The tiger-striped towel hung sadly in the bathroom towel ring, it’s silver stripes half bleached and side seams bedraggled. I looked at this once cotton masterpiece, this towel I love, and realized — I should get rid of it. When I found this hand towel years ago at TJ Maxx for a “deal”, I was super excited to put it in my bathrooms. But here we are, many years later and it’s tattered and ready for the trash.
I, however, can’t let go. I feel silly even spending time thinking about this worn-out towel. Of course, the only reason I’m perseverating on this is that this tattered towel represents something deeper in me. Something crying out to be attended to.
I let myself concentrate on the towel. This towel owes me nothing. It’s served, the good soldier that it’s been, its full tour of duty. It has gathered the wet drops of my hands, my husband’s hands, the hands of my children, my children’s friends, my entire family. It has absorbed and dried, absorbed and dried. It’s been through 1000 spin cycles. It’s done its job. But I can’t let it go. Not just yet.
Why can’t I trash it? After all, I’m on Alejandra-inspired clean out mission and have already let go of things of far more material value. So, why do I insist on hanging on to this tiger-striped hand towel?
In this pause I realize something. This towel is my dream, it’s my hope, it’s my vision for my house and my family. I bought it when we first moved into our home 10 years ago, and in between it’s threads, lay the vision for what I wanted my family’s life to be.
It’s silly perhaps, but my heart breaks for this towel. I can’t throw it out. It would be throwing out my dream of where I want life to be. And life, knock wood, turned out relatively great. So what am I doing?
Maybe for us sensitive souls, letting go, even grieving the little things, is difficult. Yes, we feel so deeply and trust so completely. Grieving can be a sharp reminder that this world is an impermanent and fleeting thing. And that is uncomfortable.
So, I hold this soft, thread-bare towel in my hands. And I know it’s time. Time to hold the past in my heart and not in my palms. Time to grieve the loss of not just the towel, but the growth of my children (a healthy letting go), the aging of my mother, the growing older of myself and all those whom I love dearly. Yes, our relationships become more precious as we get along in this life, but some of the things that travel alongside the passing of time make us downright uneasy. Not just Not easy-but UNeasy– you know, the bristling feelings that accompany letting go of what we cherish.
There is no doubt that some people and certain things will always glisten in the substance of our souls, even if they’re no longer physically here. My dad no longer walks this earth with me, nor my Aunt Mary, or many of my relatives and friends whom I’ve had to say goodbye to way too soon. And so, no, I can’t hold their hands, or look into their soft beautiful eyes. But, if I’m paying close attention, I can hold their memory, the feeling of love they gave me, the feeling of our connection, somewhere deep in my heart. The tiger-striped towel may no longer rest on my gleaming chrome ring. But my memory that as a younger woman, I held a dream for my family –that will. Perhaps our task is to weave the threads of our hopes and love so completely into the fabric of our being. That way, when the physical expression fades or even disappears, the roots of the past still glow with meaning and depth in us.
We talk so much about balance these days— family and work, self-care and care for others, rest and productivity. Have you noticed that it’s ridiculously challenging to stay in balance for any length of time? One minute we’re in balance, then out of balance, we find it again, only to lose it the next.
It’s not the imbalance that throws us off course — balance and imbalance are just part of the yin and yang of our journey. The problem more often is the way we react to imbalance. You know, like when we notice the imbalance and react by judging ourselves compared to others– What is wrong with me? So-and-so has it all together, and I can’t even manage this carpool? Or, we kick it into high-gear action mode–overshop, overconsume, overuse social media sites as a way to quiet the inner wobble. In those agitated states, it’s easy to overreact to the little things, and literally worry ourselves awake at night. The reaction to the imbalance can be more damaging than the imbalance itself.
I’ve been thinking about something I say when teaching balancing poses in yoga classes: “Love the Wobble.” This was a hard-won realization. For years, many of us, myself included, would get mad at the wobble, or hold onto walls when wobbling, or use the wobble as our signal to really begin freaking out. One day I decided that I was just too tired to fight it. I invited the crazy, shaky wobble into my experience instead of letting the wobble indicate that I was on my way down. Once I started letting in and loving the wobble, I fell less. And when I did fall, it just wasn’t such a big deal.
The wobble is inherent in life. Maybe the wobble helps us steady ourselves, a mini-course correction of sorts. Fighting the wobble? That only creates more stress.
When the wobble shows up, on or off the mat, send it love, not resistance. Embracing the wobble can be a game changer. An amazing thing happens when we love the wobble in our lives. We can relax a little more, accept ourselves a little more, and, when we fall, find more grace to get back up.
My daughter and I were having one of our regularly scheduled fights about her phone use. Texting, instagram, snapchat—all vehicles that rob her attention from more meaningful ways of connecting. Yet, the more I demanded and threated, the more tenaciously she clung to that device.
This week I demanded she surrender her phone to me, and when she didn’t, I grabbed it out of her hands. We both yelled and screamed at each other, and it sucked. I had the phone, but it was far from a victory.
After dropping her off to school, I felt overwhelmed with anger. How could she be so defiant, I began to contemplate. I would never have acted this way with my mother, I told myself. The anger welled up inside me. But now, I had no choice but to sit with the feelings. I breathed in and noticed that the anger was making my heart beat faster and my stomach nauseous. As I sat with this yuck, something else was lurking underneath it all.
The well of anger was replaced by swells of tears. These angry struggles were primarily based on fear, anxiety, and sadness. Anxiety that she’ll not have deep relationships because snapchat exalts the superficial. Anxiety that my parenting probably sucks. Worry that her life was going to fall off the rails while I stood by, paying AT&T to strip her soul. Sadness that this wasn’t how I envisioned her adolescent years.
Real anxieties, real sadness. It became clear to me that I was fighting not only my daughter, but fighting my own feelings of loss about her growing up and fighting feelings of inadequacy as a parent.
When she came home from school, I must’ve surprised her by not getting into my typical rant about her phone. I told her how sad I was about fighting, that I felt pained by her words, and I apologized for hurting her feelings. The armor that each of us had erected began to soften. “I’m sorry, Mommy. It’s just I need my phone to reach my friends.” This time, I didn’t lecture her on how much better it is to have face to face contact with people. I just listened. We talked for a long while, and though fruitful, it wasn’t all flowers and pretty skies. When the unpleasant feelings came up, I let them, but purposefully didn’t get lost in the storyline in my head.
This is the first key to unlocking the door: don’t get caught up in the storyline. The storyline (why is this happening, what’s the future going to hold, etc.) had me justifying, explaining, and blaming. It’s like internal Fear Factor. Though it’s useful to figure out the whys, it’s probably best not to do the exploration in the middle of agitation. This is the time to let your feelings come up, and label them (“angry” “sad”), and drop the story about it. I’ve found this labeling technique allows the intensity of the emotions to dissipate and even transform into more clarity.
The second key was noticing where my muscles tightened and my bones misaligned when I was being challenged. We all do this differently. For me, my shoulders round, my arms and neck tense up, my breath goes underground. Classic Fight or Flight response. So, I consciously told my upper body to relax and my spine to elongate as I took a deep breath in and a long exhale out. I did this for a good 30-45 seconds until my nervous system chilled out. These two keys dovetail, making a healthy inroad to keeping our hearts open and receptive to both ourselves and our loves.
From a place of calmer clarity, we chatted about boundaries for her phone and developed a system that both she and I could live with. I’m not so unrealistic as to think that this will solve things, but it’s a start, a work in progress. More important is that I’ve identified two tools that will help me, and maybe even one of you, keep some sanity, during those heated moments.
Adolescence is harder on the parent than it is on the teen. We’re all doing our best to find the freedom to love our children as deeply as we can during this and every part of the lifespan.
For years, I’ve courted the belief, “if only I had XYZ” or “if only he/she/they would act differently” (which usually meant act the way I wanted them to act), then I could relax. Then I can really be happy.
It’s an easy trap to think that we can’t really enjoy our lives until (fill in the blank—kids are better behaved, bank account has more zeros behind it, pants fit looser, blah blah blah). In a way, it’s a longing for perfection, which actually only drags us into a catfight with reality.
Intellectually, we know that nothing is perfect. And when we seek it, it sadly sacrifices the most precious thing we have— the present moment. It’s like we ransom the present moment for some ideal one in the future, which may or may not even occur.
In those situations when frustration with reality comes up, I find more freedom when I remember to say, “XYZ is not perfect. I’m not perfect. Maybe I’m not relating to the situation perfectly. And this too is blessed.” It’s a struggle to remember to do this because the pull to get preoccupied with whatever isn’t perfect is quite strong. But those times when I remember to do this, life is lighter. It’s a release from the straightjacket of perfection.
Could it be that the degree to which we embrace imperfection in our lives is the degree to which we will feel love and joy?
When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re tired, rest. When you criticize yourself, love yourself more.
Somewhere along the line, many of us, myself included, bought the belief that putting ourselves down leads to self-improvement. Or, that self-criticism keeps us in check, preventing us from becoming narcissists or getting isolated. Before you know it, self-criticism becomes a habit, emitting its foul vibes even on automatic pilot.
So, Here’s my holiday wish for you: The next time the self-critic rants, don’t go down the rabbit hole with it. Instead, use its appearance as a signal that your reservoir of love for yourself is nearing empty. Just as when you’re hungry, you use that as a signal to eat. When your car light indicates that you’re out of gas, you go get gas, right? So when the negative internal chatter starts up (I’m too old, too small, too big, too young, too lazy, too active, whatever), it’s just a signal that your self-love meter is closing in on empty.
Fill it up any way that brightens your spirit—such as noticing that you offer your level best each day, and it might not be perfect, but it’s real. Maybe filling up means you go for a walk, practice yoga, dance like nobody’s watching, make something delicious to share. The key is, whatever brightens your spirit, whatever feels loving, whatever fills your cup. Even simply saying to yourself, “I love you” can help.
This holiday season, give yourself the gift of truth: all self-criticism really is is a signal that it’s time to fill up with more self-love. Give self-love and give it freely.