My Homemade Recipe for Life Lemonade

when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade-at-kiki-and-company

“Can you believe Trump….?” Feel free to insert your  personalized outrage here.

The ellipses are mere place holders for the mounting permutations of frustrations, anger and fear deluging millions of us across the globe.

This exasperated sentence punctuates my day from early-morning water cooler conversations at work, to deeper and more intimate conversations with loved ones in the evening. Everyone, wants to know what to do. Where and how can they channel all of these big emotions? Where can they find solace in what feels like a world on fire? They look to me for wisdom; the master maker of life lemonade. So, in no particular order, here are a few of the ingredients I use for my life-lemonade:

  1. Take Saturdays off. Go for a hike. Sit quietly on your couch. Perfect the art of toast making (yes, it’s a thing. You have approximately one minute to get butter on the toast while the toast is still hot enough for the butter to melt. Otherwise you end up eating half melted butter. Ugh.) Take a hot bath. Listen to the wind. Look at the sky. Count the stars. Draw a picture, with your hands, on paper with things called markers, or pencils or crayons. Listen to music (remember music? And I’m not talking about one song, but an entire CD. And when I say listen, I mean really devote your whole self to listening to each lyric and instrument (this part could be a challenge if the song was made after 2008, but do your best. I find picking songs with no identifiable synth pop to be helpful).
  1. Create a Trump-free zone in your relationships with others and stick to it. I allow myself one hour of Trump time each day to stay up to date on the Trump haps and the world-at-large. This one hour also includes conversations with others. After this one hour, the rest of my day is devoted to uplifting things like guinea pigs in Halloween costumes and baby seals mysteriously ending up on people’s couches with whiskers for days and a bark no species can resist.
  1. Turn off technology. This one is crucial! There is no more 5:00 news where news is delivered once a day at a predictable time. Now, we are connected 24/7 to a digital feeding tube that has no shut off valve, other than the one we self-impose. My digital diet includes turning off my smart phone during meals, as well as two hours before bed time.
  1. Pick one small action you can take. If you get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of egregious laws and insane executive orders being passed and or crimes against humanity and dis-ease in the world, pick one small action you can take that helps you feel you are contributing in a positive way in the world. It can be as simple as buying a homeless person breakfast (this one is easy to do here in Boston and most major cities throughout the US), or signing a petition online. We don’t have to chain ourselves to large objects in protest to show we care about the world and our fellow humans. Sometimes, the smallest actions are often the most empowering and impactful.
  1. Do one thing at a time. You can’t carry a cup of hot tea and hike a mountain. In other words, it’s important to slow down and stop trying to do two things at the same time otherwise you end up with third degree burns on a perfectly beautiful hike and potential tea stains on your not-so-cheap fleece. Do yourself and your stain stick a favor.

*And if you have children and are reading this thinking, “yeah, right, there’s no way I can take Saturdays off” I suggest you pick any of these ingredients in ways that feel comfortable for you. Hiking, toast-making, star counting, and listening to music aren’t things children need help learning how to do. It’s us adults who need help remembering the joy in these simple things. Let your children re-teach you!

If you have a life-lemonade ingredient you’d like to share, please send it my way and enjoy your trump-free zones everyone.

 

Much love,

Jenna

 

 

The Facebook Delete-An Act of Self- Love?

letting-go

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Facebook Delete can sometimes be the silent equivalent of the not-so- silent middle finger. Hovering over the option to ‘delete’ a childhood friend on Facebook the other day… I took several deep breaths. Conceptually wiping someone from my social media space isn’t something I take lightly. In fact, it is downright gut-wrenching when I’ve reached a point in a relationship, that makes it too painful for me to continue the façade of a friendship that transcended the trappings of social media, at least for me.

First I asked myself the question we all have to ask ourselves, “Is this really necessary?” If we just chose to stay ‘friends’ on Facebook would it really matter either way? What was my true motivation for ‘deleting’ her? With some gentle investigation, I realized that seeing someone online who has chosen actively not to return my calls and to text me, even on the holidays, was just not something I was willing to tolerate from anyone. Never mind the message I was sending her, what message was I sending myself if I continued to pretend her lack of communication and inability to end our friendship with love and care didn’t matter? The even deeper issue I realized was overall self-compassion and honoring the parts of me that had been forced to uphold the lie of my childhood. Pressing ‘delete’ in this particular moment was a finish line I had to be willing to cross because it means living authentically. It is a symbolic stake in the ground of self-esteem and self-love and it’s bloody painful to do at first.

Living authentically is messy because the truth is messy and because in any given moment this truth can change.  Becoming enlightened doesn’t mean you wake up and nothing hurts anymore. Truly enlightened beings sign up for the entire truth, not just the parts that leave them smiling with that far away, whimsical smile we associate with the more spiritually evolved.

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*Image courtesy of imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0280720/

Starfishing with dynamite means powering through change, adversity and growth with grace, power and acceptance.

So as I let go with love, and usher in a new year with the possibilities for new relationships that are healthy and loving, I wish you all a beautiful and peaceful New Year.

And if you feel so inclined I’d LOVE to hear your Facebook Delete story. Feel free to submit in comments below and many blessings everyone!

With love,

Jenna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Sanity in this New Civil War

 

ichooselove

We made it. Barely. Out of the clutches of the election. And what I know is two simple words: Choose Love. When your neighbor lashes out in fear and anger: Choose Love. When you have the chance to speak your truth and beliefs: Choose Love. When you feel the very essence of your being, taken to task and defiled by those operating on a different set of beliefs and justifications: Choose Love.

This is not a cliché mantra on my part, or a religious one, but a rigorous practice. It is in fact, the only path I can stand on when I am amidst darkness, chaos, conflict and closed minds and hearts. And it is VERY, VERY hard to do because reacting from ego, from fear and anger is human and has quick rewards. There is a certain high we all get from being “right”. Heads and shoulders above others, in our “rightness”. And when we encounter the “other” who is so clearly “wrong” we justify and we bully and we wound them. We take comfort in the fact that we did so because we were the “good” ones, the “just” ones, the ones who deserve justice, freedom, and vindication. And yet, as poet W.H. Auden once said, “Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart” is the true freedom. We can find relief in letting go of being right, of wounding others from this place.

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When we feel most challenged by life, the only path to balance and sanity is to stay rooted in self-compassion, love and kindness. Now more than ever, our commitment to the golden rule is vital to our well-being. Justifying angry words, hostility and self-righteousness can only lead to further derision and separation from each other.

There is no peace in revenge, just as there is no peace in being “right”.

Fanning the flames of anger and fear has led us exactly to the precipice we are at now. And as more and more of us commit to love, tolerance, caring for one another, listening with an open mind and heart, and being the light in the world, the more we will see healing and positive change. In the recent words of Adyashanti:

“There are important political and cultural issues at stake here to be sure, and we all have a stake in the outcome, which is why so many people are so fearful and angry. It’s as if 50 percent of the population cannot possibly understand, or even care to understand, the other 50 percent. And human decency and sanity have gotten lost amid the angst. Sadly, we have stopped truly communicating in the process.

I have watched this growing in our culture over the last 25 years, and now it has boiled over. As a populace, we have stopped seeking to understand one another and have sought instead only to be understood; or, in many cases, insisted upon being agreed with. We have failed to take care of one another, to love, cherish, and understand one another.

There are very important issues at stake here: issues of poverty, inequality, political disenfranchisement, racism, sexism, the list goes on. But as each of us advocates for those issues that are important to us, we too must take responsibility for the breakdown of civility, decency, and unhealthy communication. No one forces our state of consciousness upon us. No one forces us to act out of fear, rage, and unconsciousness. We will either relate out of our conflicted mind states, or from the more evolved aspects of our nature.

I cannot say exactly how to relate with those who are caught in their own conflict, except to say that if we seek to understand as our first impulse — and to respond from the wisest, most patient, and loving dimension of our being — we will at least be standing on a foundation of sanity and peace. And our actions, whatever they may be, will then be expressions of the highest consciousness that we have attained, and we will have taken responsibility for our own feelings and impulses, and made the wisest choices that we have access to.

If we are inspired to advocate for certain causes, we will do so out of love for those causes, rather than out of rage against the perceived “other.” Perhaps then we will become agents for sanity, peace, love, and the living of it in this confused world of ours.”

 

With Love,

Jenna

Robots Don’t Love You: Taking Back Our Empathy

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In a 2010 study researchers, Sara Konrath and team, from the University of Michigan for Social Research presented data from a study examining empathy amongst 14,000 college students over the last 30 years. What they found, according to Konrath, was “the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000.” College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

This exact study came hurdling back into my consciousness yesterday during a brainstorming session at a marketing agency I am consulting for. Following an in-depth analysis put together by our team of college interns on Pokemon Go, I sat down with them to debrief. When I asked them how they thought Pokemon Go was a benefit to society, they looked at me quizzically.

“It gets people off the couch and into the world. I mean some guy just lost 15 pounds in one week playing it,” one of the interns replied.

Yeah, and some people have a hard time making friends too, so this game can help them meet other people”, replied another.

“That’s true, but does that really benefit society?” I asked. “How could you use augmented reality games to solve real world societal issues like poverty, violence, health pandemics?”

I waited for a reply. And waited. They shifted uncomfortably. Eventually, I let them off the hook. I could tell my question had stumped them. That asking them to think of anything past weight loss and social engagement was new and at this stage a little past their capacity. To their credit, Pokemon Go can be useful for being active outdoors and interacting with others. And yes, there is a modicum of empathy required to come up with such replies.  Yet, would they have seen the value of Pokemon Go from an empathetic perspective without prompting? I’m not sure. According to the Michigan study, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective” and “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.” Therefore, I think in all likelihood, the answer is No.

Here’s the part that the researchers and the hundreds of others who have since written articles on the empathy decline need to focus on—the solution. If we value each other and our society as a whole, those who do have empathy have an important job. We must teach. It’s not enough to say “Wow, that’s a terrible problem.” “Oh these kids today”. That’s not going to fix anything. And if we want to stamp out the rampant narcissism invading our children and young adults we have to start by modeling empathy. Even if we are beginning to be outnumbered. Even if it is hard. Technology doesn’t teach us to love. It doesn’t teach us how to be humans who care about each other and the world we live in. People do that.

Reality may be a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but it is what binds us together and creates deep and meaningful connections not easily severed by broken wifi or 140 characters.

I’m up for the challenge! And in the meantime, here are some tips on how to build empathy:

 

Blessings,

Jenna

You Are Not My Emergency Contact-Now What?

nurse pic
Since 2011, up until last summer, the question of who would be my emergency contact was one that came up A LOT. For the first three years, the answer was easy–Sam. Sam was my live-in partner, best friend and my biggest supporter in going no contact with my family of origin. He had witnessed the effect one afternoon with them had on my sanity, on my ability to self-regulate, to stay in my body and to cope for hours and sometimes days on end. He knew the darkness of my childhood (well, a lot of it anyway, there were still darker memories waiting to be revealed) and he knew that after losing my identical twin by suicide in 2006, that my ability to stay here, in this plane, was a moment-to-moment struggle.

When I first became ill in 2011 with Stage 4 endometriosis, I practically lived in the emergency room where the “Who is your emergency contact?” question was bandied about as well as whether or not I had a health proxy. It’s strange because this question brings up so much for the adult survivor of child abuse. It’s such a simple question, right? Yet for me, this question meant:

“Whom can I turn to in my hour of need?” “

“Who will love me no matter what?”

“Who is capable of showing up for me that I don’t have to worry about care taking to get my needs met?”

“Whom do I really feel safe with and trust enough to be vulnerable with?”

“If I die, who can I trust to execute my wishes?”

Knowing Sam was there helped to ease the automatic pain that came with not being able to list any of my family members. It didn’t eradicate it of course. And the memories of facing two brain surgeries alone in 2005 came flooding back…The CSF leak that wouldn’t stop. The late night phone calls to my mother begging for relief from the pain of the spinal tap. Her stubborn refusal to come help me because I’d failed to put her needs first and was now being punished for that. It brought back the memory of my twin and the very last time we hugged in my hospital room after my first brain surgery. All of this, mind you, within the one second between “Ma’am who can we put down for your emergency contact” and my answer. Even though I loved Sam deeply, the question, no matter how many times I was asked always brought me back to those places inside of me that ached. And although Sam is a monosyllabic answer, I inevitably stumbled and stuttered and searched for his name. Helping the nurse fill in that one blank spot on the medical form felt like being a final round contestant on a life and death version of Jeopardy.

These simple questions for abuse survivors are booby trapped with complexity and loss. And I don’t know a single person who has trouble answering this question because they went no-contact with their family that did so without tremendous soul searching, agony and years of swallowing their pain and trauma for the sake of keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo. No one who goes no contact wants to live a life without family, or feeling tied to people who can love and cherish them. I didn’t wake up suddenly one morning and decide to divorce my family. It was a 20+ year process fashioned by continual verbal abuse, emotional betrayal and abandonment and rooted in sexual and physical abuse.

BREAKING THE SILENCE

For the first time in 41 years I am breaking my silence now dear readers. If truth does in fact set us free, then I am blowing the door off of this prison cell. In honor of Alyssa’s ten-year angelversary today I am sharing a small glimpse into my past. My hope is that my courage and my story will help others who are or have suffered at the hands of a caregiver to come forward. Only when we give a voice to the abuse can we finally take back our power and take back our lives.

****TRIGGER WARNING*****

Like so many adult survivors of severe abuse I stayed silent to stay alive. Alyssa (my twin) and I were the quintessential overachievers as children. We perfected our smiles, made straight As, made ourselves numb and made excuses….lots of excuses, for the abuse we suffered at the hands of our mother. It’s what children do. It’s survival. And it’s what Alice Miller refers frequently to in her book “The Drama of the Gifted Child.”

Right before Alyssa took her life she tried to have a conversation with me about the possibility of us both being sexually abused. She hinted. She intimated. I went numb. Amnestic. I changed the conversation. I said things like “I don’t want to know Lys. Maybe it’s a good thing we can’t remember.” Except, she did remember. She just didn’t want to hurt me. She knew I wasn’t ready. She also knew she couldn’t navigate that pain alone and I believe now, in hindsight, this is why she took her life.

It’s socially acceptable to speak of sexual abuse perpetrated by a father, uncle or brother. It is absolutely taboo to speak of a mother who does such things. The children who survive such a deep betrayal are silenced even before they can speak by a society that reveres motherhood and the sacredness of the mother-child bond above all else. My mother, while considered eccentric in our small Brooklyn neighborhood, was also respected and admired as a single parent raising twin girls alone. We were so well-behaved, such sweet girls and so successful in school, no one doubted her parenting skills or questioned if there was abuse happening at home. Again, it’s so important to remember that some of the worst offenders of abuse are the ones who appear to be high functioning and loving towards their children in public. The saying, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors” is the absolute truth when it comes to child abuse.

Sadly, my mother’s own childhood sexual abuse by a family member deeply wounded her and made her into a perpetrator. Despite the pain and suffering she inflicted on me and my sister I have tremendous compassion for her. I hold this compassion in conjunction with a very clear mandate to stay clear of all contact as my recovery is my number one priority. One suicide in the family is enough. And I have broken the cycle. Forgiveness doesn’t mean relationship. Sometimes it just means letting go.

It has taken an incredible amount of therapeutic work, my own Buddhist practice and an entire toolbox of coping skills to get to this moment. Complex trauma is a lifelong healing journey and one I am profoundly grateful for because of the woman I have become. Milo is my testament to the fact that the human spirit is more powerful, more beautiful, and more resilient than any abuse, adversity or hardship. We are all such incredible miracles and I am so very happy to share this page, this moment and this story with you. There is life after suffering. There is joy. And now, there is freedom.

Blessings and love,
Jenna

How to Know If You Are Becoming A Better Version of You

 

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A Bigger, More Authentic Container for Ourselves

Fifteen years ago I was on the path to becoming a child and family therapist. I  had a big dream, which included single handedly saving children and families. I was young. I was idealistic. I was also missing one very important thing, self-compassion.  I was certain if I had a large enough container to help others, that eventually I would figure out how to develop one for myself. When I say container, what I mean is holding a space for others as they experience and process difficult emotions and experiences. Like so many caretakers and healers I put myself last. I realized two years into my doctorate program, that my container for myself was empty and if I was ever going to be of service to the world I would need to figure out what it meant to love myself. My adviser at the time told me it was time to take off the super woman t-shirt and dive into self care. He was right. I no longer own that t-shirt. What I own now, all these years later, is an ability to self-nurture and to have compassion for myself. These are the building blocks to creating an even greater capacity to helping others who are suffering. True philanthropy and giving, as I have learned, starts with ourselves.

Speaking Your Truth With Love-Delaying Your Reaction

A good friend of mine once said, “Honesty without compassion is cruelty.” Jess, if you are reading this, yeah, you’re pretty awesome and yeah I’m quoting you.  Lashing out when we are angry or scared may make us feel better in the moment, but inevitably leads to shame and guilt later and relationships in need of repair. When we are able to check in with ourselves and figure out the source of our anger, most likely we will find a tender inner child wound in need of compassion and healing. If you are committed to using your words with care and to communicating with others with an intention to share and not harm, then you are already on the path to becoming a better you. And if you are still getting the hang of all of this remember– the fact that you are even thinking about this is proof enough that you are already the best version of you!

Risking Conflict

With speaking our truth comes the risk of conflict with others.If you come from a household where conflict was the norm versus an occasional incident, it may seem even more dangerous to share your authentic thoughts and feelings. That’s why I advise people to ease into this particular practice. But, when we give ourselves permission to express all of who we are and risk disapproval from others we are giving ourselves a gift. Also, despite how good our intentions are we can not control other peoples’ reactions. Accepting that conflict is inevitable will help soften the blow of someone’s negative response when it does arise.

Not Every Truth is a Pearl of Wisdom That Needs to Be Shared

I want to challenge all mothers who say “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all” with “Even if you have something constructive to say, pick your timing as carefully as you can.” Unfortunately, we don’t live in a well-scripted society where every line is hand crafted and every interaction with another human being is carefully planned out. I know, bummer right? This means, we are going to get it wrong a lot of the time. We are going to say things we don’t mean at the most inopportune times in ways we never thought possible. But, we can practice discerning the timing of when we share our feedback or thoughts. And we can also remember that just because we have thoughts and feelings doesn’t make us right and the other person wrong. It’s ok to save some of your burning insights for a day when your recipient is in a good space to receive it. I’m not encouraging you to allow emotions to fester, just to allow room to question those emotions and to share them in a way that your recipient can hear and absorb.

Caring Less About What Others Think

Last summer I ordered what I thought was a cute, somewhat 50s summer dress with lots of tulle. What arrived was in fact an adult fairy dress. Yes, Tinkerbell fairy. I didn’t give it a second thought. I wore the heck out of that fairy dress in public. My friend thought it was hilarious. Jenna, the 40 year old flitting around Boston in a fairy dress. Yep. And until he said that, I swear, I had no idea it was eccentric. I realized in that moment that I had stopped caring as much about external validation and norms and I felt absolutely liberated. So channel your inner fairy, Pippi Longstocking or Willy Wonka. Who cares? No one. That’s the point!

And if I leave you with nothing else on this Friday morning perhaps this will stick:

On the road to becoming you might find you already are.

 

Blessings everyone!

Jenna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if the Hokey Pokey Really Is What It’s All About?

 

cartoon children doing hokey pokey dance

The Hokey Pokey dance

In this thing called adulthood we get very caught up in the end result.  Arriving is tantamount to winning and we have an entire culture of words and phrases to support this–many of them one terrible sports analogy after another. The next time someone tells me they “hit their mark” I’ll be sure to grab an archery set and a bullseye and have them live their analogy right then and there. Or maybe I’ll retort instead with, “Oh yeah?Did you hit one out of the park?”

Witticisms aside, I am continually amazed by the process (what many now refer to as the journey) versus the actual result. So many of our victories come from just getting out of bed in the morning. Committing to just being here and present. It starts with your left hand and then your right hand and then your right leg and then pretty soon your whole self. It’s the Hokey Pokey and it’s as simple as just immersing yourself in the everyday joy of being alive and celebrating each step it takes to arrive.

Miracles happen on the margins of life. They aren’t always as grand and obvious as winning the lottery. Sometimes they are feeling the sun on our face or the moments of peace where we are free from monkey mind and desire and we find ourselves completely immersed in listening to the birds chirping outside our window.

So, on this beautiful Spring day I ask you  when was the last time you did the Hokey Pokey? Here’s a little reminder to help you get started: http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/music/hokey-pokey-sing-along-song-video/

Enjoy everyone! That’s what it’s all about!

With love,

Jenna