When Loss Hits Us Unprepared

Yesterday, I wrote about pruning the roses for spring, something I willingly do on my own terms.  Sometimes in spring, plants get pruned on the weather’s terms. Things get ripped brutally apart from the weight of a heavy snowstorm, and you are left with broken plants, trees, bushes. You were excited about the potential fruit on your tree, or the flowers that were swelling in their buds, and now you are saddened by their demise. The plants need to stop with the budding and focus their energy down into their roots, then use that energy to heal what is left of themselves. This takes time, and while the plants heal, they can’t produce the harvest they’d been working toward.

An unexpected, unasked-for spring pruning can be heartbreaking. We abruptly face the fact that we are not going to have what we’d been hoping for, what we’d had before. The apple we saw in the bud is gone, and it is not coming back. Like the tree, we need to stop the forward motion toward the potential of that particular season, and focus our energy on accepting what is right in front of us. We can pick up the broken pieces and put them in the compost, allowing them to rot in order to feed the next season’s budding tree. Some plants will never be quite same again, others will bounce back with an even better harvest, and others will take much longer to heal but over time will grow into abundant producers. It depends on the plant and the severity of the injury. If you adjust your expectations based on these factors, you will accept each plant for what it is and what it is capable of doing.

When you unexpectedly lose a relationship, a job, a loved one, you are suddenly forced to stop moving forward. You are no longer walking on the path you’d been hoping to stay on. It is heartbreaking, and it is shocking. Your focus changes from potential and future and you are here, right now, in the wreckage. It is important to understand that it takes time to heal, and that things will change from what you’d hoped for and expected. Allow yourself to focus inward, and don’t let anyone try to rush you through this process. You will not be the same person you were before, and you need to adjust your expectations based on the person you are right now.   It takes time to allow your broken parts to disintegrate into fertile material for the growth that will happen later, when it is time to move forward again.  Take that time now and take it for as long as you need.  Grief moves at its own pace, and the best you can do is allow yourself to be in it while it is with you.  It will eventually move over enough to make room for you to experience life, harvests, and love again, in whichever new forms they come.

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You Invested Energy into It, but That Doesn’t Mean You Should Keep It

Yesterday, I cut back two of my largest rosebushes for spring.  It always seems impossible that the roses can survive such pruning, but every year, they grow back even better than the year before.  I planted these roses when they were in one-gallon pots and each about a foot tall, and they’ve grown into massive climbers over the years.  Every spring,  I hack off an abundance of dead branches, cut back other branches that are partially dead, and leave just a few whole branches that are fully alive.  Every year the rose grows back, impossibly, up over the arbor and then busts out with a giant mass of flowers. The logic to cutting out the dead and dying parts is to allow the whole plant to focus all of its energy on the growing, living parts.  Doing so allows the rose to bloom more.  It is easy to underestimate just how much of the rose lives in its roots, hidden away from view.  We humans can learn from this.  Many times, we focus our energy on things that once bloomed like this rose bush, but that are now spent. We might need to cut them out of our lives, or we might need to trim something back a bit.  Maybe we spent years putting energy into a relationship that has reached its end, and it is time to cut this relationship out.  Maybe we are in the right career but the job we’ve focused our energy into has stopped taking us to the place we want to go in that career.  It is tempting to try to hold on to the dying parts, but doing so will keep the living parts from growing to their full potential.  Just because you put a lot of energy into something doesn’t mean you will be served by holding onto it.  If it has reached its end, there is nothing to be gained from trying to bring it back to life, and if you tie up your energy in the trying, you have very little energy left for the living and growing parts of your life. Knowing what to cut out completely, what to trim back somewhat, and what to leave to grow takes some observation, insight and time.  With a rose, you can tell a branch is completely dead because it is entirely brittle and brown.  These branches get hacked to the ground.  Other branches might be partially brittle and brown where they meet up with green.  These branches get cut at the first fully healthy part, right above a bud, so that the rose can focus fully on forming a new branch in the direction you want it to grow.  The branches that don’t get cut at all are the ones that are fully green from ground to end.  We can sort through the “branches” of our lives in the same way. Before you can even sort through the branches, you need to take your focus from the rose (or relationship, or project, or job) that once was, and put it on that which is in front of you right now.  Yes, this rose was huge last summer, full of flowers on all of these long branches that took so long to grow, but those flowers are not coming back.  Now you stand in front of a mess of branches in varying states of health.  There is no guarantee that this year the rose bushes will reach the level of magnificence they did the year before, but hanging onto the past will not bring that magnificence back.  There is no guarantee that a new relationship or a new job will feel just like the one you are leaving.  Guaranteed, however, is the fact that staying and trying to eke life out of something that is dead will feel much worse.  That first big cut feels like a leap of faith.  It gets easier, and by the time you finish cutting out the truly dead parts, you will feel a sense of relief and clarity.  Now you can focus on your living parts, and you will have the energy to take yourself to your full potential.                                                         

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I have written a second post inspired by this one, about what happens when things end against our wishes, inspired by the thought of when pruning happens via the spring storm.

It is called: When Loss Hits Us Unprepared

Other posts like this: Emotional Protection Finding the Courage to Leave a Relationship Relationships and Shoes Emotional Decluttering


Breaking Free from Hopeful Illusion: The April Fool’s Edition

In the comic strip “Peanuts” the character Lucy is a bully, and perhaps her most famous mean trick is the football swipe: She tells Charlie Brown that she’ll hold the football for him, then swipes it away at the last minute and he falls. I hated this story line as a child. I got frustrated with Charlie Brown for falling for the same trick over and over. The first couple of times, I felt sorry for Charlie Brown, but I lost patience with him after that. I could not understand why he kept letting Lucy hold the ball for him.

Charlie Brown probably wanted to believe that Lucy could change. Maybe he couldn’t accept the idea that she truly got a kick out of humiliating him. Every time she promised that this time she wouldn’t pull the ball away, he wanted to believe it was true and every time he fell for it. He was stuck in a pattern of unhealthy optimism. Lucy was consistently Lucy, and if Charlie Brown could only have accepted that fact, he could have moved on and trusted someone else to hold the ball for him, leaving Lucy behind to trick and torture some other naive person.

Most of us have had a “Lucy” moment at some point in our lives. Mine was in my twenties when I dated a man who was unable to be there for me in the way I wanted him to be. There were many breakups and reconciliations, and my friends could not understand why I kept going back to this person, over and over again. Like Charlie Brown, I did not want to accept the fact that this man was not who I wished he was. Like Charlie Brown, I believed that he would change and then I’d feel betrayed when he didn’t. One such time, I complained to a friend about some horrible something he had done, hoping for sympathy, hoping she’d join me in demonizing him. Instead of sympathizing or demonizing, she patiently pointed out that he was consistently being himself, and she asked me why I stayed with him when I clearly wanted something he could not give me.

This response shocked me awake. Until that moment, my obsession with his inability to be there for me distracted me from being there for myself. I was addicted to the hope that he would change, much like a gambler is addicted to the hope that the gamble will bring the big win, much like Charlie Brown was addicted to the hope that this time, Lucy would be kind. The only way to break this sort of addiction is to face the painful but freeing truth. I finally faced the truth of my situation: I was with someone who, though attractive and sweet and even well-meaning, was never going to be with me in the way I wanted him to be. Once I accepted this truth, everything became clear and it felt like a spell had been broken. There was not even a smidgeon of temptation to stay and try make the relationship work, because once I saw the truth, I also saw that there wasn’t actually a relationship to begin with, just hope and illusion keeping me stuck. Letting go of illusion freed me to move forward into the reality of truth and I haven’t gotten stuck since.

If you are having a “Lucy” moment, it might be time to stop and take a look at your life. Do you invest your energy in something that consistently gives you the same unhappy result? What result are you are hoping for? Is what you are currently doing going to bring that result? If not, it is time to accept the truth of the situation. Prepare to have your world rocked.

You may also be interested in:

When You Love Someone Who Treats You Badly


Ultimatums and Power

As the parent of a two-year old, I give a lot of mini-ultimatums throughout the day. These ultimatums work because I have more responsibility and power than my two-year old does. It is my responsibility to keep my child from hurting himself and others, and I hold the power to enforce many boundaries because he relies on me for most of his needs. Two-year olds are limited in their capacity to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy choices: they are ruled by their impulses and desires and they do not understand the future inherent consequences of acting on those impulses and desires. For this reason, the ultimatum works absolutely great when you are trying to get a two-year old do something or to stop doing something. My son thinks that it is fun to hit his sister with his toy shovel. Telling him not to do so is ineffective. It is effective to tell him that if he hits his sister one more time with his beloved toy shovel, it will go bye-bye. When he is older, his ability to empathize and reason will develop and he will very likely respond to something other than an ultimatum in this situation. He should be able to think his actions through and not rely on his mother’s ultimatums in order to make a good decision.

As my son grows older, his responsibility for himself will also grow and my power over him should rightly fade.  It is my job, over time, to help him to rely on me less and rely on himself more.  My job is to help him reach adulthood as an adult.  An adult is able to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy choices and is no longer ruled by impulses and desires in the way that a toddler is. Ultimatums should not be necessary with adults who are in equitable relationships. Many people who give ultimatums in adult relationships are doing so because they have taken on a parenting role with their partner, rather than an equal role with a fellow adult. The balance of power is completely skewed: one person is stuck in the role of small child and the other is stuck in the role of parent.

For the relationship to move forward, each person needs to step out of the role they’ve been in and make some big changes. Both need to see what they get from the roles they’re ensconced in.  The parent-partner gets an overblown feeling of responsibility by focusing on their partner’s lack thereof. The big question for this person is where in their life are they craving a sense of responsibility?  The child-partner relies on their partner’s parenting of them to give them a sense of guidance, of right-or-wrong, of consequences to their actions. The big question for this person is where in their life are they craving direction, a compass?  If each person answers their own questions, they will be able to rely on themselves for their own sense of responsibility and direction, rather than trying to get each other to fulfill those roles.  This feels risky: one partner might outgrow the relationship and then the relationship might end, and what then?  It is worth the risk to find out.

 


When the Silent Treatment Feels Like Your Only Option

Almost six years ago, I wrote my first post about the Silent Treatment.   I wrote it from the perspective of someone who is on the receiving end of the silence, and it struck a nerve with many people who have been given the silent treatment.  I had no idea that it would touch such a nerve, and it is still the most-read page on my blog.  Most of my posts on the silent treatment have dealt with it from this perspective, but not from the perspective of the person who gives the silent treatment.  Today, I will be writing from a new perspective.

Reading through the comments, I have learned that some people who give the silent treatment do so because it feels like their only option.  Some have stated that they resort to the silent treatment because they don’t trust themselves in a conflict; that if they actually say anything, they will yell and scream and hurt the person they are with, because in the past they did so.  This person feels as if the silent treatment helps them stay in control of their own emotions, the ones that they are scared of letting out.  Other people have described feeling a need to use the silent treatment because they are with a partner who is verbally violent, perhaps abusive, and yells non-stop during conflict.  This person feels powerless in their relationship and feels that the only way to level the playing field is to give their volatile partner the silent treatment.  This is someone who is in a lot of pain, who feels that their partner will not allow them to express this pain, and who has resorted to a method that inflicts an equal amount of pain on their partner.  I have even noticed that when a person like this tries to explain their perspective in the comments thread, they might be met immediately with anger, shaming and judgment in a comment from someone who has been hurt by the silent treatment.  It’s easy to see the dynamic that both people are involved in.

I have mentioned before that the silent treatment is about control.  What lies underneath the need for control is a feeling of helplessness.  Powerful emotions like anger feel so dangerous that you fear you will injure your partner if you express them, so you resort to the silent treatment because you think that it is less hurtful and less dangerous.  You might not believe that the silent treatment is painful to your partner and you might believe you are sparing him or her from something much worse.  If this is the case, it is important to share these feelings with your partner at a time when things are calmer.  It is also important to learn how to feel and express the more difficult emotions.  Getting therapy can provide you support in this.

If you are resorting to the silent treatment to deal with a partner who reacts by yelling when you try to express your feelings, then it is time to examine the relationship.  You and your partner have resorted to opposite extremes that are unhealthy but still fit perfectly together like puzzle pieces.  If you feel that you are in an abusive relationship and know that your partner is not willing to work with you to change things, then it is time to gather the courage to leave the relationship.  If you feel that you and your partner can work together, then you both will have to do some things that take you out of your comfort zone.  You will have to take the risk of coming forward and saying how you feel.  Your partner will have to risk hearing uncomfortable truths from you without immediately reacting.  A good couples counselor can guide you both in how to do this while creating a safe environment for both of you.  Healing your broken parts brings upheaval, but in the rubble you will find treasures.

You may also be interested in these posts:

When You Love Someone Who Treats You Badly

Finding the Courage to Leave A Relationship

There are No Bad Emotions, Just Powerful Ones

Swallowing the Conflict to “Keep the Peace”

Learning How to Speak in a New Emotional Language

Learning to Use Words

 

 


There are no “Bad” Emotions, Just Powerful Ones

The other day, my daughter asked me if “hate” is a bad word. The short answer is no, because I do not believe that emotions are good or bad. The long answer is a bit more complicated. When emotions such as hate, jealousy, and anger get classified as bad and wrong, then you might try to stuff them down and avoid feeling them, or try to get rid of them like a hot potato, passing your unfelt emotions on to someone else. It takes a lot of energy to continually stuff powerful emotions down inside, and over time, all that stuck energy can turn into deep depression or other health issues. On the other hand, playing hot potato with powerful unowned emotions is a way to give your power away to someone else and can feed a volatile and violent dynamic into which you and that person disappear.

Emotions that we allow ourselves to feel carry messages for us to attend to which hold the potential to transform us. I looked up the word “hate” in the Merriam Webster dictionary and one definition describes it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” Right there in the definition are three possible messages in the feeling of hate. If you are feeling hatred toward someone, examine what is going on in yourself before trying to bury the feeling or blindly act on that person. Are you afraid? Are you angry? Do you feel hurt? The answers to these questions require attendance. If you are afraid, what do you need to do to feel safe? If you are angry, what is it that has made you feel angry? If you are hurt, how can you attend to your wound?
If you don’t listen to your hatred, you might think that the disappearance of this person from this world would be all you need to feel better, but in reality, when you make your feelings about yourself and not about the person you feel hatred toward, their power over you disintegrates.

Years ago, I worked at a job with a person I absolutely hated and who rubbed me wrong in a particular way that made work feel unbearable. One day, it became clear to me that I needed to address this hatred in myself, because I felt miserable. I sat down and examined my feelings. I discovered a deep feeling of jealousy under the hatred. This person had been given a position at work that I felt more qualified for, and I felt such envy and anger toward her. I allowed that jealousy and anger to sink in and I let myself feel it. Soon, the jealousy moved over and made room for an even deeper feeling of sadness and stuckness. In reality, I hated my job because I wanted to do something much more satisfying with my life than work there, something I was more qualified for. Until that moment, it was easier to hate this person who I thought had what I wanted, who I believed held my power in her hands.

After that moment, I understood that I wanted something much bigger than her position, that job, and the life I was living at the time. I focused the energy that had previously been tangled up in the hatred and set about to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. This task kept me busy, and brought me to a new life that still fills me with satisfaction more than a decade later. I can’t imagine where I would be if I were stuck in the belief that hate is just a bad word.

More posts like this one:

Dealing with Your Anger

Wanting the Person Who Hurt You to Hurt As Much As You Do

Chapter One: Shadow Mouse

 


When Things Stop Being Too Precious or Not Precious Enough

Last night, I tried to make some fresh pasta and the dough got gummed up in the pasta maker, probably because it was too moist. I got frustrated and started to toss all the dough into the compost, but my daughter insisted that she make dinner out of the dough. I was in a horrible mood because it was so close to dinner time, I didn’t have a back up plan and had been looking forward to homemade pasta. She was just excited to have the full run of all that dough. I let her go with it. She asked for a cookie cutter and made these pasta-dough shapes and asked me to fry them. She made shapes out of more dough and asked me to boil them. Her attention span lasted through about half the remaining dough, and by then my mood had entirely shifted. I decided to see what I could make out of the remaining dough. I’d been wondering if I could make shells for a while, so I decided to give that a shot, and discovered that shells are pretty easy and fun to make.

Everything we made, even if a bit funny-looking, tasted awesome. Out of a completely failed dinner attempt came a new and wonderful experience that also opened the way for fun future meals I hadn’t previously imagined. I probably never would have tried to make those shells because the effort to make the dough did not seem worth the price of them not turning out. Since the dough I made last night had become a throwaway dough, I was not invested in anything. This opened me and my daughter up to experiments and discovery.

This experience reminded me of something an art teacher once said to our class about not letting the art work get too precious. When you are making art, if you start out with expensive materials and an attachment to outcome, you can get too attached. When you get too attached to what you are making, you stifle expression and creativity. You might get stingy with the colors because you are using that special tube of paint that cost more than you meant to spend. You might not try putting a shape here or there because you are so attached to the figure you painted into that one corner.

It is easy to get stuck when things get too precious. At the same time, if you are not at all invested in what you are doing, you can only go so far with it, and you can find yourself stuck in a different way. Finding the balance between attachment and complete disengagement can be tricky. Balance is an act of finding the middle after leaning over into either extreme. If you are stuck because everything feels too precious, you need to lean the other way and make some messes. Do something you are not good at whatsoever and that you know very little about. Take a class in something you’ve never tried: a new language; an art skill; a sport. Notice the parts of you that want to skip past the learning, the parts that want to go straight to the mastery. If you are stuck because nothing feels precious and worth your time, you need to slow down and allow yourself to get just a bit more attached. Start a project that takes a lot of focus, one with an end result you want to be successful. Allow yourself to want that end result and notice the parts of you that fight your attachment.

Part of why it has been so long since I have written a blog post has been because I’ve wanted to have the time, energy and space to make a perfectly edited and well-thought-through entry. I don’t have that sort of time right now, and it could be a couple more years before I do. Today, I am leaning more toward the messy side of things and posting this in its imperfectness. It is nice to be back.


Swallowing the Conflict to “Keep the Peace.”

Conflict is messy.  Not many of us are skilled at it.  Sometimes, it is tempting to try bypass it altogether to “keep the peace.”  I’m not talking about choosing a battle because a particular issue is not a big deal.  I’m talking about when someone crosses a line and you feel violated but decide to swallow these feelings to “keep the peace.”  The problem with this strategy is that there is no peace; instead the conflict is now stuck inside you while the person who crossed the line has no idea of its existence.  For a one-time interaction, there might not be any repercussions, but if this dynamic occurs in an ongoing relationship, something will blow up further down the line.  Often, people who use the silent treatment are actually trying to swallow conflict that they have with a volatile partner.

This issue is ripe for me because I want to teach my children how to speak up for themselves, and the best way to do so is to lead by example.  What makes this tricky is that I prefer to swallow my feelings rather than engage in conflicts with people if I suspect that I will be met with anger.  This is especially true if I suspect that the person I am setting a boundary with is emotionally unstable.  In other words, if someone crosses a line with me and I think that they are going to flip out if I tell them so, I am tempted to swallow my feelings and hope that it doesn’t happen again.  Unfortunately, the “ignore it and maybe it will go away” approach is ineffective.  When violating a boundary, a boundary-challenged person interprets silence as permission.  Over time, that permission becomes license.  Speaking up about it gets far more complicated the longer you wait.  It gets even messier than if you’d spoken up in the first place, but it has to be done if you want to break out of the dynamic.

I have had some recent experience with this very topic, in which I became engaged in a messy conflict with our neighbor over the boundary between our properties.  (I could not come up with a better metaphor for boundary issues if I tried).  Because we had a complicated boundary issue in the past in which this person was using our property over well past the line (and making the assumption that it was hers), we now have stakes that clearly delineate the property line, so that there is no confusion about where it resides.   I noticed that she’d planted something on our side of the line.  Not far on it, but enough to be an issue, especially considering the history.  I dreaded bringing this up with her.  I noticed myself trying to make concessions to her so that she wouldn’t get mad.  I noticed myself feeling as if I had to apologize for bringing it up.  I decided to be direct, and was met with exactly the rage I’d feared.  She yelled, cussed and hurled accusations before storming off and yelling “Fuck you, I’m done with you!!!!!” Even so, the boundary is now known and back to where it belongs.

Surprisingly, I feel more peaceful now that I didn’t swallow my feelings to “keep the peace.”  The rage that I’d been so afraid of came out from under the surface.  If I had swallowed the conflict,  all of my anger and fear of her rage would have churned inside of me as long as I allowed the boundary to be violated.  Instead, things feel clear and clean, regardless of the messy route I took.   I feel peace knowing what the conflict looks like rather than fear of what it might be, should I speak up.  Given the choice between being hated or occupying space, I choose to occupy.  It turns out that the person most affected by hatred is the person doing the hating.

Other posts you might like:

When the Silent Treatment Feels Like Your Only Option

Dealing with Your Anger

There are No “Bad” Emotions, Just Powerful Ones

The Relationship Dynamic of “Overwatering, Underwatering”


Why Do We Share What We Share on the Internet?

I have the Internet on my mind lately, and today I am thinking about how much of our lives we share with the public via social media and blogging. I often struggle with how much to share about my life and my children, and how much to keep private. Today I read a blog post by a woman who had read her five year old daughter’s diary, felt moved by its contents and then shared them online by publishing photos of her words on an extremely popular “news” website. I will not link to this particular blog because I feel strongly that this should not have been made public, and is a pretty clear example of egregious over sharing.

Egregiousness aside, this article did make me think about just what might have inspired this mother to share her daughter’s most private thoughts with everyone in the world.  My guess is that she felt incredibly moved by what she found in her daughter’s diary, perhaps relieved that it was full of positivity, and deeply touched by the fact that her daughter is so adorable.  These are all understandable feelings, and she apparently could not contain them, so shared them with the world.

Many of us feel big feelings that are hard to contain, feelings that are very difficult to sit with, to hold, to feel. So we give them away in the form of sharing.  In the age of social media, we can share things before we even get a chance to feel them. Some feelings need our containment, need some time alone with us before we give them to the world, and some things just need to stay with us without ever being shared. It is hard to know which ones to contain and which ones to share because strong feelings move us. Anything that moves us, by definition, makes it hard for us to sit still, but sitting still with the most moving emotions can be an incredible, life-affirming experience.

Perhaps if the diary-sharing woman could have sat with her big feelings about her daughter, kept them to herself, she could have enjoyed them without anyone’s opinions intruding. Instead, she shared them in an article and the comment section is full of reactions (mine included) and many of them are not positive. She posted her own rather defensive comment about it all. Sharing her feelings online changed her experience of them completely. Now, instead of getting to feel the bliss she feels about her daughter’s sweetness (and hopefully some guilt about invading her privacy), she has hundreds of comments that she is defending herself against.

While she may be fine with this and feel that she did the right thing, I am guessing that many of us would not. I often wonder how many felt experiences I miss out on when I rush to Facebook about them. I have been noticing the moments that I automatically want to share, and instead of sharing them, allowing myself to sit with them for a bit. Yesterday, my daughter was being ridiculously cute on a walk of ours and I noticed myself composing my Facebook status about things she was saying and doing. I paused and realized that, of all the people who should hear about how cute my daughter was being, the number one person was…my daughter. Every time I noticed myself Facebooking about her cuteness in my mind, I told her how cute she was being. I enjoyed our private little moments so much more than I would have had I shared them with the bigger world. I still plan on sharing the adorable and less adorable moments on Facebook, but I am planning on letting myself have a bit more alone time with them first.


Cyber Judging, Cyber Guilting: How Is it Helpful?

This morning on my Facebook feed, I saw a link judging a woman’s parenting out of context.  It was a link to a blog post about a mom on her iPhone written as if it were a letter to her, explaining all that she was missing out on while ignoring her three kids at the playground.  My very first reaction was anger at yet another person judging parents out of context and drawing conclusions about the rest of their lives, then sharing it with the cyber world.  My next reaction was amazement that this mom in question got all three of her kids TO the playground, since I have such trouble getting my two children out of the house on many days.  Next, I had questions for the writer: “If you are at the playground, are you there with your kids, and if so, what about them are you ignoring as you write this judgmental blog entry in your head?”  or, alternatively: “If you are at the playground with no children, is there something in your life you are not attending to while you sit and judge this woman?  If not, then why not go up to her and tell her why you are so upset by her behavior, or give her kids the attention you feel they are missing?”

I spent a lot of this morning feeling bothered by this blog post and had to sort through many feelings and questions.  I was initially tempted to write a snarky Facebook post about people who judge others in this way; I wanted to judge the judger for judging.  Something about that did not feel quite right, so I let myself think about this some more and I arrived at the crux of what bothers me when I see posts like today’s.  This person observed a mother at a playground out of the context of the rest of her reality and came to a conclusion about what the rest of her life looks like.  (I know that I hear the phrase “Mommy watch this!” about 300 times a day, and I can tell you, I do not watch every time).  Next, she writes a public letter to everyone who reads her blog, but never says anything to the woman she is judging so harshly, nor does she go up to the children and give them the attention she feels that they deserve so much.  This does nothing to change this supposedly iPhone addicted mother’s life, or her children’s lives, but it does give people who feel the way the writer feels a sense of justification for their own judgments, and it does give people who talk on their phones while with their children a sense that they are being judged by nameless, perhaps countless, others when they are out in public.

There is an ironic dynamic that happens when someone complains on Facebook or on a blog that someone “out there in the world” has not been present enough in the world because they are too engaged in cyberspace.  This complaint is often followed by vociferous agreement in the form of comments that castigate this person who is not there to participate in the discussion.  Commenters often provide examples of other people they’ve drawn conclusions about based on some other out-of-context observation, and the judging provides either bonding when there is agreement or sniping when there isn’t.  The irony is that most of the people who are having this conversation with each other are focusing a lot of energy judging people who are not even there while “talking” to people who are not even there, about a person who once was there, about not being present!

This is a trap in the world of social media that we all can fall into: we are out in the real world and we see someone doing something we don’t like (or maybe something we do like).  Instead of engaging with that world by talking to that person, how often do we think, “I’m going to Facebook/blog/tweet/etc about that.”?  Thinking that thought still takes us away from the present moment, just as much as picking up the phone and tapping away at the keys.  What if the writer of the judgmental letter had not been composing her blog entry in her head but had instead decided to be present at the playground, to be more curious about who this family was rather than ready to write her conclusions about them to the people who were not there to begin with?  She might have written a much different blog entry, one where we might actually get to hear this woman’s story.  It might be cheering, funny, heartbreaking, inspiring, who knows?  Not us, because we did not get to meet her and hear her story.

If we notice when we are cyber-judging while preparing a script for whichever form of social media we plan to use to share the judgment, we have an opportunity to instead become present in the moment and time that we are in.  It could be that there are feelings we need to address in ourselves that are rising up, or it could be that we are missing out on a chance to meet a real person who is sitting right there next to us.  Either way, I am going to try an experiment.  I plan on noticing when I am Facebooking in my head and then I plan on pausing, noticing just who it is I am talking to in my head, and then trying to notice who or what is actually there in front of me, and what is needed from me in the real world, or what I need from the real world.  Maybe after attending to the present I will have something even more interesting to share later, or maybe nothing needs to be said.  Either way,  I look forward to learning something new.

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