Tag Archives: imperfection

On Loneliness

On Loneliness

I’ve done a lot of contemplating and research on this particular post – starting in Afghanistan – I’ve written and erased and rewritten ”several” times; suffice it to say, my approach and conclusion from what I was first going to write have completely changed. Initially, I looked at the question whether or not loneliness was a choice.  But that was the wrong question, the wrong approach.  I have come to believe that loneliness is no more a choice than a sunburn is when out in the sun for too long. It’s an effect…as is the combination of the sun and lack of sunscreen. Let me explain.

Loneliness sucks. It’s a black, empty void, and a longing for love and attention and community and otherness whose absence glares and taunts us to a point of near torture. I know we’ve all felt the pang of loneliness, and I simply don’t believe someone who tells me they’ve never been lonely. People will do anything to stop being lonely – I know, I’ve been one of them and I’m not proud of the levels to which I’ve stooped, and the morals I’ve sacrificed for even a few moments of feeling less lonely. It’s like what they say about people with motorcycles…there are those who have fallen, and those who have yet to fall. So it is with loneliness…but maybe after a closer look at it, our “fall” won’t have to be so hard. 

After months of research on the topic, the most helpful explanation of loneliness was in a TED lecture on Youtube.  In his talk “The lethality of loneliness,” (from where the two images on the right were taken) John Cacioppo looks at loneliness as any other physical response and early warning system our bodies enact when some sort of adjustment is required. Our bodies feel thirst when it needs more hydration; we feel hunger when our bodies need nourishment; we feel pain when we need to protect and heal our bodies. In the same way, we feel loneliness when our lives need a social adjustment.  It’s a physical response to let us know that we’re lacking something – in this case it is more community and less isolation.  

We are a social species and isolation is like a sickness to us – our bodies let us know when we’re reaching its limit through loneliness.  In the same way babies die without human touch, we suffer and wither from isolation from others. Thus just like it would be ridiculous to ignore thirst and treat it like it doesn’t exist, so it is with turning a blind eye to loneliness.  It’s real and is not something to get used to or ignore. Our bodies are warning us that we need an adjustment – we need to fix this state and put ourselves right again.

At any given point, 40% of people feel lonely…yet it remains a hush-hush topic of embarrassment that we think if we ignore will go away. Studies now show that loneliness can actually contribute to an earlier death. In other words, this embarrassing feeling is not to be swept under the carpet and treated like a nuisance that will fix itself. Our souls need – on a survival scale – to be social with other souls…preferably other nice, kind and funny souls. Being lonely is as normal as being thirsty – and should be treated as a sign or symptom and not a blemish. Just like the image says: recognize the symptom, understand why it’s there and what it means (aka this blog), and respond by reaching out to someone. Reaching out to just one person will help. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be a little more honest and responsive with this uncomfortable feeling? Maybe now we can pick up the damn phone and call a friend…oh yeah and Facebook doesn’t count!

…about time!…

…about time!…

It’s been months since I last posted anything on my blog, and it’s one of those situations where enough time has gone by that you feel like you need to make the next post a real WINNER of a post – one that will explain all the time lapse and still inspire anyone who reads it to go lead bigger and better lives. Yeah, so that’s not going to be this post. I’m humbly entering back into my writing mode with a bit of a tail between my legs for not having kept up with my writing. I owed it to myself more than anyone. In my own defense, I have been in Afghanistan this year and I’m in a warzone. HA – see I can use that excuse for anything. The reality is there is no excuse.

I’d like to re-enter my writing mode by announcing that I did recently manage to tick off one of my bucket list items. I FINALLY went on leave – I went to Hong Kong and then Lombok (the island next to Bali in Indonesia) and on my way back into the country, I had to fly from one base down to another, and I was put – FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER – on a helicopter. Yep, that was one of my bucket list items – ride in a helicopter. I think it actually may have been “ride in and learn how to fly a helicopter.” Either way, I get a full or at least a part of my bucket list checked off.

So let me give a quick catch-up. Since I last wrote, I have actually lived on two additional bases in Afghanistan. After Julien I went to Eggers, and now I’m on Phoenix. …and no, I’m not giving anything away that could be compromising. In my time here in these past nine months (9!!! CRAZY TO SAY THAT!) I’ve had the opportunity learn about the world around me as well as the world within me. …both have proven expansive, inspiring, and full of unexpected gifts. I’ve met people from all over the world, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve fallen in and out of love, I’ve even somehow found a space of quiet peace in my heart in the midst of an earthquake, a few bombings, several terrorist threats, and deaths of soldiers and civilians I worked close to. I will endeavor to fill in with stories and cherished memories in the posts to come.

Relationally Challenged

Relationally Challenged

I’m back to blogging – it feels like having coffee with a long-lost friend…who’s never really all that long-lost if they’re a true friend…you just pick up where you left off.

My biggest challenge here so far in this country (aside from the month-long sinus infection and now a staph infection diagnosed today – are you kidding me?!) has been my gender. The simple fact that I have a V and not a P has proved to be quite a troubling issue…and it’s not even because I’m in a country where women are looked down upon and expected to rarely seen and never heard. It’s being a woman here on base among the majority of male soldiers and contractors. Let’s tackle this one challenge at a time.

First is the gossip. As a woman, I stick out. There aren’t that many of us here, and as such, we’re noticed for every single move we make. For example, I had made a friend with a contractor here on base – let’s call him Jack – and asked if he’d like to grab coffee one day at the chapel (because the chapel has two Keurig machines available for a nice cup of joe at all times). We sat out on the small chapel porch out front in the sun and “talked story” (Hawaiian term for shared stories, laughed and forgot about work) for a little bit. I had such a nice time, I kept asking if he’d join me for coffee and it became a daily routine. I asked the guys in my office if they’d like to join for 10am coffee, and sometimes some would. Either way, I knew at 10am I got a mini break while refueling on some caffeine. This past week, I ate lunch with a Croatian soldier, and afterwards he was warned by some other person on this base to be careful where I was concerned because I was Jack’s. Hold up there, I’m whose?? If I play ping pong with someone, if I play pool with someone, if I go running with someone, it’s noticed and talked about in gossip form.

Second are the wives and girlfriends back home. Because their boyfriends and husbands have a female coworker (that would be me), they’re suspicious of any and all interaction I have with them. If I post a funny comment on one of their Facebook (because they all post funny comments to each other’s Facebooks), they immediately get the third degree…”Who’s this AMY chick posting stuff on your page?! What’s she like? Why is she posting to your page?” There was one dramatic instance where one of the guys was having a bit of a struggle with his girlfriend and I suggested he stop writing passive aggressive things to her and for a whole week just write nothing but nice and loving emails and see how she responded. He said he didn’t have any ideas, so I wrote him an email with suggestions on loving things he could write to her. WELL, his girlfriend hacked his email account a few days later and what did she find but my email with all my suggestions. She spent the next two days yelling at him over phone calls about confiding in the AMY GIRL, and since then (about a week ago) he no longer talks to me anymore. I can eat with these guys, work out with them, and work with them for over twelve hours each and every day, but there’s a subtle and constant reminder – I’ll never really be one of the guys here.

Third is lack of women. I really have come to value female friendship over the course of my life…it’s one of those essential elements we as women need for a healthy life. You can try to argue with me that you are happier with men as friends, but I can argue right back with you because I used to be one of those girls, and I can tell you that life is richer and deeper and brighter with strong female friendships. I have one growing friendship with a female Croatian soldier named Vlasta – we work out together and eat meals together sometimes – but she can get pretty busy with missions at times, and sometimes I only see her once a week. In my hyper-awareness of gossip about my every action here, I set out to establish more female friendships. Last night as the work day was wrapping up around 9pm or so, I noticed the only two other girls in my office were leaving to go back to their rooms. I jumped out of my seat and went out the door with them. Once outside I said, “Hey girls, I know you hang out together sometimes, but would you ever be interested in going to grab a bite to eat together or just have some girl time like once a week or so?” Simple enough, right? Here’s me like the girl on the kindergarten playground outright asking the other girls if they will be her friend. One of the girls looked straight at me and without expression said, “No, not really.” SLAM…that was the feeling my heart felt as it was squarely rejected. I forced myself to bounce back and said as lightly as I could, “Oh ok, no problem, have a good night.” I turned and walked away and felt embarrassed and hurt – like the little schoolgirl who was just told she couldn’t be in the cool club. Ouch! I thought when we’re such a minority that us gals were supposed to stick together! What the HECK (I really would like to replace that word with something much worse) was that about? Doesn’t she know I’m cool and fun and funny and loyal and all that other great stuff that comes with a female friendship?? Ok so those two are out – the awkward part is I have to work next to them still. I will continue to be on the lookout for any new women who come to this base – they won’t even know what hit them – I won’t even ask them, I’ll just make them my friend! …poor things don’t know what’s about to hit them.

This has proven to be a difficult struggle for me. I’m a relational person stuck in a strange social test of an environment – like I’m in a glass cage for everyone to observe how I will respond to a life of no relationships or companionship. I think I’m failing the test. …or maybe I’m passing…this is the normal response of a healthy woman…getting to the point where I want to cry out, “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE BE MY FRIEND?!” I can be friends with plenty of men here, it’s just I have to not care, and accept the consequence that I’ll be talked about as if I’m sneaking behind dirty connex boxes having sex with all of them. I might have quite the tarnished reputation on this base by the time I leave – all for no effort at all! Grandpa, if you’re reading this, I apologize for my lewd imagery…I blame the Navy! :)

I love that there are life lessons to be gleaned from anywhere we go in life. In the throes of war in Afghanistan, I am learning that I am more of a relational person than I realized, and that not only do I like being in friendships and relationships with other people, but I need it, I crave engaging with others. I think we all do – well, maybe not some of my geeky coworkers who just go back to their rooms and play video games every night (and I’m not talking behind their backs – they openly admit they’d rather be alone) – but I concur with the many wise sages before this time that humans NEED community and relationships and other humans. Lesson learned, Afghanistan, now what’s next?! (This should be good!)

Power in Emotion

Power in Emotion

“Sometimes I feel as though there are two me’s, one coasting directly on top of the other: the superficial me, who nods when she’s supposed to nod and says what she’s supposed to say, and some other, deeper part, the part that worries and dreams… Most of the time they move along in sync and I hardly notice the split, but sometimes it feels as though I’m two whole different people and I could rip apart at any second.” ~Lauren Oliver

I have a bit of a plug stuck in my mouth when it comes to verbalizing just what it is I’m feeling…especially any negative feelings. I can cry for a week straight, then when someone asks how I’m feeling, I say with a straight face that I do not know. Maybe it’s the whole growing up in a Catholic family where you don’t really talk about the negative emotions – you just remove yourself from the situation and try to think about something else. It turns out, go figure, that walking away and ignoring negative emotions not only hurts our bodies physically with added internal stress leading to a depleted immune system, but it also takes away our own personal power. When we walk away and look the other way from our own emotions, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to choose how to respond to difficult situations. In essence, I stifle myself from maturing and gaining experience from the tough stuff of life…and I prevent myself from knowing ME better.

Here’s my lesson for myself for the day: If I feel anger, frustration, rejection, hurt or humiliation, I should recognize that I have choices…and from those choices I can either choose to gain or lose power through acknowledging what I’m feeling. So often we try to push the emotions down and away to escape suffering, but that ends up working against us. It creates a sort of pressure cooker that will fester and eventually blow up.

Finding the ability to recognize what is physically going on inside of you can be a challenge in itself, especially if you were in the habit (like me) of stuffing it back inside for decades at a time. But mustering up the courage and willingness to verbalize what you are feeling – even if just to yourself – can be a very healing experience. Don’t vent and blame, but trust yourself or someone else to listen open-heartedly to what you have to say. It can be a tremendous source of relief to have someone you feel safe enough to share your true feelings with. I grew up writing feelings in journals, but I never got in the habit of sharing with others, and it’s been a long adult life lesson to see the necessity of knowing and sharing my feelings with others in order to have deeper and more intimate and real relationships. We don’t always understand why we feel what we do, but our feelings have validity. I often feel as if I shouldn’t feel particular feelings – like I don’t have a right to be sad or upset – but learning that I am free to feel and am not wrong to feel, and I have a right to share those feelings, I come to a new personal freedom…not to mention I save my body from another internal beating.

It’s much easier for me to know and identify the good feelings…contentment, fired up, relieved, mellow. No problemo. But the bad ones are a big problemo para mi. By the way, I’m writing this from Los Angeles as I visit my grandpa, so maybe that’s why my Espanol is coming out…don’t get much of that in Hawaii! As I was researching emotions, I found some helpful charts (below) to help us all identify just what it is we’re feeling.

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” ~Mr. Rogers

“The best way out is always through.” ~Robert Frost

…or for those of you who prefer pictures…

Some of these thoughts were found from the article The Matrix of Emotions.

Perfectly Imperfect

Perfectly Imperfect

“I Untamed the Tamed Woman inside me. I gave my power to the quiet voice of sensitivity that was buried so deep inside me. I learned to release my anger, especially the anger that I directed at myself. I gained a new kind of strength, by allowing my power to work in support of my vulnerable side. I confronted my deepest fear by learning to embrace my weakness. I learned to lose a fight. I learned how to win in the face of great difficulty. I learned to fall down and let someone else help me back up. I learned to stand up for what I believe, yet listen intently to others. I learned to hear my own whispering voice. I even learned how to show my tears in front of other women.” ~Carol Hartung

Someone had the audacity today to tell me that I’m impatient. The nerve! My initial reaction was to defend it and reason out and prove why I wasn’t impatient. When I later vented to my cousin (more like my brother) on the phone that I was accused of being impatient, he said matter-of-factly back, “So what? So what if you’re impatient? We all have our shortcomings, maybe that’s just one of yours. Who cares?” It wasn’t until then that I stopped and realized he was right. Who cares? I sat back and gave myself the permission to be impatient. As I thought about it more, I realized someone could accuse me of practically any quirk, and my first reaction would be to defend myself of it regardless of whether it was merited or not.

Trying so hard my whole life to be the perfect version of me has left little to no room to just be me…prickly quirks and all. I write and write about the need to accept others and forgive ourselves, yet my first reaction is to reject anything less than perfection. What sort of double standard is that?

I agree there are shortcomings that we can strive to overcome…like people pleasing. But maybe there are some – like impatience – and I’m not fully admitting yet to that one until I ponder it patiently for a while longer – that are simply a part of us. Why do I leap to jump to avoid and deny the quirks when in my head I know it’s those traits that give us the marks of distinction as individuals? I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter prototype of a person, but my instinct still flees to the high school popular girl circle. I need a pot to hit over my own head…right now.

My scars: my wrinkles, my messed up pinky toenail, my obsessive mindset over things I want, my bedsheet greed, my love of bad English drama, my brooding and over-analytic approach, my awful karaoke voice, my stubbornness, my (possible) impatience…it’s all a part of this unique woman that somehow in some way has turned into quite a piece of work….or is it a work in progress? I’ve overcome so many obstacles and still have my body and heart in tact and some of those “shortcomings” were what helped me survive through the tough times…ok maybe not my messed up pinky toenail…I could really do without that one. But you know what? Even that I got that from military bootcamp, and I look back on being in the military as something that helped me grow up and learn about things like work ethic, patriotism and responsibility. So I’ll take my messed up pinky toenail if that was the price…easy sacrifice.

I suppose I’m learning how to untame the otherwise tame woman inside…giving free space and permission to just BE. The result is the softer, more real me. There is true strength in being comfortable in our own skin – weaknesses, strengths, scars, skills – all of it.

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” ~Anonymous, The Bhagavad Gita

Hooray for Confusion!

Hooray for Confusion!

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

First, stop and take an opportunity to breathe in life, and exhale out all the worries and stress that found their way into your week. Look around you and see color (unless you’re color blind). Listen to the sounds. Feel your heart beating. You get to be a part of life today! You are a real character in this real deal, no shit miraculous life! But then as soon as your focus comes back to you, something happens. The stresses, the worry, and the self-imposed weight of the world comes barreling back to resettle itself squarely on your shoulders, and you’re left feeling confused. If life is so great, and I’m meant to be this wonderful moving piece of it, then why am I sitting here feeling like a broken cog from a rusty wheel?

Some good news is that confusion usually immediately precedes a new realization…so this feeling little and confused place that you’re in is a good and even natural part of life…and it’s about to get better. It’s one of those natural life-laws that we all follow: that clarity is ALWAYS preceded by confusion. In fact, our minds NEED confusion in order to have personal breakthroughs.

Here is what apparently goes on…our minds are seeking a solution that doesn’t exist given our current internal brain connections (memories), so our unconscious mind takes all of our existing information and creates a new connection (a new memory) and it unfolds as a sudden burst of brilliance. Because it’s not in our basic survival makeup to just give up and die, we ask questions – lots of questions – and seek solutions when we’re at a point of confusion or a cross-roads in life and don’t know where to go next. After all the obvious questions and answers have been exhausted, you elevate yourself to a new point of creativity where your answer or realization will present itself. Your brain connects the unrelated and random information into a whole new solution. It’s either that or have a nervous breakdown. I’ll choose the former, please!

It’s like being told to write down fifty ideas for a date. The first twenty or so will be the obvious “go to dinner,” “see a movie,” “go for a walk on the beach,” and that sort of thing. But by the time you force yourself to fifty, you’ll have bizarre things like “go on a roller coaster,” and “make up a scavenger hunt” that you would never have thought of initially. Confusion is that same exercise – forcing us to dwell on our dilemmas long enough to the point of enlightenment.

So what? What good does that do you in your down and out state? Remind yourself that asking questions without answers and searching for helpful information is a good thing. Don’t give up on yourself because your intense desire to find a way will actually find your way. Don’t shy away from confusion – heck, confusing yourself more will actually help you to come to a purposeful inspiration.

“Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined; Till at his second bidding darkness fled, Light shone, and order from disorder sprung.” ~John Milton

The Art of the Imperfect

The Art of the Imperfect

“If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice its knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.” ~Matthew Fox

I love the video below. It’s about approaching life through our imperfections to make something beautiful. He’s an artist, so he actually creates art, but aren’t we all artists creating something beautiful from our imperfections? It’s our limitations that can drive our creativity.

Don’t shy away from your quirks or faults or shortcomings or whatever you call them…embrace them. Show them off and use them to be more you than you’ve ever dared to be. There are enough cookie-cutter people out there, with myriads more training and waiting in the wings. What the world doesn’t have is another YOU. Be quirky, be flawed, but be you. Give back to the world some of that imperfection to make this world a little better than it was before you got here.

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen