Positive to Positively Authentic

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As Americans we say things like, Be positive, Don’t complain, Pull yourself up from your bootstraps, Move on, Don’t let it bother you, Don’t worry, be happy, Count your blessings, not your problems; all of these, full of wisdom and the path to a happy life. At times in my life, I have been the poster child for “Everything is AWESOME!” I read Stephen Covey, Og Mandino, and Dale Carnegie, and listened to Zig Ziglar tapes (yes, I said tapes.) I was in sales and marketing, which put me squarely in the Positive Psychology camp or suffer by comparison. After all, You are what you think. With a smile, twinkly eye contact and a genuine interest in other people, a person could be very successful. Follow the 10 Easy Steps to a Happy Life; I’m sure I read it and wired it directly into my DNA.

This was in my early twenties and in my late twenties I realized, “Wait a minute, some things in life are just not okay, not happy and certainly not good.” Being positive all the time and denying reality started to seem a little foolish and might get a person taken for a ride. Cynicism seeped in. It’s so easy because there are many smart people who will jump on that wagon in a snap. It’s one of those deals where if everyone is cynical together,we feel pretty smart, in a class all our own (some would call this the Ego Mind.) “We see the REAL deal and no one is fooling us.” During this time I had a boss who was still in the Positive Stage and, wow, she was so annoying. She was repeating the earlier messages on a daily basis like I had never heard them before. Ugh!

At some point I moved on from the cheery-boss and just stopped caring. Positive. Negative. Whatever. I just let my thoughts roll. They generally liked to roll down hill. This is about the time Corporate America was revealing itself as a tad empty and also after September 11, 2001. Life needed to change and it certainly did with a move from New York back to Washington, no corporate job and a new (colicky) baby. Catapulted into suburbia, in a neighborhood of moms with babies in every home, life rocked into an easy balance between the good and, let’s just say, not so good. Moms bonded on the ‘challenges’ of said babies, but relished all the goodness these little people brought into our lives; no positive-negative decisions necessary.

Now in my forties with children/preteens, I have come full circle. I found that no one really cares if you are positive or negative, although people generally do not want to be around complainers. If you are one of those people, you may find yourself complaining to your dog or maybe on Facebook – and surely there will be those who sympathize for awhile, but gradually we learn people Like you better when you have something of value to say. Cynicism is everywhere. Cynicism is easy. Cynicism is worthless. What I have found is I am far happier when I dig in to find the beautiful, the kindness, the lessons and the love in life’s situations. Sometimes it’s really easy. I lived in the Rocky Mountains for a year where I hiked, skate skied, downhill skied, touched the river daily and was surrounded by people who did the same. Negativity? None whatsoever. It was easy to be grateful for literally everything in my life.

Then life took a hairpin turn catapulting me into the abyss. Suddenly finding the positive was no longer easy and the ugly followed me around like a Northwest cloud in November. Now what? I do know You are what you think, but this seemed insurmountable, like climbing Mt. Everest in a wind storm. Pretending Everything is AWESOME! was just plain ridiculous, yet I still have the DNA wiring that says to Look for the good, Pull myself up by my bootstraps, Move on, Forgive and forget is the only way to happiness, yada, yada, yada.

However, when faced with the absolute choice, balancing these two opposite views on life is the only answer and I call this Positive Authenticity; accepting and speaking your whole reality with deep recognition of our infinite blessings.

Positive Authenticity is understanding we all have both light and shadows within us. The balance of allowing others to know our challenges, humility, cracks in the armor, as well as communicating our resilience, courage, wisdom, and love of life. Mostly, it’s about knowing for sure we all have everything we need, we are whole and good and unique and the same. We are human.

 

Life at the Speed of Life

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This week I had two of my three girls home for Spring Break. Since they were tiny, we have always traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch the end of ski season and the beginnings of spring in the Rocky Mountains. However, this year is the first year our family of five is a family of four and we are all feeling less like butterflies and more like a caterpillars ensconced in chrysalis. Staying home was a chance to do life at the speed of life.

My younger girls are what I call Pioneer Girls (my preteen is a pioneer-girl-in-training, I call her my book girl) because they like to get their hands dirty and would prefer anything that has to do with real life than the entertainment most kids would go for. We had a ball sewing blankets and pillows, baking, gardening, cleaning our house, bike rides to the park, play dates with friends, and a few movies thrown in for extra snuggling on the couch after sleeping in and hanging out in our PJs for at least half the day. It was balm to my soul. It was life at the speed of life for all of us.

This year has been one of the most difficult (okay, actually the MOST difficult) years of my life, but at the same time has been the most peaceful, filled with extraordinary ordinary moments that have changed my perspective on life forever. Instead of breakneck speed of shuttling three kids to, well, everywhere, traveling and keeping everyone in a family of five happy (not easy when one was hell bent on being unhappy), our lives have now become grounded in our tranquil home with candles, flowers, flute music, healing crystals and art, lots of art. Sometimes the activity schedule gets disregarded, school breaks are spent at home and our lives are now filled with color, kindness and love.

The vibration of life has changed dramatically. I am noticing all that is quiet and lovely. When you slow life down to quiet, your inner self can come out of your head and you notice all the people who are doing the same ordinary, beautiful things you are: taking their kids to school, going to work, the grocery store, walking their dog, planting flowers, reading the newspaper, helping their parents or grandparents, nursing a hurt knee or teaching a child how to ride a bike or fix a flat tire. You revel in small conversations with the woman at the check out counter or the veterinarian or the man helping you at Home Depot. Kind people living life at the speed of life, who go home to their families, make dinner, go through the mail, let down their shields in the only real place that any of us can; at home, our sanctuary.

Thanksgivings for a Beautiful Life

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Twenty-eight things I am grateful for:

1. My three sweet, kind, exuberant, beautiful daughters. My forever family…

2. My Village, my Tribe of moms, friends, mentors, guides and confidantes that have provided the safety net, for me and my girls, that I have relied on this past six months.

3. My family whom I have spent my whole life celebrating life’s most treasured days.

4. My home, filled with life memories, is my sanctuary of love, serenity and goodness.

5. My dog, Sage and cat, Apple, who follow me around the house just to be close and remind me that a heart connection to others, furry or not, is all that matters in life.

6. My camera for the thousands of photographs I have taken to keep every life experience fresh in my memory. This will be helpful when those memories are not as easy to come by…

7. Music that fills my soul with peacefulness and reminds me that we all feel the same emotions but come by them individually.

8. Beautiful, colorful art, especially of nature.

9. My body that has allowed me to do everything from ski down double black diamond runs, jump out of an airplane to carrying three beautiful babies for 9 months inside and another year in my arms.

10. The experiences of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, four years in the fast-paced NY Metro area to the serenity of the Rocky Mountains hiking, skiing and living in the original North American ski town.

11. Books, books, books, and my infinite curiosity to read as many as I can. Without question, books are the foundation of my life.

12. Facebook for reminding me that the Universe is both large and small, that I am not alone in the world and have many kindred spirits…

13. My life experiences that have given me courage, resilience, curiosity, compassion for myself and others, ambition, and most importantly, the ability to love and be loved.

14. All four of my grandparents who have and continue to teach me the meaning and purpose of life is not found outside home but instead, right in the middle of everyday life among family and friends.

15. The sounds of happy children playing.

16. Peaceful mornings spent with a cup of coffee (with cream and cocoa), a book and happy girls.

17. My new car complete with streaming music, although Taylor Swift gets way too much airtime.

18. To be a stay-at-home mom while my girls are little. I am equally grateful to have spent more than a decade in my career and for the opportunity to resume my career shortly.

19. The opportunity to go back to college for an MFA in Creative Writing.

20. That God has been by my side directing my path for my whole life. He has given me very clear signs (crystal of late) that it is time for a new direction.

21. My GIRLS! (I know that was number one but, oh my goodness how grateful I am!)

22. Traditions, whether birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Halloween. As a younger person I didn’t always want to follow the crowd but the older I get it becomes so clear how those traditions comfort and bind us together as one.

23. The abundance of opportunities, comforts, and love that I have in my life.

24. My soft, fluffy bed with six pillows, pillow top mattress and book light.

25. Flowers of all kinds in a garden, window box, vase or wild on a mountainside. In college I used to spend $25 a week on groceries that included a bouquet and magazine. I still love to come home and unwrap a beautiful bunch of flowers to set on my counter.

26. Bob, for giving me the time and space to figure out who I am and what my purpose in life was meant to be. Most of all, for giving me the life to which I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

27. My GIRLS!

28. My beautiful life.

21 Ways to Bring Joy

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Joy. It is a small word with depth like the middle of the ocean. Whether you are fishing for happiness in the shallow flats or deep water, JOY can be found. Sometimes we need to be purposeful in our search and sometimes we feel it everywhere. I found this post written by Halina Goldstein at http://www.tinybuddha.com inspiring today. 

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/after-tragedy-3-reasons-and-21-ways-to-bring-joy-back-into-your-life/

1. Spend time with children (there are children everywhere).

2. Discover something refreshing (or surprising).

3. Feel your body (you are a miracle of life).

4. Read a novel (fiction, stories, not the usual self-improvement stuff).

5. Travel (any distance).

6. Look for smiles in people’s faces (on the street and on TV).

7. Write thank you notes (to yourself too).

8. Create a rhythm for your daily life (simple things will do).

9. Exercise (in a way that makes you smile).

10. Help someone (with something you enjoy doing).

11. Find a color that makes you feel good (and wear it).

12. Enjoy your spiritual practice. (Enjoy!)

13. Spend time with nature (plants and pets are nature, too).

14. Do something creative (just for yourself).

15. Accept help from people (strangers, too).

16. Learn something new. (What have you always wanted to learn?)

17. Listen to music (and let your body move along).

18. Walk barefoot (slowly).

19. Savor simple pleasures. (What’s that?)

20. Give yourself a break (in every sense of the word).

21. When you have a choice, choose joy.

Once you decide to allow joy back into your life, joy will show you the way.

 

 

About Halina Goldstein

Halina Goldstein is a mentor, teacher and writer supporting widows around the world on their way from grief to growth and joy. Halina’s gift for readers of Tiny Buddha is the “Guide to Peaceful Evenings,” with three concrete tools to find joy while learning to cope with loneliness.

We Belong Wherever We Are

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You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~Frederick Buechner

My family has lived in Small Town, Idaho for one year. How do I summarize the experiences of each of us as a collective? It is impossible, even as just one part of the whole. What did I learn? What am I taking with me? What added to my spirit moving forward?

I belong. I understand this simple fact with a depth I hadn’t known before living at the base of the Rockies for one year with my husband and three girls. Like the branch of a Willow tree I have been bent in ways that cannot be straightened. I have been stretched, molded and shaped this year by the place, the seasons, the people who have come upon my path and most of all, by the four spirits who have been chosen to walk with me.  My family.

For several years, Bob and I contemplated moving to Sun Valley. I resisted because it scared me. I grew up in the vast strip-malled suburbs of an airport pass-through town and found the anonymity comforting. I could come and go without anyone noticing. I could spend days without anyone knowing where I was or even wondering for that matter. I could get in my car and drive to the water, mountains or to Seattle on a whim. What would I do in a small town where there is one road in and out, the same people at the grocery store, school, church and post office? Would they like me? What if they didn’t? That was the fear – what if the people that I saw everyday didn’t like me. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t belong?

It is hard to say what erased that fear once I put my feet in the Big Wood River, but it never materialized. Gone. I took one step at a time up the vast trails surrounding the Valley in nature, in beauty, in acceptance. The grasses, wildflowers and Aspens didn’t care how long I have lived here or whether or not I was staying. They whispered, Welcome.

As summer transformed into fall and then winter, my girls started school one mile from our house. Happy, curious children smiled and asked, “Do you want to play?” The teachers asked, “Can you help?” We became part of a wonderful church community. We asked, “How can we serve?” This is a ski town so naturally there are a lot of people that like the outdoors and having fun while they’re at it. I joined two women’s ski groups where I found many lovely ladies who asked, “Do you want to hike…ski…bike?”  Wow. All that is needed is to show up. Show up with an open heart, an open mind and a sense of adventure. You can choose to join the collective energy or not. I chose to belong.

Although we committed to one year, tough decisions needed to be made. In my youth the choices were 1) the hard road but opportunity for big pay off; or 2) the easy path with the promise of the status quo. Of course, I always chose the hard road or the hard road was chosen for me, not sure which one. It is in my DNA, the pioneer spirit. I think I have finally grown up because the answer did not speak to me. Both options are good but the criteria for choosing did not line up. After a childhood of not belonging—perception is everything—I finally felt connected to this Earth, to humanity here in Sun Valley, Idaho. This connectedness did not have anything to do with friends, acquaintances or groups that accepted me, but instead a deep understanding that I am a part of the collective consciousness. I am a part of my family and they are a part of me. We are connected like Aspen Groves growing along the rivers and streams that stem from the tops of mountains and the rain clouds overhead.

The call to return to our roots is stronger than I thought possible. We need to return to where we were planted among our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. The mountains, the Aspens whispered to me this year. The strength and fortitude of nature showed me my purpose. I have been realigned to the sun and upon leaving will never be the same. Never again will I wish or search to belong. I have learned that I can just show up with an open heart and an open mind. God will do the rest. He told me on the hiking trails in the summer time and while soaring up the ski lift in the winter. Welcome.

“Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated.” Letter to the Dean.

Dear Dean of Clinical Psychology,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter regarding my experience in the interview process. I am very happy to know that you and the admission committee in the Clinical Psychology Department reviewed my application and found my experience, academic qualifications and submissions at the standard for admission into the University. I do find it curious that a few Regional Professors could have a different philosophy on a successful applicant than the University.

One of the topics that have come into our collective consciousness through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, is why women do not lean into promotions and more responsibility in their professional pursuits. Ms. Sandberg speculates that women do not lean into promotions, new careers, or assignments unless they are positive they have the wherewithal and all qualifications are fulfilled, whereas men just go for it and see what happens. When I walked into Judith’s office in Vancouver I was fully prepared to start the PhD program. My basis for this confidence was my career in the pharmaceutical industry and my MBA which I completed while working a minimum of sixty hours a week, traveling, sometimes internationally, and launching a program with a $30 million budget. I am in a position where I know what it takes to be successful and this knowledge is why I have waited until now. I did not take this decision lightly and, in fact, it has been a three-year process of deliberation considering the ages of my children, my husband’s career and my future aspirations.

I am sure that I have a very different background than most of the applicants into the Clinical Psychology program. When I submitted my application to the University, I was sure, beyond any doubt, that I was ready for the academic rigor of a PhD program, the hours that it would take as a volunteer, the struggle in pursuing a research project and a dissertation. I was ready to tackle six years of hard work to reach my professional goals. Maybe I was naïve to believe that my experiences are valid, that my academic and professional achievements would prove my perseverance, my intellectual capacity, and my dedication to excellence. As I think about the people that have made undeniable changes in our world, I can’t think of one that didn’t start with a sprinkle of innocence, of naiveté. Dr. Kill-Your-Passion has forgotten that there are many paths to making a difference in the world and just because someone doesn’t follow yours, it doesn’t mean they will fail to be successful.

In the interview I was asked why I want to pursue psychology. As I wrote in my eight-page Statement of Purpose, I am passionate about understanding how all of us make our way as individuals and as a collective humanity. I want to be a therapist to help women in their relationships with their selves, children, spouse or romantic relationships, family and friendships. This understanding of my purpose in life has been hard won by trials in my life and a deep understanding through analysis of my own heart.

I have been fully, unapologetically in life. I was a child of divorce and am a motherless mother. I have a wonderful husband but experienced a divorce of my own. I have been at the table in the boardroom in New York City and the lonely salesperson on the road to approval. I have been there for my own family grappling with the devastation of Alzheimer’s and the heartache of a dying child. Friends have suffered mental health diagnoses that changed the course of their life forever. Autism, bipolar, depression, OCD, head trauma, learning disabilities, ADD, anxiety, suicide, aging parents, cancer and it’s effects on mental health, are just some of the difficulties that happen in real life; the life that I am in. I do not have ‘formal’ mental health training that Judith could verify and easily pass along for admittance into practicum. What I do have is connections with real people whom are in my path. People who might not have anyone, but for me, to pull him or her out of the abyss they are in, right before it is too late. This is the ‘formal’ mental health training that I have now as a forty-three year old, married mother of three that I did not have when I was young and willing to do whatever someone told me to do, so that I could be worthy, good enough to wear the halo they set upon my head.

Other goals that I will fulfill in my life are to do research, probably more qualitative, and to write a book or maybe several. I want to be an advocate for women, for mothers. Our country needs people who are grounded in understanding and compassion; to be in communities, at the ready to both make things happen for them and to help them understand they need to make things happen for themselves. My passion, my understanding of humanity is what will help others believe that they are capable and are whole just as they are. These goals have nothing to do with a PhD in Human Development. That would never be a viable option for me.

My first choice in fulfilling this vision was to go to your University. However, your professor’s demeanor and condescending discouragement of my application was arrogant and insulting, not to mention a waste of my time and money. She did not know anything about me, nor did she have any intention of learning. There are many paths and I have options with my time and with my resources.

I do appreciate the offer to interview with another faculty member of the school. However, sometimes a bad first impression can taint an entire endeavor and I think that is what has happened. Judith has tainted the entire school and when I consider the number of hours that I would spend to fulfill a PhD, not to mention upwards of $150,000, I don’t have the time to prove my worth to someone who will never see it. It wouldn’t make sense for me to be in a Cluster in another area, as one critical piece in my decision to go back to school is to be among like-minded, passionate people that I would have lifelong connections with. When people do things that don’t make sense, it automatically makes that person suspect. I want to study with others from the Northwest and I don’t want to have to explain myself, especially when there is negativity attached. Staying in the NW, while Judith is the main link to the school would not work out based on how she treated me in the interview. I used to accept this kind of behavior when I was in the corporate world, when I was much younger, but I am wiser now that I am a mother; instead of breaking down walls to be regarded as an equal, I will look for an environment that is accepting of different paths and views in the world.

This year I will work on the requirements for admission for several programs to apply for the fall of 2014. If there happens to be changes at the University, then I will consider applying again.

Thank you again for your letter and offer to move forward in the interviews. This process has succeeded in doubling my conviction that I am working toward the right goals and purpose in my life.

Best regards,

Janna Bushaw Crist

What happens when a mom has the audacity to think she can make the world a better place. An interview with a vampire…

“Do you have any formal experience in a mental health setting that you can think of?” Judith asked as she pulled a piece of her short-gelled hair and adjusted her scarf. I am thinking about the eight-page Statement of Purpose that is sitting on her clean, glass desk situated to take in the breathtaking views of the Vancouver, British Columbia Harbor. My first paragraph states that I have no experience as a mental health counselor, volunteer or otherwise. Instead, I have a graduate degree in business and all that goes with a successful career in sales and marketing, I have been fully immersed in the messiness of life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, granddaughter and person in communities. I have paid attention to the infinite longings of the human heart. I am a motherless mother. I have studied psychology since my early twenties and read textbooks for my understanding of how we all think, feel, love and suffer. I finally tell her, “I do not.”

“What about research?” she continues. I feel myself being pushed further and further from my dream of calling myself a clinical psychologist. The University has accepted me but the woman sitting in front of me would be my link to the school, my mentor for the six years it would take to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology. I can see that she was not privy to the selection process and she wants no part of being responsible for a mother of three young children ‘who has no idea what she is getting herself into.’ The University representatives have told me that the student body are mature adults who are either advancing their careers or starting a second career and formal education or experience are not prerequisites.

Judith’s questions are getting lined out like an easy to-do list on Saturday morning. She is not interested in a project no matter what “life experience” or passion I have. My lack of “real” credentials are going to be difficult in a year when she is expected to find placement for the practicum requirement of the program and licensing. I am pretty sure this is part of her reluctance to even consider my application. I can hear her thinking about the difficult road I present for her. She begins to persuade me that this idea of being a psychologist is not a good idea for someone in “my position (i.e. mother of three young children.)” She thinks it would be a good idea to volunteer in a crisis center for a year or two and then begin because with a family it would be just too demanding to work as a volunteer and complete the rigorous load of study that is required from the program. “It may have been acceptable in the past but the program has become much more rigorous,” Judith warns.

I can feel myself going under but continue to try swimming against the residing current. “I was working sixty hours a week in the New York Metro Area while getting a masters in business at night. I traveled all over the world, planned a wedding and was promoted three times,” I hear myself protest, grasping at straws. I could tell she wasn’t buying it. Her eyes looked at me like my idea of a therapy session was a coffee chat with moms in their Lulu Lemon wear and rocking the stroller. The  familiar feeling of the relentless pursuit of a challenge starts to cloud my thinking. I can do anything I set my mind on and I will prove it beyond the doubt of anyone who tells me I can’t. This time I hear my wiser, motherly voice respond with, “Yes, but do you want to?”

“What do you want to do when you complete the program?” It doesn’t matter what I say because she has another program within the school that she thinks “Would be perfect for you because it has all the elements that you want to do but doesn’t require practicum, research or even meeting with a professor,” she offers and hands me the name and number of another Judith. She had made up her mind before  she read the first paragraph of my essay that states that becoming a mother changed everything for me. She has not allowed herself to visit this other universe of compassion, love and dreams. This other world without words or rules, resumes and credentials. She doesn’t know this other world that flows with the human heart.

I realize that the Judith sitting in front of me is not just challenging me to reveal my true commitment capacity; she really doesn’t believe I am capable. I finally ask if she is saying that she will not recommend me for the program. She says, “That is not what I am saying. You aren’t hearing me.” I listen.

The salesperson in me understands what has happened. Judith is not interested in what I am selling. I hear her saying that she is very upset with the Admissions Office and will promptly call them about this recommendation that is clearly wasting her time. It doesn’t matter that I am fiercely passionate, smart (at least before I had children) and was accepted to the school with my application, Statement of Purpose, and Critical Thinking writing sample. Judith doesn’t want to take me on because it will be too demanding, rigorous for her.

She can see that I am not fazed by the workload and continues with the fact that I very well may need to move my family’s residence to do a two-year practicum (i.e. experience) and that probably won’t work with three children and a husband. Never mind that the school is the only one of its kind with a “distributed education model.” The school’s sole competitive advantage is that mature, sometimes second career adults can get a PhD without disrupting their lives by moving near a traditional university.

I stopped. Nothing I could say was going to change her mind. I told her that I appreciated her candor because I certainly would not want to start something and not be capable of success or even finish. Working with this woman would not be a hospitable environment to work, study or be inspired. This woman would suck my energy and passion dry and at the end of the day she would prove (to herself) that she had been right by discouraging me to pursue something that in her mind I didn’t have a clue. I needed to get out of there before I was beaten with ‘experience.’

Judith escorted me out of her office and through her personal art gallery into the hallway of her high-rise condominium. I jump into the taxi waiting outside to start my eleven-hour journey back to Central Idaho.

As I walked out the door all I could think of was how much new material this woman had given me. This is a perfect example of how women are systematically excluded from leadership positions. This woman really believed that pursuing a PhD with small children at home would simply be too challenging for me. She had absolutely no basis for this belief except that I had stepped off the train of progress and challenge to pursue the more simple matters of being a mother.