Old Friends, Inner Lives and Psyches.

I’m a reader. On my flight home from Connecticut last night, I made good progress on the book I’m reading right now – The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan. It’s a novel about a group of former Harvard students gathering for their 20-year reunion. It’s timely for who I am and where I am in life right now. I read along and was forced to pull out a pen when I read the following:

People aren’t cars to be traded in and up. They’re people. With complex emotional inner lives and filial ties and psyches that are far too easily bruised.

I believe this, and I believe it more and more as I get older.

This weekend, I caught up with two old friends, one from high school and one from my early days as a lawyer. Today, I had lunch with another friend from high school I hadn’t seen in years and years. My conversations were lovely, and in each one, I realized again just how well I picked my friends long ago.

I love people who are willing to share their emotional inner lives. In Connecticut, my friend Sarah spoke openly about her days in boarding school and the more than twenty years that had passed since then. She didn’t sugarcoat her experience or tip-toe in any way around the hard stuff. She stated her experience matter-of-factly and, by being genuine about the good and the bad, invited me to do the same. I appreciated that about her because I’m not always willing or able to talk about the hard stuff.

At lunch today, I tried my hand at being open about the hard stuff and acknowledging things that aren’t perfect in my life. And you know what? Lunch was lovely. I didn’t feel the need to perform or to make myself seem like anything more than who I am. I felt like I caught up with an old friend in a genuine way. We couldn’t touch on everything in ninety minutes, but it felt good to talk and laugh and communicate without a need to paint a picture of rainbows and sunflowers all around.

I’m at a point in life where I’m ready to invite people into my inner life and to be willing to expose my psyche that is far too easily bruised. I think the trick is being smart in selecting people to trust with those things. The old friends – the ones who cared for me as a kid and have continued to demonstrate a genuine interest in who that kid became – give me a really good place to start.

A Guy Who Helps Me.

Last April, I went on a retreat in Round Top put on by my dear friend, Jeanne Guy. I’ve been going to her workshops and gatherings since my friend Rey and I did a  fourteen-week workshop with her in 2007 on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I love her. Time with Jeanne always leaves me feeling more hopeful.

Last night, I went to what she calls a Re-Story Circle. Twice a month, she offers these gatherings of women that are intended to help us re-story our lives. When I’m in circle with Jeanne, I always learn something about how to process my experiences and maybe change the way I look at what I’m facing. Last night was just such a night. The gem I uncovered during the circle was actually a list I made during the last retreat I went on with Jeanne. I came across the list as I was scanning through the notebook I use for all of her workshops.

We were asked this question at the retreat: “If I were to give some good advice about being fully me by loving and taking care of myself, it would include…” She called this “tending to ourselves.” Here’s the list I came up with last April. I think we had maybe ten or so minutes to write.

  1. Keep up the training because you love it.
  2. Eat well because weight loss improves your health and your confidence.
  3. Sleep more.
  4. Write every day. No excuses.
  5. When you are feeling alone, write about something you love.
  6. When you are feeling down, write about something that makes you happy.
  7. When you are feeling hopeless, write about your dreams.
  8. Don’t guard your heart quite so much. Be willing to give it to someone who proves worthy to receive it.
  9. Clear your house of anything that doesn’t bring you joy.
  10. Save money right now. Not forever, but for right now.
  11. Spend time with Mom and Dad as often as you can.
  12. Rest at unexpected times. Take a half day here and there to just be.
  13. Limit your time on Facebook. Focus on creating a life you love rather than a Facebook profile that makes you appear to love life.
  14. Take chances.
  15. At every opportunity, choose love.
  16. Have the hard conversations that you need to have.
  17. Seek God.
  18. Stop waiting and start building the life you can see for yourself.

In my notebook, I put asterisks next to 5, 6 and 7.

April was a hard month for me. The weekend I spent in Jeanne’s company and in the company of genuinely kind women gave me such hope.

During that weekend, we took this photo with each of us wearing bracelets that Jeanne gave us:

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Since then, I’ve been wearing my bracelet every day because it reminds me of the support and love I received in that community.

I hadn’t looked at this list since I wrote it in April. I’ve done some of the items on the list.  I haven’t done them all. But every item on the list still rings true to me. And those that are marked with an asterisk still are practices that help me to lift my own spirits through something I love to do.

Thank you, Jeanne, once again. Thank you for a wonderful evening in the company of kind women. Thank you for helping me discover for myself how best to tend to myself over the next couple of weeks and perhaps even months. I appreciate you always.

The Hard Conversation.

When I write and put my writing into the world, I fear that some will think that I think I’m some sort of authority on life or that I’m a know-it-all about what people should or shouldn’t do.  In reality, I write because I often need to hear what I’m writing.  I’m learning/changing/growing, and the writing helps me to process, focus, and remember what I’ve learned. 

Just yesterday, for example, I had a hard conversation.  The courage to have that hard conversation came out of my last post. In working through my Happiness Project, I listed my Twelve Commandments.  Commandment Number 3 was “have the hard conversations.”  I included that in my list of commandments because I am utterly incapable of having the hard conversations, particularly where I have to ask for something I want or admit that I was wrong.  Yesterday, I had a conversation in which I had to do both of those things. 

I’ve known for months that I needed to have that conversation.  But I didn’t want to.  I feared being told “no.”  I always fear the “no.”  To me, the “no” is rejection.  Rejection is devastation.  Devastation means I enter into an extended seclusion of reading, writing, working, training and nothing else until I can muster up the courage to face people again.  It’s just no fun at all, so I often avoid the hard conversation.

Yesterday, I initiated a conversation that was hard for me.  I didn’t get a “no.”  But I didn’t get a “yes.”  And even though I felt disappointment, I didn’t experience rejection, and I felt no devastation.  Instead, I felt relief and gratitude for the dialogue. 

So what was the difference?  Why was this conversation unlike countless past conversations that caused me to dread the ask and suffer many sleepless nights?  Have I matured in handling the “no”?  Am I stronger somehow today than the last time I encountered this kind of situation?  Not at all. What I learned yesterday is that the difference wasn’t me.  The difference was the other person in the conversation.

The conversation didn’t hurt because I was dealing with a good and gentle person.  I didn’t get exactly the answer I wanted, but there was such a kindness in the dialogue that I didn’t walk away feeling gutted.

Maybe, rather than avoid hard conversations, I need to focus on surrounding myself with good people.  Because a hard conversation with a really good person isn’t all that hard.