Archive for the ‘Letting Go’ Category

We got a dog.  A puppy to be exact.  fugee2Not a teeny tiny puppy.  Not the pee all over the house kind of puppy, but the occasional pee and poop in the house kind of puppy.  I have always considered myself a cat person, and I will admit it, I used to have some disdain for dogs and dog people.  In my mind, they wanted the submissive instant love of a dog.  The undying devotion.  The creature that would only see them as good, no matter how badly they behaved.  And to me that was a cop-out.  Life is not like that!  Cats to me were more self-contained and dignified.  You usually had to work to get their attention and affection.  That felt more honest and real to me.  Part of me felt obliged to choose the harder path (the German part?), even though in ways cats are easier because you can ignore them and that doesn’t really work with most dogs.

Since our cat died about 8 years ago, I steadfastly said, No more pets!  I didn’t want another creature with a shorter life expectancy than me.  And I felt that two boys and a husband were more than enough to fill my plate.  And I wanted freedom.    But over the past year, I have started to wonder about adding a pet to the family.  My kids (16 & 12) are a lot less demanding and I can feel more room in my life.  I began spending a lot of time thinking about the idea of pets.  What are people looking for when they get a pet?  I didn’t want to fall to my kids’ pleadings alone.  They have always said they wanted a pet, but I knew they weren’t ready to truly be part of that until recently.  Being the mother and generally the holder-together-of-all-things-emotional, I knew I needed to wrap my head around the idea of a pet before going forward.  I unofficially, and party unconsciously, began a year of research.

The first thing that struck me when I talked with many people about their pets was what a pain they were.  Our friends cat who loves to eat wool (especially cashmere), another friend’s dog who is scared of men and pees inside sometimes, another cat that lost all the fur around its butt (apparently quite a site to behold) and has feline HIV, as well as the cost of hiring dog walkers and finding suitable places to board said pet when you go away.  And then there is the shit-factor.  Call me prissy, but whether it’s having to pick dog shit up outside, or scoop it out of a litter box, I am not a fan.  Add to all that the intrinsic needs of another creature.  I am such an empath, that it literally causes me distress not meeting the needs (or perceived needs) of others.  In short, why get a needy pet???

I kept coming to the same conclusion.  Keep life simple and clean.  Don’t complicate things.  But the thought kept coming back and kept coming back, and I finally started to look more closely at what is/could be positive about having a pet…and even the inner knowledge that this time a dog (a dog!) might be the right choice.  Over time I have come to see the value of that undying, no-questions-asked love.  I know it has the potential to bring out the best in people…the humanity, ironically.  To be met with undying devotion is an opportunity to step up, and I wanted that for my kids and in the vibe in our house in general.  As they get older and in some ways more self-absorbed (natural!), I wanted this for them.  Someone to take care of.  And for my husband, I told him he deserved someone who loved him unconditionally.  And I really meant it.  Of course, I love him unconditionally on a deep and important level.  But if he leaves his underwear on the floor, I am not going to lick his face.  If he is late to pick up the kids, I am not going to wag my tail when he gets home.  I am too cat-like to do that.

After a false start and some drama (not going in to that here), we took the plunge.  We met Fugee (then JoJo) at a Rocket Dog Rescue event in December.  She had been turned in by two people…probably drug addicts who realized they couldn’t care for her.  We all agreed she was the one and took her home the same day.  As my father-in-law would say, “She landed her ass in the butter.”  She now has four people who love her and dote on her. Here are just a few of the moments that make me happy we took the plunge.

  • All agreeing on a name.  From The Fugees (a music group that chose the name from “refugee”).
  • Watching my older son take care of Fugee after she got spayed.  He felt so bad about putting the cone on her head at night so she wouldn’t lick the wound, but he did it because he knew it was necessary.
  • Having my younger son put Fugee into his afternoon schedule (yes, he creates one every day) each day after school.
  • Seeing both boys have more fun together with Fugee as the thing that unites them.
  • Witnessing my husband’s pure delight at having this creature love him and loving her back.
  • Doing puppy training as a family.  Not easy, but so interesting to see how we all react and what comes naturally or not to each of us (possibly another blog post!).
  • Knowing that I listened to my gut and let it win this time.
  • Focusing on the good and not the poop I had to pick up on the floor this morning because it is raining and somebody doesn’t like rain!


For the past six weeks, I have been taking a course called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality.”  There is something about the title that immediately captured my attention.  I am so often baffled by the things human beings do.  Things that are seemingly irrational and counter-intuitive.  The course put a lot of that into context and explained some interesting things.  I kept meaning to write about different topics the course covered: lying, choices, motivation, and on and on, but here I am after finishing the last week of video lectures and writing about Emotion.

coursera course participants(As an aside, I took the course through Coursera, an online education site that allows you to sign up for courses taught by professors at major universities for free!  My course was taught by a Duke University professor of Behavioral Economics and Psychology, Dan Ariely, and I have to say I was impressed by the content and enjoyed it a lot.  In addition to the material, it was a fascinating process noticing my I-Need-to-Do-Well self coming forward, feeling great joy (well, maybe not great joy, but definitely some level of joy or validation) from getting 100% on the first quiz, and then deciding not to take any more quizzes, not do the reading and not to write the paper.  I was determined to go into a learning environment that could be purely about enjoyment/learning and not about performance.  I was shocked, but not surprised how hard it was.  The thing that helped me let go and try it this way was this graphic on the course webpage showing where the more than 30K participants are from…yes, 30 thousand people!  10K in the U.S., 51 in Nigeria, 51 in Kazakhstan, 287 in Czech Republic and on and on.  I am but a drop in the bucket and no one cares how much I do or do not participate.  Freedom from everyone but myself!)

So, back to emotions.  The professor starts his first lecture of the unit on emotions explaining that emotions are really our core, our most ancient self.  Yes, we know that, even if we often forget it.  His two following points about emotions are not surprising either:

  • When they arise, they take over
  • They are more short-lived than we think

That brought up a few thoughts for me.

When they arise, they take over:  Yes, makes sense.  Crimes of passion, unsafe sex, freaking out in a disaster.  Logic out.  It also makes sense that they are more short-lived than we think they will be.  Apparently, studies show that people always assume that emotional states will last longer than they end up lasting.  Like in a divorce…people predict they will be miserable for a long time, but turns out that feeling goes away faster than they thought.  Or, in a new love.  People predict the great feelings will last for a long time, but they also fade out fairly quickly.  It’s kind of like we go back to our set-point.  That place where we usually hover.  (This New York Times article about happiness looks at that idea of a set point.  If you read it, ignore the researcher’s comment about life coaches being light weight!  We’re not trying to be academic and precise.  We’re trying to support individuals in an authentic and yes, imperfect way.)

That all makes sense to me up to a point.  I think while the actual emotions probably do fade more quickly than we think, I feel like many of us are left with something else: a shadow emotion or something like that.  An emotion that may not be active, but that is there influencing how we live our lives.  And that shadow emotion can stay with us for a long long time and dictate how we live our lives.  What I’m curious about is whether it is an emotion that didn’t get fully expressed and that’s why it stays or is it that the memory of the intensity of the emotion is so strong that on some deep level we will do anything not to experience it again.  Maybe it depends.  Maybe it’s something else.

What I do know is that is that feels like many of us are ruled by our deepest most primal emotions to one degree or another.  Not the ones that are flaring up now, but these shadow emotions that stand in the way.  They’re so deep and core that often we don’t even really know what they are, which makes them harder to deal with.

The thing that really strikes me here, and I think bares repeating is how powerful emotions are.  How in a non-emotional state we can and would make a whole series of decisions about certain things, while in an emotional state that all goes out the window and we make completely different decisions.  But are we ever is a completely non-emotional state?  I suppose that is the deeper question.

A couple months ago, a friend sent me a link to a TED talk about vulnerability.  I was traveling and didn’t get around to watching it until a couple days ago.  I realized right away that I had already seen the talk, and although I couldn’t remember any specifics, I remember liking it so I kept watching.  I liked it again.  And then I watched a follow-up talk the speaker, Brene Brown, did, also at TED.  This time it was about shame.

Main messages:

vulnerability = good

shame = bad

I figured I must have already written about vulnerability, but I couldn’t find anything on my blog specifically about that, so I thought I’d do it.  I definitely haven’t touched shame.

(Aside #1:  I just finished an article in The New Yorker about the phenomenon of TED talks, and had a pang of feeling cliche to be writing about another TED talk on my site!  The article is very interesting and points out what you kind of know after watching a TED talk:  they are skillfully produced.  And produced to pull you in and make you emotional.  I had to ask myself if I’m just another tool who drank the kool-aid.  But I decided, screw it…produced or not, these two talks bring up a lot of important things and if they give people something to think about and examine about their lives, then so be it.)

(Aside #2:  I watched the videos up in Bolinas, where I was providing moral support for my younger son who was going to a camp up there with a friend.  I was only supposed to stay for two days and then leave him for the rest of the week.  But my son was struggling.  He’s very attached to home and family and he has a hard time stepping out of his comfort zone.  He doesn’t like to feel vulnerable.  Every time I talked with him about staying alone, he would tell me to speak more quietly.  He didn’t want his friend to know he was nervous.  He was embarrassed.  And then I realized I was also feeling vulnerable because I know that some people feel I am too soft with my son.  And I know I am sometimes, but I honestly don’t see the point in pushing him too far too fast.  But at the same time I know he needs to become independent and learn to cope in uncomfortable situations.  What was the “right” thing to do?

After I dropped my son and his friend at camp yesterday morning, I drove away.  Headed back to S.F.  I was struggling with my own fear that it would be hard for him, and knowing it was time for me to get back.  I felt like I should rush home and start working, but then I saw the sign for Stinson Beach and thought there was absolutely nothing so pressing that I shouldn’t take a little time to unwind.

I walked and thought, and thought and walked.  I thought about vulnerability and shame and how closed off so many people are.  I felt glad that my son could recognize his vulnerability and I, mine.  And we could still move forward.

He’s coming home this evening and I will hear all about it.  I did get a text at 6:30 a.m. this morning.  Nothing wrong, just reaching out.)

My asides aside, I think both TED talks are worth watching and hearing.  It’s a good reminder that as uncomfortable as being vulnerable is, it’s what gets people closer together and what brings us to new places.  And, we all have shame.  Don’t let it rule your world.

I feel like “letting go” is a big theme swirling around my world lately.  I have clients, friends and family struggling and stepping up to let go.  What are they letting go of?  So many different things:  twenty-plus years in the same house and all the things that go with that, a relationship that was already over, a desire to know, a past life that is now only a shadow.

Why is it so hard and often painful to let go?  There are as many answers as there are scenarios, but one thing they all have in common is that letting go means moving into the unknown.  That’s why even letting go of things we know are not good for us or bringing us what we want is hard.  At least in our dissatisfaction we know where we stand.

What are you unwilling to let go of?  Imagine you have a closet or a house or a box of the things you don’t want to/can’t let go.  How big is it?  What’s in there?  What are you ready to let go of?  These can be actual things, but also ideas or beliefs or people.  I challenge you to start letting go.  Little by little.  Not when you’re under pressure and have no choice, but now, while you’re strong and making an active decision for yourself.

How many times has someone said to you, “Why can’t you get over it?”  Or perhaps it’s something you say to yourself.  A lot.

I was asked that question by others, and myself, for years.  And still I couldn’t get over “it.”  The “it” in question doesn’t really matter.  What matters is how unproductive the question is.  There is always the implication that there is something wrong with you and that it’s not a big deal.  In fact, if you can’t get over something that means it is a big deal!  No matter how easy or logical it seems it would be to get over or let go of certain things, sometimes we can’t.

The trick is to take the fact that you are stuck very seriously and not discount it.  You can’t get over something if you’re still wrestling with it.   There was a time I didn’t think I’d ever get over the “it” in my life.   I started to believe I would have to live hold onto it and feel it forever, but then I also started to take the pain seriously that I had been though.  And I did get over it.  In some ways I think I couldn’t get over it until I accepted that I couldn’t get over it.

What do you tell yourself to get over?  What do others tell you to get over?