The water was asking me to Flow; to become just like it so that I could Forgive.
I was fighting against it. For a long time I pushed in opposition to the water. It took a year for me to realize that I was the water.
Two years ago some things in my life were upended. Things that I had come to know and depend on were no more. I strove to understand. Picked up each grain of sand to ask, “Is this it? The reason? Tell me why?” There was so much sand to sort through.
It was similar to feeling my way through the dark in an endless midnight hour. The answers would not come. I was alone. Alone and drowning in the dark.
Have you been to this place before? If you’ve ever loved someone; I bet you have.
When we’re trying to stay afloat, we pretend that we’re swimming. Possibly, it looks like treading water but it feels like drowning. Deep panic. Dark water. No sign of the shore.
After I stopped collecting grains of sand, some of my breath returned. My heart didn’t race all the time. Instead of slapping the water, I opened my fingers and let the water glide through them.
Eventually, I saw other swimmers. They would wave and ask about the water. I thought they had just arrived to my part of the sea. But they hadn’t. They’d been there the whole time. I hadn’t noticed them. Maybe I saw glimpses of life, but it was easier to believe I was all alone.
When I finally chose to get close to these swimmers they told me that I had forgotten some very important things:
I was loved. Well loved. And I was never alone.
We are that which we seek.
Deep. Heavy. I know.
When we’re at the bottom of the sea, we feel alone. It’s too dark to even see our own hands, let alone the hand of a friend reaching out to us. This loneliness makes us afraid. It also makes us angry. We are never our best selves when we’re angry and afraid. Those states of being add to the darkness.
We have to stay there at the bottom for a while. It’s part of the process. But slowly, very slowly, we start to ascend. The light will sometimes seem like hope itself. Promising. New. Other times we will wonder if the light is playing tricks on us.
That’s when we start to catch glimpses of the swimmers. They can’t swim for us. No, the work is our own. But our friends can remind us to hold our breath, to open our palms, to trust our hearts.
Last year a friend advised me to, “Flow like water.” I loved those words. They guided me. Reminded me of the way when I felt like things were too hard.
When we’re fighting the water we tire easily. The fatigue drives into our bones. The struggle never ends.
I was seeking forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and love. I was fighting for those things. Tiring myself out in search of them. I hadn’t realized that to receive them I had to become them.
I had to embrace forgiveness. I had to accept myself, the people who had hurt me, the hurt I had caused, the entire situation as it was. Instead of trying so hard to be understood, I offered understanding. Then love, oh love. The love had always been there. It had never left.
I was trying to get to this place by moving against the water. Pressing hard. Determined. I am not easily deterred.
To my benefit, the other swimmers reminded me of the truth. My faith whispered these essential words, “You are the water.”
I am that which I seek. I receive that which I offer.
When our practices become our beliefs we can embrace who we really are. We’re not droplets in the sea. We’re not the bad weather. We’re the water. We’re the water that wraps around islands to keep them safe. We’re the tidal wave of emotion. We’re the rough storm swirling about. We’re the calm sea lapping against the shore. We’re all of it.
If it’s part of us then we can understand it. Accept it. Offer it.
Today I offer my love and forgiveness. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of you. We can receive what we offer.
On this Easter Sunday, I want you to remember that you are the water. Yes, it’s all of you.
We want to be good at everything. We don't want to be beginners. It's too vulnerable.
On their own new things are really hard. We’re beginners trying to master the new thing. When it’s just one thing it can be overwhelming. COVID-19 is like that grinning captain that calls, “Hey everybody! How about we change everything all at once? Like right now. Good luck!”
When I was in second grade I came home crying one day. My mom was puzzled. What had happened? I wasn’t being bullied. Nope. I hadn’t fallen down and gotten hurt. I wasn’t homesick.
Through tears, I told my mom, “We learned how to tell time today. We were using the face clocks. I’m upset because I didn’t already KNOW how to tell time by myself!”
My mom cocked her head and did one of those slow blinks. “So you expected to KNOW how to do something before your teacher taught it to you?”
I don’t know why this idea was a big deal. I like to know things. Certainty wants us to be the best at everything. What do you mean I need to be new at something before I can master it?
What a concept.
Maybe some of you are chuckling because you’re built like that, too. I have a friend who opted to turn down a job, because her daughter was starting preschool. She said, “We just can’t do two new things at once. We can adjust to one new thing at a time. Both of us trying hard things at the same time wouldn’t be good.”
We can see these parts of ourselves when we think about sharing our creative work or joining a gym. Something as small as showing up to a small group or going to a party where we know just one person.
Vulnerability is grueling. It offers a mixed-message right off the bat: Come try this new thing. It could be a disaster or it could be the best thing in your life. You have to try to know, though.
The mighty shield I like to use against vulnerability is perfectionism. If I can study and prepare really well then I’ll have outsmarted most disasters. This also makes way for tension, irritability, and black-and-white thinking. We love that quality in our friends, right? Ugh! It’s not our best look, but we use perfectionism to protect ourselves from vulnerability. It doesn’t work though. Why? Because control is an illusion. COVID-19 snapped its fingers at our hyper-busy over-controlled lives and made us beginners again.
We’re uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, uncomfortable, uncomfortable, and possibly freaking out. (You’re allowed to freak out).
I’m a therapist by day and also a coach. My therapy clients usually sit across from me in my office surrounded by soft blue walls, an essential oil diffuser that offers hints of peppermint + wild orange, and look out over the Arroyo Grande Creek to watch birds flit by as they talk. It’s lovely.
Now I’m also a homeschool mom. Overnight. Today my son had his first school-connected online google meeting for his class. Do you know what it’s like to teach a bunch of house-bound 4th graders? Let’s say a little prayer of gratitude for our children’s teachers and coaches. For the love. I wanted to mute the entire thing!
But now there’s all of these new things. New things for them to access. New ways for them to connect with their teachers. I was getting stressed out. Why? Because I wanted to know all of the things…like yesterday. I wanted it to be smooth. I wanted my kids to learn and to be happy. I’m setting the bar too high, I think.
Because I’m also working from home. Which means that sometimes I do telehealth in my car to keep confidentiality. We 100% cannot change or perfect that. It is what it is.
It’s new and it’s hard. It’s a new way of living. A new way of working. A new way of learning. All new. All right now.
I figure I have a few options:
I can do nothing (freeze).
I can make this $%&#@ thing work perfectly.
I can try easy.
Do nothing or do everything (options 1 & 2):
In her audiobook, Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brené Brown talks about underfunctioners and overfunctioners. In times of crisis underfunctioners freeze and disappear. They get overwhelmed and shut down. They stop showing up to things. They allow other people to step in and take over. They just can’t deal.
Overfunctioners go into hyper drive. They take on too much and control the to-do list themselves. They have a hard time delegating, because they think if they can do it themselves then it will be done right. No one knows that they are having a hard time. It’s like they have capes on, but they’re shut off from their feelings. If they stay busy fixing the problem then they won’t have to acknowledge how the crisis is making them feel.
Neither way is good or bad. However, both options are ways to avoid vulnerability. When we under or over function we’re trying to outmaneuver pain. We don’t want to feel it so with either hide from it or attempt to fix it. In both ways, our people can’t reach us. We’re too well defended. The layers of each keep people out.
Try easy (option 3):
When I say “try easy” most people think I want them to slack off. The perfectionists look at me like I have two heads. I can feel the resistance telling me, “I can’t try easy. I have to get it right! The only way to get through this is to try my very best which means I have to try hard!” Well, I know you well enough by now to know that you aren’t a slacker. You won’t give up. You won’t give 50% effort ever. For anything. I know that.
Don’t change your work ethic, just change your attitude.
We can take anything and adopt a “try easy” attitude. Let’s start simple: a new dance move, throwing a baseball, putting together a building kit. If we “try hard” we have tension and forced effort. We’re super focused and want a clear result. However, if we “try easy” we’re more likely to have fun. We’re looser. Curious. Easy. We’re focused on the moment rather than getting it right. Same activity; different attitude.
Right now you are living through vulnerability. Everything is new and it has been a major adjustment. We’ve tried so hard to get it right.
Maybe it’s time to try easy.
Let’s do what we can. Try to help with the learning. Try to do good work. Try to cope with the new and sudden lifestyle change. We’ll do it all, but we’ll try easy.
You are important. Your people are important.
Trying easy will create calm energy. It might even be fun. But for sure, it will be forgiving. That’s what we want in our families, right? Calm energy, plus fun, with generous doses of forgiveness.
How about you give that to yourself, too. Don’t try so hard. Try easy.
With Love and Backbone,
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You are in the in-between if something is no longer, but the next thing has not yet become.
The in-between is a dark place. Sometimes we get there by our own choices. Other times it is handed to us. We are used to something being one way and then it changes. When this change is close to our heart it’s like losing something essential. Something that defined who we were. Something that marks the coming of a new season.
In a recent effort to simplify my life, I’ve started to sift through my belongings. I’ve read old journals and gazed at photos from the past. In some ways it felt like peeking into a past life. Images of people that are no longer in my world. Circles that I no longer circle. Much of the time it’s like a glowing ember of warmth. I can remember the concerts, the dinners, the resting on couches to discuss life’s most important topics. Then as I turn the page or scroll up on my phone I’m back to right now. The in-between.
I’d like to think that when we choose our changes they hurt less. They don’t. We are creatures of habit and we like the reliability of a stable routine. Until those routines don’t work for us anymore.
When we say no; no more; this must go – we mean it. But we can’t escape the severe stab of loss. It’s dizzying and lonely.
I call this time the midnight hour. For weeks and even months it feels like midnight. The darkness makes things blurry. We doubt our eyes and think ill-intention is everywhere. We rehearse. Ask questions. Beg the next step to reveal itself. The midnight hour does not pass quickly. It triples and quadruples in length. It doesn’t care that our feelings are hurt. The midnight hour invites us into the void.
We don’t always choose this path. Sometimes it is handed to us through diagnoses, deaths, and paths unseen. Life is moving on just fine and bam! We have a weird medical symptom, a loss, and new thing that takes over our every thought. It alters how we show up. It rewires what we know to be true and breaks it down piece by piece. It’s disorienting and painful.
The midnight hour is like a well of doubt. Anxiety deepens the space. Hurt makes it darker.
I am not a stranger to the midnight hour. When we are committed to growing we will have these seasons. Even when we know the midnight hour well, the vastness of it never ceases to pull us under.
If you are stuck between what was and what is yet to be, here’s a way through:
1. Go inward. Take this time to know yourself better. When the world seems like it’s swirling past you find a way to slow yourself down. If we’re not careful we’ll hook onto a story that fuels our fears. We’ll start to believe that midnight will last forever. This isn’t true. Take the time to ask good questions. Honor your feelings. Look at your problem with a softer focus. Wonder about how this issue can help you. Instead of being mad at it, ask, “What are you here to teach me?”
2. Go outward. You cannot do this alone. I repeat: you cannot do this alone. You need to go to your people. Ask them to listen to your story. At first you just need someone to hear your story over and over. When the sting begins to lessen you can ask for feedback. You can discuss, “What does this mean? What is my role? How can I hold this gently?” You get to share this story with people that you trust. This connection will be a reminder that dawn will come again.
3. Seek the Wayfinders. During the midnight hour we will do almost anything to receive the map. The get-me-out-of-here-now plan. The answers are everywhere. You will find your way through a random conversation, in a wise Instagram post, a line in a novel. You will get closer to the light through prayer and meditation. You will see things more clearly with the aid of therapists, healers, mentors, and dear friends. Your wayfinders are everywhere. Be open to them. Everything is designed to help you.
This process of simplifying my life has been good in many ways. I’m a bit of a “keeper”. I like to store items that remind me of a previous time. After a while though they stack up and become just another pile of papers that were once important to me. In my decluttering process I found old pay stubs, movie tickets, trinkets, and notes (from decades ago, people!). In this pile of memories, I saw old problems. Jobs that weren’t a good fit. People that were once central to me and eventually moved out of orbit.
In this pile of things from the past I remembered my old midnight hours. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through some of those midnights. The dark seemed so dark. I remember praying for answers. Wishing for crystal balls. Wanting the map to present itself. When I re-read old notes and looked at photos I was reminded of the intense ache. The anxiety. The distress of not knowing when the long-awaited daylight hours would return.
But I’m here now. So midnight didn’t, in fact, last forever.
I ask you now: what was your midnight hour three midnights ago? When I asked myself this question it felt like my brain had to stretch itself to reconnect to old problems. Problems that I thought would overtake me. Would pull me under. Would undo me and make my life unrecognizable. But now? Now I have to work to remember them.
The midnight hour is a tricky place. It bends shapes and messes with our sense of time. Hours and minutes get mixed up. Darkness has a way of making us forget what lives at its edges. There will be a night that feels like the hour got stuck at 12:00 a.m., but more is yet to be revealed. At the edge of this hour is dawn. Lines will sharpen as the sunlight slips through our shades to brighten the room. Like a slow yawn, we will be released from the grip of night to begin again. A new way always shows itself. It just takes longer than we’d like.
To your midnight or future midnights & to new beginnings.
With Love and Backbone,
P.S. Check out this Chai Talk Podcast, Don’t Bypass Your Anger, to learn more about healing and moving through hard emotions.
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Forgiveness Is Too Hard When You're Drowning In Grief
On the day of Forgiveness I’m not feeling very forgiving.
It’s been a long season. Last year I was pulled down into the muck. I’m still finding mud footprints all over my mind.
You see, loss is a tricky thing. One day you’re riding the wave and feeling all Zen-like and the next moment you’re seething with anger or crying or rehearsing conversations.
In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brené Brown describes how her research participants recounted losses that were difficult to identify or describe because they weren’t necessarily deaths or separations. She writes, “These included the loss of normality, the loss of what could be, the loss of what we thought we knew or understood about something or someone.”
This long season has included losses. Today (of all days) is Easter. The revered forgiveness holiday of the year. It’s the day when the betrayers, backstabbers, haters, and false friends are set free. So maybe I’m still stuck on the darker part of the story, yeah? I’m decidedly in the midnight of my loss today.
The day started out bursting with love. We enjoyed candy-filled Easter baskets, homemade lemon pound cake donuts, and morning snuggles. We danced in the kitchen and sang hip-hop songs. All of the love was bubbling up to the top. Good energy filled our home and our hearts.
Then we got in the car and my body had time to settle. You know those moments of stillness where your mind tells you exactly what’s going on with your heart? Yep, that’s what happened. I began driving and finally had time to feel what was going on. I started rehearsing conversations. It went something like, “Well, if she says this then I can list my ten thousand (correct/right/absolute) reasons for doing what I did. And then if she says that then I can remind her of this. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” I noticed the story, because my heart was racing and my jaw was clenched tight.
Rehearsing future conversations that will likely never happen is not helpful. Stressing myself out over imaginary conversations is not wise.
I reminded myself to stop the story. I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth. I sent the story and person away with love and peace.
But I’m still mad.
To tell you the truth, I’m brokenhearted. I’m deep in the loss of something that I thought I knew and understood. I’ve been deeply misunderstood. Stories have been made up about me. I have no control over any of it. I’m upset that I can’t direct the narrative. I’m shaken by having loved someone that doesn’t know me or chooses not to see me. It’s a loss of the oddest sort. Perhaps I’m even grieving something that was never there? I don’t know. My heart is telling me that it’s tired, and overworked, and sad.
So this is where I’m at today. I’m in heartache. The deep, dark, pulsing heart of grief. I’m stuck in the whirlpool of frustration, anger, sadness, forgiveness, and love. I’ve touched on all of those emotions today and they just keep cycling through.
I’m not sure that forgiveness is an actual state that we reach. For me, it’s been more of a process. I keep lovingly releasing the person until my relationship with them or the story changes. Time is always a magical factor in letting things go. At some point new routines and relationships become strengthened and the loss becomes less piercing. Distance from the experience also changes my relationship with the story. I begin to see the lessons, the wisdom, and all of the love that lived within the story.
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief…The death or ending that forgiveness necessitates comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations or dreams. We may need to relinquish the power that comes with “being right” or put to rest the idea that we can do what’s in our hearts and still retain the support or approval of others.”
Last year, I made a clear decision. I trusted myself and acted from a place of self-care. I have scrutinized this decision and my communication around it. I’ve had to look closely because it caused a tsunami of loss. Loss with such gravity that I felt pulled under the ocean waves. Disoriented. Lost. Pure darkness.
Now I find myself gripping and bracing for impact. I can almost predict when another wave will hit and I’m trying to be ready for it. Ready for the flood of anxiety. Waiting for the pain. Predicting the anger that will surge up.
Grief is a lonely place. Even though I know that I have a team of swimmers by my side, the loss still pinches me at unexpected times. I might be totally in my joy and a brief moment too close to the loss will pull me down.
I want to be on top of the water. I want to be riding the wave. If it were sunny with clear blue skies for a while that would be awesome, too.
Right now I want to be driving my car to see my favorite person with my kids giggling and talking in the back seat. I want to be all peace and love on this glorious day. But I’m not. One foot is still in the murky water.
I’m imagining myself facing the ocean as a torrent of waves prepare to knock me down. I’m resisting getting hurt. I’m pushing against any potential for softness or love to get through. I’m armoring up to avoid feeling vulnerable. I’m trying to be tough, because inside I feel so broken. One giant wave could crack me open.
I think I could do this differently.
I could be softer.
More understanding of myself.
Instead of resisting this grief I could be open to it. Instead of rushing through it or diving over it, I could wade slowly. I could let the water lap against my thighs. I could float along with the waves. I could be present to what grief is teaching me.
I could let myself be angry. Sad. Upset. Lost. Loved.
I could move with my grief instead of charging against it.
I could be like the water instead of fighting it.
Recently, my cousin passed along some wisdom to me. She said, “Flow like water, Baby.” Yep, I think that’s the key to my healing. Maybe it will be a part of yours, too.
We’re all after the resurrection. We want a peek at what our lives will be like once time has washed away our wounds. But we can’t skip the hard part. The darkness is speaking to us about love and loss and growth. It’s showing us why forgiveness has so much value. It’s not because it’s easy to come by, it’s because it’s incredibly challenging to get to. Getting to forgiveness will cost us our peace, our righteousness, our precious time. But when we get through the darkest part of it (and I know I will), we will be reminded of all of the light that exists in the world. We will deepen our capacity to love. We will become stronger and softer in all of the best ways.
If you’re in the well of loss right now, here are some gentle reminders:
You don’t have to be right. It takes so much effort to prove yourself.
You don’t have to get better quickly. The heart takes it’s time.
You don’t need to forget the good stuff. Love is at the center of it all.
And lastly, “Flow like water, Baby.”
With Love & Backbone,
P.S. Check out the Chai Talk Podcast, “Let it Go” for more support on healing from loss. P.P.S. Sign-up here to get the podcast, blogs, and free videos delivered directly to your inbox.
Jennifer Padilla-Burger is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator, Yoga Instructor, Coach, and Creator of Nice Girl Uprising.