Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Letting Go Vs. Staying the Course – How to Balance the Two?

Lately the theme of letting go and dealing with change and uncertainty has come up for me againThis is not the first time that I have dealt with this theme in my life and in this blog, and I doubt that it will be the last.  According to Pema Chodron in her classic book, When Things Fall Apart, Impermanence (the Buddhist word for the endless stream of beginnings and endings in life) is one of the three key jewels of human experience. 

I must admit that there is something magical about life’s continual evolution; however, I don’t let go of things easily, I don’t initially adapt easily, and I hate saying goodbye or giving up on a dream.   When I decide to commit to something, whether it’s something big like having a baby or something small like a weekly Biodanza class, I commit fully and give 110%. Some would say that is a virtue.  

Yet, if we cling too tightly to the familiar, we don't leave room for growth and change.  Luckily, life doesn't always sit and wait for us to let go.  Sometimes it forces change upon us.  In those moments, when life (or God) forces us to let go of one dream and close one door, it allows room for another one to open.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is well known for her theory of the grieving process – which is most applicable for men, women, and children who have lost a loved one or are experiencing a terminal illness but is also applicable to other situations which call us to let go or accept unpleasant realities. 

The Kubler-Ross model states that there are 5 key stages of grief or loss which often come in order but don’t necessarily have to – it is also perfectly normal for a grieving person to alternate between the 5 stages:

Denial – pretending that the loss isn’t really happening; ignoring the change that is coming or has already come.

Anger – feeling frustration that the loss has come to them; having angry feelings directed at oneself, at others, at God, at the situation.

Bargaining – the hope that one can somehow fend off the loss or grief by negotiating, giving something up, making an extra effort, or making a deal with a higher power.

Depression – starting to accept that the loss is coming or has come but feeling great sadness and a heavy heart about it; feeling the urge to withdraw, give up, or not go on any longer.

Acceptance – feeling a sense of calm and peace; acknowledging that the loss has happened or is going to happen but life is going to be okay.

While I have been lucky enough to avoid experiencing a major loss of a loved one or major illness thus far, I have noticed myself go through these stages while experiencing the ups and downs of life.  I seem to have the most difficulty accepting my feelings of anger and sadness.  Instead, I spend a lot of energy in my life denying that change is coming and doing everything in my power (bargaining) to plan ahead and try to fend away disappointment. 

For a while, my extra effort and planning seems to work and I am lucky enough to maintain a pleasant existence and cruise through life.   Life stabilizes, and I become more confident that I can control my destiny.   But then, just when I least expect it, changes come up, and I am humbled.  Life is full of examples.  For instance, I can make every effort to plan lunch with someone weeks in advance, but if they are sick or have a change in schedule on the day of, the plans fall through. 

In Sleeping Beauty, every effort is made by Princess Aurora’s family and supporters to
help her avoid Maleficent’s proclamation that she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into eternal sleep.  The kingdom's leaders had all spinning wheels destroyed; the family had Aurora raised as a peasant by three fairies in the wood; and Aurora was watched over closely for many years.  Still, it was not enough – as the princess snuck back into the kingdom on her sixteenth birthday, Maleficent created a spinning wheel and led Aurora to prick her finger on it just in the knick of time.

Life is like that sometime.  You do everything in your power to make something happen, and it doesn’t happen.  Or, you do everything in your power to prevent something from happening and it happens anyway. 

So what is one to do?  Give up or fight?

I’ve been reading several books lately about worlds very different from my own which provide perspective on this question. 

In Octavia Butler's book Kindred, the main protagonist, Dana, is called from modern day California back to antebellum Maryland and forced to work as a slave while she interacts with two of her great-great ancestors, one black and one white, who need to survive, connect, and procreate in order to produce her family line.   One of the key themes brought up in Kindred is whether the slaves in the book should refuse to accept their lot and run for freedom or accept their lot and do their work on the plantation.  At first, it seems that running away is the obvious choice, but after Dana sees runaway slaves brought back half-dead, beaten, and bitten (and after she runs away and is caught herself), she starts to understand  why accepting the status quo might be the safest choice for now – and why both choices require great courage and strength.

In Xinran's book China Witness, the author, a journalist, interviews numerous elderly men and

women throughout China who have experienced the dramatic changes in China from the
Japanese war through Liberation, the Cultural Revolution, and Reform Through Opening. 
Many of these interviewees were devoted to improving China or their lives, but experienced great personal hardship.  There is one story of a man in his seventies who is almost singlehandedly working to keep lantern making alive in his area of China.  There is another story of a shoe mender, whose dreams of attending university were dashed because her family was considered to have a “bad family background” due to a paperwork error that was not properly corrected.  That shoe mender went through the stages of grief and finally decided to make it her life’s work to put her children through university and graduate school by living a life without basic comforts and saving every dollar of her shoe mending proceeds for tuition money.  The courageous men and women featured in China Witness devoted their lives, relationships with their children, and every comfort in order to fight for what they believe in.

As I reflect on the many stories of great courage that I have read lately, I find myself wondering – how does one balance these two different energies – of fighting hard for what you want or a cause that you believe in and of letting go and accepting what life brings you?  Is persistence and determination a virtue?  Or, it is it just a sign that you are stubborn and unwilling to change? 

The world needs people who will commit to groups and causes and stick with them – otherwise there would be no consistency or stability in life.  I believe that loyalty and faithfulness are virtues.  Staying in one place can be a positive choice.  But, if you are standing still and everyone else is moving around you, eventually your space or your group is going to change anyway – there is nothing you can do to prevent that from happening.  When the winds of change start to blow, how quickly do you welcome them in?

Anyone who has been trying to conceive for more than a few months will soon be inundated by well-intentioned stories of people who finally had a baby once they stopped trying to do so.  There are many varieties on this theme.  Some planned a long vacation; some stopped fertility treatment; some took a break before moving on to the next phase of fertility treatment; some started adoption proceedings; some gave up the dream of having a child altogether.  Having been trying for more than a year now, I am well familiar with these stories and this encouragement to “Let Go.”

I believe that there is some truth to these stories and that the concept is a good one.  But, what does that look for me?  Our fertility doctors say that I do not ovulate on my own, so every cycle I need to manage several medications over the course of my cycle.   Also, science and my doctors say hat there is a peak fertility time during the month to get pregnant, so I dutifully take my temperature every morning and faithfully time intercourse during the right times.   So....given all of those constraints, what does letting go look like for me?

Deep in my heart, I feel that I am meant to be a mother.  When I think of forty or fifty
years ahead of me having never raised a child, I find myself unwilling to accept that possibility.  I know that my husband would be alright with that, but that is not a life that I want to live.  Our doctors say that there are many more things that we can try and that we are only in the early stages of our fertility journey.  There is also the road to adoption available as an option.  So giving up on trying to have a baby doesn't seem like the right approach to me - at the very least, it seems like a premature approach.

Lately, I’ve revisited the No Doubt song, “Simple Kind of Life,” partially written and sung by Gwen Stefani when she was about my age.   She says:

I always thought I'd be a mom
Sometimes I wish for a mistake
The longer that I wait the more selfish that I get
You seem like you'd be a good dad

Now all those simple things are simply too complicated for my life
How'd I get so faithful to my freedom?
A selfish kind of life
When all I ever wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life

When I listen to the song, I hear the same longing in her voice that I feel in my heart.   In her words, I hear her doubts and her desires about embarking on the very difficult journey of parenthood.   Yet, I am encouraged because the song was written over ten years ago and Gwen now has a loving husband and three lovely children.  Unlike in my own life, I can fast forward into the future and know that ultimately her dream came through several years later.

If I could trust that God (or an angel out there) is looking out for me and that I will become a mom someday, would that allow me to let go and enjoy the last of these lovely unencumbered, newlywed days that I am experiencing now? 

I recently read a book about adoption titled, Carried in Our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption by Dr. Jane Aronson.  The book contains numerous stories about families and their paths to adoption – from the moments that they decided to do so to the moments that they welcomed their new children into their lives. 

A running theme in the book is the idea that for each parent, the child that ultimately came into their lives was meant to be theirs all along.  In fact, some would say that the child chose that family when it came into this world.  There is a quote from the book (p. 241) that says, “When the time is right and the children are ready, it will all fall into place and not before.” 

Another mom, Sarah Edwards-Schmidt, reflects (p. 65), “…we have little control in life, other than in the way we choose to go about tackling problems.  It is the grace and good humor we can bring to the process that saves us.”

I know deep down that I must make peace with uncertainty and learn to relax and let go.  While I know I am experiencing legitimate hormonal challenges, many of those challenges can be improved through stress reduction.  Also, whenever I do get pregnant, that is the just the beginning of a long path fraught with much uncertainty.  Risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, medical problems, accidents, financial problems – you name it, parents experience numerous ups and downs throughout the course of their pregnancies and children’s lives. 

If I want to be the kind of parent that I would like to be, I need to learn to relax and roll with my continually unfolding life. 

In The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, the
authors encourage readers to continually ask themselves, “What is the One Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"  They assert that by steadily focusing on that one thing, you can set up a domino effect of actions that will eventually lead you to your dreams. 

So…what is the One Thing I can do right now to help me achieve my dreams of becoming a mom, raising a family, becoming the most self-actualized person I can be, and experiencing all the life has to offer?   What is the one part of the equation that I do have control over in this maze of uncertainty?

The way I see it, the one thing I can do right now is RELAX and learn to embrace uncertainty with faith and trust.   Not as easy task for me, but very worthwhile.  If I keep working on relaxing and am able to achieve success, the benefits could be lifelong.  So, consider that my new quest!  

In the meantime, here is a video of the Simple Kind of Life song in case you are interested – may you all have a relaxing rest of your day or night!

Friday, May 9, 2014

On Reaching for My Ultimate Dream and Honoring Mothers

The other night in Biodanza class, our facilitator led us in a vivencia of breaking down walls (figuratively) to “Reach” by Gloria Estefan.  The song came out around the 1996 Olympics to honor the athletes who had spent their whole lives training for that very moment – to compete in the games and fulfill their dreams.   Among the many powerful lyrics, Gloria sings:

“Some dreams live on in time forever
Those dreams, you want with all
Your heart

And I'll do whatever it takes
Follow through with the promise I made
Put it all on the line
What I hoped for at last would be mine

If I could reach, higher
Just for one moment touch the sky
From that one moment
In my life
I'm gonna be stronger
Know that I've tried my
Very best
I'd put my spirit to the test
If I could reach”

I too have a dream, and I was listening to the song and throwing myself into the dance I found myself really motivated by her words.   In my work as an Academic Success Coach, I deal in dreams every day – my life’s work is dedicated to helping students discover their dreams and achieve them.  My life is dedicated to helping students break down whatever walls or obstacles are in their way so that they can go out into the world and make it a better place.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she aims to fire up a new generation of women leaders by asking, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”  I often ask my students this very same question.   Answering this question helped me years ago to transition from a cushy corporate job to serving students in higher education. But lately there is something bigger calling to me – my ultimate bucket list item.   My ultimate vision quest.   My ultimate feat of bravery.   Something that frightens me to the core but from which I cannot turn away.

The past few months, I’ve been reading a lot of books that deal with courage and vulnerability and determination.  I too feel like I am training for my own personal marathon – or for a long-distance hike like the one my new guru, Cheryl Strayed did and wrote about in her critically acclaimed memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown (p. 1) encourages us to stop standing in the sidelines and get in the ring.  She reminds us of Theodore Roosevelt’s words:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who face is marred by dust and sweat and blood: who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So…what is it that I want to do?   What is my ultimate dream?   To climb Mt. Everest?   To backpack through Africa?  To sacrifice everything for my art?   These are all noble dreams, but none is as important to me as this:

I want to become a mom.   I want to bring a new human being into the world and nurture it and care for it and support it through its journey into adulthood.   If I’m lucky, I’d like to bring two new human beings into the world and shape them and my husband into a family.   That may not sound like a big deal, but to me that is huge – that is one big, hairy audacious goal.

My Vision Board
My husband and I have been trying to have kids for a year and it has not happened yet.   Some days I think that it will never happen and some days I think our time is right around the corner.   Only God knows that answer to that. 

As more time passes, my desire and fear grow neck and neck.   The sleep deprivation factor scares me; the never-ending nature of parenthood scares me; the heart-wrenching emotional exhaustion scare me.   

Yet, I am fascinated by parenting and kids and human development.  When I’m around a baby or little kid, I can’t keep my eyes off of him or her.   I love to play with my friends and relative’s kids, and I try to help out moms and dads in whatever ways I can.  A new acquaintance asked me recently how many books I have read about babies and parenthood, and I told her about 50.   She seemed shocked, but I actually think that that was an understatement.  

The more I read, the more profound respect I have for all of the parents out there in the world.   I was fascinated reading The Mommy Brain:How Motherhood Makes Us Stronger as the author described how your brain and body shift when you become a caregiver to make you better prepared for the task.   Your senses become sharper; you become able to endure more; you need less sleep.   Like the Olympic athletes Gloria Estefan was singing about in “Reach,” moms (and dads) actually grow stronger. 

Motherhood is the ultimate invitation to confront our dark sides, to confront the ugliest parts of ourselves, the things that we would rather forget and push aside.  In Laura Gutman’s Maternity: Coming Face to Face with Your Own Shadow (p. 27), she writes:

   “With a mother’s soul exposed in the body of her baby, we are able to see more clearly the crises that have been kept inside, the feelings we have not dared to admit, the knots which continue to entangle our lives, the items which are still pending solution, what we reject, what we feel is untimely.”

While I love to be around kids, I am acutely aware that I have never babysat for a child overnight.   I know in my head that it is excruciatingly hard to raise a child.  I know that when I babysit for my little friend Dmitri that I get to unwind and read a book or watch TV after his mom picks him up while she probably has many more hours of work ahead of her.   I know that my husband and I have life pretty good right now.  I recall my friend Brooke writing on Facebook soon after she had her son:

“3 things I have learned about parenting: 1. It is the babysitting job that never ends!!! 2. You have to really love your career [because] that is the only long break you get during the day. 3. Getting a smile from your baby makes all the poopy diapers, spit up and crying all worth it!!”

So why do I want to do it all?  Why be a mom?  Why not continue my life of cocktail parties and reading books and sleeping in and doing whatever I want whenever I want to do it?   That would certainly be the easier way.   Maybe that’s what God is trying to guide me towards by not granting my wish to conceive.  Even so, I just can’t let go.  For me, motherhood is the ultimate adventure, the ultimate long-distance hike – it’s a journey that would take me to the absolute end of my ropes…but ultimately be the best thing that I ever did.  

Cheryl Strayed writes about the joys of motherhood in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (p. 122):

  “…you’ll have a baby.   An amazing little being who will blow your mind and expand your heart and make you think things you never thought and remember things you believed you forgot, and heal things you never imagined you would heal and forgive people you’ve begrudged for too long and understand things you didn’t understand before you fell madly in love with a tiny tyrant who doesn’t give a damn whether you need to pee.  You will sing again if you stopped singing.  You will dance again if you stopped dancing.  You will crawl around on the floor and play chase and tickle and peek-a-boo.”

The front book jacket for Cheryl’s book Wild says, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.”  That’s how I envision raising a child would be.   That’s why I want to do it more than I have ever wanted to do anything else in my life. 

If I don’t have kids, I may interact with children and love them, but I will never ever be someone’s mother.  Only a mom (or sometimes dad) has the privilege and responsibility of being someone’s key source of love and security in the world.   Only a parent serves as someone's main anchor in the uncertain seas of life.  I love watching little kids go off to play and then run back to their parent for a mommy or daddy refill. I want to be that refill.

Without becoming a mom, I will stay stuck in my ways, stuck in my own small world, stuck in the world as a grown woman child.   To die that way in forty or fifty years would be the ultimate waste of my life (in my opinion), no matter how many countries I saw or books I wrote or classes I taught or fancy titles I got.  

Almost everything that I have been working on for the past five years has been in preparation to be the best
Me and My Cousin Emma!
possible mom that I can be.  I’ve read books, I’ve meditated, I’ve exercised, I’ve done my best to eat healthy, I’ve made friends, I’ve saved money.  I have tried to be the best woman that I can be – and I still fear that it is not enough, that I am not strong enough, that part of the reason I am not a mom is because there is something wrong with me – something about me that is not qualified enough for the big leagues.   Hopefully that is not the case.

Cheryl Strayed writes (in TinyBeautiful Things, p. 246-7),


“The sketches of your real life and your sister life are right there before you and you get to decide what to do.  One is the life you’ll have; the other is the one you won’t.  Switch them around in your head and see how it feels.  Which affects you on a visceral level?  Which won’t let you go?  Which is ruled by fear?  Which is ruled by desire?  Which makes you want to close your eyes and jump and which makes you want to turn and run?"

As much as it scares me, the idea of having kids does not make me want to run.  It doesn’t even make me want to close my eyes and jump. At this stage in my journey with fertility, it isn’t a matter of closing my eyes and jumping, it is a matter of reaching.   Reaching with every fiber of my being, reaching in the way that Gloria Estefan expresses in her song.    As she says:


“…I'll do whatever it takes
Follow through with the promise I made
Put it all on the line
What I hoped for at last would be mine.”

Hopefully my dream will come true, and I will have the chance to rise to the challenge and step into the ring – to give motherhood the very best shot that I can.   I hope with all of my heart that that is the case. 

In the meantime, while I’m waiting for my chance to join you, I wish to honor all of the mothers in my life and in the world – my friends, coworkers, aunts, cousins, in-laws, my grandma, and no one more so than my own mom, who raised me with all of the love in her heart and every strength and bit of energy in her being.  

Mom - I Love You - Happy Mother's Day!

To mothers who are right in the thick of it and mothers whose children are grown, you all have my deepest respect and admiration.  To me, you are Olympic Athletes, Amazon Women, and Fearless Leaders in a world that desperately needs the courage and vulnerability and strength that you demonstrate every day.  You inspire me and you give me courage and hope for the future.  I hope to walk in your shoes someday, and I have very big shoes to fill.  

 Happy Mother’s Day!  

Here are the full lyrics to Reach - and the Youtube video:

Some Dreams Live On In Time Forever
Those Dreams You Want With All Your Heart
And I'll Do Whatever It Takes
Follow Through With The Promise I Made
Put It All On The Line
What I Hoped For At Last Would Be Mine

If I Could Reach Higher
Just For One Moment Touch The Sky
From That One Moment In My Life
I'm Gonna Be Stronger
Know That I've Tried My Very Best
I'd Put My Spirit To The Test
If I Could Reach

Some Days Are Meant To Be Remembered
Those Days We Rise Above The Stars
So I'll Go The Distance This Time
Seeing More The Higher I Climb
That The More I Believe
All The More That This Dream Will Be Mine 

If I Could Reach Higher
Just For One Moment Touch The Sky
From That One Moment In My Life
I'm Gonna Be Stronger
Know That I've Tried My Very Best
I'd Put My Spirit To The Test
If I Could Reach

If I Could Reach Higher
Just For One Moment Touch The Sky
I'm Goona Be Stronger
From That One Moment In My Life
I'm Gonna Be So Much Stronger Yes I Am
Know That I've Tried My Very Best
I'd Put My Spirit To The Test
If I Could Reach Higher
If I Could If I Could
If I Could Reach
Reach I'd Reach I'd Reach
I'd Reach' I'd Reach So Much Higher
Be Stronger