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The Uses of Prayer, Part 2

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A few years ago I wrote a blog post about praying for sports. Here is the revised version of the prayer from that post:

Dear God, please let my team and my opponents remain injury-free, be kind to themselves, their partners, and the opponents, and if at all possible, to win. 

I don’t think God is some kind of Santa Claus who grants your wishes, but I have heard that God wants to be in conversation with you, which is what prayer is. And God is like a parent, and I would tell my parents that I want to win, even though they can’t make that happen. They don’t always give me what I want, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Although I really do pray for wins occasionally–when it’s a big game–most of my prayers are not about sports. What I pray for the most, which I wrote in another post about angels, is that God will send an extra angel on my behalf to people who I know are suffering. For me, angels are the metaphor for what in Buddhism might be called loving-kindness or compassion, which you send to people during meditation practice. I like the idea of having actual angels who look out for us. And when we pray for someone, we can ask God to let that person borrow one of ours. Sometimes I’ll ask for an extra one if I’m really struggling.

I do think angels are real. I don’t think they always look like celestial beings dressed in white, with wings and a halo. Most of the time they look like people. Friends who just happen to text and ask me how I’m doing while I’m in the midst of a mental breakdown. Strangers who stop on the freeway and ask me if I’m OK while my car is stuck in the median. A boyfriend who genuinely takes pleasure in helping me with the 2 things I hate the most–cooking and grocery shopping. These people seem like angels to me.

I imagine I have been an angel to other people, too. I do genuinely believe that my purpose in this life is to alleviate other people’s suffering, to whatever extent that is possible. Maybe that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing while we’re here on earth. To be angels to one another, using whatever unique skills and abilities we have. To provide whatever comfort we can, even though we can’t fix everything, or keep bad things from happening.

When I did that self-compassion retreat a few years ago, we were practicing a meditation in which we sent compassion to people who are suffering. I asked the leader if he really believed it helps the other person. Whether sending compassion really makes a difference. He told me that he didn’t know if it makes a difference to the other person, but it made him feel better. That has really stayed with me. That’s really the main use of prayer for me. It just makes me feel better to do it.

How Was Your Blog Reading Experience Today?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of requests to rate my experience with 5 stars on every single thing I do. I’ve already had 2 requests today, and it’s only 2 pm. So there could be more forthcoming.

My first one started with a call this morning asking me to pre-register for my CT scan on Monday, because my GERD/asthma/allergy/throwing up thing has really gotten out of hand. This is the 14th time I’ve had to confirm my information for my last 8 appointents in the past 2 months. Because in addition to making you pre-register by phone, they also ask you to do it by logging into My Chart. Or they mail you questionnaires to fill out beforehand. And then when you get to your appointment they ask you the same questions again because apparently they don’t have to read the chart or the forms you filled out. So I was already not in a 5 star mood. And before the woman gets on the line, I get a recorded message asking me to take a brief survey after my call by logging on to some web address. They really need to perfect that approach if they want 5 star ratings. Because that’s way too much work. And I don’t even get anything out of it. They could at least offer 5% off my next co-pay.

As expected, she asks me the same questions they ask every time. No, I have not moved since last week. My insurance hasn’t changed. I feel safe in my home. I haven’t fallen in the past 12 months. Except in this one she asks me for the last 4 digits of my social. Apparently I gave the wrong answer. I was like, I don’t know what to tell you. Those are really the last 4 digits. So then she was like, can you bring your SSN card to your next visit, to prove it’s you? Seriously? I told her, not so patiently, that some people don’t even give out their SSN’s, so I don’t see why I need to bring my card to prove that the number they have on file really isn’t me. After providing some examples of how she can verify it’s me in other ways–my address, phone #, first of kin, etc.–she finally agrees to email someone and give my corrected number and says hopefully they’ll take her word for it. Whatever. And then she told me my co-pay was going to be $248 and do I want to pay for it now. No, I don’t want to get out of bed and get my credit card downstairs and pay for it now. But thank you for warning me in advance, because I thought it was covered by my insurance.

If I had remembered the web address for the survey, maybe I would have actually filled this one out, but not because I was going to give her 5 stars. I am not a satisfied customer.

After that, I changed my sheets and got out this new silk pillow case I ordered on Amazon, and you know what was in there? A $5 coupon if I go on the Amazon website and give their product 5 stars. Which I will probably do, because I buy something from Amazon almost every day. A much better approach, if you ask me. Buying my satisfaction.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please feel free to leave me a 5 star review 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟😉.

Adventures in Blogging: Six Years Later

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I wrote my first blog post on September 24, 2013.  At that time, my goals were to take some preliminary steps towards writing a book. Like writing stuff down and letting people read it. Because I had never written anything about myself that I thought was good enough to share. I figured blogging could be my version of exposure therapy–just throw myself out there, with all my weaknesses, secrets, and embarrassing moments. Make myself vulnerable to the world.

Fortunately, not many people read my blog, so it wasn’t too painful. And the people who read it were mostly my friends and family. And people who could relate to my problems. Which turns out to be almost everyone. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, in fact. It turns out that the things I was so reluctant to share are the very things that have improved through the process of blogging. So I thought I’d share my progress with you, since you helped me to be the person I am today.

  1. Self-care. This has actually become one of my areas of expertise. Which is kind of ironic, because I was pretty terrible at it when I started my blog. I never got enough sleep and often had to binge sleep on weekends and breaks. I would get hypoglycemic because I wouldn’t make eating a priority. I coughed all the time, couldn’t breathe, and threw up on occasion but didn’t bother to find out what was wrong with me. I would only allow myself to consult my therapist in emergency situations. I had a terrible relationship with my body. To be honest, I still struggle with all of these things, but the difference is that I’m committed to making self-care a priority. When I falter, I forgive myself and renew my vow. And it makes a big difference, having someone who is committed to caring for me.
  2. Self-compassion. At the time I started my blog 6 years ago, I was separated from my second husband and dating someone who I couldn’t stand and filled me with self-loathing. We broke up shortly thereafter, and that was the first time I had ever been single. Most people never knew what was going on in my relationships because I feared that people would judge me, and I already judged myself harshly enough. I didn’t need the extra guilt and shame. But in freeing myself from the pressure of seeming like I had it all together, I was able to forgive myself for my mistakes. And I have become less judgmental of other people, too. Or at least I am committed to being less judgmental of myself and others.
  3. Boundaries. Before I started my blog, I only had a vague idea of what boundaries were. Probably because I didn’t have any. I never said no. If someone needed something and I could provide it, I felt it was my duty to give them what they wanted. I couldn’t distinguish my feelings from someone else’s feelings. I knew what other people wanted but I had no idea what I wanted. There were no boundaries in my thoughts, either. Everything ran together in this litany of worry that played over and over, like an anxiety playlist on repeat. Practicing mindfulness has helped me to put some boundaries in place, but I still struggle in all of these areas. But that’s OK. In mindfulness, there is no goal to achieve. No grade to earn. I just need to keep practicing.
  4. Warriorism. I love a challenge. A difficult relationship. A complicated knitting pattern. Being so tough that I can throw up during a match but keep going, win or lose. But I have learned that, while it’s good to know that you are capable of doing hard things, that doesn’t mean that you need to make everything hard to do. So now I take my drugs for all my conditions, take time off from playing when my body tells me to, let go of people who do more harm than good, and sometimes knit really easy things, like scarves. Because I imagine even warriors take it easy when they’re not in battle.

2019 has been a tough year, and the school year has already begun with some unique challenges. But I feel up to the task. I am committed to caring for myself. Being kind to myself. Saying yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want. Being selective about the challenges I take on. And blogging.

How Do I Learn to Love Myself?

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You know how people say you can’t love others until you love yourself? Well, it’s trite, but true.

The reason you have to love yourself first is because, if you don’t, then in every relationship your focus is on getting the other person to reassure you that you are lovable. Which is not a reliable source of reassurance. Sometimes people are distracted, or in a bad mood, or equally preoccupied with wanting you to prove that you love them. Which leads to a lot of fights that center around accusations and demands.

Before I could even say what the rules were, I learned that I had to prove I was worthy of love in a variety of ways. And it wasn’t enough to be good. I had to be perfect. The best, if possible. The #1 seed on the tennis team with an undefeated record and no unforced errors in any of my matches, for example. And in the rare cases in which I could achieve this moment of perfection, the target moved. The carrot stick just a bit further, still out of my reach. I needed to work harder. Be better.

I’m not saying this to blame my parents. I know that they were under the same kind of pressure from their parents. Which they learned from their parents. And I did the same thing in my relationships. It’s painful to remember all of the unreasonable demands that I made on other people. How nothing was ever enough to reassure me that I was loved. If I wanted him to buy me flowers, and then he bought me flowers, I’d be like, you just did that because I told you to so you don’t really love me. It was a no one situation for both of us.

Not so long ago, I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t stand being this person in my relationships anymore. Which is why I embarked on that 4 year journey of solitude. I was determined to love myself, even if it killed me!

How does one learn to do this, you ask? Because you can just be like, I love myself! Done. Ready for love. I didn’t have examples of what that looked like, and there weren’t any textbooks on it in grad school. Self-love 101. So it has been a very slow process. Like learning a second language on your own. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have found any helpful advice on how to cultivate self-love, and that was when I learned about self-compassion. Which I write about a lot. But rather than make you go back and read 300+ blog posts, I’ll give you a cheat sheet on what I have learned so far.

  1. Forgive yourself for the love you didn’t give. We are all going about life, trying to love and be loved, using whatever limited resources we have at our disposal.
  2. Forgive others for the love you didn’t get. The same thing applies to them.
  3. Remind yourself that your feelings count. Even if you don’t know why. Or it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. Or the feelings don’t go away when you want them to. Be willing to be there, with your pain, for as long as necessary.
  4. Embrace who you are, exactly as you are, in this moment. Your flaws. Your mistakes. The embarrassing things you’ve said and done. You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love.
  5. Strive to love better. Most forms of self-improvement come from a place of unworthiness. I don’t think we ever convince ourselves that we are worthy, but we can try to love ourselves–and others–despite all of our glorious imperfections. And it feels way better than blaming and shaming.

These steps have become my daily practice. My self-love workout. But despite my daily practice, my internal monologue still doesn’t sound very loving at times. But I try to forgive myself. Try to accept wherever I am in this moment on the path to wholeheartedness.

What Winners Do, Part 2

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This weekend my tennis team made it to the semifinals in the state tournament. This is not an easy feat. It is only the 3rd time I’ve experienced it in my 15 years of playing in leagues. A few years ago I wrote about What Winners Do after districts that focused on positive self-talk and mindfulness. This run at Regionals reminded me of some other things that winners do.

  1. Winners don’t make excuses. My tennis partner started cramping at the beginning of one of our matches but didn’t tell me. And she said it didn’t affect her game. I believe her because she plays through a lot of injuries and ailments. Some players tell you that they haven’t played in weeks. Or they ran 3 miles before the match. Or they’ve been nursing an injured hamstring. Sometimes before play even begins. Just in case they lose. Just so you know… it’s not their fault. Players like Federer and Nadal don’t even reveal that they were struggling with an injury until well after their loss. Because winners aren’t afraid to lose.
  2. Winners put their team first. As with any sport, playing time is a big deal. You take it personally when you aren’t in the lineup at Regionals because you paid a lot of money to be there. We don’t have sponsors like professional players do. Plus, it makes you feel like your game isn’t good enough to be in the lineup. But this weekend, our captain did not put herself in the lineup for our semifinals match, even though she is a strong player, because it didn’t benefit the team overall. In my experience, not many captains put their team before their own personal interests. But that’s what winners do.
  3. Winners learn from difficult losses. In one of our matches in the semifinals the opponent made 3 bad calls. Unlike professional tennis, at our level you are expected to be honest and make your own line calls. However, at Regionals you can call an official to watch if you think your opponent is cheating. Even though my teammate was upset by the other player’s poor sportsmanship, she said she learned an important lesson about asking for an official next time. Because that’s what winners do.
  4. Winners come up with new strategies. Last night at the U.S. Open, Maria Sharapova got crushed by Serena Williams. She probably had no chance of winning, but one of the things Sharapova has been criticized for is not changing her game plan. She hits hard, and if she’s losing, she hits harder. She won’t stand further back if her opponent has a good serve. She doesn’t try to use drop shots or lobs. Federer also played last night and lost the first set to some guy that no one has ever heard of. You could see him trying different tactics after that, determined to find a way to win even though he wasn’t playing well. Because that’s what winners do.

In an effort to be more like Serena and Federer, our team has decided to change our strategy for next year. We’re going to adopt a team uniform, because that’s what the best teams do. We’re going to get the outfit that Serena wore last night in her win. Even though her outfits aren’t always flattering, she’s still one of the greatest tennis players of all time. And it would be a perfectly legal way to distract our opponents!

Serena's outfit

The Power of the Pause

Remember how I said I have trouble with transitions? Well, it turns out that everyone has trouble with transitions. And I thought it was just me! (By the way, if you ever think that something is just you, it’s not true. This is really how everyone thinks and feels.)

This summer, in an effort to recoup after a challenging academic year, I decided to up my mindfulness practice by pausing more often in transition from one thing to the next. Because I had this mini epiphany that mindfulness is actually about creating pauses. At the most basic level, it’s about pausing between a thought or feeling and how I respond to it.

For example, I started having anxiety attacks the week before work started because I kept getting work emails asking me to answer questions, check my schedule, review this thing, take this assessment, etc. I tried to ignore them, but once they popped up on my screen, I had to read them. You know. Because I’m OCD. If you’re thinking, well why don’t you just turn off those notifications, Christy? It’s because while I was single for 4 years and never got any texts, every time I looked at my phone, my inner demons would be like, don’t even bother checking. No one gives a crap about you. So I turned on my notifications for everything so I could be like, take that, demons! You don’t know me!

But I digress. What was I saying? Oh yeah. Pauses. Actually, that’s a good example of a pause. Those inner demons are constantly trying to make us think we are worthless, and without taking a pause, we believe them. If you put a pause between the thought no one gives a crap about you and the automatic thought that comes up after that, which is something like, I’m unlovable, lots of useful things can happen. You can ask yourself, is that thought true? No, actually. It’s not. I just had dinner with a friend last night. And I’m playing tennis with more friends tonight. So some people must like me. That’s just my inner demons, doing what they always do. Persistent little buggers.

So then, based on something a client said (clients often have really good ideas), I decided to insert more pauses into my daily routine. Before I ate something to give thanks. Before I turned on the TV to see if there was something else that would be more helpful. Before reading the next chapter, to let what I just read sink in.

And it really helped. Before I used to go through my self-care routine like a to do list. Meditate–check. Take meds–check. Stretch–check. Just going through the motions, trying to get them out of the way. But then I remembered how another client had talked about a book she was reading that encouraged treating even the most mundane activity as though it were sacred. Which is what mindfulness is about. This moment, while you’re folding clothes, matters. Regardless of how you feel about it. Or what you have to do afterwards. Be here. Experience it. It will never come again.

Perhaps sometimes that’s what we want when we’re bored or sad. Or filled with dread about school starting. But perhaps when you look back at some point you’ll think, wow, I spent that last week of vacation obsessing about school so much that I didn’t even get to enjoy it. Or, remember when I had a job? Those were the good old days. Or some other thought that makes you realize that there were a lot of good things going on in that moment when you thought it wasn’t so great.

And you know how we can try not to take those things for granted? With pauses. They require no special training. No therapy needed. No self-help books. You can’t do it wrong. And even taking one will make a difference.

Try it out. See what you think.

A History of Trauma

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There were 3 mass shootings last week. Three. Last week. Although there is only talk about 2 of them, because I guess not enough people got killed in the first one. I used to think about how hard it would be to live in the Middle East, where children are trained to be suicide bombers whose goal is to kill as many people as possible before sacrificing their own lives. Have we become a culture that does the same thing?

I just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See. It was interesting to read what WWII was like from the German side. And a reminder of how traumatic war is. It seems the only way to survive was to forget–all that you saw. All that you lost. All of the things you did. All of the things you didn’t do. Forget that you saw dead bodies strewn about, or piled up in large heaps, and just went about your business. Maybe you even contributed in some way, directly or indirectly, to killing them yourself. But what other choice did you have, really, but to focus on your own survival? How could someone who lived through something so horrifying not have PTSD? It’s too much to process. Too horrible to make sense of.

In the book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Peter Levine argues that war is a reenactment of unhealed trauma that repeats itself at the individual, generational, and cultural level. That’s deep. Even in the Bible humanity begins with murder. Brother killing brother. And the aggressor survives, earns his right to pass down his genes to the next generation.

In my own family, I can see the effects of trauma in some of my nieces and nephews and can trace the pain of it back to my grandparents. I’m sure it goes further back than that. I just don’t know their stories. Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, this is why I chose not to have kids. At some level, I knew that I would do more harm than good. People who know me would say this isn’t true, but I know that trauma happens all the time and is often invisible to us. Even when we see it, we can become desensitized to it. And even when we know it’s happening to people we love, we sometimes look the other way.

I also read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb–a therapist who talks about her own therapy, as well as the work with her clients. A book that I had wanted to write, by the way. The very reason I started this blog. So she beat me to the punch. But she isn’t as crazy as I am, so maybe there is room for 2 books about therapists who are also clients.

But I digress. One of the clients she talks about is a woman who is about to turn 70 and is going to commit suicide on her birthday unless Gottlieb can convince her that life is worth living. Talk about pressure! Turns out that part of the problem is that she doesn’t want to be happy. Or rather, she doesn’t deserve to be happy. Among her list of crimes is that when she was married to an alcoholic and abusive man who beat their children, she would walk out of the room. And she didn’t leave him for a long time. She knowingly, willingly, participated in their abuse by looking the other way. None of her children have forgiven her. Why should she?

But what power do I have to stop a cycle of violence that began with the first offspring in the history of humanity?

My client asked me this question yesterday. Felt powerless, disoriented, and anxious in a world where children can buy weapons of mass destruction and are given permission to kill other people—particularly those who are deemed to be less than human. Everyone points fingers, argues about who is to blame, but nothing happens. What can I do to have some control?

In East of Eden, John Steinbeck also wrestled with what to make of the sibling rivalry that kicked off humankind. How do we go forward after we’ve killed our brother? The answer eventually comes from Adam’s Chinese servant Lee. He decided to study Hebrew with some ancient Chinese wisemen for several years. So that he could accurately interpret the 16 lines of the Bible in which Cain’s story is told. Just for kicks. And the answer is: not matter how deep-rooted the sin, there is always a chance for redemption.

In other words, we do have some power to stop the cycle of violence. And, in my opinion, it begins with self-compassion. I told my client that he has the power to be kind to himself. To commit to creating a space in his mind that is loving. That is dedicated to self-care, acceptance, and forgiveness. It takes practice, but with time, healing takes place. And the energy you create within you and around you will be filled with compassion, so that others can feel it when they interact with you. And so forth, and so on, until we create a cycle of love that breaks the cycle of violence.

So I’m trying to take my own advice. The cycle of hatred ends with me, within me.