how (not) to spend a painful day

mother’s day. here we are again. rarely do days, in and of themselves, carry with them the ability to disappoint, pick at sore spots, and lay folks low as this one. perhaps your mother has caused pain or has left you prematurely, died long before she should have or by means too painful to mention. perhaps the mothers in your life wish for more recognition than feels possible or you feel inadequate to honor them appropriately. perhaps, as a mother, you secretly long for some certain kind of day and feel powerless to receive (or ask for) it. or maybe things are much more complex. perhaps you’ve lost a child, never gotten to love the child you wished for, or more. perhaps the whole day just makes you angry or sad or lonely or confusingly cranky.

it’s o.k. i get it. and so do others. they just might not know how to communicate that they do or how to get the message out to others.

on days like this there are easy things to do and there are more difficult ones. the easy things often feel like sitting and licking ones wounds. this can be important, for a season. at some point, however, this only makes the wounds larger and harder to treat. at that juncture the worst thing to do is to keep licking.

today, if you hurt, might you try a new way? not to encourage denial or to discount your pain but, rather, to nurture, to “mother” (to give the word it’s truest honor as a word that, i believe, is intended to be associated with all things loving, deeply accepting, comforting, and soothing), to care for your self. in case you need a few helpful ideas of how to apply this maternal salve and move through the day with less reactivity and discomfort, here are my best tips for “parenting your self” to a better way through a painful day.

1 acknowledge what hurts. ask a friend if you can talk for ten minutes, unleashing everything painful and negative around “mother” or “parent” without them judging or responding. if you prefer, do a brain dump and write it all out for ten straight minutes. (this might also look like you releasing the resentment or hurt of not being recognized as you wish you were. this is the other primary cause of pain today.) at the end of the ten minutes of writing or talking, imagine all the pain and difficulty outside of yourself. the words and the emotions are all released. see them there and simply let them be. there’s nothing to be done about them right now other than to let them be heard or seen and then left. focus on a sense of relief in having them expressed and determine to live as many minutes or hours as you can with the weight of them outside of you. decide this. firmly. leave them there. 

2 from the place of freedom that clearing out clutter (even if only for a short period of time...because if the clutter is intense it’s not realistic to imagine that this freedom will last forever) look up and around. what new possibility might exist for you in the next bit of time that didn’t exist when you felt weighted down and focused upon your pain, disappointment, loss, or more? getting it outside of you for a bit might allow you to see the world or other people with less “biased” glasses.

3 ask yourself what might be light hearted or meaningful to engage in from this freer place. does a nap sound good/possible? would a walk feed your soul? would reaching out to someone (for them, not you) allow your pain to recede even further (this won’t be applicable to those of you who tend to meet your own needs by making yourselves indespensable to others)? could you leave a hand picked bouquet on someone’s door step, deliver coffee to a friend who is working, hand a power bar to someone who needs one on the street, write a letter to an old friend or to the self that will one day pick those pains and hurts back up? movie theaters, favorite restaurants, parks, and music venues are all great places to take your self (even alone...sometimes especially alone). doodling, listening to your favorite music while lying between the speakers, baking your favorite treat for yourself, applying lotion...all these and more are ways of caring for yourself like the ideal mother would.

4 follow through. don’t lose this opportunity to “mother/parent” your most needful and honest self. the worst thing to do is to sit in the pain, to hang out where it hurts, until pity sets in and robs you of opportunity. yes, denial is unhealthy. repression doesn’t help. “mothering,” in it’s truest form, however, is neither of these and is most potent when applied to a hurting other. sometimes that “other” is our self.

the “easiest” thing is often the most problematic for your health and healing in the long run. trust that release is o.k. (even if only to the paper in front of you). look up and around, get creative and get moving. let the “mother” that is you love you well and imperfectly. in doing so it just might pour out to others as well. as a mother’s love ideally does...


bite & peck

it’s early may, the year before an election, and it’s happening: candidates are announcing their bids for the upcoming presidential election. as i drove to dance class this morning i listened to reports about the newest entries in the race and learned where they are campaigning. “here we go.” i thought to myself, rolled my eyes, and hopped out of the car. returning an hour later, having danced and sweated my dread away, a wholly different news story drew me in. this one included an interview with caroll spinney, the muppeteer who voice/empower big bird and oscar the grouch on sesame street. i’ve been looking forward to the movie about his work (and life) so was caught up immediately. caroll, speaking as big bird, was asked to name a few character traits that have contributed to his long standing success. without missing a beat he said, “i am friendly. i don’t bite or peck.” 

“a commitment to that one trait,” i thought, “could change the entire election season completely.”

sometimes i wonder if people can rise to positions of leadership anymore without biting and pecking.  i also think a lot about how much of our communication is shallowly undergirded by these two tendencies. especially the communication that happens online, in socially networked spaces, or exclusively via texted words and especially about things we feel strongly about...like political campaigns.

we, in the west, are a culture that thrives on pointing out the flaws of “the other side.” we promote our own best traits and expose our opponents worst ones. we tend toward selective attention and gather data that supports our assumptions then we use what we collect to bite and peck at the positions, ideas, convictions of those who disagree with us.

what if we were to choose a different way? what if we, like big bird, lived in such a way as to promote friendly interchange? what if we stopped biting and pecking and began inviting? inviting need not threaten us or imply a weakened stance. inviting is not necessarily agreeing. it is not, really, supporting. it is simply creating space for

when we create space for we are essentially saying, “i am grounded in my own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions so i need not be threatened by yours.” we send the message, “we can disagree and still be kind.” “we can be on opposite sides and treat each other with respect and dignity.” perhaps it even says, “my own ideas, convictions, and values are well examined and can stand to be challenged without me needing to take a defensive stand. if we can maintain a friendly interchange perhaps we’ll both emerge being able to say we respected our selves and each other and, by doing so, we have grown.”

with our constant access to news and information and venues to promote and share the same, the months ahead will be rife with opportunities for us to pick sides. we will be prodded and stirred. ridiculous amounts of money will be spent to get our attention and to enlist us in the process of “spreading the word” about this and that candidate and this and that issue. why not choose friendliness as the guide by which we receive and share this data? why not resist the tendency to bite and peck, choosing instead to listen and respond, invite and engage, and respect our neighbors with wild abandon?