Vegan Lentil Masala

Close up of orange and yellow carrots and a bunch of tomatoes on a table

(GF, oil free, sugar free)

This recipe is adapted from Red Lentil Masala with Spinach from naturallyella.com

This is a meal I would make weekly. It is SO good! SO GOOD. The key is pinch of yum’s masala paste, found here: pinchofyum.com/life-changing-30-minute-masala-sauce

I always have some of this masala paste in the freezer to make cauliflower masala, veggie tikka masala, pinch of yum’s vegetarian meatballs, and before I started the vegan thing, chicken tikka masala. Lindsay was not exaggerating when she called this “life-changing.”

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 “puck” frozen masala paste (about 1/3C.)

1 small red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup diced tomatoes

1 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup lentils

1 cup vegetable broth

1/2-1 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh spinach, packed

Hot rice

Combine all except coconut milk and spinach (and rice, of course) together in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil, then add coconut milk, reduce heat, and simmer at least until lentils are soft. Turning down to low and allowing it to sit on the stove for a while is even better. About 30 minutes before serving, cook rice in a separate pan. A few minutes before serving, add spinach to the masala, allowing it to wilt, and stirring to incorporate.

This recipe doubles well and tastes even better the next day!

So much love,

~A

How to thrive in the face of the unfixable

Acceptance carries with it an active, courageous honesty that brings freedom

Small tree and mushroom growing out of a log

There is an anonymous quote that goes something along the lines of, “when you can’t find a solution to the problem, it’s probably not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.”

The first time I read that I balked. It hit something in me that made me want to scream. Acceptance seemed like such a passive thing to me at the time, like if I accept this, then I lay down and die. There is nothing more to be done. And that was a place I was not willing to go. In my small world, one doesn’t have a child with exceptional needs and simply accept it. One learns and digs and fights and figures things out and FIXES IT. Seriously.

But that dumb little quote would not get out of my head.

“Not a problem to be solved, but a truth to be accepted.”

Read that again in a more mocking tone.

Once more, a little whiny and nasally.

There you go. Just like that, through my head.

Everywhere I turned, there were truths to be accepted. BAH!

I’m certain it was God twisting that little sucker into my heart, and it was relentless. Nudging, pushing, prodding at my stubbornness and egoic savior complex like a big dog with a wet nose who needs a pat and is certain you are the one to provide it.

And just like that dog, underneath the annoyance of being pushed, there was also a warmth and affection for that stupid quote. Probably because I knew it was a truth to be accepted… by me… because truth is good for us.

I’ve since learned, and am learning still, that acceptance is entirely different from giving up and giving in. Acceptance is not the same as resignation. Acceptance carries with it an active, courageous honesty that can be searing at times, and that honesty brings freedom, and ultimately peace.

It’s also important to distinguish between peace and resignation… peace carries with it hope and joy, while resignation’s companions are despair and hopelessness. Peace enlivens, while resignation is like a wet blanket.

So how do we get there?? I believe the path to acceptance is the way of thriving in the face of the unfixable, and that path will take its own meandering course in anyone’s life, but there are useful common threads to be noted. I will caution you, as you read there will be things that irk and annoy, things no one really wants to hear. And I will encourage you to stay with that discomfort… allow it to lead you to the things you need to accept. And give yourself grace, and time to get there.

Expectations

Perhaps one of the most important things we need to accept in order to thrive when we are living with unfixable things are more realistic expectations. Right away I hear the argument: we have to have high expectations or my loved one will never… (what? walk again, talk, hold down a job, write her or his name, etc.). Good. Okay. And can we consider the possibility that our high expectations are not what produce results? What if our loved ones accomplish any of the things they accomplish not because we expect them to, but because we love, support, and encourage them? You might be thinking now that I’m splitting hairs, but I assure you this is an important distinction.

Let’s look at an example. When I think about high or unrealistic expectations, vacations immediately come to mind. My expectations for vacation are good rest, doing fun things in nature all together as a family, reading at least one great novel, and going out for at least one really nice dinner. And while those may not seem wildly unrealistic, I can personally attest to the fact that those very expectations have made me and my family miserable on numerous family vacations over the years.

Because you know what actually happens on vacations in my family?

No. one. rests.

Why?

We are in a strange place doing things that are out of the ordinary and completely out of routine.

This is the perfect scenario for meltdowns, tears, and screaming, not sleep, novels, and nice dinners. This is not the scenario in which mom gets to sit back and relax while the kids play happily together. This is the scenario where mom is actively involved every second or things go off the rails… and fast.

I promise you that my expectations for rest and happy family activities on vacation do not produce rest and happy family activities on vacation. In fact, I submit to you that those very expectations, due to their disconnect from reality, produce exactly the opposite of what I want, and I end up supremely grumpy and frustrated right along with my kiddos.

However, this past summer I expected vacation to be completely hands on and exhausting. Why go then?!? Well, my expectation was that, while it might not be restful and I might not pick up a book at all, we would have a fun and different experience. I would immerse myself in child-led activities and fall in bed exhausted every night. And guess what?! We had the most fun vacation I can remember as a parent. After all these years, I was finally able to align my expectations with reality and it was fun… and even a bit relaxing.

Attitude

This brings me to the next way to thrive… paying attention to our attitude. While high or unrealistic expectations are most often a source of unnecessary suffering, an attitude that is searching out the best, looking for good, and practicing gratitude, can make any situation more livable.

Did you know that we can actually wire our brains to be more positive? When we practice gratitude, the very act of looking for things to be grateful for trains our brains to seek out the positive. Notice the use of “practice” and “train” here… because rewiring our brains takes time and effort. We must not think that just because being grateful didn’t help today that it won’t ever help.

Think of it like weight lifting. If I were to pick up a 20 pound weight today it would feel pretty heavy. I don’t lift weights and have no idea what I’m doing. But if I take some time to learn, and practice lifting weights regularly, with time I will find that 20 pound weight can be lifted with ease.

This doesn’t mean that we put on a facade of always being happy. It definitely doesn’t mean we refuse to acknowledge the hard stuff. Instead, as we accept reality, we face the difficult things with clear eyes and then look for ways these very things can teach us or cause us to grow.

Help

This brings me to the third way to thrive… enlisting and accepting help. Sometimes help might come in the form of a teacher, spiritual director, mentor, or counselor who can teach us new ways of seeing and being in the world that allow us to thrive.

Sometimes the help we need to accept is at a practical, everyday level, with chores like cooking, cleaning, or getting organized.

Sometimes the help we need takes the form of respite care for our loved one which frees us up to do some other, much needed things.

As caregivers, we are very good at being competent and capable. We often over-perform to provide care, and even then we feel like we aren’t doing enough. Asking for help can make us feel like a burden, or even make us feel less worthy, as we so often draw a sense of worth and take pride in the ways we are able to help other people. These and a plethora of other factors (like how challenging it is to find respite care, or the cost of help, etc.) can leave us feeling stuck and alone when we desperately need a “village” to participate in for mutual edification and sustenance.

In the past, “villages” formed naturally through extended family and proximity. Men and women would come together to accomplish tasks, care for children and elders, and create and consume meals. In my idealistic version of our shared history, it seems it could have been simple to feel like an integral and necessary part of the whole, contributing and receiving in equal measure.

Natural villages now are rare for most of us. However we might do it, we need to get creative about enlisting help and becoming part of a true community, finding our people and welcoming each other into the messy, vulnerable spaces of our lives.

Self-care

Self-care is integrated into each of the previous components of thriving, as it’s less about doing the easy “feel good”thing, and more about doing the (often hard) work of becoming and maintaining the healthiest version of ourselves. Good self-care practices nurture each part of our being: our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This will look different for everyone, and it’s important to be realistic with our expectations here as well. No season of life is perfect, and various pieces of self-care will be more or less well-suited to each season.

Accepting ourselves and our own needs is foundational to self-care. What do we need today? Is it more sleep, a colorful salad, a long run, some quiet meditation, or good conversation with a close friend? We cannot continuously bring our best selves to those we care for without intentionally refueling our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Think about your current practices of self-care…

Do you move your body frequently throughout the day?

Do you eat food that provides the nutrients your body needs?

Do you have a spiritual practice that is meaningful and uplifting?

Do you have ways to process your emotions that allows you to stay open and regulated most of the time?

Do you engage in relationships that are deeply fulfilling, and find healthy ways to protect yourself in relationships that are needlessly painful?

In what ways do you need to take better care of yourself?

In what ways are you doing really well?

Compassion

Acceptance will come more readily over time. For now, my expectations are bound to miss the mark, cause suffering, and require re-evaluation. Even then, things will be hard and my attitude will stink sometimes. Help will not be available when I need it, and self-care will suffer. Life is far from perfect, and our acceptance of that imperfection allows us the space for compassion.

As caregivers, we may find it easy to offer compassion to others, while at the same time holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection, and berating ourselves for even minor shortcomings and failures.

Sadly, this way of being in the world sets us up for bitterness and resentment. We may seem to offer an over-abundance of compassion on the surface, while underneath we feel put upon or taken advantage of. Over time, this lack of compassion for ourselves hardens us, closing us off more and more from true, selfless compassion for others.

We cannot change this in the blink of an eye.

Our first step toward compassion for ourselves is to notice when we are not offering it.

And then we work on noticing without judgement.

And then we try to do something more kind, whether that’s speaking kind words to ourselves in our minds, or treating ourselves more kindly when we’ve fallen short.

And then we work on turning that small kindness into a practice.

This compassion for ourselves sets us up to be more open, instead of hardening. It sets us up to have compassion flow, without thought of ourselves, to those around us.

Expectations, attitude, help, self-care, and compassion are the components that lead us down the path of acceptance. What is the problem you have tried so long to solve, that is actually a truth you are being given the opportunity to accept?

May you offer yourself the grace to find your way to the joy of acceptance. May you thrive as you face the things no one can fix.

So much love,

~A

Interrupted

As I write, I am holding and rocking my two year old who I’ve been trying to get down for a nap for two hours. The child needs a nap… or, at least, I need the child to have a nap.

I had plans, my friends, plans to do laundry and clean, to work on supper and my blog. There is zero chance I would get all that done, but I won’t get any of it done if he doesn’t sleep… at least that’s what my anxiety tells me… and to be clear, my anxiety isn’t always wrong.

Caregiving involves having our plans interrupted, whether it’s the nap that didn’t happen, or the stomach virus that took over, a fall, lice, or any number of other unforeseen incidents that step in and turn our plans upside down.

And while I often tell people I have Gumby-like flexibility, and I do, it can almost vanish when I have to change plans that are important to me. Then it is challenging to change course… and there are no guarantees about my attitude. That part of me frequently takes even longer to get back around to something resembling contentment or joy.

We have very few options in those moments when our plans fall apart due to caregiving needs… we can move forward with our plans and let someone else care for our loved one… or we can change course and offer the care ourselves. Can I tell you something really freeing? Neither one is wrong.

Can you hear that, friend?

It’s okay for you to let someone else provide care for your loved one so that you can move forward with a plan that’s important to you.

It’s also okay to drop whatever you’re doing to be there for your loved one when they have a need.

Do you know what we usually get stuck on that makes the whole thing hard? We can’t decide which option is best. We agonize over our decision. Why??

Guilt.

We feel guilty if we don’t drop everything.

We feel guilty if we do drop everything.

Our feelings of guilt might come from our sense of duty or responsibility. After all, this is my ______________! (Insert “mom,” “child,” “aunt,” job,” “friend,” etc.)

Our feelings of guilt might stem from a sense that we are the only ones who can actually do ______________. (the caregiving, the laundry, the task at work, etc.)

Our feelings of guilt might also spring from an abiding sense of insufficiency, that whatever we do is never enough.

All of these can cause us to feel stuck, and lead us to bitterness and frustration.

Instead of enjoying our time caring for our loved one, we might be short with them, annoyed with the change of plans, or their high level of need.

Instead of enjoying following through with our plans while someone else cares for our loved one, we might spend the time fretting, worrying about how they are, or wondering if we really should be there.

Left unchecked, we can start to feel contempt for whatever (or whomever) we have identified as the source of our difficulty. Instead of just being a change of plans, it can become a blow to our relationships. And healthy relationships are the very thing we most need.

What would happen if we did something different? What if we could do whatever we do with confidence and peace instead of the annoyance or frantic scrambling that so often results from an unexpected change?

Today there is no one else to take care of my toddler. I can (and did) get irritated, worn out by his inability to fall asleep like he does every. other. day. But my only good choice is to pause, breathe deep, adjust my plans, and be present with him. I might not finish this post until late tonight, or maybe even tomorrow. I might not get the house clean, or the laundry finished. Supper might be made after my husband walks through the door.

And if I can bring my attitude up to speed with this change, I can experience the deep, deep joy of feeling this little boy curled up in my arms. I can smell his sweet hair and stare at his amazing little toes while we rock quietly. I can remember to savor this, because it will not last. These moments are fleeting, and if I could spend my time on anything at all, it would be this. Just this:

Young boy asleep in mother’s arms

So much love,

~A

Pasta Bowls!

Close up of tri-color rotini pasta

This has been a fun meal my whole family enjoys. Again, with the bowls. Seriously. Flexible, simple meals free of complaining.

This particular bowl is highly adaptable… choose your pasta: regular, gluten-free, egg, shapes… You can do Alfredo bowls or Marinara bowls, or olive oil and herb bowls, or offer all of those as toppings.

I like to sauté some mushrooms, onions, spinach, shrimp, and fresh tomatoes all separately and with some minced garlic for additional toppings. You can offer some grated Parmesan cheese as well, or even try a vegan Parmesan option.

Serve this with a fresh green salad, maybe some French bread, and just about any human could sit down at your dinner table and find a way to enjoy filling their belly.

Each of the following components can be placed in a serving dish for folks to fill their own bowls. As you fill serving dishes, they can be placed in the oven to keep warm as you sauté the next ingredient. Amounts will vary based on the number of people you want to serve and what those people love to eat. The good news is that leftover bowls are great for work lunches the next day, so when in doubt, make more 🙂

Components of Pasta Bowls:

Pasta of your choice, cooked, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, and stirred through to keep the sticking to a minimum

Alfredo Sauce (recipe below)

Marinara Sauce (recipe below)

Olive oil with oregano, basil, thyme, salt, and pepper (I don’t actually measure here… you do you)

Shiitake, cremini, or baby bella mushrooms, sautéed with minced garlic

Onions, chopped or sliced and sautéed (or, if you have time, caramelized!)

Baby spinach sautéed with minced garlic

Fresh tomatoes, chopped and sautéed with minced garlic

Shrimp sautéed with mince garlic

Grated Parmesan cheese

Vegan Parmesan cheese (recipe below)

For the Alfredo sauce:

In saucepan, melt 4T (1/2 stick) of butter over medium heat. Stir in 1 can of condensed milk and 1/2C. Parmesan cheese, continuing to stir until cheese is melty. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: if you prefer Alfredo sauce that doesn’t separate, add a couple tablespoons (or up to 1/4C.) of flour… simply place flour in the saucepan at the beginning and stir to combine it with the melting butter.

For the Marinara Sauce:

18oz. tomato paste

4-6C. water

2tsp. of each, basil, oregano, and parsley

1tsp. of each, salt and sugar

1/2tsp. thyme

1/4tsp. pepper

1 bay leaf

1/4C. red wine (optional)

Combine all together. This can sit all day on low on the stove or in a crockpot. Taste and season more as desired.

For the vegan Parmesan:

(From Minimalist Baker — http://www.minimalistbaker.com)

Place 3/4C. cashews, 3T. nutritional yeast, 3/4tsp. salt, and 1/4tsp. garlic powder in food processor and process until everything is a fine meal. Store in refrigerator to maintain freshness.

I hope you and your family enjoy pasta bowls as much as we do!

So much love,

~A

Happy Holidays??

Experiencing joy in our open, exhausted hearts

Sunlight on icy, delicate, dried flowers

I’ve been struggling to write the past several days, and I was just about to chalk it up to writer’s block, when something made me pause.

“Writer’s block?!? Maybe. But seriously, have you considered what the last week has been?” The skeptical little truth teller voice in my head likes to jump right in during my introspective moments.

I took a minute to consider this… the past week has been full of good things and very challenging ones. School was only in session two days, after a four day weekend due to snow days at the end of the previous week. And then it was off to the grandparents for Thanksgiving, leaving at different times because my husband needed to work late Wednesday, which we have NEVER done before. Not once. This kind of unusual schedule throws us all for a loop… and that’s a nice, mild euphemism.

And while I love love love being home with my parents, my thrown-for-a-loop youngest children were almost literally bouncing off the walls the entire time we were there.

Not kidding.

Not even exaggerating.

It was mind-numbingly exhausting and I became less patient than usual. If you had been a fly on the wall three days in, you might possibly have caught me screaming into a pillow.

Maybe.

I won’t bore you with the details of insufficient sleep and unrelenting teasing and sugar highs (and sugar lows!! why do we never talk about the crash, my friends?!? The crash is a terrible time of misery for anyone within ear shot of my youngest child).

We got home, and I sat at the table with my husband as our seemingly feral children ran circles around us, and I asked, “am I unreasonably impatient right now? I mean, could this be a side effect of the new supplement I’m taking, or do our circumstances warrant my short fuse?”

He looked at me, half smiled, and said, “oh, our circumstances warrant it. For sure.”

Perfect.

Happy Thanksgiving! And here’s to doing the same thing to the nth degree in just a few short weeks.

Now, today, my littlest guy has been running around playing with his toys. They are all saying, “Happy Holidays!” to each other.

We’ve been putting up Christmas decorations, and he’s been playing with Mary, “Jofuss,” and baby Jesus.

This evening we tried watching a family Christmas movie together. It was not to his liking. And as he cried heartbroken, wailing, gasping tears about wanting a monster movie instead, his big brother went and found him his pjs and his nighttime diaper. The same child who has been teasing this little one mercilessly for days, was the most tender, sweet sibling for him tonight.

Both of the youngest balls of energy are now fast asleep, and I am feeling not unlike day old bread… kind of stiff and bland, not too far from molding.

In previous years I have been aware of my expectations being too high or too different from reality, killing my joy. This year, I think I had a win on that front. I’m pretty sure my expectations were almost nonexistent and therefore impossible to be unfulfilled. I am thankful for the joy which opened up in unexpected places because of that.

And maybe this is what holidays are… exhaustion with joy sprinkled on top. Like some kind of stale cupcake with superb icing. Maybe crawling in bed early tonight is not only a gift to myself, but a reasonable response to the week we have had. And maybe, tomorrow morning we’ll wake up ready for a new Monday. Or maybe not. But at least I’ll have gotten enough rest to get me through whatever the day might hold. I hope. And if not, there’s always coffee.

Here’s to happy holidays in all their forms. May you and yours be conscious of unexpected joy springing up inside your open, exhausted hearts.

So much love,

~A

6 Simple Steps to Make It Through the Worst Times

How to be peaceful, calm, and kind when circumstances are not

Wooden dock on a lake in the moonlight

Most of the practices for calming in the face of anxiety or panic attacks hinge on the idea that here, now, I am safe. The premise is that worry and anxiety come from being trapped by the traumatic memories of the past, or from thinking of the terrible “what ifs” of the future.

But what happens when it’s not okay here and now? What if, in this moment, I am experiencing ongoing pain, or my child is having the tenth meltdown of the morning, or my spouse is having a major medical event, or my parent is showing signs of dementia?

How do we deal with the activation of the present moment without losing our minds?

This question has been with me frequently over the past several years… how can I be peaceful, calm, and kind when circumstances are not?

Before I share some steps I’ve found effective, let me say that these are things we can do on a “good” day, when things might be hard but we’ve gotten enough rest, or we are tired but thoroughly enjoying our coffee… these are not things that work all the time and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to always be peaceful, calm, and kind. We are humans interacting with humans. We WILL mess up. We will lose it and those we love will lose it. This is not only to be expected, it is one of the things I most love about John Bowlby’s theory of attachment: we will mess up in our relationships, but when we take the time to repair well, our relationships will be stronger than they were before!

But I digress… my point is, no one is perfect and we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves or anyone else. That expectation alone will cause great suffering.

However, when we are able, what can we do to stay calm and steady in the face of immediate hardship?

As anyone who practices meditation will tell you, the first and most basic tool is awareness. When things are getting hard and you feel yourself getting activated, notice.

That’s all. The first step is to notice what is happening. Eckhart Tolle says, “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” We are not our thoughts or emotions, we are the observer.

Once we notice, we have the opportunity to take the next step, which is to pause. Instead of impulsively acting on whatever emotion or thought is arising, we can notice it and pause. Take a deep breath.

And perhaps another.

Pausing and slowing our breathing can help us calm our amygdala, a small part of our brain responsible for keeping us safe. Except our amygdala only gives us three options: fight, flight, or freeze. Sometimes those options are useful. When dealing with loved ones, usually they are not. Usually they will make the situation worse instead of better.

So, breathing slow and deep can calm our amygdala and send it the signal that everything is ok. Then our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that can make plans, be flexible, think through options, and let us see things from another’s point of view, can come back online and be in charge again.

We can reflect.

We can choose our response.

Unfortunately, even with our prefrontal cortex running the show, there simply are not always going to be solutions for the circumstances we face.

We’ve noticed. We’ve paused. We’ve breathed. We’ve reflected.

And our child is still screaming and throwing things.

Our pain is still curling us in a ball.

Our spouse is still sick.

Our parent is still oddly belligerent.

So the next step becomes perhaps the most difficult… acceptance. This is what is happening. I cannot change it. So I accept it.

Don’t get me wrong here, acceptance does not mean I will lay down and give up. Instead, acceptance is truly a form of courage. To face things as they are is one of the bravest things we will ever do.

We can’t rush this one. Acceptance may not happen in this moment. It may not happen today. It may not even happen next week. Or it may happen right now, but not tomorrow. Each of these steps takes practice, each one takes time.

As we give ourselves time to notice, time to pause, time to breathe, time to accept reality as it is, we are also practicing compassion. And in my mind, compassion is the crux of the whole thing. When we are able to practice compassion for ourselves as we learn and grow, we can also begin to practice compassion for those around us. And when it’s not okay, we need compassion more than any other time…

Compassion for ourselves in our own failings and shortcomings, when we don’t respond to tough situations the way we wish we would…

Compassion for those around us who are having a hard time, even when we aren’t sure we understand.

You see, compassion softens us. It allows us to open our hands and our hearts, to be present to ourselves or to another with tenderness, kindness, and care instead of bitterness, anger, or coldness. Compassion upholds and completes the cycle of finding peace when it’s not okay.

The steps are simple: notice; pause; breathe; reflect; accept; practice compassion. But they are not easy.

Most of us have not been trained to respond to hard and impossible things in these ways. Some of us might even find ourselves annoyed right now. If so, take a moment to think about how you usually respond when things really aren’t ok. What does it feel like in your body? Does your pulse quicken? Do your hands shake? Does your breathing get shallow? How does your voice sound? Do you yell? Go silent? And in the end, how do you feel? How do those around you feel?

Is what you’re doing working?

If so, then notice. Think about the things you do that work for you. Pause and appreciate them.

If not, then notice. Think about how you hope to feel in the face of difficulty. Think about how you want those around you to feel. Would you like to try something new?

There are many unfixable things we will face in our lives. If you haven’t encountered them yet, just give life time… they will come. And when they do, our only choice, our only power, lies in our response.

Notice.

So much love,

~A

When it’s not okay

Most of the practices for calming in the face of anxiety or panic attacks hinge on the idea that here, now, I am safe. The premise is that worry and anxiety come from being trapped by the traumatic memories of the past, or from thinking of the terrible “what ifs” of the future.

But what happens when it’s not okay here and now? What if, in this moment, I am experiencing ongoing pain, or my child is having the tenth meltdown of the morning, or my spouse is having a major medical event, or my parent is showing signs of dementia?

How do we deal with the activation of the present moment without losing our minds?

This question has been with me frequently over the past several years… how can I be peaceful, calm, and kind when circumstances are not?

Before I share some steps I’ve found effective, let me say that these are things we can do on a “good” day, when things might be hard but we’ve gotten enough rest, or we are tired but thoroughly enjoying our coffee… these are not things that work all the time and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to always be peaceful, calm, and kind. We are humans interacting with humans. We WILL mess up. We will lose it and those we love will lose it. This is not only to be expected, it is one of the things I most love about John Bowlby’s theory of attachment: we will mess up in our relationships, but when we take the time to repair well, our relationships will be stronger than they were before!

But I digress… my point is, no one is perfect and we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves or anyone else. That expectation alone will cause great suffering.

However, when we are able, what can we do to stay calm and steady in the face of immediate hardship?

As anyone who practices meditation will tell you, the first and most basic tool is awareness. When things are getting hard and you feel yourself getting activated, notice.

That’s all. The first step is to notice what is happening. Eckhart Tolle says, “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” We are not our thoughts or emotions, we are the observer.

Once we notice, we have the opportunity to take the next step, which is to pause. Instead of impulsively acting on whatever emotion or thought is arising, we can notice it and pause. Take a deep breath.

And perhaps another.

Pausing and slowing our breathing can help us calm our amygdala, a small part of our brain responsible for keeping us safe. Except our amygdala only gives us three options: fight, flight, or freeze. Sometimes those options are useful. When dealing with loved ones, usually they are not. Usually they will make the situation worse instead of better.

So, breathing slow and deep can calm our amygdala and send it the signal that everything is ok. Then our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that can make plans, be flexible, think through options, and let us see things from another’s point of view, can come back online and be in charge again.

We can reflect.

We can choose our response.

Unfortunately, even with our prefrontal cortex running the show, there simply are not always going to be solutions for the circumstances we face.

We’ve noticed. We’ve paused. We’ve breathed. We’ve reflected.

And our child is still screaming and throwing things.

Our pain is still curling us in a ball.

Our spouse is still sick.

Our parent is still oddly belligerent.

So the next step becomes perhaps the most difficult… acceptance. This is what is happening. I cannot change it. So I accept it.

Don’t get me wrong here, acceptance does not mean I will lay down and give up. Instead, acceptance is truly a form of courage. To face things as they are is one of the bravest things we will ever do.

We can’t rush this one. Acceptance may not happen in this moment. It may not happen today. It may not even happen next week. Or it may happen right now, but not tomorrow. Each of these steps takes practice, each one takes time.

As we give ourselves time to notice, time to pause, time to breathe, time to accept reality as it is, we are also practicing compassion. And in my mind, compassion is the crux of the whole thing. When we are able to practice compassion for ourselves as we learn and grow, we can also begin to practice compassion for those around us. And when it’s not okay, we need compassion more than any other time…

Compassion for ourselves in our own failings and shortcomings, when we don’t respond to tough situations the way we wish we would…

Compassion for those around us who are having a hard time, even when we aren’t sure we understand.

You see, compassion softens us. It allows us to open our hands and our hearts, to be present to ourselves or to another with tenderness, kindness, and care instead of bitterness, anger, or coldness. Compassion upholds and completes the cycle of finding peace when it’s not okay.

The steps are simple: notice; pause; breathe; reflect; accept; practice compassion. But they are not easy.

Most of us have not been trained to respond to hard and impossible things in these ways. Some of us might even find ourselves annoyed right now. If so, take a moment to think about how you usually respond when things really aren’t ok. What does it feel like in your body? Does your pulse quicken? Do your hands shake? Does your breathing get shallow? How does your voice sound? Do you yell? Go silent? And in the end, how do you feel? How do those around you feel?

Is what you’re doing working?

If so, then notice. Think about the things you do that work for you. Pause and appreciate them.

If not, then notice. Think about how you hope to feel in the face of difficulty. Think about how you want those around you to feel. Would you like to try something new?

There are many unfixable things we will face in our lives. If you haven’t encountered them yet, just give life time… they will come. And when they do, our only choice, our only power, lies in our response.

Notice.

So much love,

~A

Trust Yourself

I will never forget that first night in the hospital… after a long, hard labor I had welcomed my beautiful little boy into the world, slightly jaundiced, but otherwise healthy and whole. My emotions were a mess as my two year-old daughter held her brother for the first time, snuggled beside me on the hospital bed, clearly still recovering from the terror of Mama being gone when she woke up that morning.Baby’s hand holding mama’s shirt

But as night fell and visitors left, I entered the first of many very long nights with my son. He cried inconsolably, struggling to nurse, struggling to sleep. Nurses tried to come and take him to give me a break, but I couldn’t rest, wondering how he was when he was away from me.

The confidence I felt when my daughter was born seemed to evaporate like early morning fog, as all my best efforts to soothe and nourish my son proved ineffective.

“Is something wrong?” I asked one of the nurses. “I can’t seem to help him. Why doesn’t he latch well? And why is he gagging?”

Patiently and calmly, the nurse told me some babies just took a little longer to figure it out, that some babies were fussy, that I should give him to her and get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s just a difference in personality… or maybe it’s a boy thing… after all, I had no experience with baby boys…

I tried reassuring myself. I tried to believe the nurse. But fear had started to set up camp in my brain. I knew something was not right.

Two days later we were sent home with a clear bill of health, apart from instructions to hold him in the sunlight to keep working at curing his jaundice.

My parents stayed to help, my mom holding her newest grandbaby in the sunlight with all the delight of centuries of grandmas glowing in her face. I held my daughter and rested as much as possible. We kept working at nursing. My baby boy kept crying.

“Something is wrong,” I told my husband. I told my mom. I told my pediatrician.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” they all said. “It’s probably just colic. He’s probably just a fussy baby. He’ll outgrow it. He’ll be fine.”

I turned to the dark and frightening world of self-diagnosis on the internet. Words like Developmental Delay, and Fragile X Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum, and Sensory Processing popped up. And I read, and read, and read.

And I cried with my baby as he tried to nurse, as he tried to sleep, as I rocked him, and bounced him, and shushed him with lullabies and humming.

Our first diagnosis from our pediatrician was at 6 months. We got a referral to a local early intervention program.

My husband got angry. Clearly I was just worrying too much. Our son didn’t need therapists. He was going to be fine. I was too uptight and needed to relax. Everything was fine.

But it wasn’t. So therapists came anyway. Speech was first, helping him swallow. OT came with a Wilbarger protocol. PT came and he started to walk.

And still he cried. And never slept through the night. And hated going to noisy restaurants, or being buckled in his car seat, or pushed in his swing.

Those first few years were painful, and exhausting, and lonely. I fought with my husband over every doctor visit, every intervention, every therapy appointment.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but I knew we were making progress, and I wasn’t about to quit.

Diagnoses came over the course of a decade. Puzzle pieces started fitting together. I became fluent in the language of visual schedules, and sensory inputs. I learned how to be the safe harbor my son needed by holding him close and bouncing instead of rocking. No humming. Definitely no singing. He needed me close with a firm touch and unintuitive silence.

He learned what he needed, and was soon able to let me know when he needed to jump on his trampoline, or just have some space by himself. He knew when he was ready to engage again, and did so with joy.

A divorce, remarriage, a stepson, and a toddler later, we have learned SO much. I feel like I will never stop learning.

My boy is able to be in the present moment unlike anyone else I’ve met. He loves people and forgives almost instantly. He has a huge, tender heart and a mischievous streak that inevitably gets him in trouble.

But even now I can’t allow myself to go too far into the future very often. There are too many unknowns. Too much is still uncertain.

Throughout our lives we face a multitude of uncertainties. What is the next right thing to do? Are we being lead by true intuition or by our worst fears? What if those two coincide?

Perhaps you have your own story of diagnosis. Maybe you’re in the middle of it right now. Maybe there is something else entirely that is your unfixable thing to be faced.

Whatever it is that kept you reading this far, take a moment.

Breathe in deeply through your nose.

Let the air expand not only your lungs, but your abdomen as well.

Let your breath out slowly through your mouth.

Let your face relax, your jaw loosen.

Drop your shoulders.

Breathe. Slow and deep.

Trust yourself.

Settle in.

Pay attention to that voice of wisdom inside you.

I could never have imagined all those years ago what life would be like today. But I didn’t need to. I usually had no idea if what I was doing was actually the next right thing. I fumbled around filled with fear and uncertainty.

You don’t have to do that. Or you can, if you want. But right now, you can breathe.

You can do the thing in front of you to do.

And you can do it with kindness for yourself and for those around you.

All will be well.

It may not be as you expected, planned, or wanted, but all will be well.

There is Love guiding us.

There is enough light for this moment.

Breathe.

Trust yourself.

All will be well.

So much love,

~A

Trust Yourself

I will never forget that first night in the hospital… after a long, hard labor I had welcomed my beautiful little boy into the world, slightly jaundiced, but otherwise healthy and whole. My emotions were a mess as my two year-old daughter held her brother for the first time, snuggled beside me on the hospital bed, clearly still recovering from the terror of Mama being gone when she woke up that morning.

But as night fell and visitors left, I entered the first of many very long nights with my son. He cried inconsolably, struggling to nurse, struggling to sleep. Nurses tried to come and take him to give me a break, but I couldn’t rest, wondering how he was when he was away from me.

The confidence I felt when my daughter was born seemed to evaporate like early morning fog, as all my best efforts to soothe and nourish my son proved ineffective.

“Is something wrong?” I asked one of the nurses. “I can’t seem to help him. Why doesn’t he latch well? And why is he gagging?”

Patiently and calmly, the nurse told me some babies just took a little longer to figure it out, that some babies were fussy, that I should give him to her and get some sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it’s just a difference in personality… or maybe it’s a boy thing… after all, I had no experience with baby boys…

I tried reassuring myself. I tried to believe the nurse. But fear had started to set up camp in my brain. I knew something was not right.

Two days later we were sent home with a clear bill of health, apart from instructions to hold him in the sunlight to keep working at curing his jaundice.

My parents stayed to help, my mom holding her newest grandbaby in the sunlight with all the delight of centuries of grandmas glowing in her face. I held my daughter and rested as much as possible. We kept working at nursing. My baby boy kept crying.

“Something is wrong,” I told my husband. I told my mom. I told my pediatrician.

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” they all said. “It’s probably just colic. He’s probably just a fussy baby. He’ll outgrow it. He’ll be fine.”

I turned to the dark and frightening world of self-diagnosis on the internet. Words like Developmental Delay, and Fragile X Syndrome, and Autism Spectrum, and Sensory Processing popped up. And I read, and read, and read.

And I cried with my baby as he tried to nurse, as he tried to sleep, as I rocked him, and bounced him, and shushed him with lullabies and humming.

Our first diagnosis from our pediatrician was at 6 months. We got a referral to a local early intervention program.

My husband got angry. Clearly I was just worrying too much. Our son didn’t need therapists. He was going to be fine. I was too uptight and needed to relax. Everything was fine.

But it wasn’t. So therapists came anyway. Speech was first, helping him swallow. OT came with a Wilbarger protocol. PT came and he started to walk.

And still he cried. And never slept through the night. And hated going to noisy restaurants, or being buckled in his car seat, or pushed in his swing.

Those first few years were painful, and exhausting, and lonely. I fought with my husband over every doctor visit, every intervention, every therapy appointment.

I still didn’t know what was going on, but I knew we were making progress, and I wasn’t about to quit.

Diagnoses came over the course of a decade. Puzzle pieces started fitting together. But even now I can’t allow myself to go too far into the future very often. There are too many unknowns. Too much is still uncertain.

Throughout our lives we face a multitude of uncertainties. What is the next right thing to do? Are we being lead by true intuition or by our worst fears? What if those two coincide?

Perhaps you have your own story of diagnosis. Maybe you’re in the middle of it right now. Maybe there is something else entirely that is your unfixable thing to be faced.

Whatever it is that kept you reading this far, take a moment.

Breathe in deeply through your nose.

Let the air expand not only your lungs, but your abdomen as well.

Let your breath out slowly through your mouth.

Let your face relax, your jaw loosen.

Drop your shoulders.

Breathe. Slow and deep.

Trust yourself.

Settle in.

Pay attention to that voice of wisdom inside you.

I could never have imagined all those years ago what life would be like today. But I didn’t need to. I usually had no idea if what I was doing was actually the next right thing. I fumbled around filled with fear and uncertainty.

You don’t have to do that. Or you can, if you want. But right now, you can breathe.

You can do the thing in front of you to do.

And you can do it with kindness for yourself and for those around you.

All will be well.

It may not be as you expected, planned, or wanted, but all will be well.

There is love guiding us.

There is enough light for this moment.

Breathe.

Trust yourself.

All will be well.

So much love,

~A