IMPORTANT – our divisions are deeper than politics

If I could have my friends – of every political stripe – read just one book, it would be Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness.  I gave it John – to the two of us – for Christmas, intended to read it & discuss with John, then promptly forgot about it.  Only came across it yesterday because of hunting down Brene’s original reference to “marble jar friends” (found it in – Daring Greatly).

Cracking it open in high hopes of finding a long-ago read quote in a book I had barely opened, my eye lit on a passage & my heart froze.  And raced.  My mind whirled. And went dead calm as Brene explained that she is not an expert in terrorism but there are few, if any, more deeply knowledgeable about fear.  And “terrorism is time-released fear.

Pure & simple.

That’s what I’ve been trying to put my finger on: Osama Bin Laden didn’t direct those planes to take down buildings & kill innocents; he did it to sow fear that would bear its greatest damage long years after 9/11.  Ditto Dylann Roof murdering the very people who had made him welcome to their church – to kick off a race war, the impact gets stronger with the years.  Bin Laden’s box cutters ignited our vulnerabilities, while the backlash against the Confederate flag made countless people across the USA feel like their worst fears were being realized as the government came after THEM.

Time-released fear.

It reminds me of a movie about a group of WWII commandos tasked with taking out a key bridge.  It’s designed to stand any attack, by air or land;  the men aim to destroy a major dam up river, letting the force of its raging waters do their work.  The men charged with detonating it were dismayed at the piddly explosion, so minor the Germans weren’t even aware of it.  But what began out as the teensiest crack in that giant dam became a massive hole then the water descended upon the targeted bridge with such tremendous force, it took down the invincible structure.  Nature did what explosives could not.  Bin Laden counted on our human natures doing what he knew his explosives would not.

Americans need to WAKE UP to what is happening.   Brene’s words relate to ALL of us.  If we, as a nation, don’t wake up to that & turn things around… well, things will not end well.

I started my research six months before 9/11, and I’ve watched fear change our families, organizations, and communities. Our national conversation is centered on, “What should we fear?” and, “Who should we blame?” I’m not an expert on terrorism, but after studying fear for 15 years, here’s what I can tell you: Terrorism is time-released fear. Its ultimate goal is to embed fear so deeply in the heart of a community that fear becomes a way of life. This unconscious way of living then fuels so much anger and blame that people start to turn on one another. Terrorism is most effective when we allow fear to take root in our culture. Then it’s only a matter of time before we become fractured, isolated, and driven by our perceptions of scarcity.

In a hardwired way, the initial trauma and devastation of violence unites human beings for a relatively short period of time. If during that initial period of unity we’re allowed to talk openly about our collective grief and fear–if we turn to one another in a vulnerable and loving way, while at the same time seeking justice and accountability–it can be the start to a very long healing process. If, however, what unites us is a combination of shared hatred and stifled fear that’s eventually expressed as blame, we’re in trouble.

Everyone has a story – Brene Brown link

It’s over a month old, but I finally feel like I can share Brene’s blog post responding to Anthony Bourdain & Kate Spade taking their lives.

The entire posting is invaluable, hits on so many delicate & important points for us all, whatever our age situation circumstance to remember & remember & remember, but if all you read are these nuggets, you will be well served:

You would think the universal nature of struggle would make it easier for all of us to ask for help, but in a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there can still be so much shame around reaching out, especially if we’re not raised to understand the irreducible nature of human need.

We can encourage our children to ask for help; however, if they don’t see us reaching out for support and modeling that behavior, they will instead attach value to never needing help.

We also send strong messages to the people around us – including our children, friends, and employees – when they do ask for help, and in return, we treat them differently, as if they are now less reliable, competent, or productive…

To know pain is human. To need is human. And, no amount of money, influence, resources, or sheer determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.


See this, see my sister

Everything that Brene describes as what we want to avoid are the very things that my sister, Mim, embraced.

Although it was NEVER discussed in the family, not even as an confidential explanation for the out-of-step way she intentionally lived, it was clear from my early adulthood that something was horribly amiss with her.  The way the family responded to her, which confused me back then & frustrated me all of my life, seemed like a neon sign flashing  SHE  WAS  HURT.   My suspicions were confirmed last year after I mentioned to one of her closer friends my certainty that she’d been grievously abused as a very little child – years ago, she told him that she had.

I came across this TED talk looking for Brene’s Anatomy of Trust video.  It blew me away – the more Brene talked about resisting vulnerability, the more I saw Mim.  It’s about as good an introduction as I can give to knowing my sister, as I experienced her.

Unknowingly, Mim played the dominant role in my coming to understand the 5th Commandment as being about honoring others for who they are, every bit of them, including the dark, inscrutable parts, and respecting their wholeness, even when we don’t understand it.  And that it all begins with having compassion for who WE are.

I wish that was something Mim could have understood for herself.



It’s personalities

In her Soulful Sunday share on trust, Brene Brown mentions that “as small as the moments of trust can be, those can be the moments of betrayal, as well.  To choose to not connect when there is an opportunity, is a betrayal.”  (10.35)

That summed up last Saturday for me.  Standing at the local farm market, under the oak trees shading the vegetable vendors, flower sellers & omelette makers, there unfolded moments of opportunity for connection ~or~ betrayal.

Suddenly seeing my Aussie-based older brother shook me up –  I thought he was outside Sydney, not in the heart of our hometown.  He casually mentioned that he & Kerry had been in town since Wednesday.  Mike spoke to me in the exact same tone of voice, with the exact same level of engagement, as the person he talked to before spotting me.  Neither of us moved in for a hug & kiss.

His host eagerly assured me,  “You are on their radar, tagged for a visit!”  That did not help with my hyperventilating over what I guess Mike & Kerry thought would be a happy shock.  What they might have planned as a big surprise went down as surreal – and not in a good way.

From Mike & Kerry’s angle, it might have seemed like a swell way to surprise me.  Up to this season, I’d been the farm market’s Cupcake Lady.  Since we have no contact outside of their Christmas card, they might not have known I skipped this season, focusing my energies on nurturing my eldercare (r)evolution efforts.

One reason for our shocked response – John as much as I – was that on their two earlier joint visits since Mom died, they ignored numerous invitations to get together.  The shift between being dissed & “Hey!  You’re on their radar & tagged for a visit!” stripped my spirits.  And I couldn’t get as upset as I wanted, to say “WHAT?” because there were people milling all around us.  Again – surreal describes how it felt.

Even at the time, I felt sorry for Mike.  Am sure it was not the reaction he expected. being relatively cold-shouldered, in front of everyone.  Kerry could reasonably have chalked it up to “typical Elsa, still rude & hurtful.”  From their point of view, possibly from their hosts’ & others, that’s how it could have seemed.

I dissect everything, so naturally did a post-mortem on last weekend.  Came up with confirmation of what I already know to be so – we process things in opposite ways, which does not bode well for building strong healthy connections.


Brene completely captured what happened last weekend – “As small as the moments of trust can be, those can be the moments of betrayal, as well.  To choose to not connect when there is an opportunity, is a betrayal.”  But one person’s experience of attempted connection can be another’s moment of betrayal.

Background:  For two previous visits – one of them including Mom’s memorial celebration – Mike & Kerry made no effort to connect with me, neither as friend nor sibling.  They did not connect with me after our sister, Mim, died – my communication with them was directed through their daughter.  They never shared their response to the online memorial tribute their daughter & I created together, which saddens me more than anything.

My guess is that Mike & Kerry avoided contact due to fear of being hurt.  They would have been right – seeing & experiencing things so differently creates an unbridgeable chasm that makes miscommunication & mangled moments of connection almost inevitable

They triangulate, I am direct.  Oh, Kerry prides herself on being a frank Aussie, but my experience is more in line with my s-i-l as someone who detailed to Mom things about me that made her blood run cold, then saying while SHE never talked to me about those things, MOM was welcome to.

This blog is an opportunity for me to do the very thing my sibs & s-i-l find so irksome – write things out, look at them from different angles, reframe situations from another person’s perspective or even a totally different set of circumstances.

Which is my rambly way of saying there are times that past histories (separate & shared), life expectations & communication styles leave even the best-intended people setting up what they hope to be heartfelt connection that’s felt as betrayal.  It’s not personal – it’s personalities.

I will forever grateful that the Universe gave me an opportunity to be open & honest with my brother, Michael.  When he asked us out to breakfast on Monday, my sensors were on overload & I said yes because I lacked the grounding to say anything else.  It didn’t take me long to realize what a disaster that could turn into – and I didn’t have the energy to take the risk.

When Mike called on Sunday to confirm the plans, I told him, tenderly & firmly, that they – especially Kerry – feel unsafe to me ~and~ past experience suggests that I am equally unsafe for them – especially Kerry.  That I wish them well & accept that they wish me well, but we – Kerry & I – do not do well together.

I was able to feel the emotions on Saturday, register & respect them, let them past through & out of me because of years of reading & our current yoga/meditation work.  Seeing the situation as the story I was telling myself  & processing it was thanks to Brene.  But the opportunity to understand, process & speak my truth to the appropriate person, at an appropriate time?  That was literally God sent, to all of us.

For some people ~ like me, my sibs & s-i-l ~  maybe the best course of action is as basic as accepting that our conflicting communication styles don’t mesh, that it’s hard for us to connect  with each other,  that we can respect each other’s good intentions & honor one another as special-place-in-the-heart people.

And keep a safe, loving distance.

The Anatomy of Trust – Brene Brown

Okay, it’s a Friday & this is NOT a podcast.  But it is something I need to post BEFORE the end of this remarkable week, one that has been all about trust.

Trust is, in my understanding, THE most important sense that there can be within relationship, whether with others, our self, or the Divine.

My thanks to Brene for her wisdom over the past few years.  Am posting this in place of a Friday podcast because TRUST is where I’m at.  You come too!


Trust was a major, unspoken issue in my family.  My parents had a similar strong, almost supernatural sense of trust, apparently in full bloom with their introduction.  But with everyone else, especially me, Mom had trust issues.

Mim had the most serious trust issues.  It might have been based in part in her nature – or not.  Whatever deep terrible trauma she experienced when she was very young – which was never acknowledged within the family – left her distrustful of even her nearest & dearest.  I think the only people she never spoke of as “against” her were Penny, Gray, Lark, both Beths & a couple cousins.

It seemed to me that Mim cloaked herself with snide comments & slighting observations because she felt it was better to get the thrusts in first before someone did it to her.

This was brought home to me after Mim’s death.  I was planning on making cupcakes for the long-term care facility where she’d lived.  My oldest brother warned me off, sharing that she’d told him that the staff despised her so much, “she doubted anyone would notice if she died.

That went straight to my heart – not because they were so callous & unfeeling, but because I knew from personal experience & from talking to her closest friends that the staff adored her, expressed in ways that can’t be faked to people of heart.  More than that, I’d heard Mim use either the exact same words or a variation to describe how many people – including my oldest bro – felt.

Mim could not feel accepted by people she did not trust.  No one can.  Mim wrapped herself in a straight-jacket of distrust & could not be coaxed out of it; the more she felt love from someone, the more she distrusted him or her.

I was also wrapped in distrust.  Until recently, my greatest belief was that no matter how much you seemed to like me, I would disappoint you & turn you away.  I certainly can point to the relationships in my family that went ka-blooey because of others feeling a deep lack of trust in me.  I think about my oldest brother’s children, who had terrible experiences with me because of my conflicts with their dad – they were caught in the middle & I was too short-sighted & emotionally dumb to notice.  They have BIG trust issues with me, which I respect & grieve.  My oldest brother considers me a mega liar, my sister experienced me as toxic & my s-i-l once described me as the most psychotic person she knew.  I respect & grieve their feelings, especially when they bar the way to any sort of healing.

Praise be, Mom worked her way out of some of her most entrenched trust issues.  We used a quirk of hers to create an opening to greater trust.  John or I would be headed out & she’d say, “If you’re anywhere near the pharmacy, would you pick up…?

That might sound innocuous enough, but it  drove me NUTS.  “Mom, if you need us to pick up a prescription, just TELL us.”  The next time, same thing – “If you’re anywhere near…?

It broke my heart that she didn’t think needing it was reason enough for us to want to get it.  John & I came up with a plan – when she’d ask, we’d ask her, in turn, to make it a direct request, like “Could you pick up my prescription at Bethayres Pharmacy?”  Then, we’d make sure  to pick it up,  without having to be reminded – and it was a pleasure.

To me, Mom’s reluctance to ask directly showed a lack of  her trust in our willingness to help her out.  Praise be, she developed a stronger sense of  assurance that we honestly enjoyed doing her bidding & that we would let her know if it was inconvenient & when we could pick up her order.  We used drugs to build Mom’s trust muscle!

Trust can be lost in little, middling or big ways, but it can only be restored in small ones & over time.

People we trust have been there when we needed them – stopping by Gretchen & Andrew’s at 3:30 a.m. in the morning because Mom had fallen & was being taken by ambulance to the hospital & I’d blown off getting gas hours earlier, so we were driving on fumes to a hospital 10 miles away – without a moment’s hesitation, we swapped car keys.  (The EMTs found it way bizarre that we left in a silver sedan & arrived in a blue suv.)  It’s knowing your niece & nephew WILL get to your wedding weekend, even though it’s outside Philadelphia & they’re in school in NYC & Delaware.  It’s the people who are there to give hugs when most needed, even if they haven’t the vaguest idea why.

Trust is built in the smallest of moments.”  Today was a big trust builder with John – we were heading out this morning & we couldn’t find the small purse the keys are in.  It’s really hard to misplace this purse, since it is the head of a cat.  John names EVERYTHING, so it is called Pursey.  And there was no Pursey to be found, anywhere.

The right place to put the purse is in the key basket, but I’ve been known to put it next to the coffee pot or next to the laptop.  I searched my book bag, the pockets of my pants, checked out in the car – could not be found.  The appointment of John’s we were headed to was a wash.

And it took him a full hour before reminding me that HE had been the last one to drive the car.  At this point, I could have gone ballistic.  “Why didn’t you remind me of that earlier, as I was searching places where I might have left it!

It would have been such a good vent, but like holding a balloon when I was a kid – – something I really really really wanted,  quickly left me disappointed, dissatisfied.

I kept my mouth shut & left him to his search.  He called the friend he’d visited yesterday, the gas station where he’d stopped – nothing.

After two hours, we talked about how we approach situations.  I step back, calm my mind & wait for whatever to show up, either in front of me or in my mind.  Until this morning, John has bunched up, which only drives the energy of what’s been lost deeper & deeper into the dark.

Instead of getting snippy, I suggested he go through part of the meditation practice we do at Pura Vida – after a couple minutes, he realized that an even better activity for him would be to get in his daily walk, which he used to do listening to A.M. talk radio but now is music for the chakras.

A couple hours later, he came down to the Basement, where I was working.  He held out his right hand – there was Pursey!  “I was snugging with Sky (our small tuxedo kitty) up in the bedroom & was walking past the stuffies on the top of my bureau, when the brown shape of a cat’s head caught my eye.”  Bet it caught his heart, too!

Yesterday, instead of waking me up from a nap to ask, “Do you want to come with me to Bernie’s?” – code for “Would you drive?” – he drove himself (very rare), letting me sleep on.  When he came back, I was still zonked out.  My guess is he thought to himself, “I’ll just put Pursey right here,” tucking him in with the stuffies, “And she will be surprised to see him when she walks past!”  Except I didn’t see my purse, it had flipped over from its cat face to its brown back & John clear forgot his clever surprise.

After finding the missing Pursey, John rescheduled his morning event to late this afternoon.  All is well & I will be picking him up in about 45 minutes, at 9:00 p.m.  He will come home to a dinner of mac & cheese, a chilled Goslings Ginger Beer & a slice of pumpkin cheese cake.  Not exactly nutritious, but it will be spot on with my Hubster.

John & I have done post-mortems on our fracas since our earliest days.  The last couple years have been especially testy, probably because we’ve been on the cusp of making some mega serious breakthroughs on the cause of my still surfacing trust issues.  Today was one of several triumphs of relationship over fear.  It would have meant little without the other small but mighty victories that came before

Trust can be lost in a heart beat, but restoring it takes a long time & many moments of putting relationship – with the other &/or yourself – over ego.

If I had blown up this morning, gone ballistic over the irksome niggly bits & pieces that pester & fester relationships, tonight’s served-with-love dinner would have been an empty, albeit it tasty, gesture.  But this morning, when the moment of reckoning arose, we aced it.  So bring on the mac & cheese, the ginger beer & pumpkin cheese cake, served WITHOUT  a snide of  discordant undertones!


Coming home to where I am

Until the other day, seeing the title in a list of books by David Richo, had forgotten about Coming Home To Where You Are (2008).  And although the name hit a deep resonating bell, could not for the life of me recall WHY that book rang so true with me.

Even after coming across my copy & reading 1/3 of the way through, still couldn’t figure out why seeing the title for the first time in three years had stirred me so deeply.  Fell asleep last night thinking, “Must have been another book.”  Then, early this morning, got to page 77.

This book illuminates & lightens.  It shines light into undiscovered or dark corners of my relationships within my family & within myself; it lightened any sense of sadness regret recrimination connected with any of us.  In David Richo, in Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle-Melton, Michael Singer, Jen Sincero & so many others, I found others, especially my mother, described in beautiful, tender terms.

It was the commitments at the end of the chapter on Respectful Assertiveness that stopped me cold – I am learning to ask for what I need without demand, manipulation, or expectation.  I honor the timing, wishes, and limits of others while protecting my own boundaries.  I am open to a radical transformation of myself so that I can be free of malice.  I look for ways to be kind for myself while not letting myself get away with anything.

That was published seven years after Mom’s 09/6/01 passing, but it is SO what she learned over her closing four years.  Especially the opening words of each commitment – realizing it was okay to DO these things, period.

It was just this morning, just a few moments ago, that it occurred to me why doing these very things were never an issue with her & Dad.  With the two of them, asking ~ honoring ~ being open to change ~ looking for ways to be kind to their relationship was as natural as breathing.  She never had to strive to do it, it just happened naturally. Once Dad died, so did the ease or even the expectation that doing these things would be acceptable.

Mom’s post-her father’s death & pre-Dad experience was that it was NOT.  Her widowed mother – someone my brother describes as an utter Gorgon – expected Mom to completely dance to HER tune.  Gran’s middle daughter learned that she was expected to have no needs, to not deserve honor, to accept things as they were, that her mother was the only one worthy of kindness.

When Dad came along, doing the once impossible was an immediate norm.  She never had to learn it or get permission to do; from their first serious connection, in a kitchen during a New Year’s Eve party, mutual respect-honoring-transformation-kindness was part of everything they were. When Dad died so young, at 63, so did the comfort, the natural cadence of expectation & fulfillment.

And that drove me crazy.  For all of my life, I needed a Mom NEVER stood up for herself with her kids, not even when Dad was alive.  Dad stood up for Mom, but she couldn’t.  The only time I ever knew my father to seriously lose it with me was a time – I was around 5th grade – when I sassed Mom & refused to apologize;  he came after me with a hair brush, ready to tan my hide, Mom beseeching him in the background, “Pete, don’t…”  He ultimately did her bidding & didn’t lay a hand on me, but I was verbally scorched & grounded.  Dad stood up for Mom, but she couldn’t.  Until the closing years of her life.

Reading the commitments on page 77, was filled with such pride that Katharine Reynolds Lockhart was my mother. Because, in her mid-late 80s, she did learn to do all those things.  Learned that asking for what she needed was not demanding or manipulative or even expected a YES.  That it was honoring the timing, wishes & limits of others AND her own boundaries was an essential part of sound emotional health.  That she was capable of radical transformation, setting her free from self-malice.  That it was not only okay to be kind to herself, it was a necessary starting point for being kind to others.

Mom learned all those things on her own, once she realized it was okay to see things differently than she always had, something that dawned on her at 87.  Never say never!

As I move forward with this work of digesting, synthesizing all I’ve read over the past years, am expecting more & more precious moments thinking of Mom, my sibs, not so much my Dad (didn’t know him all that well) & the glory of tender-hearted relationship).

Good times ahead!

DIE EMPTY ~ Todd Henry

When the student is ready, the teacher will come.  And with such a fabulous lesson!!

After I’d read Og Mandino & Brene Brown, my heart felt primed & ready to go, but my head said, “Uh, guys – I don’t know HOW to do what you have me aching to do.

While Brene got my heart soul brain sharing the same track & Og upgraded my rickety internal infrastructure, making it capable of supporting a strong structure, TODD HENRY gave me the a) blue prints, b) building materials & c) knowledge to create something lasting, valuable.

Brene & Og were inspiring, uplifting;  Todd put me to work.

Die Empty – unleash your best work every day calls us to live flat-out, pursuing our dreams rather than dithering away in a life of comfortable mediocrity.  And he includes high achievers among those living mediocre lives & people barely scraping by as among those on track to die empty, having left it all out on the field of action.

Success in emptying yourself of your best work each day depends on your ability to define the right battles, and to do the small but critical tasks that move you forward to your true objectives, goals.”

Know what really & truly matters to me, a daunting task requiring us to know who really we are & what we truly want, knowledge that requires an introspection that makes me want to run upstairs, dive under the covers & go to sleep.  (sleep is my default to constructive action)

many people would rather wither on the vine than begin to attempt working toward more, toward better for fear of the discomfort it would cause.

No getting around having to get past that the obstacles littering our path to self knowledge, but it has to be done if we are going to understand what really matters to us.  Once we know what really matters, life should get simple, since what we should be focused on what draws us closer to our goal, letting everything the keeps us stagnant or (gasp!) moves us away drop away.

So many of us – myself included – resist resist resist UNDERSTANDING that our success is determined as much or more by stopping doing doing what keeps us stuck or moves us back as it is by any determined new steps we take to move closer to our goal. Todd covers that & gives a solution.

By breaking big tasks down into manageable bites – the 7 deadly sins of mediocrity;  follow your F.A.T.E. ~ Focus, Assets, Time, Energy;  the three kinds of work ~ Mapping, Making, Meshing – Todd makes the steps he shares accessible manageable doable.

Will never know if Todd’s book is as exceptional as it feels to me, whether I was in the right place to hear & ACT on what he says, a combination or something totally outside my ken.  I do know that Die Empty & his Louder Than Words kick started me into action.

We will see how great a student I am of the master.  Can tell you this – Todd leaves me no excuse to say, “I didn’t know how.”