in the present by another.

If we aren’t willing to risk being vulnerable, we can’t enjoy the fruits of intimacy. I’m not speaking merely of romantic relationships here, but of any close relationship with another person.

It’s difficult to be in the gap of not knowing. It’s far easier to go triumphantly forward clutching the wound, shouting “I was right. I was right all along. And here’s the proof.”

He reminded me, “You don’t have to know the outcome to enjoy the journey.” And I thought, But if I knew it would be a good outcome, that would certainly make things easier.

And then I realized that really easy things are rarely worth doing anyway.

How we see things…Part III

How we see things has a great deal to do with expectations. What do we expect to see? How do we expect others to behave?

Much of the time, we will get exactly what we expect. Then, as a bonus, we satisfy our desire to be right. I’m joking, partly. But when we get validation of our opinions or worldview, that only serves to solidify beliefs that may, or may not, serve us well in the long run.

But what about when we don’t get what we expect? What happens when people let us down?

It’s important (but, I acknowledge, also difficult) to maintain a healthy sense of balance between hoping for the best and having realistic expectations regarding the people and situations in our lives. It requires a certain level of self-awareness to realize how we can project our feelings and our fears onto people around us.

While it’s easier to blame other people, it’s also potentially more useful to inquire within. To determine how our own desires and motivations play a role in the creation, and the resolution, of any given situation. And to take responsibility for our own contribution.

Love in Disguise?

“People should worry about each other. Because worry is just love in its worst form. But it’s still love.” – Simon Gray

As a follow up to my previous entry on worry, I found this quote, which I read in a magazine years ago. I remember reading it over and over, thinking about it for a long time. I couldn’t decide whether I agreed with him or not. I think worry is something misguided people do to show their love. But does that mean worry is love?

Someone told me recently, “Cruelty is the closest thing to love.” I was truly stunned. My first inclination was to disagree vehemently. But I had to consider it further. Maybe it’s true that some things are close to love, but not love exactly. I have an easier time believing that worry is close to love. But cruelty?

I think the difficulty in determining whether or not worry and cruelty are at all equivalent to love is related to the difficulty people have in defining love. (See The Power of Love for more on this topic, and for a discussion of David Hawkins’ scale of consciousness.)

If love is an energy (or an action that carries an energy), is the energy of worry (or cruelty, for that matter) on the same level as that of love? Hawkins would answer with a resounding no on both counts. Worry calibrates close to fear, and cruelty would be close to anger. Both are well below the love vibration.

So if love is an energy, then the energy of love is much different from the energy of worry. A Course in Miracles says the opposite of love is fear. On the other hand, if love is an action, does cruelty in some way demonstrate love? It takes energy to be cruel (just as it takes energy to worry). To be cruel means to be calculating. Maybe by that token the opposite of love is not fear, or even hatred, but rather indifference.

It’s only if love is a “feeling” that we can say that worry or cruelty might be a little bit close to love. If love is a feeling that we get caught up in, a feeling that we’re powerless to control, then we might behave in ways that are cruel.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that love is a feeling. Are we powerless in the face of our feelings? Simply under their control? If so, we’re little better than a two year old throwing a temper tantrum.

One of the benefits of meditation (and spiritual practice in general) is that it tends to move people from a state of reaction to a state of contemplation. In other words, it allows us to live in the gap. In the gap, we can make choices about who we want to be in the world. This means that it’s possible to choose words and actions that reflect our true values and priorities. It also means that we can choose how to direct our energy.

If we choose to direct our energy and intent toward being love in action then worry and cruelty will have no home in the same neighborhood as love.

The Story of Play Doh

In the movie How Do You Know, there’s a scene in which the guy buys the girl a tub of Play Doh. He tells her the story of Play Doh (how it was a failure as a wallpaper cleaner, but then was successfully re-marketed as a children’s toy) and says, “We are all just one small adjustment from making our lives work.”

And though the movie itself isn’t necessarily that profound, that one line has stuck with me since I first heard it. That one line speaks volumes, and it applies to much more than romantic relationships. It really seems to me like a commentary on perspective.

Sometimes our perspective is the biggest thing stopping us from seeing all the good that surrounds us, and using that vision as a springboard to greater success. Being attached to only one perspective is extremely limiting.

There’s a story I once read in which a man walks down a village street. Persons on one side of the street comment on his striking red hat, while those on the other side argue that his hat is blue. Each faction insists on the correct-ness of its interpretation. It’s only when the man turns around and walks back the other way that it becomes clear the hat is half red, half blue.

In a similar story, several people wearing blindfolds each try to explain what an elephant looks like. One describes the trunk, while the other describes the tail. An argument ensues over what type of creature the elephant really is, and who is more correct.

Of course, what these stories are meant to illustrate is the idea that perspective is limited, and that the same object (the same situation or challenge) looks very different when we approach it in a new way. Also, that we make fools of ourselves when we argue right-ness of our own viewpoints or wrong-ness of another’s perspective.

All this is to say that relinquishing attachment to our perspectives, to our stories, is an important step toward building better relationships and creating success. Sometimes it means crossing the street to see challenges or situations in our lives from another angle. Other times it means taking off the blindfold to see the big picture.

It’s worth asking ourselves where many of our deeply held opinions, viewpoints, and beliefs originated, because we may find that the source is a limited perspective. Now, this doesn’t mean abandoning all of our beliefs and principles, but rather approaching them with a greater understanding of where they come from. And, it gives us the opportunity to examine which of those beliefs are working for us, and which others might require some fine-tuning.