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Author: Jessica Ruprecht

First you have to be willing

The last time I wrote anything for this space, I wrote to you about kindness. I wrote about falling apart and asking, “What’s the kindest thing I could do for myself right now?”. I wrote about starting there, about doing that.

Here’s the thing that happens when you start asking yourself this question: you get some unexpected answers. In the month since my last blog post I’ve learned a lot about what kindness is (and about what kindness isn’t).

Pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think about kindness?

I think of some kind of warm, gentle, mother-figure come to swoop me up and hug my hurts away. I think of generosity and tenderness and baths and soft blankets and space to call my own.

And, hey, sometimes a bath really is the kindest thing you could do for yourself right now.

But most of the time kindness is less obvious. Kindness might also be hard, overwhelming, or scary.

Because it turns out sometimes kindness looks like this:

  • Not procrastinating something stressful because it would be kinder to get it over with.
  • Speaking up for yourself and having a difficult conversation because it would be kinder than letting your emotions fester.
  • Cancelling on a friend if it would be kinder to risk disappointing them than it would be to make yourself go.
  • Taking a crazy risk because it would be kinder to risk failure than to live with the regret of never daring to find out.
  • Saying no to someone who wants your help because you can’t help them and take care of yourself at the same time.

Sometimes kindness asks really difficult things of us.

As I navigate this exploration of kindness, the metaphor I keep coming back to is about baby birds. There comes a day when a baby bird has to leave the nest and fly if it wants to survive. There will come a day when the kindest thing is to try and fly, no matter how unsure that bird might be. (And if you think baby birds swoop gracefully out of the nest on their first try, I’m afraid that’s not how it works!)

Sometimes this will end disastrously. Sometimes it will end wonderfully. Either way, trying was still the kindest thing to do.

Sometimes the hard things kindness asks of us turn out much better than we’d feared. Sometimes the hard conversation goes more smoothly than we’d imagined. Sometimes our friends understand when we cancel on them. Sometimes the person we said no to is really nice about it.

And sometimes this doesn’t happen.

When things go as badly as we’d feared, it doesn’t make them less kind.

Which is why kindness is key, but I think there’s a second piece to it that’s equally important and that piece is willingness.

You have to be willing to have the hard conversation.
You have to be willing to feel like a disappointment.
You have to be willing to have it all turn out exactly as you’d feared.

You have to be willing to have the whole experience — glee and fear and sadness and frustration and everything in between.

You have to be able meet that experience with kindness and compassion.

Being kind to yourself isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s hard and scary and asks you to be braver than you’ve ever been.

And that means that if you want to be kind to yourself you have to be willing to be kind with yourself, too.

You can learn to extend kindness even to the parts of you that are angry or scared or uncomfortable, the parts of you that maybe you wish would go away. You can to learn how to be okay even when you’re uncomfortable. You can learn how to witness your discomfort, to sit with it, and to hold gentle, compassionate space for yourself in the midst of your discomfort. You can to learn to have patience with yourself when you notice how unwilling and uncomfortable you are.

If you’re like me, this won’t come naturally.

If you’re like me then there’s a part of you that is scared and small and hurting and it staggers about in you like a two-year-old having a tantrum when you ask it to stay present with any kind of discomfort. (You get to learn to be kind to this part, too.)

So if you’ve been struggling to be kind with yourself in the face of life’s upsets and disappointments, then here’s something to try.

I’ve been reading True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Brach, which I’m finding to be one of the more helpful books I’ve read in awhile. In it she writes:

“Many students I work with support their resolve to “let be” by mentally whispering an encouraging word or phrase. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and whisper “yes,” or experience the swelling of deep grief and whisper “yes.” You might use the words “this too” or “I consent.” At first you might feel you’re just putting up with unpleasant emotions or sensations. Or you might say yes to shame and hope that it will magically disappear. In reality, we have to consent again and again. Yet even the first gesture of allowing, simply whispering a phrase like “yes” or “I consent,” begins to soften the harsh edges of your pain. Your entire being is not so rallied in resistance. Offer the phrase gently and patiently, and in time your defenses will relax, and you may feel a physical sense of yielding or opening to waves of experience.”

Brach, Tara (2013-01-22). True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart (p. 63). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“I consent” is something I’ve been playing with, and it’s one of the most powerful tools I’ve found.

When I feel scared or overwhelmed or angry or hurt, “I consent” is a gentle reminder that I’m choosing this, that I’m willing to have this experience — no matter how difficult. “I consent” is a reminder that I want even this — because I know it to be the kindest thing I could do for myself right now.

“I consent” allows me to find the willingness I need to keep going, to keep choosing and trying and failing and falling.

“I consent” helps me to feel my hurts and my fears and my shame and to be kind with myself through the whole of it.

“I consent” reminds me that it is enough to show up and allow the truth of what is here and now, to greet myself in this moment with all the kindness and compassion I can muster.

Because life is hard and messy and beautiful and brilliant and there is no part of it that is not ours to experience — and the miracle of it is that even the hard and messy bits take on an air of grace when we learn to open our hearts and stay present with the truth of what we’re feeling in each moment.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE:

If you are dealing with unresolved trauma, then this may be too much for you right now. When we are coping with trauma our emotions and the physical sensations in our bodies can be so overwhelming that making contact with them might feel profoundly unsafe. It is important to realize that this is totally okay. It just means that you may need to relearn how to feel safe with yourself before you are ready to practice anything else.

It is also important to realize that you may be dealing with trauma even if nothing really “bad” has happened to you. I believe that a lot of my trauma stems from experiences of physical pain that I have no control over. My pain isn’t anyone’s fault — no one beat or abused me — but physical pain in many forms has been a part of my life since I was very young, and I’ve been living with chronic back pain and headaches for roughly five years now. The near-constant presence of physical pain eventually left me feeling unsafe in my own body. This is still trauma even though nothing that happened to me was particularly “traumatic”.

If you are struggling with trauma it’s important to realize that you may not be able to move past the trauma without help. Being traumatized separates us from our innate sense of safety and it may be difficult to find our way back without someone to guide us. When we don’t feel safe in our bodies and able to stay present with ourselves even in calm moments, trying to stay present with uncomfortable physical sensations or emotions may do more harm than good.

Please don’t do this to yourself.

If trying to stay present with uncomfortable sensations or emotions is overwhelming, then go back to the beginning and ask “what is the kindest thing I could do for myself right now?”. If the kindest thing you could do would be to stop pressuring yourself into doing something that scares you, please start there.

If you think you might be struggling with trauma and want to know more, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to talk with you about what kinds of resources are available and help you figure out how you can move forward.

Much love,
Jessica

 

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

October 2014 Book Reviews

October: when the trees are still lovely and the weather is not so cold.

Welcome to (almost!) November… the greyest and gloomiest month of Autumn. The month when all the leaves have lost the will to cling those self-same tree branches from which they so recently sprung. The month when the leaves clump in damp drifts beneath the boots of countlessly many pedestrians, no longer crisp and crunching but damp and slick and putrid. The month when— but I digress! It’s time for my monthly round up of October’s reading list!

On the reading front this month I’ve clearly returned to a non-fiction spree after my rather lengthy bout with fiction. The page count for this month comes to 1369. (Yay for multiples of 3?)

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

Cooked by Michael Pollan

Confession: I’d actually been reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation for several months (since July or August!), and while such a long reading time would seem like a bad sign for a book, the real reason it took me so long to finish is that I couldn’t get it from the library on Kindle…. This means I had to read it on my computer and as someone who already feels like most of my life is spent on a computer, it was hard to muster enthusiasm for any prolonged reading (which means I mostly read this book breakfast). So really it’s a sign of merit that I bothered to persevere all the way to the end of this one.

Which is why I’m here to tell you that you need to read Cooked if you have any interest at all in food and cooking. I’m an unabashed fan of Michael Pollan’s work generally, but independent of your feelings on his food politics, this book is a fascinating read. Couched in the guise of the four elemental transformations (fire, water, air, and earth) Pollan explores the natural history of cooking reaching back to the earliest memory of ancient civilization and exploring how and why we cook the foods we do. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it!

 

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Up next on my reading list for the month was Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which makes an fantastic follow up to Michael Pollan’s Cooked (I was clearly on a roll with the cooking theme…). Whereas Cooked presented a history of cooking from the perspective of the natural sciences and transformations, Consider the Fork takes a look at the history of cooking from the perspective of technological innovation. Both are equally fascinating; however, Bee Wilson’s book is a much lighter and easier read than Pollan’s most recent tome. Covering changes in kitchen technology from the clay pot to the sous vide machine, Consider the Fork is a quick and entertaining read for any culinary enthusiast.

 

Finding Your Way in a Wild New World by Martha Beck

Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want is Martha Beck’s most recent contribution to the sea of self-help and life-coaching books on shelves these days. In it, Beck teaches what she terms the four “technologies of magic”, Wordlessness, Oneness, Imagination, and Forming (and yes, it’s about as out there as it sounds…). But if you’re willing to look a little beyond the surface layer of “this sounds crazy!”, there’s a lot about this book that rings deeply and profoundly true. (My only real quibble is with her mystical appropriation of quantum physics in an attempt to lend credence to her beliefs in magic and miracles… As a scientist trained in these things (at least more-so than Beck) I found my skepticism hard to stomach.)

If you’ve been keeping up with me for the last couple of years you’ll know I’ve been doing some pretty serious soul-searching with regard to what I want to do with my life. And if starting this blog felt like taking the first step in the right direction, then reading Finding Your Way in a Wild New World has undoubtedly been another.

If you’re fed up with feeling trapped in a situation that sucks but don’t quite know if you’re brave enough to break free, if you’ve found yourself feeling a little lost, a little lonely, and not quite sure where you’re supposed to be heading, then I highly recommend you give Finding Your Way in a Wild New World a try!

 

The Unconquered by Scott Wallace

Last on my list for October is just about the nearest one can get to a modern day adventure story. The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes is the story of an expedition of men and indigenous tribesmen led by Brazilian official and activist Sydney Possuelo. The tale is narrated by Scott Wallace, a journalist with National Geographic who accompanied the expedition. The book narrates the trials and tribulations encountered by the explorers as they search for evidence of the well-being of the uncontacted tribe of flecheiros or “Arrow People” with the goal of leaving the tribesmen uncontacted and undisturbed.

One part adventure story, one part political treatise, and one part history of indigenous relations in the Amazon jungle, The Unconquered is a surprisingly compelling read that I’m glad I stumbled upon. My only tentative complaint is with Wallace’s apparent adoration for unnecessarily abstruse verbiage… 😉

 

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you’re reading in the comments below.

 

Tired of waiting for my monthly wrap-ups? I talk about what I’m reading each week in my email newsletter.

Why I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year

Just in the nick of time I’ve decided: I’m officially not participating in NaNoWriMo this year (that’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated, and it happens each November).

And it’s not because I don’t love NaNoWriMo, I do.

But the thing is that while I love the idea of NaNoWriMo, the reality of it is that I’ve participated the last two years and I’ve never finished a novel.

I’ve never “won” NaNoWriMo.

And I can tell you right now that I wouldn’t win this year either.

And that’s the thing I don’t like about NaNoWriMo. It’s a no-holds-barred, no-excuses-allowed race for the goal of 50,000 words in less than 30 days but I know right now that for me such a race is unsustainable.

And in part that’s because I’m too busy and not willing to make the sacrifices that would be necessary (getting over my distaste for writing on the bus, giving up on sleep and my already-meager social life).

But here’s the deal: I’ve been there and done that.

If you’re familiar with my story, you know that I went to some university or other and obtained a pair of advanced degrees in just a handful of years.

So no, I’ve never written a novel. But I’ve done the sleepless nights and the coffee-until-you-think-you-might-be-sick. And I’ve done the bit where you hang out with groups of people working frantically to achieve the “win” before the deadline.

I’ve been there and done that and I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to do that again.

(But if I ever am, you can bet I’ll be taking another crack at NaNoWriMo!)

What’s dangerous about NaNoWriMo is that it invites burnout.

There was a lovely post recently over at Writerly Life about “carrying the fire” of your writing. And I think this is a lovely metaphor, because the most important thing to do if you’re carrying the fire is to keep it burning.

You must not let it burn out.

On that same post I left a comment in which I wrote (paraphrasing a bit here):

My time spent at university… left me in a place where I was emotionally and physically exhausted and totally disconnected from my creativity. I found it was easy to make the mistake of diving back in too fast and all at once, and I learned that I burned out easily if I pushed too hard, and that the price was usually months of paralyzing writers’ block and creative stagnation; however, now I feel like I’m finally approaching something that works sustainably. Am I writing daily? No, not usually. Am I writing as much as I wish I could? No, not that either.

But I am writing. Each week I find the time to write, and maybe it’s just a page or two, but to me it feels a lot like victory.

I think that, at least for now, the trick to carrying my fire is not to fan the blaze to the point of burnout, but instead to make peace with being the bearer a smaller, more sustainable flame.

And that is, in a nutshell, why I’ve decided not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.

(And yes, I still fully intend to write a novel some day!)

I’d love to hear from you! Are you planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below.

Girl, age 11

When she’s 11 she climbs trees and splashes in mud puddles and runs races in the pouring rain. When she’s 11 she thieves apples from the neighbor’s tree and puts earthworms in the neighbor boy’s hair and she laughs because nothing has ever felt so free.

When she’s 11 she builds forts. She topples couches and ransacks closets for sheets and blankets and sleeping bags. And then she fills the living room with imagination until it becomes a jungle that can only be crossed if she slithers through on her belly like a snake.

When she’s 11 she lives each moment fully and she looks forward toward the adventures she is sure will be waiting for her at ages 12 and 13.

And at age 11 she can’t imagine beyond that because then there is high school and surely that is so. far. away.

But at age 11 the future looms vast and oh so bright that sometimes it hurts her eyes, but even that is exciting.

At age 11 she falls from a tree and it hurts and she falls from the monkey bars and that hurts too. But at age 11 she doesn’t let these things stop her because at age 11 she still remembers that not-so-long ago she learned how to walk and she still remembers what it was to fall down and get up and fall down again.

At age 11 she isn’t afraid of falling and she still dreams of flying and sometimes when she wakes up in the night she jumps from her bed because she’s still half-convinced that if she could just jump high enough she might discover her wings.

And at age 11 maybe she’s just starting to doubt because she’s done a lot of jumping and climbing and falling and maybe she’s struggling just a little to hold onto that hope.

But at age 11 she’s still trying, just in case maybe this time is the first time she’s right.

 

Author’s note: If you’d like to hear this piece in my own voice, check out the video below!

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you think of this poem in the comments below! (And if you liked it, please share!)

A letter to my teenage self

The thing I wish I had known when I was a teen…

Is that the world is both so much bigger and so much smaller than you think it is because I know that it feels like you are smaller than an ant and larger than the blue whale and what I want to tell you is that both of these things are true and that it is possible to still be beautiful even when you don’t feel that way because I know you and I know you’re feeling like you don’t quite know where to put your feet or how to move your lips to make people like you.

And what I want to tell you is to be brave and to worry less about what those other people think because the truth is that not everybody is going to like you. And you’ve got to learn to be ok with that.

And I want to tell you to stop and turn back and don’t go this way because this way lies madness and I found madness but I can’t tell you to stop because you’re no longer you, you’re me.

And what I’ve learned from you, and maybe what you’ll learn from me, is that we’re in this thing together…

 

And that together we’re going to do just fine.

 

Author’s note: You can hear me read this piece aloud in the video below!

 

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you think in the comments below.