“You picked HIM!” That’s what a therapist said to me as I was licking my wounds from a failed relationship when I was in my twenties. My reply, “No, I didn’t!” Then I went on to explain that HE approached me and that some kind of chemistry enveloped me. I couldn’t escape. I was caught in the magical web of attraction.

Now more than 40 years later I finally got it—what the therapist was trying to tell me. I did choose HIM. I chose to write his name on my dance card, and then I chose to dance with him until he decided to dance with someone else. He left me. I was left holding the detritus of a fantasy.

I writhed in the grief of abandonment and victimhood for a good long while…actually too long. I claimed my victimhood, made depression my best friend and shrouded myself with self-protection. As much as I wanted another relationship, I wasn’t going to let this scenario happen again. The sad thing is that it happened several more times.

And why was I seeking a relationship anyway? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was operating under the false premise that if I had a relationship I would be complete. It was the tangible proof I was lovable—a necessary notch in my self-esteem. Without it who was I?

Are You Really Taking Responsibility?

Taking responsibility is not an easy thing to do, especially if you’ve been ignoring its role in your life or worse—thinking you’ve been taking responsibility all along when, in fact, you haven’t been.

This notion started coming clear to me just a few years ago. The story begins in 2005, when I started a new career as a Tarot card reader. As destiny would have it, I quickly met and became friends with a Tarot entrepreneur in my area. I was hungry to learn. She offered classes, workshops with renowned Tarot experts and opportunities to read at Tarot parties. Why wouldn’t I befriend her?

About a year later, she suggested we teach a class together using Tarot cards and essential oils to unlock blocks to prosperity. It was a cool idea and since I teach and create classes, I was in. As we developed the class I started noticing her sidelining my ideas. She named the class, wrote the marketing materials and developed the agenda. My job was to say yes and carry out the role she had slotted for me.

Sacrificing Integrity

That insidious feeling of “being controlled” started inserting itself into my psyche. I expressed my concerns, but timidly because I felt beholden to her for all those opportunities previously mentioned that she appeared to offer. Ah, the classic case of sacrificing your integrity in order to get something you believe you can’t get on your own. I saw her as my doorway to new people, experiences and business. Arguing with her that my ideas merited attention wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t jeopardize the relationship if I wanted to get more of the “goodies” she offered.

I am not proud to admit this. On the other hand, this friendship did give me many opportunities to learn more about who I am and how I choose to live my life. We had a friendship for at least nine years and during that time I learned a lot, not only about Tarot but about myself. The control factor, however, became intolerable. I found I didn’t trust her. I didn’t want to share my thoughts and feelings with her. I wanted her to go away. Eventually I went away.

Two years later I learned about the Emotional Freedom Technique, known as EFT or tapping. Because I kept stewing about this relationship, I decided to tap on it. (For those who don’t know about tapping, check out www.thetappingsolution.com.) I held no expectations that anything would happen when I started the tapping protocol.

Midway through lightning struck—a moment of blinding clarity came through. I saw my complicity in this relationship in a way I had never acknowledged before. It was visceral. I had to admit that once again I had written a name on my dance card and chosen to dance with that person. I had been feeling victimized and controlled when I was just as much a player as she. I had agreed to the tacit contract we both signed.

Here’s the Secret

Feeling like a victim takes time and energy. It can suck you dry. I spent an inordinate amount of time perseverating over the shards of this friendship gone awry, resenting her, feeling hurt and, yes, struggling with its loss. The moment I learned of my complicity in that tapping session was the moment I freed myself from those painful emotions. I could move on. I could take responsibility. I could claim my power again. I could independently blaze my own trail in the Tarot world.

Gregg Braden in his book The Spontaneous Healing of Belief, Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits (Hay House, 2008), underscores the point I am making:

“The fact that someone else did what they hadn’t been able to do themselves plays right into their subconscious beliefs of limitation.

When this happens, people tend to look to someone or something else to intervene where they feel powerless. They’re looking for a savior, whether it’s a drug or another person performing a miraculous healing. If we’re convinced that we’re powerless and dependent upon something beyond ourselves in order to have the experience, then we’ll also feel the need to return to that “something” again and again to get what we need. We will, that is, until we realize that we can do for ourselves what is being done by someone else for us. It’s at this point that the savior is no longer needed and we’re truly healed.”

In both cases with the boyfriend and the Tarot entrepreneur, I was seeking completion outside myself. I handed my power to them and deemed them my savior. These may seem like easily reached conclusions, but they’ve taken years to solidify in my mind. I can now pick them up, look them in the eye and claim responsibility for how things unfolded and turned out.

Looking for “More”

November 15, 2016

“Who are these people?” That’s the question I asked myself upon leaving my fiftieth high school reunion dinner one Saturday evening last month.

I went to a small country day school in Connecticut, starting at age four and ending at age 18. I was one of thirty-eight students who graduated on a sunny Friday morning in June 1966. Such a small number allowed us to believe we knew each other pretty well by the time we were handed that diploma. But, really, at age 18 how well do you know anybody? How discerning can you be?

We each had our own page in the Class of 1966 yearbook. As was the custom, we wrote long, gushy love notes to each other on our own page of each others’ yearbook. We promised to stay in touch.

But we didn’t. We had more important things to do–grow up, figure out our life purpose, have our heart broken and repaired, and discover what’s right and wrong. Career, family and community took center stage.

Fast Forward Fifty Years
In May of this year I was reminded that my fiftieth high school class reunion was slated for the first weekend in October. Even though the Alumni Office would send out one or two notices during the next six months, no one else was going to take the time to round up my classmates unless a few of us made the concerted effort.

Having organized lots of groups over the years, I identified three classmates who wanted to join me in planning our reunion. This entailed finding lost classmates, divvying the class list among the four of us and calling folks to stir up interest. One classmate who had been a librarian used her sleuthing skills on the Internet to find those without contact information. She found one classmate from his daughter’s wedding announcement in The New York Times and helped me confirm another’s death by locating his daughter in San Francisco.

The initial calls surprised me. Conversations averaged 45 minutes, and that was with people I hadn’t spoken with for 50 years. When I got off those calls, I was excited and hopeful. People who expressed doubt and reluctance about coming back for reunion at the beginning of the call said they would give the idea serious thought by the time we hung up.

The Planning Process
When we started, the planning committee met on the phone every two weeks. We were serious. In addition to calling classmates, we had to identify a restaurant for our Saturday night dinner. It took more than one try, but once a restaurant was found and our reservation was locked in, we could focus on making sure people came.

I created e-mails to gin up interest. I asked a few classmates to write about their favorite teacher, describe a memorable moment, and/or share why they wanted to attend reunion. I asked for current photos of those who contributed, so folks would recognize them when reading the article. Thanks to the Internet, I added cartoons, pictures and a relevant blog one guy wrote about attending his fortieth.

“We Got the Best We Could.”
The reunion was a two-pronged event: A lunch at the school on Friday and a dinner at a restaurant on Saturday. Out of 33 living classmates six attended the school lunch on Friday and 11 attended the dinner. This may not sound like much, but statistics would probably deem it a success.

One woman who attended the lunch delayed her winter sojourn to Florida for a week so she could join us. Out of the 11 who came to dinner, five of us were from out of state. One classmate arrived home in New Jersey on the morning of our dinner after taking the red-eye from Seattle to Newark, retrieved her dog from the kennel, and then drove to Connecticut to be with us for our 6:00 PM start time. That afternoon another drove from Massachusetts and two more from Rhode Island. All of them save the New Jersey classmate were driving home after the dinner.

Without our calling, cajoling and corralling our classmates, it’s highly unlikely there would have been any reunion. What touched me the most was learning two classmates who deemed each other best friends in high school had had no contact for 50 years. At the dinner they pledged to resume their friendship. As one classmate on the planning committee put it, “We got the best we could.”

So, Where Did I End Up?
In short, I was not where I wanted to be. Sitting at a long table with access only to the people on both sides of me and the one in front of me was not ideal for mixing with everyone who attended. The man across from me spent the better part of the evening proudly telling me and the woman to my left how many houses, boats and cars he had acquired through the years. For some reason this conversation dragged on and on. The woman to my right was consumed with the conversation to her right.

Usually I can talk easily with people I meet, but that evening I found myself disinterested in the conversation and too exhausted to interject my own stories. No one cared enough to ask. Dazed, I couldn’t figure out what had happened. After all the calls, e-mails and planning meetings, I felt disconnected and disappointed. Who were these people anyway?

Once home, I separately shared my disappointment with my doctor and my meditation teacher. Both had experienced the same phenomenon with old friends–lonely, empty connections. And then my minister made it exceedingly clear in her Sunday message, “When you open the spiritual door in your life, there is no going back.”

I opened that door in the early nineties, and assumed that most people I knew came with me. Not so. I went to my reunion looking for a connection with my childhood friends. I guess that’s why I unwittingly left home in the first place—looking for rewarding connections. Lovely as my adult classmates are, we are in different places today where my connection to them is tenuous and no longer needed. I wanted “more” from them and this experience. I learned this is not where “more” resides.

Find Another Lover

August 15, 2014

“Find another lover.”  The late Adolph Ceasar spoke those words at a Smithsonian lecture I attended 30 years ago.  They came ringing back to me this morning.

For those unfamiliar with Adolph Ceasar, he was one of the voices behind the memorable catch-phrase, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste” for the United Negro College Fund.  A powerful actor in films, such as A Soldier’s Story and The Color Purple, Ceasar won recognition when he was nominated by both the Academy and the Golden Globe for best supporting actor in A Soldier’s Story.  While filming his last film Club Paradise, he suffered a heart attack and died shortly thereafter at the age of 53.

I remember he spoke these words with such clarity and fervor, “If your lover leaves you, find another lover.”  I knew he was right, but embracing his advice is another story.  How do you do that?  After you’ve shared such intimacies with another, it feels like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and only a hollow cave remains.  If the breakup is recent, some of us can barely hobble out of bed in the morning, let alone eat, dress and brush our teeth!

I am a believer that loss should be grieved.  Picking up the next day like nothing has happened after a meaningful relationship has ended is not a wise idea.  It’s called denial.  Your feelings must be acknowledged and felt; otherwise you carry them with you wherever you go.  You can pretend you’re fine, but anyone who’s the slightest bit aware picks up on the malaise that swarms around you.  Then you attract the rescuers and repel the more grounded.

Why Remember Adolph’s Words Now?

Why have Adolph’s words come back to me this morning?  You’re going to laugh!  I am grieving the loss of my morning boot camp–an exercise program with a certified trainer four mornings a week.  I had been religious about participating in this boot camp for the past year and a half.  At 5:45 AM I would get in my car, turn on NPR, and listen to this guy who talked about the latest technology trends during the 10 minutes it took to drive to the gym or park, depending on the weather and season.  In early July my boot camp program abruptly ended.

A workout program is hardly a lover, but the lover metaphor can be applied to anything you’re committed to.  Boot camp gave my day structure.  It was the impetus to get me moving.  If you are anything like me, I do not love to exercise.  Walking, yes, but push-ups, lunges, planks, and kettlebell swings, spare me!  Only under the surveillance of a trainer am I willing to subject myself to these kinds of exercises.

In my advancing years, I realize how important it is to move and take care of my body.  Boot camp ensured me that I was at least doing the minimum to keep myself limber–oiling the knees, tightening my underarm flab and staving off the fat that can’t wait to wrap itself around my hips.  Going to the workout room where I live doesn’t cut it.  Learning to use the different machines, adjusting them to the proper weight so I don’t kill myself, and deciding how many reps are demands I just don’t want to deal with.

The Trainers and My Workout Partners

And what about the relationships I developed there?  No, they may not equate to that of a lover, but they remain an important component of the whole experience.  I got attached to the trainers.  They were of such a high caliber.  One, in particular, always amazed me.  She would exercise along with us, counting the reps out loud at the same time.  Meanwhile, I could barely talk as I huffed and puffed my way through each exercise.  The hour was entirely planned with diverse activities, always leaving enough time to stretch and wind down at the end.  Each day had a focus:  cardio, legs, upper body, etc.  It was impressive.

Of course, let’s not forget my fellow compatriots!  Together we groaned, sweated and supported one another.  By the time this gig wound down, only four of us remained.  We knew who wouldn’t be there on Mondays, who was away visiting her parents, or who had a working breakfast or week-long conference to attend.  I would miss them when they couldn’t attend and be delighted when they returned.  Although I didn’t know them well, they all were a part of my morning routine.

The Racquetball Player and the Parking Lot Attendant

Initially I had joined this boot camp in 2004 and consistently sweated my guts out for five years.  Every winter we worked out in one of the rooms of a gym.  To get there we passed racquetball courts where the same guys played week after week.  One man would always say hi and ask how we were.

Due to illness, I had to withdraw in 2009.  I didn’t have the energy or stamina to do the exercises.  So, when I returned in February 2013, the same guys, a little grayer with the occasional ACE bandaged knee, were playing their routine racquetball game.  The same man remembered me and enthusiastically welcomed me back.  I never knew his name, nor he mine, but he made my visits to the gym that much sweeter.

Whenever I left the underground parking lot, I was required to give my ticket to a parking attendant.  Always with a smile at that crazy hour of the morning, she would wish me a good day.  I so enjoyed that one heartfelt minute we exchanged with each other.  Hearing how her weekend went or agreeing how cold it was created a caring connection.

My Time to Find a New Lover

In June my favorite trainer decided to relinquish the boot camp.  She had found more stable, lucrative employment elsewhere and passed the baton to another trainer.  After two days the new trainer discovered the arrangement wasn’t going to work.  She informed me by leaving a phone message and wishing me a “blessed life.”  With the flick of a dial and a quick “Dear John” voice mail, the relationship ended.

Nearly six weeks have passed, and I know it’s time for me to find a new lover.  Like most people who’ve suffered a breakup, I am resistant.  I know, however, I must get out there and explore the options.  I’ve grieved enough.  My clothes are beginning to fit snugly.  My love-handles are gaining ground.  Adolph was right.  If I follow his advice, I won’t have to buy a new wardrobe.

 

Say No!

August 9, 2014

“Whenever we deny our need to say ‘no,’ our self-respect diminishes.  It is not only our right at certain times to say ‘no,’ it is our deepest responsibility.  For it is a gift to ourselves when we say ‘no’ to those old habits that dissipate our energy, ‘no’ to what robs us of our inner joy, ‘no’ to what distracts us from our purpose.  And it is a gift to others to say ‘no’ when their expectations do not ring true for us, for in so doing we free them to discover more fully the truth of their own path.  Saying ‘no’ can be liberating when it expresses our commitment to take a stand for what we believe we truly need.”

–John Robbins and Ann Mortifee, In Search of Balance: Discovering Harmony in a Changing World

“My relationship to money was no different from my relationship to food, to love, to fabulous sweaters:  Because I was never aware of what I already had, I never felt as if I had enough.  I was always focused on the bite that was yet to come, not the one in my mouth.  I was focused on the way my husband wasn’t perfect, not the way he was.  And on the jacket I saw in the window, not the one in my closet that I hadn’t worn for a year.”  –Geneen Roth, Lost and Found, Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money

 

 

The Map Analogy

April 30, 2014

“Some people seem well-suited to following maps, while others are always looking for new ways to get where they’re going. In the end, the only reliable compass is within, as every great spiritual guide will tell you.” –Madisyn Taylor, from her blog The Daily Om

Years ago I asked a friend to drive me to the airport from work. This was in the days when Mapquest was the rage and GPS systems were just a glint in someone’s eye. I had dutifully printed Mapquest’s directions. With my bag, purse and directions in hand, I hopped in the car and off we went.

It was the beginning of rush hour and in Northern Virginia. That’s not a pretty picture, especially when you’ve got a plane to catch. My friend Kathy had a meeting to attend as well.  Time was of the essence.

We seemed to be buzzing along fine at first, until Mapquest led us off the main streets and into a rural area. Kathy started asking questions, and I anxiously tried to assuage her that I had had great luck with Mapquest in the past. Their directions certainly wouldn’t lead us astray. Before we knew it, we faced a roadblock on what seemed to be a dirt road with no human habitation in sight. Where had “trusty” Mapquest led us?

I won’t share with you the panicky feelings I had on whether I would make my plane or the embarrassment I felt urging Kathy to drive the Mapquest way. The only thing we could do was turnaround and find a main road that would lead us toward the airport. We eventually felt our way back to civilization and the airport.  Kathy made it to her meeting on time and I made it to my plane, but not without a lot of anxiety.

What’s This Say about Maps

Madisyn Taylor goes on to write, “The maps and travelogues left behind by others are great blessings, full useful information and inspiration, but they cannot take the journey for us. When it is time to merge onto the highway or pull up anchor, we are ostensibly on our own.”

Kathy and I had to figure out how to get to the airport on our own. We knew the general direction, but the exact route had to be discovered by our own choices. This meant taking steps we weren’t sure would lead to our desired destination. It also meant possibly making mistakes and missing our respective appointments. The pressure was on.

Maps are a good thing because they get you headed in the right direction, or at least in a direction that feels comforting to start with; however, they are based on, what Ms. Taylor calls “observations from the past.” New roads are built every day; highways cut through neighborhoods we thought were sacrosanct. That map we’ve been using could be woefully out-of-date.

With or Without a Map

A lifelong challenge of mine has been believing in myself. So, when I read Ms. Taylor’s blog, it gave me pause. For years I’ve tried following the guidance of therapists, mentors and gurus. In some cases, their advice has been invaluable, just like a map. In other instances, I wasted, or at least I thought I had wasted, valuable time and money that didn’t get me to where I thought I needed to go. I had reached another roadblock. I had to turn around and find my own way.

That stirred up feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. I wanted someone else to tell me where to go and how to do it and then I would discover that’s not where I wanted to go or how I wanted to do it. I had to deal with those feelings and learn that that was just another bend in the road, one that wasn’t on the map I was following.

Ultimately, I had to decide for myself which way to go, what would serve me best, and how to honor my true self.  Ms. Taylor describes this awareness as “moments when we learn to attune ourselves to our inner compass, following a map only we can see, as we make our way into the unknown territory of our own enlightenment.”

Attuning to Our Own Inner Compass

Perhaps the best thing we can do before we embark on any new project or direction is to check in with ourselves. This may be difficult when some expert has had so much success with his/her approach to the same issue we are wrestling with. We see the possibility for our own success using that person’s step-by-step approach.

Our enthusiasm for it can be blinding, so much so we can’t see the compass needle, which is telling us to do whatever we are seeking in another way that uniquely works for us.  At the same time the enthusiasm for following another person’s path drowns out our own inner voice–a voice that always speaks the truth.

Essentially it’s a battle between the inner voice and the ego. Discerning which is which takes time, practice and perhaps a number of missteps. For some of us, it takes many missteps before we slow down and start listening.  Maps are good, but we are the only true experts on our individual journey of life.  By believing in ourselves and paying attention to our own inner compass, we’ll get to where we want to go, perhaps with more ease than expected.

Communication Subtleties

November 26, 2013

I sent my long-time friend a book I thought she would like. She had moved away more than a year ago. Six weeks passed and I hadn’t heard from her. I finally sent her an e-mail asking if she got it. Yes, yes, she did. She thought she had written me. No, no e-mail was sent. It stung.

I sent another friend the DVDs from the final two seasons of a mini-series I had introduced her to. I had been waiting until we got together, so I could hand them off to her. The get-together never happened, so I sent them to her. It turns out she watched the remaining two seasons on Netflix and thought she had told me. No, no she didn’t. It stung.

What happened to common courtesy?

Both relationships have held a lot of meaning for me. I’ve known my long-time friend for more than 40 years, the other for seven. In both cases, we’ve shared intimate details of our lives. I know their families, and I felt close to both of them. I thought they considered me a close friend as well. They probably still do.

Fine Points Worth Noting

My initial reaction was to stop initiating and pull back. I had to think about it more. After all, I am the common element in both equations.

My gestures of sending both the book and DVDs were well-intentioned. To my long-time friend I sent a brief note, saying I hoped she would enjoy the book. We had talked about the author, and she expressed interest in her work. But, here’s the fine point: I never asked her if she would let me know when she got it or, in fact, how she liked it once she read it. In hindsight, I guess no request for a response requires no response. I just expected she would let me know.

With my other friend, we had talked about the mini-series and how much she enjoyed Season 1. When we last spoke she was moving slowly through the episodes of Season 2. I had given her Season 3 and expected to hear from her when she completed it in anticipation of my giving her Seasons 4 and 5. No word ever came. I went ahead and sent her the remaining two seasons.

I looked forward to sharing our impressions of the characters, story, and acting. That sharing never happened. In fact, it seemed like a double-slight to learn that she had watched the remaining seasons on Netflix, when I said I would lend her them when she was ready. Here’s the fine point: I never requested she let me know her impressions or how she was progressing through the series. Again, I just expected she would share.

Healthy Interpretations

I wanted something from each friend—acknowledgement and appreciation. Only after I prompted them did a response come. The fact that these two incidents occurred in fairly close succession gave me pause. I started asking myself: Did they hold me as close as I was holding them? Probably not. Were they on to other things? Had these friendships lost a few degrees of intimacy? Probably yes, on both counts.

Even though both friendships still exist, their hue does not shine as bright for me. I felt a loss. Although no one has left anyone, I felt like I was the one left behind. Both women are married, rich in friends, interests and activities. One has moved far away, and the other doesn’t live all that close to me. Could proximity be another reason things changed? I wasn’t sure.

I’ve given serious thought to all of this and came to a few conclusions. All things, especially friendships, have a season. People come into our lives for a reason. When the reason has been fulfilled, the season has been completed. That’s just the way it is. The key for me is to see each friendship for what it was and is. When it no longer mutually serves both parties, it’s time to let it go where it needs to go—onto the back burner of my life. That doesn’t mean we don’t connect anymore. The connections become less frequent, less intimate, a few less fingers touch the pulse of the other person’s life.

In the past I would feel the loss and stew in the rancor of my perception of being left behind, wondering what happened and feeling pained by absent responses. Now I understand the purposelessness of wallowing in these emotions. It’s up to me to acknowledge the change, grieve the loss and open myself to life’s offerings and opportunities.

Contrast

Right about the same time I sent the previously mentioned items to my two friends, I sent a gift to another friend, who lives several hours away from my home. The package was intended as a surprise. Upon receiving it, she wrote me a quick e-mail to tell me she got it and how much she loved it! Her response was a sharp contrast to the ones I’ve already mentioned. Her enthusiasm was palpable even in a short e-mail message. Apparently proximity doesn’t have anything to do with friendship. If someone cares about you, s/he will let you know.

Where does that leave me? Moving on…where the energy is flowing, where it feels good and where the relationship is mutually beneficial. One of my favorite authors Eric Butterworth clarified the whole situation when he wrote, “Sometimes the best way to get along with people is to get along without them. Let go…and walk on.” After writing this blog, I am ready to walk forward and that feels good.