your [own] year in review

this week facebook is blessing us with a new feature. if you are the proud claimant of a facebook account, on the left side of your wall is a clickable link which will take you to your “2013 year in review.” figuring we either can’t do it for ourselves or they can do it for us more effectively, facebook has put together “a [personal] look back at the 20 biggest moments from the past year” for every one of their users. thanks facebook. how helpful of you to fill me in on my biggest moments by highlighting those i happened to post about.

first of all, let me be honest: i find things like year end reviews to be really fun. it’s important and instructive to take time now and again to review where you’ve been and how you’ve been there. technology is amazing in its ability to provide us a detailed record, of sorts, of how we’ve spent our time and our selves. adding to this digital record, social networks provide the opportunity for our friends to reinforce those happenings/posts they find most interesting/beautiful/fabulous/smart/impressive/etc by clicking “like” and/or commenting. it is from this complicated amalgamation of data that facebook has created for each of us, a personal year in review.

i’d like to propose that this sort of review might not be the most reliable reference for our feelings about the past 12 months. our “year in review” in facebook-land is seemingly created by showing you for what you got the most attention. this is rarely a good way to determine the depth, shape, or “success” of anything.

it’s important for me to be honest about the fact that i am not a frequent visitor of my personal facebook account. i opened it years ago and use it only occasionally to post photos of unusual occurrences and to offer my blog posts to friends (and acquaintances and friends of friends and...). because i know that i’m prone to feeling less-than, i need to be careful about hanging out in spaces built on communal, filtered sharing about shiny-happy moments. i know that not everyone feels this way. i also know that facebook is used by many in quite authentic and honest ways to build, maintain, and cultivate community and support. plenty of people find huge comfort and connection through their involvement with facebook. that is just not my experience. just as in life, where we find the evidence that supports our beliefs about ourselves, five minutes on facebook is all i need to reinforce a deep fear that i’m not nearly successful/smart/caring/involved/attractive/connected/giving/humble enough. once that belief takes root it’s hard for me to move past it. even still, i feel a need to understand the way in which social networks impact our current relational economy so i choose to be an infrequent user, working diligently to post that which is enough without crossing the bounds of that which is self serving, sensational, insincere, insensitive, or frivolous. 

that being said, this was a big year for me personally. i had some personal and professional successes alongside plenty of defeats. i experienced a few mountain top moments with my family, friends, clients, and mentorees and also had plenty of days that were simply good enough. i slayed some personal dragons this year and lost plenty of battles as well. i suffered some and i grew some, as did my friends and family.
look at my facebook “year in review,” however, and you’d think that this was a year of nothing but smiles and light hearted capriciousness. i played around in photo booths and sat on santa’s lap with my college roommate, i made goofy faces when people had their cameras out. by what facebook chose for me it appears that skateboards, silly antics, and my husband’s and kids’ activities are about all that matter. and i don’t even skate board.

only 4 of the 20 facebook features would even make my top 50 important experiences of 2013 for me.  what i would never post on facebook, and therefore never find in my year end review there, are some of the things that shaped me most. the intimate and cherished conversations, the shared confidences, the hurts, the sleepless nights, the photos taken of me when i wasn’t looking...double chinned and cross eyed, dark circled after hours of play or worry, or looking grumpy/frazzled/less than hospitable after a particularly taxing day. i didn’t post status updates about how little i knew and how out of control i felt. there weren’t opportunities for my “friends” to affirm me for my efforts at becoming a more authentic, centered, and contemplative soul. i didn’t put those status’ out there. 

as a result, i am given the gift of a list of the highlights of my year based upon nothing short of that which others most responded to among the few things i felt appropriate sharing in such a nebulous space. never mind that the posts about deeply personal disappointments or successes, large scale failures, and/or deeply intimate moments went completely unwritten and, therefore, “un-liked” by my facebook friends.

as you say goodbye to the year that was and hello to the one that is to be why not take a few moments to contemplate your own, very personal, year in review. write it out if you like...or draw it in pictures. sing it or dance it. chart it, graph it, or record it as an equation. find it and honor it in the way that is truly you. make sure, however, that it includes events that could never be “liked” because they were never shared in cyber space. make sure the list holds things you’re proud of and experiences you’ve learned from, times your heart has swollen with love and times it has been bruised by pain, images of people you have loved well and awarenesses of how you might love people better, times where you’ve “won” and times where you’ve been strong enough to admit you’ve “lost,” gratitudes and apologies, the good and the bad. once you’ve made it, see this list as the real year in review and honor it as such...not by hoping for likes by others but by learning to accept it/embrace it/learn from it whether you like it or not.


being "learned"

i try to keep a little moleskine journal with me at all times. in it i write lists, thoughts and feelings, reminders, and things i hear others say that i want to come back to. in looking back over the last several recorded quotes i found this gem shared by the ceo of blackberry’s rim, regarding their newest phone, released in february of this past year. “this device learns you...learns your personality. after one week, it knows you.” i felt odd when i first read it and even more so now. largely because i believe it to be true.

i’ve noticed that both my computer and phone know me well. better than i ever imagined they would. spell check doesn’t auto correct “doreen” to “Doreen” anymore and is no longer confused by my frequently used “ugh” and “arg” exclamations. i’m reminded of calendar items with incredible consistency, push notifications suggest spots i might enjoy along my walk, and my basic searches are anticipated with frightening accuracy. yesterday i had only gotten to the “i” in “short list” when “2014 oscar documentary category” filled in for me. that was exactly what i was looking for. i hadn’t been searching anything related to award shows or documentaries and yet, based on all the data i’ve provided in the past, my search engine guessed what i might be looking for based on 7 letters: short li.

i’m guessing you’ve had this happen as well. when you have, have you stopped to consider how amazing it is? this tiny computer (with massive capabilities) that you carry in your backpack (laptop) or back pocket (phone) knows you. it caters to you. it makes your life easier and assumes that you and your preferences/patterns/choices truly are the center of the universe. this makes these devices far more desirable as companions than real (pesky) people who come complete with their own preferences/patterns/choices/inconsistencies.

more and more it seems to me that we are attaching to our devices with a similar kind of emotion we experience when we attach to people. increasingly unable to be alone with our selves, we use our phones (and/or laptops) to engage us, entertain us, or to connect us to others in a weird sort of “arms length” way. don’t want to commit to a whole coffee date with someone but don’t feel capable of sitting at a table alone looking up and around, we text and facebook our way through our cup of joe. uncomfortable at the thought of standing in line and letting our minds wander we adopt the new national posture, head down, arms bent, hands curled around a small glowing screen displaying never ending images seemingly more engaging than those around us. we have siri type messages and make calls. all the while we teach our devices to know us better and to cater to us more effectively

about a year ago a movie called “robot and frank” was released, telling the story of an aging ex-jewel thief whose children procure a caretaking robot to help him in his declining years. frank develops a deep and complex connection to his robot and faces difficult ethical and relational choices throughout the film. in a few weeks, “her” will be released telling the story of a young man who falls deeply in love with his operating system. both of these films are said to take place in the “not too distant future.” 

the thing is...i feel quite certain that these realities are here now. we have fallen deeply in love with our devices (and, if not “in love,” then most certainly “in dependence upon”). more young adults than i can count have told me that they feel a sexual surge associated with the “powering on” sound of their phone or laptop. not only do these devices deliver the porn that is so often their norm but they also contain the primary place of connection to everyone and every thing they love. equally frequent is the reported surge of anger experienced by the partner of an individual who is addicted to their device, consistently choosing time with their phone or computer to time with their spouse/friend/partner. possibly even more wide spread than these reactions is the simple experience of mild to severe anxiety that many feel when they accidentally leave their device behind for a period of time. (e.g: how will i get directions? how will i let people know where i am? how will i take a picture? know the time? find my way? update my status?)

our devices have become pseudo partners of sorts. years ago we pulled cell phones out of our pockets in order to look important. they made us appear cool and connected and significant. no longer, however, do we pull them out. instead, we carry them constantly as extensions of ourselves, no longer making us look important but, instead, making us feel complete. there’s no need for silence or discomfort or unknown or awkward or human encounter or wandering/wondering. it’s all there for us...all the information, entertainment, distraction, and even people we could ever want in the palms of our hands. we can turn them on or off at will. start 10 texted conversations at once and leave them whenever we want. know when someone has received and read our message so that we can resent them when they don’t respond immediately.  get exact directions to the location we desire without any need to navigate. watch all the youtube clips possible without ever tapping-in to our own creative imagination. immerse ourselves in the environs of endless games (crush candy, fling birds, and all other manner of mindless activities) never knowing what is really going on around us.

it is up to us how connected we are to the devices we carry. we are just as responsible for our relationships with them as we are for the relationships we maintain with entities that have beating hearts and breathing lungs. the former are based solely upon our myopic “button pushing” and the patterns created therein. the latter are less of a sure thing. by engaging these embodied relationships we might, at times, be bored or look awkward or get lost. we might try a restaurant we end up not liking or miss an opportunity to better our score or need to ask the person next to us to teach us something. this might provide for the rich (and often unknown/out of control) opportunity to “learn from” the silence, the spaciousness, the neighbor, the world, and the experiences around us rather than relying on “being learned.” this might matter because, while being learned well makes for an interesting movie, in the long run it just might make for a very unfulfilling (and possibly even un-lived) life.


being a light in the dark

several decembers ago, i was in a season of personal darkness. my sister in law and three nieces had been murdered only months before, i was central to my mother in law’s care, i had a two year old and a 6 month old, and was balancing being a mostly at-home mom with an “on the side” private practice. that same year a new christmas song was released. perfectly winter-quiet and lullaby-like the chorus featured a children’s choir singing three words over and over and over. those three words? all. is. well. 

the song made me sick. all was not well in me or around me and i felt stunningly un-merry. up to that point in my life december had been a highlight of the year. it has been redeemed for me since. that particular year, however, i came to understand how oddly isolated one can feel amidst glowing candles, sparkly lights, bulging mail boxes, and general cultural merriment.

this week i attended an interfaith service hosted by christian and jewish congregations that share a physical building. people of all faith traditions gathered to create a welcoming space for those who needed to express sadness, receive solace, or find hope for consolation. in the email invitation i received the rabbi and pastor stressed light as a symbol that works in most religious traditions and promised that each faith tradition represented would “bring its own form of light to illuminate and warm the gathering.” throughout the course of the hour we sang songs, lit candles, and listened to the wisdom of others through poetry and homilies.

the entire evening was a gift. the gathering was small and participants were offered just the right opportunities for engagement and solitude. i was touched by all that was shared but one analogy stuck with a particular urgency. urgency that prompts me to share it with you.

as the rabbi shared the significance of light in the jewish tradition, she pointed out that when one is standing in the beam of a spotlight he cannot see anything outside of the circle he is in. when you are in the light, it’s hard to imagine that anyone might be in the dark. not necessarily self centered, the person in the spotlight simply can’t see past the light they are bathed in.

many of us see this month as a season of nothing but light. we move merrily from holiday gathering to church to the mall to the tree where we sip cocoa and watch “it’s a wonderful life” and sigh deeply. this is not a bad thing. in fact, it is deeply good to have times and seasons of joy and tradition and nostalgia and warmth and faith and belonging and love and giving and receiving and and and... what is important, however, is to remember that these can serve as spotlights of sorts, capable of blinding us to those among us who hurt or need or who celebrate holy days different from our own. 

as you move into the final days of this year and the first of the next, make sure and step out of the spotlight now and again. gaze out and into the dark, into the unfamiliar and unknown, and look for ways to be the light for those you find there. you don’t need to create a spotlight. in the dark, even a spark can light the way.

need ideas? here are a few suggestions of easy ways to be the light.

consider those in your community who have lost loved ones during the year (including pets) or who have faced particularly difficult challenges. send them a note/email/text to tell them you are aware of the sadness they might be feeling as they face into the holidays.

cut a 3 x 5 card (or any paper) into small business card rectangles and write encouraging phrases on them such as “you are great!” “you matter!” “you made my day.” carry them in your pocket and leave them behind with the restaurant check, at the grocery counter, with your outgoing mail, or with the retail worker who helps you. better yet...send one back to the cook in the kitchen, the dish washer, or hand one to the person cleaning the bathroom at the mall.

get your side walk chalk out from summer storage and head to someone’s house (after dark) that needs encouragement. chalk words and phrases of affirmation on the sidewalk and street in front of their home or around their car.

send an encouraging, empathic, or soothing song to someone who needs comfort. you can do this through itunes by selecting “send as gift.”

carry power bars, hand warmers, or a couple of $5 mc donalds gift cards and give them away to those living in the open on your next trip downtown.

deliver simple treats (store bought cookies work just as well as home made ones) to a few folks working at gas stations, fire/police stations, or hospitals on christmas day.

light a candle and spend a few moments offering a prayer of blessing for those who have no one else to do so for them.

bend down or kneel when you talk with children. get on their level and listen fully to their answers when you ask them questions.

look people in the eye. smile. compliment them. use their name if they’re wearing a name tag. let your interaction with them be the thing that makes their day.


living december with intention

every once in a while i have an idea that works. for me at least. and sometimes for others. recently, i had one about how to order my december. i was preparing an informal talk for a group of women i meet with quarterly and wanted to create a way to think about moving through what is typically a stress and pressure filled month with greater intention and care. a vision came to me of the many pushes and pulls on all of us during this month of preparing, finishing up the year, celebrating, and everything else. i imagined a compass being pulled off true north by magnets stacked high atop each other. while our december true north might actually be simply spending quality time with people we love, cultural, internal, and external “magnets” stack near us and pull us off course. without even thinking about it, we trade the quality time with others (that we claim is most important) for frantic shopping, efforts at creative wrapping, and preparing fancy offerings for potlucks. we forego reading to the kids (or ourselves) in order to get to yet one more cookie exchange. we “have to” make the one old family recipe even though it’s now easily purchasable and no one likes it that much anyway. the cards “must” go out and the lights “need” to go up. 

my question is this: says who?

we are so easily swayed by what we “should” do, what we have done, and what we imagine others “need” us to do. for instance, culture tells me i should love to bake in december and that my home isn’t ready for holiday visitors until cookies and bars fill every container available. frankly, i’m not a sweets person and baking, regardless of the time of year, stresses me out. does this really mean i shouldn’t entertain for the next 3 weeks or, if i do, i should welcome my guests with treats that i resent having “had” to make?

and, so, i offer to you the way i found my true north for this december. it doesn’t take long and requires only paper, a pen, and a sticky note. i encourage you to try it out. there are three weeks of this lovely month left and by determining your true north you will have clarity about where to best spend your time and energy. perhaps you’ll even be able to let the things that don’t make the cut stay undone this year as an experiment in intentional sanity and peace making. for me, making sanity and peace is far more compelling than making cookies.

the exercise:

1 on the left side of the top of your paper write down all the things/happenings/items/events that made december a unique month as you were growing up. this should include positive things and negative things. good and bad. light and dark. think about things like: “my mom spending days in the kitchen and being in a terrible mood.” “us having to keep the house in order in case visitors stopped by.” “twinkly lights and candles.” “hot chocolate.” “christmas music.” “latkes/certain foods.” “feeling disappointed/lonely.” “giving gifts.” “being with family.” “playing in the snow.” “church/synagogue.” really let your mind go back and try to recall what contributed to december being a month unto itself.

2 now go back and write any and all emotions associated with each of these memories. consider feelings like joy, anticipation, sadness, stress, anxiety, pressure, belonging, fear, happiness, exhaustion, etc.

3 on the left side of the bottom of the page list the things/happenings/items/events that have made december what it is for the past several years. again...think broadly and widely. what makes this month what it is?

4 go back to this new list and write the feelings that correspond with each item.

5 look over the list, contemplating all the wonderful, difficult, unresolved, unconsciously driven things/happenings/items/events that make up december. begin considering which are the most important items on this full list. 

6 now begin to discern which five of these items you would keep if you were only able to keep five. ask yourself questions like, “is the feeling that corresponds with this action worth my keeping it?” “do i do this because of assumptions i make about others or about my past?” “is this really important to me or do i do it automatically without much investment or reward and then feel resentful/tired/frustrated after doing it?” cross off all but five of the items.

7 circle the remaining items with intention.

8 transfer the list of five onto the sitcky note and consider it your new compass. use this list to discern what is truly important for you in the coming days. weigh options against this list. carry it with you. leave it out. spill mulled wine on it and use it as a spatula rest. let it mark your book or stick it to your dashboard. let your choices (rather than internal or external random pressures) guide you.

9 ask those who you share time and space with to do the same and see where your compass’ align and differ. consider how you might be able to help others have the experiences they’d like without it pulling you too far off center and ask them for similar support and help.

a few final thoughts:  there are no “right” lists. there are only honest lists. when i did this experiment i found that, for me, giving gifts was a huge part of my excitement in this season. i found that i was willing to take some things that i had previously thought very important off my list in order to keep gift giving. many in the group i shared this experiment with sat in direct opposition to that, saying that gift giving was one of the first things they let go. one person found that she couldn't let "sending holiday cards" go and yet the only feelings associated with getting them in the mail were "overwhelm" and "complete stress." her mind was open to giving this up to make space for something associated with more positive feelings when she realized she could send cards to friends at less full times of the year. when my daughter did the experiment, wearing wool socks and sitting and reading our many children’s christmas books by the fire was on her list. she was surprised that the children's books were on my final list as well. we decided that this was much more important to us than having every decoration we own out and that we’d also be more relaxed about sitting and reading if we knew there was less to pack back away in january. so, for the first time ever, i pared way back in the number of christmas boxes i unpacked but every single kids christmas book we have is piled next to the fire place.

i encourage you to slow down. to breathe deeply. to remember there’s always next year (and 11 other months between now and then). that cards can be sent any time of year. that peanut butter and jelly is a fine contribution to a potluck. i encourage you to listen to your body/mind/heart and to move forth in what remains of this month with freedom and love and grace...heading to a true north that you choose rather than by one that chooses you.


hands free friday (what in the world it is and how to participate)

i’ve always wanted to start a movement. or at least start a motion that starts a movement. not because i want to be behind something but because i think that movement making is important. staying still for too long leads to atrophy and a host of other unintended consequences. constant movement has opposing (and strikingly similar) extreme results. movements as social constructs, however, cause us to become aware of stuck spaces, groupthink, and habits. when someone who is part of a group that is sharing space moves, the shape of the people around her must adjust. when several people shift, more of the group must accommodate the change. the best communities encourage their members to move about and to be shaped by the healthy movement of others.

herein lies the hope behind hands free friday. 

the goal is to start a movement toward awareness of how often our hands are tied up with phones, ipads, computers, video game controllers, and any other number of devices.

to participate YOU DO NOT NEED TO GO ALL DAY FRIDAY TECH FREE. the goal is to choose a simple act that you might do each friday that requires you to put your phone down for a while. i began with cartwheels and started searching for increasingly silly places to do them each week. i had others chronicle them with photographs on their phones. then i branched out into turning my phone off for 10 to 15 minutes every friday. literally powering it off. it was amazing how bizarre that action felt even to me. from there i began to leave my phone at home or in the car for certain friday outings. i paid better attention at museums when i wasn’t trying to take notes on my phone about the artists. i listened to nature differently when i didn’t have earbuds in. i saw the city (or the country, or my friends, or...) when i wasn’t busy instagramming my every experience. there were no dire consequences when texts went unanswered for a period of time.

hands free friday is not about deprivation as much as it is about experimentation. it’s not about cutting out technology cold turkey as much as it is about becoming aware of just how much an extension of yourself your device has become. it’s about embracing a new moderateness that frees you to experience an embodied life. it’s about doing this in a way that is public, for others to see, so that you can invite them to “move” along with you. 

join me, won’t you? whether for 10 minutes or 2 hours, putting your phone/ipad/video game controller down to feel something else, to do a puzzle, to write a poem/song/letter, to make something, to free your hands up...for friday, for yourself, for your community, and beyond.