Right now there are people doing their grocery shopping either avoiding the card aisles, walking through them longingly, or wishing they didn’t have to bother with them. Leave it to the greeting card industry to create a holiday that we either loathe or love. I remember as a child, the carefully decorated lunch bags hanging from the chalkboard tray with each child’s name placed strategically on the front. Teachers sent home lists of names to ensure that each child would receive a valentine. How excited we were to reach into the bag and see who had chosen us to be their valentine. Yes, the heartbreaks started early.
I remember having to rush to the store, my daughter in a panic, when she discovered we had the count wrong. As adults it only gets worse for some of us. We threaten our significant others with all manner of consequences if they forget. Some of rush at the last minute to grab anything lest our love interest think we don’t care. Many of us plan elaborate treats and a special rendezvous. Unfortunately, this is the holiday that reminds many that something is lacking in our lives.
I don’t like Valentine’s Day…it lets too many lightweights off the hook. It is as if they can buy a “get out of jail free card” to hold over your head for the rest of the year. I don’t want that kind of lover in my life. I like being treated as if I am special every day. You got that right…I expect it. But there is more to the formula than that. I give it back. My husband and I don’t do much for Valentine’s Day because we do a lot for each other during the other 364 days of the year. I don’t mean flowers and candy kinds of things…I mean things that are more subtle and satisfying. Isn’t it more exciting to plan a special dinner on a day that is unique from everyone else’s? How about remembering that your spouse mentioned something they were out of and by the next day it was magically sitting on the counter waiting for them? Being aware enough and listening to one another to pick up on cues is an indication that you matter to one another. Noticing things that need to be done and just doing it…not fighting each other to see who carries the biggest load is a sign of devotion. Working as a team. Now THAT is the kind of love letter I like getting.
If this holiday creates an emotional rash for you…there are ways to start planning ahead. Think of ways to make it special for someone else. There are lots of older people who are alone and could use a hand, a thoughtful gesture, or would appreciate a plant or a card. Who of your own circle of friends and relatives are alone? Maybe you could invite them to have dinner, order or pizza or share a bottle of wine in honor of love…if only for ourselves. How many teachers are there that try to make every day special for your child? What could you do to make them feel special? Get creative and look for ways to surprise others.
If we are alone and overwhelmed with the fact, imagine what being romanced would look like for you. Then do it for yourself. If you think having someone cook you a lovely dinner and buy you flowers would feel nice…then do it for yourself! There is something amazing about taking the time to do things thoughtfully to pamper ourselves. Buy something soft and comfy that speaks to you and pay attention to how it feels on your skin. Splurge on some new music or a special tea. Plan something special and put it on your calendar…now! Keeping the focus on what treats you are going to allow yourself on that day will be much more rewarding than wasting the coming weeks on feeling sorry for yourself.
Love is not something we earn, it is something we can give ourselves every day. When we learn how to do that for ourselves, we will easily recognize and trust it when it DOES come from someone else. Whatever you decide to do, be grateful that you are able to do it and celebrate the fact that each day has within it the possibility for new and wondrous things.
Just remember it is just one of 365 days you can love yourself and others.
So lover, what is YOUR plan?
I took a chance last year at quitting the work I had been doing for 20 years. I had come to a place in my life that no matter how I tried to spin it in my own head, what I did for a living gave me no joy. I would get up early, pray, meditate and try to psyche myself up to just get through the day but by lunchtime I wanted to bolt. My shoulders were becoming frozen in a hunched position and my back and neck hurt from sitting in a chair all day long. I kept several chiropractors busy over the years, ended up with dry eye syndrome from staring at the computer screen all day and my jaws ached from gritting my teeth.
My body and mind were screaming at me loud enough to finally listen.
I have been journaling, seeing counselors, doing workshops and reading self-help books for years. I make gratitude lists and vision boards and have done all kinds of work around self-discovery. I knew what I enjoyed doing do but kept telling myself that I didn’t have the skills, the education, or I was just too old to start over in the kind of career I thought I would enjoy. In other words, I kept sabotaging my own dream by the way I spoke to myself. My focus was on all the things that kept me from having what I wanted and kept hidden all the things that would help me live my dream. A quote that I came across was a lightning bolt to my awareness “Do not let what you cannot do keep you from doing what you can”. Wow…I got it.
So I began the journey to change my thinking from I can’t, to I can.
I began to ask myself “how CAN I do this?” My journal became a unfailing record of how I talked to myself and I began to recognize that I blamed my circumstances and other people for the quality of my own life. I wasn’t trying to change at all, I had only been bitching about what was wrong. This perspective only fueled my self-doubt and undermined anything new I attempted.
So I prayed for a different perspective.
Several amazing books “showed up” in the coming weeks. The common thread in these was the law of attraction and how the energy of our thoughts draw to us things that match that energy. If I focus on having a bad day the moment I open my eyes – well chances are that is exactly what I will end up with. When I focus on things that carry a higher energy signature, such as love, gratitude, service to others – I feel better because the energy is lighter, brighter and more positive. Negative energy such as berating myself for a mistake, judging others, and expecting a rotten day is heavy and constricting like a vice. It squeezes out any space I have for what lifts me up and gives me hope. I noticed how much better I felt when I would catch myself in the negative and made a concerted effort to turn my thinking around. My focus became more on the present and what was going on inside me and seemed to propel me into a better future.
The difference it made in life was so astounding that my life completely transformed. I went back to school at 57 to learn a new trade. I said yes to a lot of things that I thought I would never do. I started my own coaching practice. My relationships improved all around, and I was sincere and true to myself and my dreams in everything I did. My quality of life improved in ways I had only dreamed of. All from changing my thinking.
The coaches I have had were marvelous in catching me when I slipped into my old gremlin of self-doubt and helped upright me and set me back on track. Just having someone to check in with each week was what helped me change careers, get through school, and start my own practice. Today I coach others who are walking through so many of the challenges that I have overcome. That is my gift – the ability to let them know that happiness and fulfillment in life is attainable…no matter what.
If you think you can – you can.
After years of trying to make "conditional" love work, being faced with the idea of "unconditional" love terrified me. Every relationship in my life had a price-tag, you do this - I give you that. My marriages were more like competitions to see who would give in first. I stayed endlessly angry with bosses, with my parents, with anyone who couldn't touch that place inside of me that just would not heal. Problem was, I spent all my life protecting that place.
Fast forward 30+ years, 2 divorces, one disappearing act later, I have figured out that THEY were never the problem. It was me all along. Damn hard pill to swallow, that one. I had the freedom to walk away any time I chose to...yet I continued to stay and try to figure out how to get them to meet my conditions. That is what I had been conditioned to do by my past. I have learned much about relationships since then.
One of the beneficial things about being involved in a recovery fellowship for so many years is that I have been mentored and consistently provided guidance as a mentor to others for most of those years. Our focus is on having a spiritual awakening that will solve all our problems. Thank God they don't all surface at the same time! So checking in with where we are emotionally is the way we continue and grow. Not everyone has that luxury. If I am doing it right I catch things BEFORE they destroy my universe. The entire process is about unconditional love so that we help one another heal. I now see love as a sincere desire to allow the other person to grow emotionally and spiritually...NOT make them into what I think I want.
It took quite a while for me to allow this to filter into my personal life. The others in my fellowship were easy to practice on...they knew EXACTLY what I was dealing with. They taught me to trust. It wasn't until I chose to get into a committed relationship with someone who didn't have a clue about recovery that I really learned what this looked like. For some unknown reason (I suppose it was because he was a good teacher) I chose someone so closed off all I did was try to get him to unravel a bit. It was like pinching a pecan and expecting it to bloom into a rose. Eventually he bolted in the night and never returned. Imagine that.
I was dying inside...for about 3 days. I wailed, I screamed, I gorged on ice cream, and I cussed at God. Heck, if he had given some reason for ghosting like that, at least I could have been mad. Instead I was in shock. After the third day I decided that the lesson here was I still didn't have a clue how to love someone just the way they were. I thought I was supposed to make myself into a person who COULD love them. It did not dawn on me to wait until it came naturally and without effort.
I read books, I walked off the grief, I got focussed on what I had given up to have the men in my life. I got really clear on the feelings I wanted to feel...not what it looked like to everyone else. I played, I stayed centered in the Divine, I took long baths and meditated. Everything I could think of to elevate the energy, and alleviate the pain. And then I put myself out there again. With that knowledge and understanding came the most rewarding marriage I could have ever dreamed of.
Today love is about allowing myself to be scared and do things anyway. It is about sticking around, taking a breath and shutting up long enough to listen to what others feel...not just what I think they are thinking. When I was dating my husband I wanted to run away many times. I kept pointing out my faults to him (sheeesshhh...did I really??) and finally he said "I do not like it when you talk that way about the woman I love". Ouch. I get it now. He saw who I was and wouldn't allow me to scare him off because I was afraid of the kind of love he had to offer. He knew I needed to learn to accept unconditional love and was willing to stick around long enough to let me figure it out.
I am all about love and happiness today...sappy as it might sound to some. We teach others how to treat us by how we present and treat ourselves. I now know how to "look through the eyes of the heart (thank you Father Tony!) at others and realize that each of us has a part to play in this human existence. I don't know what your path is...but now I have an insiders clue to mine, and it helps me let you be you. And that my friends, is unconditional love!
Create a vision in your journal of what unconditional love would feel like today.
Life is a process of sorting through what makes me feel comfortable in my own skin.
Deciding what pain I am willing to live with, or let go of, use to consume my days. Buried in the human heart is pain we don’t want to disturb. Some of us measure our days with countless attempts to keep it hidden. Or we desperately collect people and things to help cover up the pain. The conundrum for me was that everything I wanted most in life seemed to activate the pain. In an attempt to avoid feeling it, I would deny myself the love, the activities, the creativity and events in life that are the essence of my spirit. I locked my true self up because it hurt too much to be the women I was meant to be. There was no one around me that agreed with me or championed my needs or desires. Thank God that is in the past.
We get our ideas of love from caregivers, society and the media without exploring what it feels like coming from inside. I look at you and assume you smile because you are happy and in love…so I try to do what you do, look how you look. And much of the time I am missing out on the unique things that will help me feel what opening my own heart will do for me. What makes me...me.
One of my earliest memories as a child was a day I was feeling overwhelmed by my own feelings and had no one capable of helping me sort them out. Hiding in the garage with my arms around my German shepherd, I soaked her coat with my tears. My heart was broken and I needed someone to tell it to. Isn’t it interesting how much pain a loving pet can absorb? She was the only one who didn’t judge me for my feelings or my pain, and I began to tuck them away from the humans in my life.
Our bodies react with an amazing array of chemicals synchronized to the signals it gets from the brain. If we are traumatized or afraid, we begin to create hardness in certain areas of our bodies that are most susceptible to our thoughts. We harden our heart if it has been threatened, broken, or denied nurturing and care. We begin to create a protective barrier around our heart and not much can get in – or out. We begin to question our decisions and then avoid making them all together. We withdraw from life and then depend on others to produce our happiness for us because our hearts are no longer available to us.
So what is the solution? How do we stop hiding, protecting and shutting ourselves off from the light of love?
It takes courage to step outside the protective shell we have built. It takes curiosity to explore how far out we can go at one time and still return unscathed. Get curious. Begin to explore why the protection is there. Everyone has seen a curious child playing with stackable toys, turning them over and inspecting every surface. Exploring how they fit with other things and delighting when things come together.
Cultivate delight. Do something different. Seek wonder.
Pull out your notebook and write down everything that you quit doing that gave you joy in the past and find a way to do it again. Pick one thing and get busy with it. Pay attention to what it does for your heart. You will find as you give yourself these gifts and recommit to joy, that the walls around your heart will begin to soften, crumble or disappear. And discovering this, you will make yourself more susceptible to love. It is only a step...but it may be the one you need to put you on the path to what you have always wanted.
What activities, interests or accomplishments would bring you joy? (take out your journal and have fun with this and notice how it makes you feel)
Every blog I share comes from the heart and has a challenge or a question within it to help others explore new ways of thinking. I hope that as you read the blogs you would consider starting conversation by commenting. We can learn so much together!