Category Archives: Grace

Super Fast: Projection is Like Barfing

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My youngest son came to me this morning, complaining about a disagreement he had with his older brother. He was upset about it because the things his older brother said to him about him were mean and hurtful.

It bothered me also to hear that one son could be like that toward another son, but I also know that in my household that my boys hold this mentality about their siblings, regardless of birth order or pecking order: “No one kicks my brother but me.” I smile at that sentiment a little because it’s funny and it’s true.

Nevertheless, my youngest was injured emotionally and I have to agree that the things his brother said were ugly.

So I set my youngest down and talked to him about projection.

“I have said some really unkind things about other people. I have believed them. I have even said those things to the people. Sometimes, I’ve hid behind a symbol or an event to say those things and yet try to blame it on the context, the ‘where I was’ or the ‘what I was doing’ or my state of mind. Like if I had a headache or was busy, but the reality is that I was like a stereo speaker, or a movie projector of that thought, image, opinion, sentiment or belief that I HAD ABOUT MYSELF that I hurled on to that other person, my target.” I said to my youngest, who was doing his best to pay attention. It was a lot of words.

He rubbed his eyes and sighed.

“Because I felt that way about myself first.” I added.

Then it started to make sense.

“You know when I say, ‘you can’t give what you don’t have?'” I asked.

He nodded.

“It’s the same with projection. If you don’t have love or kindness, then you can’t project, like a speaker projects sound, that love or kindness.”

I started to lose him again.

“How’s this? When you feel good about yourself or what you’re experiencing, you share nice thoughts. You share thoughts or behaviors that are like copies, or the song in the speaker with a person…”

He brightened.

“So, when you feel bad about yourself or what you’re experiencing, you share not-nice thoughts. You share the copies of your bad feelings in the form of bad behaviors or a bad song coming out of the speakers, or bad pictures coming out of the movie projector. It’s like you blame your bad behavior on that person when you’re the one with the bad mood… the bad feelings are inside to begin with…”

He nodded and stared a little blankly and said, “So when you’re tired and you say mean things or are super fast and not nice about things, it’s not at me, even though it feels like it, but it’s because you don’t feel nice inside?”

“YES!” I shouted and surprised him. “Yes. Let’s stay on the idea that it’s me, because sometimes it is. It’s because I don’t feel nice inside. Sometimes you can be with me and I’m tired, or stressed, or sick, or that I feel really angry about something else … What I sometimes don’t do, when I project, is separate my feelings inside — whatever they are — from the person I project onto, in this example, you.”

“So projecting is like vomiting. That’s where ‘projectile vomiting’ comes from?”

“Yes. Projecting is like vomiting. Great analogy. It’s like the feelings are so bad inside that person, your brother in this case, that he vomited his emotions all over you.”

“Yup. It is. So … then what?”

I liked where this was going.

“Well, if you’re a target of projection, like if you were barfed on, you can stay there and get stinky, cold and crusty and feel bad, probably worse that the person who barfed on you, because …”

“Because when you barf, you always feel better…” he said. “But it can get other people sick, because it’s contagious… and I usually feel really empty inside after I barf, like I hurt in a different way…”

My son’s a genius.

“Right! You likely feel worse than the barfer, and are stinky. You can stay there and be angry at the person who barfed on you, and like you said, spread the barf and be mean to another person, or… you can get up and change your clothes and feel a bit sorry for the person who’s feeling so bad, they had to project their bad feelings on to you. Or you don’t have to feel sorry. And that new pain? That’s because after barfing, or projecting, that person is still sick or weak. The “yuck” is still there. But, if you feel sorry for them, chances are you might end up feeling bad with them, which is their point usually. It’s like they feel so ugly, they want you to feel ugly too, so they’re not alone…”

I started to lose him again.

“But they don’t want you around … why would they want you around? You said ‘so they’re not alone?‘ So when my brother does this to me again, I can get up and walk away…”

“That ‘so they’re not alone’ is a figure of speech and it’s confusing. Yes. You can get up and walk away. But will you? Sometimes people want to get back and do something nasty to the person who made them feel bad. That’s a natural feeling, revenge, and it reminds me of the different pain we have after we barf, but … one of the things I like to say to myself, when I’m feeling very vengeful, is that I’m lucky I’m not her… the person who barfed on me…”

And that’s the truth.

He didn’t answer me, about whether he’d get back at his brother, or take the high road. He’s eleven. I don’t have huge aspirations for him in that vein, but I hope to plant a seed.

Eleven?! It can be hard to practice this level of self-awareness at 47!

So much of our pain and its projections comes from a place very deep inside, very old, very real so much so that one confrontation with Truth (a rejection, a situation where you perceive a comment as a threat because maybe it’s close to Truth…?) can feel like an actual threat; as though everything is riding on our survival (read: fight to the death) of that moment.

Viktor Frankl said,

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Man’s Search for Meaning

I like to call that space, a breath. A breath that slows things down and lets us come to a place of calm and acceptance that things ARE NOT life and death. Rather that breath can mean the difference between having a life and living a life.

I’ve used my blog as a platform to have my say about things that bug me, and I will absolutely submit that I’ve projected my pain on it. It’s my catharsis. In those instances, my use of my blog is emblematic of the fact that I feel I’ve run into a brick wall, that I’m just at a point where I feel as though my message has run into a cognitive dissonance machine and that I need to process it. The funny part (to me) is that there is SO MUCH I don’t share here. However, I will also submit that I can meditate more on the point of my blog, that it needn’t be a platform because I feel unheard or worse, voiceless. If people think what I write is about them, or they don’t like what I’ve shared, that’s … well, their ego; it’s tickled a notion in them and…that’s not my problem. My dad has a saying, “If people react to what you’ve said, that means you got to them. Either way, it’s about them.” My distant relative, a priest, had a saying for that, “You’re not mad at what you’re mad at.” 

So my son turned to me and he said, “You’re a great mom. I think I get it. It’s like now, I feel good inside for talking about this and I want to share it with you. Will you be my date to Starbucks today? I would like to buy you a coffee and a scone with my birthday money.”

How to refuse that?!

So we went. Here’s our “us-ie” from the date:

one of the best dates i've ever had.

one of the best dates i’ve ever had. we talked about minecraft and Christmas and legos and Little Big Planet and sugar cookies.

So try to not see your moments of hurt and frustrations as things or places where you have no choice but to fire an invective at someone OR a thing where you have to wear the stinky wet barfy clothes.

Try to see them as lessons, teachers, messengers from your deeper, inner self to address a feeling of __________ from long ago. And then, try to “listen” to it; try to hear its lesson. Try to be OK with it. Feelings are just sensations. There is no threat.

Thank you.

Grief: One Breath at a Time

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Today in yoga, when I got to have svasana, I meditated on compassion and the only word that came to me in response was “unfolding.”

Being on the web, with a blog, assures a certain vulnerability. My words are here for anyone to denigrate and yet I find myself buoyed by the kindnesses and trust of strangers.

Christmas is in a week and I miss the idea of wondering what my mother would give me as a gift. Would it be something I’d want? Would it be something she liked and she gave to me? Would it be something she’d give to everyone else or my sisters-in-law too?

I sit here, just a bit more than a year after her death and I feel emotions ranging from pure confusion about death to sadness that people, all of us, die; from deep guilt that I wasn’t a better daughter, to pure anger that she wasn’t a better mother; from a proud awareness that we are each others’ teachers to a sheepish allowance that we are each others’ pupils.

The human ego is such an odd, strange thing. It’s there to protect us from emotional harm, but for me, in the end all it does is delay the eventual pain when it protects too much. It elevates us, falsely, above and beyond our threshold of “value” so that we are uneven with that which hurts us. When we come down, to the reality that we are all connected, that we all breathe the same way, that we all eat with a mouth and chew with our teeth and fart and cry and poop and sneeze … it can be a lot to bear.

Yeah.

It’s a cold reality sometimes.

When I was a child, I held my parents to a godlike status. As I’ve aged, they did / are too and I see their humanity. I use the present tense with Mom, even today, because my perception of her humanity is ever emerging even though she has moved on.

I shared a dream, the only one, I had of Mom after she died with my father yesterday and it made me weep to share it. Not because she’s dead, but because it’s really a gorgeous message.

She was on a shoreline on a familiar Canadian beach on Lake Erie where we swam often. Her sylvan hair was in a chin-length bob. She was wearing a navy blue knit cashmere suit, her red cashmere sweater, a cashmere black, white, red and navy plaid scarf and these little blue leather loafers she loved but I hated for the same reason: because they were so shapeless. She was in her healthy early 70s. She was about one hundred feet from me, walking along the shore, just at the point where a receding wave leaves the sand still slick and wet and shiny. She stopped and looked over some tiny spiral shells on the shore. Her hands were clasped behind her back and her hair would sweep down over her face, I couldn’t see it perfectly, but it was her. The lake’s tiny waves were lapping at her shoes. She didn’t care. She bent over and inspected closer. Her fingers were glancing along the sand, turning over a little shell here, or a rounded, ancient pebble there. The sun had set behind me, behind the trees bunkering the white tent where a festive party was going on behind me, and I called out to her, “Mom! Mom! C’mon! You’re missing the party!” and she turned to me, and she said nothing. Her hair was clear off her face now. Stars were starting to show in the periwinkle sky. She beamed at me, this gorgeous wide smile she had. Her lips were red with our favorite lipstick she bought because I loved it so much. She swept up her arms as the wind swept up her scarf and her hair around her cheeks and she turned to the water. Her face looked up to the heavens and she looked back at me and shook her head “no” and instead lovingly and theatrically gesturing at all the glory of things I’d never understand in this lifetime as if to say, “No. You’re missing the party.”

I turned back to the party, to reference it, to say, “NO! It’s happening here! Mom!” and I turned back to her, and she was gone.

This is the Mom I never allowed. The one who bucked the system yet wore cashmere anyway. The one who I wanted fiercely to somehow morph into a rule-follower. The one who I wanted to tell me when to be home and to punish me when I wasn’t. The one who I needed to help me with my homework when I lied and said there wasn’t any. That one wasn’t there.

It’s hard to have so many conflicting emotions about the woman who brought me into this world. I loved her the only way I could, the way she let me. She used to say to me, “Maaaally, you’re conflicted. You’re ambivalent. You can’t ‘hate‘ me without loving me first.”

I hated it when she said that.

Snort.

Because even though I used to tell her she was full of crap, she was so right. I loved her like … a child loves its mother; with a fierce, fearful, perfect and abiding love. She could do no wrong when I was young. It wasn’t until I was much older, that I saw her humanity … and I hated it. It broke me apart; her fragility broke me apart. She lived on a different plane; where there were no rules and that all of them could be broken. I was brought here to learn that.

I was going to make it with or without her; I laugh at that now. She was instrumental in hardening me for this world I inhabit now. So at this moment, while I miss her, and I miss the idea of wondering whether I would feel rejected or loved by the Christmas gift she would give me, I realize that the gift she gave me, all along, is life. With all its ups and downs, my mom gave me life.

If your mom is around in your life still, and you are in communication with her, tell her thanks from me for giving us you. And if you’re not in communication with her, well … say something nice about yourself because she helped make you.

We do not live one day at a time; we live one breath at a time. This is the ‘unfolding.’ This is the message from svasana. When we are still, things change.

Thank you.

So Grateful. This post writes itself.

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Not an hour ago I received an email from our secondary school principal. The subject line was “homework over break” and I swallowed hard in apprehension that we were about to get the shot across the bow announcing a big press on the kids to get their projects started and completed over break. In the insanely high-pressure DC suburbs, it would not be unheard of.

Much to my astonishment, I read on:

Dear Parents and Guardians-

I am sending you a copy of an email I have sent to all of the Robinson Staff regarding homework and assignments over breaks.  All of us need breaks in our life and we want to honor this going forward from today.  I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.

As we reach the first quarter mark of the year and as Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I would like to share some guidelines for assignments over breaks.  There is no doubt that many of you feel pressure to maintain the momentum of your curriculum by assigning homework, projects, papers, reading, and/or studying over breaks.  The pressure that you feel, often driven by standardized tests and pacing guides, translates likewise into student stress.  This stress compounds as families compete for meaningful time with their children over the holidays.  Subsequently, many students return to school after “break” with as much or more stress as when they left.

     Children and adults (You) need breaks from the many demands of school life.  Going forward, I ask that you be mindful of student stress when determining due dates for student work.  Here are a few guidelines:

•  Students should not be required to complete work over school breaks.  

•  Be reasonable with due dates.  Provide enough time for students to complete their work within the normal school calendar without the need to work over school breaks.  Though you may have a long-term assignment that spans over a school break, no work should be due immediately after a break.  

•  Pace yourself to avoid major assessments immediately upon return from breaks.

    The guidelines above are in the spirit of honoring family and family traditions as we simultaneously address issues of student stress.  These adjustments provide us another opportunity to reach out to our community with a united, student-centered philosophy.

 Sincerely,

Matt

In today’s crazy-competitive world, this note, and his stand on the state of the chaos, is refreshing, brave and so needed.

Here is my reply to him,

Dear Matt,

I hope you’re getting lots of grateful and encouraging calls and emails about your mindful and gracious letter to parents today about your email to your staff regarding overloading the kids during breaks.

As a yoga teacher, I couldn’t possibly agree more with your intention in that note. I have found that really little kids — ages 4 and 5! — tell me that doing yoga with me helps them lower their stress.

Four and five! What should they know about stress? But they do.

When our minds and bodies relax, creativity in innovation flows. We can not possibly subsist in a hyper-competitive, limbic-brained state all our lives. While academic success is important, we must remember that while we are today shaping the minds for tomorrow, we must be careful to foster growth. If being a parent has taught us anything, it’s that the human form grows when it rests. Muscles build and form after the workout. We have to look up from the grindstone in order to see how we can improve upon it.

We cannot grow in a state of hyper-vigilance and reactivity; if competing with China is what this is all about in America, we’re doomed. That country’s youth is in very fragile state. If you did not see the NYTimes report on the teens in China who are addicted to the Internet, now might be a good moment to see it; the kids there are overloaded, overtaxed and fracturing due to the nation’s aggressive growth and parental pressures to outdo the others.

I applaud you, most sincerely, for the missive you sent today. It takes guts, character and courage to do what you did. You’re on the right path.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Kinds regards and namaste,

Molly

I feel that his move to send that note was a clear and compassionate message about a tragedy which befell the school earlier in the fall.

A sophomore tragically took her own life in an apparent suicide on a railroad track not three miles from my home. Kids need to relax. Adults need to relax. The world needs to relax.

The sentiment coddled and honored in our principal’s email is exactly what the world needs more of. So tell your school administrators about what’s on your mind, catch them doing something good and praise them for it.

Thank you.

19 Things I Learned from Tara Brach #meditation

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God did not give me sisters. What I got were amazing female cousins.

Yesterday, I went to a “daylong retreat” in Rockville, MD, with one of those cousins. I adore her. As is true of any worthwhile relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs, but when you’re family, when you share bloodlines and interesting aunts and uncles (or your parents are those interesting aunts and uncles), there’s a shorthand that simply can’t ever be mimicked by a non-bloodline relationship — because of the genetics, we both understand when the other is fearful of falling apart.

She gets me and I get her.

I truly don’t know what I’d do without her.

In October, she asked me if I were interested in going to hear Tara Brach speak at a daylong retreat.

Five days before Thanksgiving.

I couldn’t imagine saying no. First, I love spending time with this cousin (as I do all of them), and secondly, a day, eight hours in almost total silence without children? Without homework fights? Without laundry? Sign me up. So I did. I signed me up.

Tara Brach is an award-winning author, a meditation specialist (that sounds weird), a practicing Buddhist, and psychotherapist with more than 35 years experience in the field of stress management, grief and loss, anxiety treatment and other issues we face as carbon-based, earth-bound creatures on this planet.

It was glorious and healing and also a fair amount of spiritual / energetic Work (with a capital W). There were 225 of us in the center hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville and from my seat looking out the enormous windows I watched the sun begin its ascent through the trees on my left and then begin its descent set through more trees on my right. It was a special event and I encourage anyone to take advantage of Tara’s proximity to us in the DC area. We practiced seven meditations in all.

The event offered eight hours of amazing self-awareness and self-acceptance opportunities. We meditated, journaled, shared, commented, listened and rested. I took them all in. My brain and mind wandered of course, “When’s lunch?” “How long have we been at this one?” “Lots of people start coughing after the first 5 minutes…” For $75 in cash I gained peace of mind, humbling wisdom and self-love, connection with my intuition, allowance and self-forgiveness and love of The Other.

If you ever have a chance to listen Tara Brach live, do it. Just … do it. If you don’t know her, buy one of her books.

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Tara opened the event, after tuning in with the breath, with a reference to my favorite poem of all time. “The Guest House” by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet. This is the poem:

this being human is a guest house.
every morning a new arrival.

a joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

welcome and entertain them all!
even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

the dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

After that I knew I was “home.” I had just meditated on that poem not 24 hours beforehand.

We were off to the slow races. Who could get there last was the goal. Tara invoked the poem, specifically saying “yes” to our darker emotions, a few times throughout the day.

Here is a list of 18 things I learned from Tara Brach:

  1. We process 68,000 thoughts a day; 98% of them are from yesterday.
  2. We suffer because we forget who we are.
  3. Our strategies to promote and defend ourselves are hard-wired. This is how we identify with the world; but we needn’t stay chained to that. We take it personally during meditation that our minds wander, that we might not be “doing” it “right” — that’s ego. Let it go.
  4. Hating our ego adds more self-aggression; hating the ego adds more ego: it’s a separation, it’s a judgment. Don’t judge, just be.
  5. When you go half as fast, you experience twice as much.
  6. Self-aversion locks us in self-aversion.
  7. In meditation, the concept of observing the “breath” is just a tool, use it if it helps. If it causes self-aversion (judgement, then zero in on something else: sounds, light, shadows through closed eyes).
  8. It’s not what’s happening, it’s how you relate to it.
  9. Invite your darker emotions in.  She told a few jokes and stories, I’ll share a joke below. One story is of the Buddha who was walking through a forest and saw Marra, who is the shadow side, the darker emotions. One of Buddha’s students came up to him and said, “Master, Master! Marra is behind the tree, over there!” and instead of fighting Marra, Buddha said, “I see you Marra. Let’s have tea.” Invite your emotions in.
  10. Say “yes” even to resistance; allowing that the resistance exists is a way to reduce your anxiety about being resistant. We have our central nervous system for a reason — when the body & mind are not ready, they are not ready. Just allowing the fact that you’re not ready brings you one step closer to eventually allowing it all, whatever you’re resisting.
  11. We are at war with ourselves. When we are at ease with ourselves, we don’t act with hostility or immoral behaviors.
  12. When we judge and blame, the area in our brains which houses compassion and empathy shuts down.
  13. When a sense of unworthiness is activated in us, creativity halts.
  14. It’s not about saying yes to what feels good; it’s about saying yes to what is. You don’t have to love what’s happening, but denying its existence, saying no to it will never work.
  15. We can get confused when we think that saying “Bad! Bad! Bad!” will ever help someone. You can’t hate or judge someone into transformation, especially yourself. (Been there, tried that, failed miserably.)
  16. Separation loss of compassion, blaming others is what is makes us sick. The “I” in illness and the “We” in wellness  illustrate clearly that when we separate and think of the other as unreal, that we have illness. When we welcome others, when we see them, we have wellness.
  17. Say yes to your need for space, peace and boundaries. When others have hurt you, be OK with your feelings of anger or hurt or offense or fear. Often we think in our goals to being self-actualized and whole, that we must hold a space for that person and the hurt they have inflicted on us; that we must allow it in some energetic sense. That’s not true.
  18. Most of our exhaustion comes from saying “no”; to resisting WHAT IS happening in our lives; our muscles tense and stress because they are geared toward resistance.

The joke:

A 60-year-old man visits his new GP to go over a battery of lab tests performed the week before.

The doctor says, “Well, it looks by the results of all these tests, you’re in very good physical health. Everything seems to be as it should be.”

The man says, “Wow, that’s great to hear. So I’ll live another 20 years?”

The doctor says, “Well, that all depends. Do you smoke, or drink excessively?”

The man says, “No.”

The doctor asks, “Do you golf, boat, spend a lot of time in the heat, or strong sun?”

The man says, “No.”

The doctor asks, “Do you excessively gamble, have sexual relations, stay out late and party?”

The man says, “No. I don’t do drugs or play cards. Nothing.”

The doctor asks, “Do you hike, go to high elevations, perform risky behaviors, skydive?”

The man says, “No. None of that…”

The doctor asks “What about travel to exotic locations, do you fly to foreign countries? Eat foods you’re unaccustomed to?”

The man says, “No. I have a steady diet.”

The list of questions goes on in the same spirit, asking about excess and vices for about four more and the patient says no to each one.

Finally the doctor asks, “Then why do you care??”

That got a big laugh.

The final meditation was a partner exercise. Naturally, my cousin and I chose each other. It was part active listening and part being OK with what you say. It was called “What Do You Love?” Everyone faced another person, knee to knee, and one person asked of the other, “Tell me, what do you love?” and the other person was to answer the question, without self-judgment, without fear (because love is supposed to be free of all that self-aversion stuff; it’s pure: love) and nothing was off-base.

I asked first and then it was my turn to answer. I said a few things that were typical and honest.

Then, I had a moment of transformation, an Awakening. I paused (one of Tara’s favorite words is “pause”).

I said, “I love my story.” And we both got a little emotional.

For me to be not only OK with, but to say that I love my story; the story of my entire life: all the ups and downs; all the fears and triumphs… was and is a lot. But it’s true. If I abhor and regret what I came from, how can I be OK with what I’ve become? It doesn’t work that way.

A day later, I’m still riding the wave, still confident that whatever inspired me to say “I love my story” is right, because if I don’t love my story, if YOU don’t love YOUR story, you don’t accept it; we are rejecting who we are.

So one more:

19. The first step to self acceptance and self-love, is loving who we are, no matter how or what we went through to get here. I believe I am finally there.

20. That’s up to you…

So get started: Tara Brach has a bunch of guided meditations available for download on her website; some are those you can listen to while you walk. She has CDs available on Amazon. This is her author page. On iTunes, there are a couple podcasts. She also has podcasts available on her website.

Thank you.

ps — one more: When we experience emotions, synaptically and clinically, the emotion only stays in our body for 90 seconds to process and flush through. What are we saying to ourselves when we stay, cognitively, in our states of fear and shame and guilt for years? Our brain was finished with that trauma and emotional state ages ago… We can learn to let go. We must learn to let go.