Miracles Happen Everyday (and This Is How to Experience One)

miracles

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I wake up to an alarm and darkness and, behind eyelids too heavy to lift, my first thought is how good it will feel to get back into bed tonight. Eventually, I muster the will to lift my legs over the side of the mattress. I stand. My joints pop like rheumatic fireworks. I move toward the bathroom. More fireworks. It didn’t used to be this way. Waking didn’t always feel like resurrecting. And yet.

I still choose to be here.

(A miracle isn’t a moment.)

I stand at the sink, remove my mouth guard. Another night of clenching, but no cracked tooth, no chipped crown. I brush my teeth while looking into the mirror, while looking into almost forty years of time, while looking into dark circles, thinning hair, greying whiskers. I look into the future and see where time is taking me. And yet.

I still choose to be here.

(A miracle is a collection of moments.)

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The 71 Most Effective Ways to Avoid Feeling What You’re Feeling

emotions

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When I first became a therapist, I thought I had to work a magic trick every hour to get people to feel what they feel.

Then I had kids, and I saw what is true of every human being: we are, each of us, bursting with feelings. Until we grow up and start trapping them inside. Until we start suppressing them. Now I know, as a psychologist, my job isn’t to get people to start feeling; my job is to help people stop avoiding what they are feeling. Then feelings just happen. Naturally. Healingly.

What follows is a list of perfectly ordinary things most of us do from time to time in order to avoid feeling what we’re feeling. Most of them are serious. Some of them are humorous. They are all quite effective…

  1. Write a blog post about how to avoid feeling your feelings.
  2. Work too hard.
  3. Netflix binge.
  4. Buy something. Anything. Scratch that. Shop first. Then buy. Buy three versions of the same thing. Try them all out. Return two. Start shopping again.
  5. Download a new app. Preferably a game. In which you can earn achievements. Bonus avoidance points if it features in-app purchases.
  6. Check email.
  7. Click on spam instead of unsubscribing from it.
  8. Check Facebook.
  9. Check it again.
  10. Get into a Facebook argument. The topic doesn’t matter. Just oppose something.
  11. Shame somebody. Again, anyone will do, though the less likely they are to shame you back, the better.
  12. Send a text message. Make it a group text. Wait for responses.
  13. Eat.
  14. Work harder.
  15. Eat more.
  16. Try to figure out what everyone else is feeling.
  17. When you think you’ve figured out what they’re thinking, focus on how to influence their emotions. If you are so inclined, become a therapist so you can get paid for doing so.
  18. Decide anger is bad, dangerous, perhaps even evil.
  19. Decide fear is shameful.
  20. Decide sadness is weak.
  21. Watch 24/7 cable news. Watch it 24/7.
  22. Criticize someone. Anyone will do—friends, strangers, and of course, those with different political views than you.
  23. Fix someone. Fix something. Once again, any problem will do.
  24. Drink.
  25. Smoke something.
  26. Fill every silence with a joke.
  27. Grab the nearest device as soon as you wake up in the morning.
  28. Don’t ask questions about your family-of-origin.
  29. Idealize your parents.
  30. Or tell yourself your parents did the best they could and you have no right to be disappointed.
  31. Chide yourself for taking the time to feel something. Tell yourself that’s a luxury. A privilege.
  32. Tell yourself other people have it worse, so who are you to complain?
  33. Set no boundaries on your time or commitments, so there is no room for stillness.
  34. Tell yourself stillness is a waste of time.
  35. Live vicariously through your children. Or celebrities.
  36. Blame the ones you love for not making your crummy feelings go away.
  37. Pretend you’re an adult and that you have it all together. Ignore the sad, lonely, confused little kid inside of you.
  38. Try to save the world (a.k.a., work harder).
  39. Eliminate all silence from your life.
  40. Look at porn.
  41. Look at more porn.
  42. Work on your abs.
  43. Fantasize about the ideal lover whose ideal love will take away your loneliness.
  44. Gossip.
  45. Be absolutely certain about everything.
  46. Go faster.
  47. Work harder.
  48. Turn meditation into an effort to “feel more peaceful” rather than a surrender to feeling what is.
  49. Fill up your Sabbath with church services, church activities, soccer games, video games, shopping, and preparations for tomorrow.
  50. Debate theology.
  51. Choose to believe faith has nothing to offer you.
  52. Choose to believe faith will solve all your problems.
  53. Pick one person or group of people to blame for most all of your problems.
  54. Swipe mindlessly through your phone until you come across an app that you haven’t fiddled with in a month.
  55. Avoid eye contact.
  56. Chase perfection.
  57. Chase trophies. They can be real or metaphorical. It doesn’t matter. Same effect.
  58. Work harder.
  59. Figure out what other people want to hear and then say it to them.
  60. Focus on the ways you are better than someone else.
  61. Stay focused on the things in the future that promise to take away all your suffering.
  62. Serial dating.
  63. Almost everything that happens between Black Friday and Christmas morning.
  64. Ice cream.
  65. Oreos.
  66. Ice cream and Oreos.
  67. Do anything that releases dopamine. Non-criminal options include: Snapchat, YouTube, drinking too much caffeine, casual sex, sugar in any form, earning applause, etc.
  68. Decide your story is uninteresting and choose never to tell it to anyone.
  69. Do whatever it takes to avoid evidence of your aging.
  70. Pretend everything is permanent. Ignore the inevitability of your passing.
  71. And last but not least, focus on how clever you are for having written a blog post about how to avoid feeling your feelings.

Feelings are big things. Messy things. Often painful things. So we try to avoid feeling them. And our opportunities for avoidance are multiplying on a daily basis. Consequently, humanity is becoming like one big blocked tear duct, irritated and irritable. We need to clean out our blockages—clean out our lives—and let our feelings flow again. So we can be childlike once again. Vulnerable. Playful. Joyful.

So we can be, once again, who we really are.

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—————

Pre-Order LOVEABLE Now! You are enough. You are not alone. And you matter. These are the three fundamental truths of your existence. The problem is, there is a voice inside each of us relentlessly calling them into question. And yet the answer to that voice can be found within each of us, as well. Click here to find out more about my new book— Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life.

The Blessing of Living Unfinished

priorities

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It happens almost every Monday morning.

Somewhere in the midst of my commute to the office, I start to review the weekend. Occasionally, I’m richly satisfied by the collection of moments and memories bridging the gap between work weeks. But the truth is, most Mondays, I end up asking myself, “How did I begin the weekend with such good intentions, and how did my priorities get so out of whack so quickly?”

A couple of months ago, on a holiday Monday, I received an answer to the question.

For several weeks, we’d been assembling a trailer for our van. My wife and I are not particularly talented mechanics, so the going had been slow. But old friends had come to town for the weekend, and they were helping us put the finishing touches on it.

Finally, the last wire was spliced and the last nut was turned.

My friend rolled the trailer to the rear of our van to attach it but stopped short when he got there. “You don’t have a hitch on your van,” he said, ‘’you’ll need to buy one and have it installed.” This had not occurred to us. Like I said, we are not exactly mechanical geniuses. Our shoulders were slumping in defeat, when our other friend observed, “Well, that’s the way of projects. They’re never finished.”

That’s the way of projects, and that’s the way of life.

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The Life Changing Difference Between Seeing Beauty and Seeing Beautifully

“Dad.” Pause. “Daddy.” Shorter pause. “Dad!” Almost imperceptible pause. “Daaaadddddyyyyy!”

My eyes remain locked on my computer screen.

In other words, I first respond to my youngest son, Quinn, the way most of us respond to most of life—with distraction. Life is asking us to look at it, but our eyes remain locked on our screens, our minds remain locked on the past or the future, and our hearts remain locked on our nagging obsessions—food and drink, shopping and media, gossip and gripe.

Eventually, though, Quinn surpasses a decibel threshold that gets my attention. I finally lock my eyes on him.

“Dad,” he says, a little breathlessly, “come see the bathroom.”

mindfulness

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I immediately picture an overflowing toilet or toothpaste smeared on a mirror or a trashcan torn asunder by the dog. I sigh heavily and ask with trepidation, “What’s wrong? Is it a mess?”

My second response to Quinn is dread. When life finally gets a little of our attention, we tend to be reluctant to look at it. After all, in the daily news, everything seems to be falling apart, so everything everywhere must be falling apart, right? We pay attention to the problems, and then we come to expect them. We start dreading life instead of looking at it.

But Quinn responds, “No, Dad, it’s not a mess. It’s beautiful.”

We walk into the bathroom. The toilet isn’t overflowing, but there is trash on the floor and the cap has been left off a leaking tube of toothpaste. I see nothing particularly remarkable, let alone beautiful. Quinn steps back. Crosses his arms. Smiles. And says, “The light, Daddy, look at the light.”

Slowly, I begin to see what he’s seeing. The bathroom is subtly illuminated by slanting early morning summer sunlight. I’m no longer distracted or dreading, and I can see what I would have missed only moments before: the bathroom is glowing.

It’s luminous.

Beauty, it turns out, isn’t in the eye of the beholder; beauty is in the eye of the watchful beholder. Unless we are present, even beauty becomes invisible. But if we watch this life attentively, which is to say beautifully, we might just experience the beauty that has been there all along:

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The Antidote to All the Crap in Your Facebook Feed

When I’m procrastinating on writing—due to fear, fatigue, fear, lack of inspiration, did I mention fear?—Facebook is like a magnet.

One day recently, I could feel its pull, so I decided to trick myself into writing by giving into the temptation, going to Facebook, and crafting a blog post entitled, “The Antidote to All the Crap in Your Facebook Feed”—a sort of hopeful, redemptive response to all of the angry, nasty, and cynical news in my Facebook scroll.

The first item in my feed was exactly what I’d predicted.

A New York Times article about the anger at a political rally, replete with divisive comments from both supporters and haters. It confirmed my expectations, and I got ready to write a really good response to all the soul-sucking content.

But then I kept scrolling.

And it was the only article posted in the previous two hours that drained my soul.

The rest of the content nourished my soul.

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Why Our Heads Fill Up with Too Many Thoughts and What to Do About It

If it hadn’t been so annoying, it would have been hilarious.

Several months ago, the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO) started a new listserv. The problem was, they didn’t ask permission; they just automatically added everyone in the organization to the list. Then, several weeks later, they sent out the first email—a relatively innocuous, informational correspondence. Useful to some. Spammy to others.

And the listserv exploded.

mindfulness

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It started with a handful of people asking to be removed from the list. Then, people who weren’t annoyed by the original email got annoyed by the extra emails, and they began demanding to be removed, as well. Next, people who had ignored the first round of complaints got angry at the exponential increase in messages, and they too replied to everyone, lambasting the whole community. My inbox was overflowing, even though the APAPO had only sent a single email.

The problem wasn’t the original email; it was the reaction to it.

This is how our minds work, too.

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This Could Be the Difference Between a Life of Suffering or Joy

suffering

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Three years ago, I bought an iPad mini.

I intended to use it, primarily, as an eReader. The idea of carrying all my books around in one place was a dream come true. The future was here—it didn’t have flying cars, but it did have portable libraries. And that was enough for me.

I’d be able to read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I could highlight passages, bookmark and unbookmark pages, make notes and edit them, all without doing any damage to these lovely creations called books. I’d be able to increase the font, which would be better for my eyes. And I could read in the dark. Electronic books were cheaper and I could have them on demand. The joyful possibilities were endless.

Instead, I suffered.

Everyone has a different definition of suffering. I have about fifteen myself. But here’s one that is starting to make more sense to me:

Suffering is resistance to what is.

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Why Christmas Eve Is More Magical Than Christmas Day

There is magic happening, right underneath our noses. To find it, we need only get still long enough to catch the scent, and follow it where it leads us…

Christmas Eve

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Ten years ago, my family celebrated Christmas Eve in a massive church, with thousands of other people. It was electric and exciting and when a thousand hands held up candles at the end of the service, it was breathtaking.

Five years ago, we celebrated Christmas Eve in a smaller church, but there were still hundreds in attendance and we wedged ourselves into pews with friends and family and the celebration was joyous. When the hundreds of hands held up candles at the end of the service, it didn’t take your breath away. But the flickering flames did calm it.

This year, we’ve moved to a small town and we’ve been attending a very small church. Every week, our family can count on our ten hands the number of people in attendance. I expect the Christmas Eve service will be no different. And I’m grateful for that. Because this year has been teaching me something I’ve been trying to learn for a lifetime: getting quiet and still and small brings us face-to-face with the ordinary.

And the ordinary is where the magic is.

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The Two Kinds of Gratitude (And How to Cultivate the Lasting One)

There are two kinds of gratitude. The first one—the kind that happens when the tables are piled high with food and the shopping carts are piled high with gifts—is real and good. But utterly flimsy. The second kind is solid and steady. It doesn’t arise in the midst of passing things; it carries us through them…

gratitude

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Five years ago, on a Friday afternoon, I was on a golf course in Wisconsin.

Summer was just beginning to tip into autumn—the sun was warm on your skin, but you couldn’t sweat if you tried. Golf had been my favorite hobby for twenty years, and I was playing well. The course was uncrowded and the round was relaxed. I was with people I loved. I was overwhelmed by gratitude, and it took the shape of this thought: I’m lucky to be here; this is perfect.

The thought also haunted me, though, because how long can perfection last?

A year later, I blew out a disk in my back, and I haven’t played golf since.

Gratitude, it turns out, is awfully fleeting, if we’re grateful for fleeting things.

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A Little Inspiration for Parents, Dads, and Everyone Who Needs a Bit of Kindness

It’s just an ordinary Thursday afternoon.

But, somehow, the veil hanging over the face of the world gets ripped right off.

I’ve taken my kids to a secluded park along the edge of a languid river, because they love the single slide and the lone merry-go-round that reside there. Maybe the autumn light is slanting just right or maybe the painted leaves are just the right amount of incandescent. Whatever it is, as my kids run and laugh and climb and laugh and slide and laugh and spin themselves into an orbit of energy and joy and abandon, the edges of the world get sharper and the light gets brighter. In the still, crisp air, a single leaf float-rocks its way to the ground in front of me and everything snaps into focus:

We’re all leaves, on our way from budding to dying.

My kids are six, eight, and twelve and they are, each of them, like leaves in the springtime, erupting into life, caged energy unfurled, color exploding, anticipation bursting, and joy expanding. They have an entire cycle of life ahead of them. They are promise and possibility and every unlived moment just waiting to happen.

parenting

These days, I feel a little more like a leaf at the end of a long summer.

The days are still long and there’s still plenty of sunlight, but the hot, dog days of the season have sapped some of my initial energy and strength. I’m a little more dry. A little more brittle. These are good days. My edges haven’t yet begun to shrivel and my colors have only just begun to change, but that changing season is not as far off as it used to be.

My wife’s grandparents visited recently. They are almost ninety, and they traveled halfway across the country to see us. They are raging against the dying of the light, like autumn leaves that refuse to give up their color, refuse to release their hold upon the branch which has born them, refuse to give in to the winter that’s coming.

Perhaps it’s because my children are frolicking on the same playground upon which I played as a kid. Perhaps it’s seeing the me-I-once-was in them and wondering if, someday, they might stand in this very spot while watching their own kids come to life. Whatever it is, time and space fold in upon themselves and every season of my life is present at once. All of it. From the budding to the dying. And I decide to enjoy the end of my summer by being a witness to their springtime. While I can.

In a quiet park in the middle of nowhere, a late-summer leaf watches three springtime buds.

And it is, for a moment, almost more peace than I can handle.

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