Social nerds

When I was a kid, I was a social nerd, often unaware of the pop culture that was taking place outside my front door. Until I was six, we never had a TV in our house. The day that my grandfather wheeled a twenty incher in on a movable stand, my world shifted. Suddenly, I was exposed to some of the secrets that everyone else was privy to. Although my brother and I were only allowed to watch a half hour a day, with our options fiercely regulated by my parents, I was enthralled with the new world that I came head to head with.

Over the years, my brother and I railed against the half hour limit that was strongly enforced while secretly indulging in our addiction whenever we could by visiting friends’ houses where TV was a free commodity and slyly arranging Friday night sleepovers so that we could watch Saturday morning cartoons to our hearts content.

Although I desperately hated the fact that we had a non-negotiable limit with no ability to rollover any missed TV into the next day and the fact that my parents would routinely get up and physically mute the TV during commercial breaks while providing social commentary about the manipulative and capitalistic nature of advertising and the effects that it was having on our brain, as a parent, I find myself doing the same thing.

At the age of three, my son still didn’t really watch TV. Since we don’t have cable, his idea of TV consisted of early Saturday morning Tai Chi. Although I sometimes worried that he too will be a social nerd, my concern is always tempered by something my dad told me.

When I was about eight and obnoxiously nagging him about our measly TV allotment, incessantly reminding him that everyone else was allowed to watch whatever they wanted, he told me that when he was a kid, he and his three brothers used to race home from school, run down to the basement, fight over who got to sit in the red chair, and watch hours of TV before and after dinnertime. Out of all of those hours of watching TV, he only remembered one episode clearly. At this point, he asked me if I thought that it was really worth it. I, being eight, naturally said yes, even though inside I knew the real answer.

And so, more than thirty years later, I find myself acting in keeping with what I know to be true. Although I sometimes fear that my son will also be a social nerd, unaware of the vast popular culture that lies out there from Archie comics to the hippest movie, I remind myself that my status as social outcast has not lasted into adulthood. And so, it’s my hope that my son’s childhood, like mine, is filled with activity, discovery, friendships, learning, books and excitement that will lay the foundation for a curious mind and interesting life, unencumbered by the habituation of watching life as a bystander and used to experiencing and living each moment to its potential.

Happiness

For years, I was involved in a bad relationship. It’s not that the man I was involved with was a bad person or ill intentioned. In fact, he had a lot of great qualities. Nevertheless, being with him felt off, a slight but constant irritant that eventually became an abrasion as if sandpaper were rubbing against my soul.

Once we parted ways, I realized that not only had I become the worst version of myself, but I had started to protect myself against his fear and negativity by putting up walls that eventually turned into fortresses against which nothing could permeate. For a long time, nothing touched me – not pain, not pleasure. It was as if I existed in an emotional wasteland where reactions beyond a narrow range were frozen in ice – I could see the emotions in others, and even identify them by name but could no longer feel them myself.

As I emerged from my turtle’s shell, it was as if I were watching the icy barrier around the world slowly thaw and the innate beauty of my surroundings come back to life as they shimmered with vibrant colors, textures, and emotions. And while I often found myself tearful or veclempt for no obvious reason other than something mundane touching my heart or a feeling of general gratitude overwhelming me, one day I woke up to the sure knowledge that I was happy. The world was once again a sparkling and welcoming place in which I could dance.

Reflecting on the notion of happiness, I realized that happiness is not about always having a smile on your face, being positive, or even laughing with joy. Instead, happiness is a more encompassing state defined by being fully present in each moment, open and vulnerable to whatever arises without judgment, withdrawal or self-condemnation. Ultimately, happiness is the acceptance of what is and the freedom to feel any and all emotion that arises while holding the intention to feel good high in your heart. For it is in the fullest experience of emotions coupled with complete acceptance of what is that the richness of the universe presents itself, the miracle of life can be felt, and you can take the next step on your journey with grace and ease.

As a parent, what I hope to pass on to my son is the knowledge that while no one can make him happy, surrounding himself on an ongoing basis with those who have a negative perspective or who operate from a place of fear can whitewash the color from his life and lower his own vibrations. By nurturing the seeds from which happiness can thrive I hope to help him develop a nature that is positive in orientation and open to the richness and complexity that a full life provides so that when encountering adversity or negativity, instead of buckling inwards, he can hold true to his innate self, retain his vulnerability, and remember to surrender to and rely on his own happy nature.

Freedom from labels

Sitting on my patio, drinking a glass of wine while listening to the rain fall like soft silver bullets of mercury against my protective nylon shell, I smell the scent of freshness and imagine that I can hear the greenery of my grass, flowers and fresh herbs pushing against the solid earth, trying to become the form that they are destined to be. And then I think of how humans, unlike other non-sentient beings, are mutable and unpredictable in countless ways.

As my mind drifts through time, through my past, present and future, my body reminds me that I have not done yoga in a week and I notice that not only my body but my mind misses the calming experience of engaging in a multitude of poses and postures that mimic the range of human complexity and emotions.

As I delve into this thought, I reflect on some of the various yogic poses. From child’s pose requiring a relaxed vulnerability and utter trust in the world not to harm, to warrior pose that requires a strength, alertness and all-consuming intention from which no one can take you unawares, through powerful pose which, if done right, allows you to be a pillar of strength from which others can draw support if needed, to eagle pose that creates a sense of freedom from gravity, as if one could soar forever above the clouds, defying the conventional laws of gravity with wonderment, and goddess pose in which you salute the simple beauty of life and the universe acknowledges and salutes your strength and inner beauty back, in an unspoken dialogue, to side plank that requires you to be rigid enough to  build on your strengths in order to achieve an unthinkable balance between a shimmering lightness and earth’s grounding pull, and happy baby pose in which there is overwhelming relief in just letting go and being in the moment without thought of before and after, simply releasing into the pleasure of the here and now. The ability to experience such emotional and physical intricacy within the simple time span of an hour seems remarkable.

As I think about my son, I realize that it is only remarkable for me, an adult who has internalized many of the oftentimes conflicting labels assigned by society and those who love me. My son, who is exploring the world, his place in it, his abilities, talents, interests, and everything that is new, wonderful, and undiscovered in the world, is free and accustomed to being who he is, whoever that may be in any given moment, while trying on and exercising different parts of himself.

It hits me then that the thing that marks me as different from my son is that he has not yet realized that labels pigeonholing and limiting him can be assigned and unwittingly integrated into his perception of self, narrowing who he can envision himself as and circumscribing the world in which he operates. And I suddenly realize that, as a parent, one of the biggest gifts I can give my son is the ever-present awareness that the most remarkable aspect of being human is the ability to choose: that who we are at any given moment is not defining and that we always have the ability to use what we know of ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, desires, and talents, to become the god or goddess of life that we know lies at our core.

Being your own true self

Like most kids, when I was young I was just me. And, quite frequently, between the time that I awoke and the time that I went to bed, my own true self went through quite a few metamorphoses.

Sometimes I was an introvert, reading and dreaming for hours on end, content to be in a world full of endless unimaginable possibilities.

Other times I was extroverted, charming the adults around me, entertaining them with my wild costumes depicting my imaginings of who I was or desired to be in that particular moment, orchestrating performances that my friends and I would put on at preset times, or planning wild adventures and escapades that my friends and I could carry out in the safety of our neighborhood. And it was in these moments that I was able to lose myself and be as outrageous and fully myself as I could imagine.

As I grew older, went to school and entered conventional social relationships, the imperative to conform and fit in started to enter into the equation. Overwhelmingly, the message that I received was make yourself smaller, be inconspicuous, fit in.

Over time, this message sank in. In spite of my many teenage antics, by the time I was in my mid-twenties I was more ‘normal’, operating successfully within well-established social boundaries. By the time I hit thirty, I was an outward success: I had a successful consulting practice, was married, a homeowner, gave frequent dinner parties for my many friends and family, and was well on my way towards building a family of my own. And I was completely miserable.

Slowly, it dawned on me that throughout all of my endeavors to fit in and create the perfect life I had lost my own self. One by one, out of a desire to make others around me feel more comfortable, I had shut the doors to the rooms that allowed me to have a rich inner life and opened the possibility of being more than I already was.

When my marriage ended and I had to step outside of the known boundaries that I had carefully created for myself, I suddenly found the keys to some of my inner rooms that I had forgotten existed. As I opened the doors and explored their landscape as if visiting an exotic land for the first time, trying on various treasures that I came across, I realized that fitting in is not all its cracked up to be.

And, to my surprise, I found that being true to my self had its own rewards. Suddenly, I hit my stride. People appreciated me for me, not only silently accepting me for who I was but demanding that I allow my full talents and personality to emerge. In effect, encouraging me to be the person that they knew I could be.

As a parent, I find myself constantly struggling to avoid shaping my son into the image of who I think he should be. The overwhelming message that I want my son to absorb is that, as long as he is not harming another, he can be whoever he wants and that dreams don’t merely belong to the realm of fantasy. And so, I try to stand back, remove the obstacles that lie in his path to clear the way so that he can become the full version of who he is meant to be. By encouraging him to play large, meet the challenges of his own desires, and explore the rooms to his own inner mansion, I hope to one day be pleasantly surprised when he becomes something more than even I could have dared to imagine.