Past vs. Current Dreams: Discerning Which To Chase and Which To Leave Behind

Grapple is a great word. It’s kind of like a simple hybrid for “Granny Smith Apple,” like the whole word was just smashed together. Grapple.

Recently I’ve been grappling with letting go of past dreams to make room for new dreams. I feel like a juggler who bought a new set of juggling balls, but who refuses to let go of the old ones. I am juggling more than I can handle.

I toss around old and new questions, circling in the air around me. I want nothing more than to just put a few of the balls down, but then what kind of juggler would I be? Letting go of old dreams feels like regression to me.

I’ve recently been strongly considering pursuing a Masters in Social Work. And yet my brain screams in caution about academic degrees, What about your Masters in Public Health you’ve always dreamed of? What about pursuing an English degree? Couldn’t you just be a nurse practitioner and maximize use of your degree?

And too – it screams about cities to live in: What about Seattle? What if you go your whole life without living in Washington state? Can you ever forgive yourself? 

And also – it screams about leaving: What if you leave Milwaukee and feel lost? What if you get so homesick you can’t function? And the worst of all – What if you leave Milwaukee and never move back?

My brain has figured out that if I never leave, I never need to worry about being homesick because I’ll never have left. The anxious mind craves safety. In the screaming storms of anxiety, I have been appealing to my brain’s desire. It wants to be safe.

My brain screams about the thing’s I’ll miss – What if you leave and something happens to Terese? Or you don’t see your family for years. Or you want to visit your mother’s grave and you can’t because you are plane rides away. Or what if you relationship crumbles because you’ve moved away?

My brain juggles the past dreams of International Aid. What if you never become a Peace Corps volunteer? What if you never live abroad? And in the next breath it screams the opposite, Do you you really even want to go live abroad? You could be unsafe. You’d have little to no community. Are you doing this because you genuinely want to or because the past version of you wanted to? Are you forcing yourself to do something unnatural for you? Are you throwing away the stability you’ve worked so hard to create?

Anxiety is a beast, and it rages in the midst of discernment. My discernment process feels like walking forward in the middle of a Sahara desert sandstorm. The wind is my anxiety, pushing against me, pushing me back. My journey is forward, yet anxiety makes it radically difficult.

I believe I am destined for something great, and yet, I am so scared to take a step. I am terrified for what this life has in store for me and yet, I fear deeply not becoming my best self.

I have made brave choices in the past – at age 22, I solo traveled for eight months living in strangers homes and working in the dirt. At age 25, I flew alone across the globe with a broken cell phone and throngs of foreign people. I have stood on a stage in front of thousands of people to deliver a university commencement address. I have chosen to dive deeply into my emotions by admitting that I needed professional therapy. At age 17, I chose to keep showing up to my life after I watched my mother die.

If I am brave, why am I so scared? Am I scared because this is the biggest decision I’ve yet to make? Am I scared of my own potential? Or am I more scared of loss? Both I think.

I am terrified. Something is changing, and I do not know where it will lead me or what I will do in the aftermath. I do not know who I will become, and I do not know what I will lose along the way in getting there. Do I want a life of extremity? Or do I want a life of satisfying comfort?

I do not know yet. And I am trying to be gentle with myself in the process. I idealize extremity – why be average when I could be remarkable? Why settle when I could have it all? Perfectionism is fuel and also, shackles. Perfectionism is a train on a track, not a car on an open road with freedom to swerve and turn.

Anxiety wants me to be a train. My soul wants me to be a car.

Thank you, reader, for getting this far. My brain is energized and lost. So, so very lost. Do you have advice? Any/all is welcome.

Another Mary Oliver reflection to close:

“I want to be improbable, beautiful, and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.”

 

Letting Go of Singularity: How to Redefine Our Thinking About Passion

Year is 2010. We are sitting in our high school auditorium. My friend Valerie, a brilliant violinist, sits on stage and plays the opening notes of a familiar wordless melody. Her seamless playing of every note draws a hush over the students. The violin’s melody serenades us, enveloping us in the crescendo of each note before it fades away. Moved, my heart swells. It whispers, This playing is perfect. Valerie is a master.

Valerie continues to play. Soon, though, another thought creeps in it:

What is the thing I want to perfect? 

Valerie stops. The song is over. As my concentration breaks, a disheartened thought enters, one that will linger for years:

What should I dedicate my life to? …and what if I choose wrong?

We think of career as if we have one shot. With so many options of what to be, of what to study, of what passions to dedicate time to, of jobs to work, how do we choose?

I find myself without a plan. I find myself spinning in the unknowingness constantly, do I move left or right? Up or down? Backwards or forwards? Through the constant questioning, I find myself standing in the same spot, day after day after day, and not due to lack of effort. I am trying. I am trying so, so hard.

Anxiety is historically uncharacteristic for me. Loneliness is too. As is Immobility. Frozenness. Quietness. Erraticism. Dullness. Trepidation. Reservation. All of them. But now, they govern me. My bright and life-loving former self ceded to a fear-based, risk-averse, stagnant, confused, timid version of me. It might not appear like it outside. It’s happening increasingly on the inside, like an unwanted dictator settling into the cushion on her new throne. I am governed by Fear.

I know it. And I hate it. My shoulders have never been so tensed for so long. My eyebrows are furled, and at the end of each day, I have a tremendous ache along my brow line. It aches as if I have spent the entire day exercising them, through really, they have just been squeezed in tension for hours.

This fear of making a wrong move has caused a temporary, nauseating paralysis in my life. I am too scared to take a new job, to move to a new city, to pursue a Masters Degree, to pick up a new hobby, to do anything new, because I am petrified that I will pick the wrong thing.

The fear has become this palpable and governing thing. It’s devastatingly real. I feel like an animal that’s been dead for so long that it’s muscles are now frozen into one particular position. I do not feel confident that I can move myself, change my shape, carry myself into a new career or a new place. I feel immobilized.

It is worsened by the deep knowing that this struggle is not some external force. The struggle is in my own brain. Knowing that the problem is inside of me makes me feel that I, innately, am broken too.

Today, a little sunlight shone in, giving me hope in a new perspective on career. For a long time, I upheld the idea of a singular profession – nurse or writer or psychotherapist or poet. Until today, when I discovered Emilie Wapnick’s community of people who believe the contrary – who believe that being a little good at a lot of things is a good thing. Emilie has named us “multipotentialites.” According to Emilie, multipotentialites are people who are not specialists at one particular field, but who are multi-interested in several fields. The intersection of those fields combined becomes our speciality, but it may not fit into one standard career path. It’s not only ok, but good! Really good.

The discovery has been quietly liberating, introducing me to the notion that maybe my own core belief about career is not so fixed. Instead of feeling like a failure at many roles, I am challenging myself to embrace the many roles. I am not a failure of a nurse, I tell myself. I am a nurse….AND ALSO, I am a nurse who fits more in a niche nursing role (travel medicine). AND ALSO – I am a writer. And I am not a failure of a writer, but I am a writer who does more than just write. AND ALSO – I am an artist, not the best artist in the world, but an artist who appreciates sketching and pottery and dance.

Emilie has created a community for people who feel similarly, who feel that defining themselves as a specialist is not the most effective implementation of their skills nor use of their personality type. Instead, they are people with many skills, skills that often are not associated with a particular career path.

I am a word-based person. I tend to believe that if there isn’t a word for it, it doesn’t exist. Emilie gave me a big gift today – by creating a word to explain what I am. A multipotentialite. This week, I am learning to embrace a new idea of identity, a new way to understand my many passions. I am learning to let go of the idea of a singular calling.

Instead of feeling lost, I am trying to feel grateful, grateful for the many vocations. What a gift it is to feel so many passions calling my name.

 

Homework:

Instead of asking ourselves “What is my career?” ask “What are my careers?”

Instead of “What is my passion?” ask “What are my passions?”

And check out Emilie’s community of other well-rounded people at puttylike.com!

Anxiety: Paying Attention to the Onset

Once a week, Little Winnowers, we are focusing on anxiety. It deserves a day entirely to itself because it is so powerful, so consuming. And unfortunately, it really is one of our biggest inhibitors to growth.

For we Winnowers, our focus is on letting go – on moving through our lives in the present moment without being crippled by anxiety over the future or clinging to a nostalgia for the past. We are learning to weed out the thought patterns that inhibit us, and to hold tightly to the core beliefs that make us who we are.

Over the past few years, my anxiety has blossomed into center view. On some level, the anxiety has always been there, pulling at my brain, leading my healthy thoughts down dark alleyways, like the rule-bending older neighbor you idolize until you realize they’ve gotten you into some serious trouble.

Anxiety really came to a head over the past two years, as I’ve struggled to define my identity as an adult. In trying to move forward in my life onto new endeavors and into new challenges, there is a voice in my brain that’s grown unfortunately colossal. Anxiety tells me: NO, you! Bad things will happen if you take that risk. Stay where you are safe. Anxiety makes me a control freak.  

My brain spirals with hyperbolic thoughts: your brother’s mental health could tank if you don’t check in on him. Family members might die, and you’ll never see them again. You’ll become so homesick for Milwaukee you’ll never be able to function in a new city. Your family will entirely fall apart, and you’ll feel forever guilty that things would have been different if you’d just have stayed. This is Anxiety. Anxiety is relentless.

Again and again, anxiety has caused me to operate out of fear instead of trust, out of a loss mentality instead of a growth mentality. Anxiety is crippling in its grip – and when I am unbalanced or haven’t slept, it’s led to major panic attacks. Sometimes, the panic attacks happen when I’m driving, and that is the scariest occurrence of all. Anxiety makes me feel out of control, and panic attacks ramp up the anxiety to a debilitating emotional and physical confluence of symptoms – acute feeling of lack of control, hyperventilation, dizziness, screaming, shaking, terror. They are horrible, and they happen when the anxiety comes to a head.

To help manage both the underlying anxiety and the panic attacks, I’ve been seeing a counselor. I’m a huge proponent of counseling and psychotherapy. I believe in systemic change to the anxiety, and I believe everyone – medicated or not – needs to incorporate talk therapies into their recovery from anxiety. Medication alone is not sufficient. Unless your friends and family are trained, licensed therapists, they do not count as therapist substitutes. I feel very strongly about this, because I think people use the “my therapy is a glass of wine” or “my friends are my therapists” as excuses not to address their own mental health with honesty and clarity. I also know that therapy can be a financial barrier for many; however, the investment in your own emotional health is paramount. And it is so not the same as saying your friends are your therapists. What your friends are is really, really good friends. And that’s wonderful! But they do not offer the same resources as a licensed therapist.

One of the most influential anxiety-reducing strategies my therapist Sue has taught me is about recognizing an anxious thought pattern when it begins. The baseline Anxiety 101 trip we need to remember is that anxiety is always about the future.  Anxiety spurs and spins and spirals when our brains takes a thought and begin to develop scripts for the worst-case scenarios. These scripts are loud. They are detailed. And often, we really, really believe this is the outcome that is going to occur. The first step in beginning to work through our anxiety then is to learn to step back and recognize what is happening – you are fixated on the future, not focused on the present.

Once we acknowledge that the anxiety is there, we begin to recognize the pattern. In that moment, you anxiety is that it is telling you a story about the future. When we develop the habit of recognizing and labeling anxiety, we are then able to learn the process of working through it to a more calm, clear life.

All my love, all the time,

Laura

Mary Oliver & Her Magic: When a Poem Becomes a Guide

Today I want to do nothing more than share a few words of wisdom from Mary Oliver, the naturalist and American poet:

 

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

Like, telling someone you love them.

Or giving your money away, all of it.

 

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?

 

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

“Moments” – Mary Oliver

 

Little Winnowers, powerful words, aren’t they? They teach us about the dire need to live at our full potential. Mary Oliver’s call to arms is not against an external cause, not against a social or political movement. It is about developing the courage to save our own lives. We are here for these moments. And we are ready.

All my love, all the time,

Laura

Quiet Time: Why Stepping Back is Actually a Step Forward

Little Winnowers, we are sorting. The process of emotional sorting is complex, constant, consuming. It’s a state that you enter when you begin to look at your life critically. Like cleaning out your emotional closet, you pick up each thing and ask: Do I keep this? Or do I let it go?

This is our process of winnowing – sorting and sift through the millions of pieces of data we perceive each day. Our sensory system is amazing – cataloguing them and filing them in our memory. Through this endless data collection, our brains begin to develop complex beliefs and patterns that shape our worldviews. 

Particularly speaking to my introverts here – the absolute last thing you need in the process of emotional revival is more data, more noise. It’s really challenging, maybe impossible, to sort through your emotional catalogue while being constantly bombarded by background Netflix noise, by contagious pop music, by conversations with other people.

Consistently, I am able to emotionally process best when I am alone, in a quiet space, with no music – or ambient melodies at most. I need soft lighting and cozy clothes and a distance from my phone. I need incense, a clear desk, and most of all – stillness.

In the process of winnowing, as tempting as it is for the go-getters to make list after list of things we need to change and work through and get rid of while also going on your runs and cleaning your room and balancing work and play and self-care and social time and exercise and sleep, (…deep breath…) what you really need, is a quiet space to sort through it all.

How would you like it if while you were trying to solve a calculus problem, your classmates began shouting out other numbers and equations at you? Or if while you were trying to turn your raw vegetables into a soup, fellow eaters began talking to you about different recipes and ingredients? It would be confusing – and really hard to focus!

In a culture that celebrates external achievement and exhaustion, we are so quick to push our emotional selves aside in favor of “doing.” Cultivating emotional strength is counterintuitive; we often need to step back into the quiet in order to change and develop.

You know why so many people don’t do that? Because quiet is scary. More than ever, we are an overstimulated people, constantly in tune with our screens and our smart technology. Have you ever heard someone say they feel naked without their phone? I have, and I’ve said it before, too. Our ready access to technology can be a big origin of the problem.

Why do we feel naked if you don’t have our phones? Are we really that worried about an emergency? Or are we afraid of losing connection with friends? Or do we feel awkward if we have a few minutes of free time in which we don’t know how to occupy ourselves?

Lack of stimulation is scary, because it is foreign territory. However, the silence is where we begin to learn – both about ourselves and about the world we live in. We want our lives to be rich and full and meaningful, don’t we? Then we’re going to need to learn about our inner workings, about why we think the way we think and about why we do the things we do. 

And that, Little Winnowers, takes quiet time.

All my love, all the time,

Laura

More Than a Soothing Smell; What Lavender Plants Teach Us About Growth

Lavender plants are often propagated by root cuttings. Instead of attempting to grow the plant from seed, many gardeners will choose to splice off a portion of the plant’s roots and replant it in new soil. The process is also called root division.

That’s a little how this year feels to me, Little Winnowers. It feels like I am in the process of digging up part of myself and replanting me somewhere else. Do you feel like that too? That process of total, severing change between your past and future life?

I like this metaphor because it’s how I feel on the inside – this drastic shift between who I was and who I am becoming. It’s not like my life has outwardly changed that much. Really. Same city, same job, same family structure. What’s different is how I move through my life. Recently, I have only made effort with friends I value. I have developed new self-care routines. I have delved into the quiet, embracing introversion in a way I never have.

This whole year feels like I’m on retreat – a sort of self-inflicted cloistering. My body is screaming that this is what I need, so I’m trying to listen to it, as scary and unfamiliar as the aloneness is.

When I was in seventh grade, my middle school organized a retreat at small retreat center in rural Wisconsin run by some Catholic nuns. There was truly nothing fancy or modern about the retreat center buildings –  neutral colored dining hall with metal chairs, lots of nondescript shades-of-brown carpet, minimal artwork on the white walls. In fact, the space looked outdated and stuffy. 

But the grounds…oh, the grounds were stunning. They were not stunning in a grand or magnificent or extraordinarily unique way. Objectively, it was nothing more than a few acres of rolling grassland with some dispersed trees throughout it.

What was stunning was the calmness of it all. Under soft overcast skies, the crinkled bark of the deciduous trees seemed stoic and complex. The wind rolled openly, uninhibited by urban buildings, suburban homes, or the whirr of passing traffic. The first few conversations outdoors echoed across the expanse, until they trickled away into silence. Here, on retreat, it was calm.

Though my own introversion was a concept entirely unbeknownst to me at the time, I flourished in the setting, relishing the sound of only the breeze. I remember hearing my thoughts loudly that day. Invigorated and inspired under the blank canvas sky, I began to journal, to draw, to write letters, to compose poetry and songs. In the rapid, unceasing inspiration, my soul lapped up the silence like a dehydrated fawn that stumbled upon a spring creek. My soul whimpered to me – the quiet is what we’ve been missing.

Quiet, I learned, is what my artistic self needs. On that day, I began to understand what it means to retreat, and soon after, what it means to step away transformed.

So this is the dome in which I live right now – this intentional retreat into quietness, into a life so simple and introvert it scares me sometimes. This is foreign soil for me, as I try to sever away the parts of myself I wish to keep, as I transport my newly gleaned self into new soil. I am leaving parts of the old me behind – the mother plant that grew me. Our challenge now is to learn from the lavender – to strip ourselves away from the overgrown host plant of our past lives, to take only what is necessary, and to begin to grow somewhere new.

Photo credit: Dana DeVolk @thissillygirlskitchen

Artistic Self-Care: Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitar moves like the river, rhythmic and plain and constant, and so very soothing. It is an auditory bath, coursing over the curves our bodies and reverberating inside our chest walls. It cleanses us inside and outside.

I’ve often said that whenever I’m pregnant for the first time, I’m going to stretch headphones over my belly every day so that tiny human develops a strong sense of rhythm. That baby will hear everything: Gregory Alan, Kendrick, Lord Huron, The Shins, Beyonce, Bon Iver, Whitney, Chance, John Denver, Courtney Barnett. That baby will be one rhythmic little being.

Music has always been an integral part of my life. Once I broke up with a guy because he told me he didn’t care about music. As I tuned the radio and inquired about his normal music tastes, he replied, “I don’t really care what’s on. Usually just sports radio. I don’t really like music.”

….not liking music? Dealbreaker. I would never trust someone who didn’t like music. It seems as strange as not having opinions about food or art or design or aesthetic or drink or literature or culture. It’s like not having a preference for the creative, inspiring, uniquely human things that separate us from other living creatures.

For an artist, meeting someone who doesn’t appreciate the arts is hard to stomach. The people reading this blog are generally artistic, which is why they’re drawn to this prose-filled space for emotional processing. This blog is for emotionally-driven people.

So, for we artistic-livers on this self-care Saturday, our focus is on this simple nutrient: music, & specifically, the acoustic guitar. Yesterday I walked along the dazzling, smelly Milwaukee River as the sunset painted a pastel ombré sky. The melody of a soft acoustic guitar seemed to float over the peaceful river, south toward its mouth at Lake Michigan.

In the cozy onset of fall, let’s take a little time for some simplicity found in the guitar – to appreciate how a stringed instrument can create a complex, inviting melody through a few simple strings. In all the winnowing of choosing what to keep and what to let go, music is something that we can hold close.

Feeling Tangled? A Go-Getter’s Guide to Anxiety

Remember that L’Oréal hair detangler spray for little kids? That potent pear-smelling spray you’d spritz on tricky knots of hair, and work through with a comb until the hair is orderly again?  I want a grown-up detangler spray for my life. I would spray it all over my room, my car, my job, my relationships, and then douse myself in it.

I need an adult detangler. I need it to help me undo all these balled up, knotted emotions, these hardwired emotional responses that are buried so deep in my emotional core. In this intentional examination and rewiring of my core beliefs, I want a lubricant to help me slip and slide my way through the process.

Sometimes those emotions feel too deep to untangle on our own. When we are anxious, we need to do some subterranean uncombing, unraveling of those underlying emotions that are so hard to reach and work through. I know that the only way to make it better is to work through it…but an emotional detangler be SO much easier.

I wonder what the equivalent of an emotional detangler would be. Writing? Talking with friends? Going on a run? Taking a hot bath? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. You know what else though…? Those can also look avoidant.

The thing that I have to do – that I absolutely I do not want to do – is sit. I hate sitting quietly. Really. As an oldest-child, highly-motivated pitta & nurse, sitting is my least favorite activity. I don’t even like to sleep that much, because it stops me from moving.

I am very, very good at trying to force a solution. If I am unhappy at work, I will become a search engine queen, planning ten different future careers for myself in the process. If family relations are strained, I will pour energy into repairing & reworking them. If my romantic relationships are struggling, I assume the answer is talking things through over and over. I fix, fix, fix, always moving, moving, moving.

For we determined, solution-seeking go-getters, the solution is counterintuitive to what we believe. Whether we like it or not, we have a core belief that actively designing solutions is the key to change; this core belief can be detrimental, sometimes contributing to the anxiety instead of aiding it.

No matter how anxious I am, there is one solution that has always proven to be true: In order to begin to work through those super-speedy anxious thoughts, we first need to slow those thoughts down. We need to act less. We need to breathe, grounding ourselves in the present moment. Instead of pouring energy (lighter fluid) into those anxious thoughts, we need to sit quietly with them, simply observing the fire.

When we are anxious, we live in our heads. Anxiety is always about the future. To counter that then, we need to focus on the present.

When I am anxious, the most helpful solution is to find a quiet place and to focus on my body.  If you’re feeling anxious, I recommend setting aside just five minutes for a grounding exercise. Here’s my go-to guide to get out of your head and into the present moment:

Take three deep breaths. As you take a few deep breaths, place both feet on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Now begin to rotate your feet, pressing into the ground with the ball of your foot. Move your feet up and down – pushing into the floor as you pump your feet. Notice that your calves are moving to. Continue this pattern as you work your way up your body. Focus on your thighs, contract and release your glutes, contract and release your core. Twist your spine to the left, then the right. Roll your shoulder as you move your way up the body. Gently shake our your arms, working your way down to your fingertips. Stretch your next as you move your head in circles. Finally, with straight spine, inhale and exhale deeply, releasing the tension that you just unworked from your body. As you begin to feel the energy move throughout your body. Feel yourself here – in this physical world around you.

Feel a little better? Focusing on the present is not the end-all solution to anxiety. However, it is an extraordinarily helpful and go-to tool to use when you feel anxious. By focusing on your body, you focus on a central truth: You are present. You are here. As we continue our journey of working through the emotional untangling process, we begin here – grounded and centered.

What Birthday Candles & Deepak Chopra Taught Me About Becoming a Writer

Do you make wishes? I do. I am a wish-maker-die-hard. I wish when the analog clock reads 11:11. I wish when I blow out birthday candles. I wish when I see a shooting star. I wish when I pluck a white-headed dandelion, blowing its seeds away as they swirl off on a breeze. That is my favorite form of wishing.

I believe in wishes, in part because I’m a six-year-old at heart, in part because I truly don’t see the harm, and perhaps most realistically, in part because I believe in visualization and its correlation to manifestation. If you wish something, and then not just wish it but really begin to concentrate on it, you begin to pour energy into that wish becoming a reality.

One of my favorite recent reads is Deepak Chopra’s The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. Deepak’s work discusses the mind-body connection of health. In this book he explores coincidence, synchronicity, and the power of intention to change our lives. His metaphors are grand, and his syntax lyrical. However, even with my science-based bachelor’s degree, Deepak’s scientific reasoning is a little heady for me. I live in a very artistic feeling-based world, where sometimes physics data and neuroscience information doesn’t appeal as strongly as the lyricism of his spiritual teachings. Those I cling to.

In the book, Deepak quotes an ancient Vedic text, called The Upanishads, which state, “You are what your deepest desire is. As is your desire, so is your intention. As is your intention, so is your will. As is your will, so is your deed. As is your deed, so is your destiny.”

Stunning, isn’t it? It traces the path from desire to destiny.

In this year of immense change, I’ve been thinking frequently about where my next step is. I end up swirling in anxieties about how to get from Point A to Point B. I am impatient, and I am hungry for the manifestation of my career. In Point B, I want to be sitting at my local bookstore signing copies of my memoir. It is so easy to visualize! What is harder to visualize is the scrappy, gritty, daily grind – the practice of writing daily, the networking with other bloggers, the desire to build readership one person at a time. It is not as pretty to visualize. In one vision, I am in my favorite linen pants and funky jewelry, addressing a small group of readers interested in buying my book. In the other vision, I am holding my early morning coffee mug like a security blanket as I huddle in my old gray sweater, typing away at the keyboard. Point B and Point A do not look the same at all, and it feels like a quantum leap across an unknown middle ground.

I find this proverbial section of The Upanishads helpful because they emphasize the process, which does not easily lend itself to patience. We reach the finish line one step at a time, as frustrating as that truth is. We follow the process – first understanding our desire, then setting the intention, then focusing our will, then performing the deed, then becoming our destiny. It is a process; it is all a process.

Wishing, then, becomes more than wishing. If we take off its mask and strip away connotation, wishing is really desiring. To me, there’s nothing wrong with wishes. Because each wish, followed by intention, will, and deed, brings us a few steps closer to our destiny.

Little Winnowers, for us today, the challenge then is to move past the first step – past the step of desiring and onto the next step of intention. If I desire to be a writer, I set an intention for myself: I am going to write every morning.

Honoring the process moves us one step closer to actualizing those desires. Today’s reflection, this glimmer of The Upanishad’s Vedic wisdom is something I will keep close to my heart.

Keep what is necessary. Let go of what is not. Today is a step toward clarity.

Denial vs. Ownership: What a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Breakup Taught Me About Change

“So what caused your break up?” Melissa asked me.

“I wasn’t balanced,” I replied.

My own response shocked me. For the first time in answering the question, I didn’t say Adam’s name as the subject; I said my own. For the first time, I didn’t describe the break-up as something that happened to me; I described it as something I was responsible for.

Historically, when someone asked me the question, I placed myself in the object of the sentence. Adam broke up with me. Adam left me without saying goodbye. Adam wasn’t taking care of his mental health. Adam moved home to Michigan. Adam, Adam, Adam. Adam was the reason.

But yesterday, in a nearly out-of-body experience, I watched myself describe our breakup in a way I never had – with the focus on me as the subject. Before my mouth uttered a sound, in a completely radical, quiet moment, I watched my heart admit to my brain, You don’t have to protect me anymore. Start the story the real way. Your story of the break-up does not begin with Adam. The story of your break-up begins with you.

My own admission felt seismic. Without an intentional decision to do so, I noticed myself change. As the conversation unfolded, I watched myself describe the ways I was responsible for the downfall of our relationship. For the first time, to my friend and to myself, I admitted that the reason we broke up was because I wasn’t me anymore. In the last months of our relationship, I constantly spiraled in anxiety, driving down to Chicago to see Adam as a way to escape from my life in Milwaukee. I emotionally poured into him, saturating his ears with my chronic family issues and personal worries and what’s-the-plan, what’s-the-plan, what’s-the-plan conversations. When things went wrong, I put pressure on our relationship – deciding that we both needed to change. The efforts were futile, sometimes detrimental.  The more energy I poured into Adam and into our relationship, the more I felt hollow, empty, incongruent. And the more incongruent I felt, the more I mentally insisted the issue was the relationship, not me.

How on Earth could I expect my partner to handle that constant pressure, that constant feeling of me needing him to fix me, of me needing to put more effort into our relationship, of me also telling him that his efforts are not enough? He couldn’t. No one could.

It is true that Adam was also not himself. However, throughout the end of our relationship and in the acute aftermath of our breakup, instead of critically looking at my own life, I only partially acknowledged my own role in our relationship and instead placed blame externally – on long-distance, on Adam, on life circumstances.

Denial is an excellent defense mechanism. After my mom died, my family structure began to wilt away, like petals falling backward off a flower. I learned to be fiercely independent.

Unfortunately, part of such fierce, young independence included a denial that I could be wrong. When you are your only reliable support system, you certainly don’t want to fail yourself. I couldn’t mentally afford to be wrong, because then I’d feel beaten, defeated, hopeless. Protection of yourself is survival; admitting to yourself that you are wrong causes you to lose that protection, your shell.

It is so much easier to be reactive, to operate with a mentality that things happened to you and there’s nothing you can do about it. I often criticize my dad and brother for their passive approach to life. The tend to choose the path of least resistance, telling white lies to themselves to others, keeping other people at a safe distance. After my mom died, they both adopted a victim mentality, and the results have crippled them. If you ask them, nothing ever seems to be their fault.

I never understood myself to have a victim mentality until recently. It came as a result of deep reflection, self-work, and this focus on internal change. The realization that I too was playing a victim was mirror-shattering. And honestly, very humbling. In that moment, I realized how deeply my own narrative was constricted me.

It is true that all those hard things happened. My mom died. Adam left. Will feels lost. John moved away. My dad emotionally checked-out.

You know what else is true, though? I choose a victim mentality, over and over again. I am the subject of the sentence. Finally, I feel ready to take ownership of these realities for my own sake. I am ready to acknowledge that these realities are challenging and raw and impactful, but more importantly, I am ready to acknowledge that I have the ability to keep myself as the focus. I am ready to develop the tools to strengthen myself, to understand that I have a choice on how to proceed from here.

Yesterday, for the first time, I changed the narrative about the breakup. I took myself out of the victim role. The decision scared me to my bones. And also, it is one of the most freeing decisions I have ever made.

In this Winnowing Year, I am trying to look at myself more honestly. Here, we learn to let go of an idea of ourselves that may not be true, an idea that we created as a defense mechanism or as a result of our upbringing or as a survival tool. Here, we learn that looking at our lives honestly is the groundwork for change.

And you know what, Little Winnower? It is freeing! We are the ones holding our basket. We are the one determining which parts to keep and which to send away in the wind. Examining our lives with honest eyes is the most pure form of learning to let go.

Keep what is necessary. Let go of what is not. Today is a step toward clarity.