Tag Archives: acceptance

The Accidental Haven: Stumbling Upon Your Peaceful Garden

“Having a place of sanctuary is very important for the mental well-being. No matter what happens in the outside world there needs to always be a place for you to balance out and recharge.” –Avina Celeste

Hello friend,

Last weekend I took my kids on a little getaway to their cousins’ lake cabin so they could have some fun and make the kinds of memories that I so cherish from my youth. My old man used to get together with his siblings at cabins often when I was a kid, and my cousins seemed almost like siblings to me. There was a range of ages–I was on the younger side–and personalities, and it made for some wild and lasting memories. Whenever I think of those halcyon days of childhood, I feel compelled to provide my own kids with those opportunities to bond and be wild with their cousins.

We usually meet up with my extended family at a lake house that has been in the family since I was a kid. My grandpa bought the land on the waterfront, and he let us kids help him build what would become the house. The process made for great memories, and all the wonderful times that we have shared there in the years since have made the place all the more special. It is familiar and relaxing, much like my childhood home is to me when I return for Christmas. I am grateful to have a couple of places like that in my life: where nostalgia meets good people and a pleasant environment.

I tend to think of those places as the ones that are my sanctuaries, places that I can return to at different points in the year to find my center, to be in emotional and spiritual harmony. At Peace. That’s how a home should feel. Just right.

That is what has my mind tied up this week. Not my fascination and gratitude at these feelings of deep Peace, but the unlikely spot that I happened upon that Peace.

I had been to my sister’s cabin once about 14 years ago when they first bought it, but honestly, I don’t recall anything from that trip other than playing with my nieces, who were very young then. In the last few years, my kids and I had casually talked about going for a weekend to see their cousins, but it didn’t materialize until late last Summer. Despite some cool weather, it was a wonderful, just-what-the-doctor-ordered kind of weekend for my soul. Saturday, in particular, hit all the right notes, and I shared about it in my letter to you entitled “The Best Day of Summer,” which it really was. On the drive home, I was determined that we would return to see if the magic was part of the essence of the place–some cosmic connection with my soul that cannot be adequately explained–or if it was a one-shot, perfect storm kind of deal.

So, when I packed the kids into the car last Friday, there was plenty of curiosity mixed with the usual excitement that accompanies a weekend adventure. I genuinely wanted to know how it would feel. It did not take long to find out.

I felt at ease from the moment we pulled into the driveway. Unrushed, accepted, inspired, calmed, cared for. Throughout the weekend, my inclinations were generally split between “I want to do that fun thing (swimming, kayaking, tubing, paddle-boarding, playing with the kids) right now and as much as possible,” and “I just want to sit here and enjoy this view (of the lake, the trees, the stars, the fire) and this energy.”

I understand that to be an ideal tension for me, because it is the same one I feel when I am at a quiet ocean beach or a mountain forest. It is an energized serenity, an engaged calm, a dynamic Peace. Like yoga.

And as the weekend progressed, I practiced a nice balance of that engagement and relaxation. I definitely had an agenda of all the things I wanted to do while we were there. Some were purely for fun (e.g. tubing with the kids), others to learn something new (stand-up paddle-boarding), and others that gave me a mix of exercise and spiritual communion (an early morning kayak trip around the glassy lake). I also had clearly chosen spots that I wanted to just be. These included the beach chair in the sand by the water, the hanging chair just off the beach, and the lounge chair up on the veranda looking out over the entire lake and encompassing trees. I wanted to be with the water, be with the trees, be with my sister, and be with the energy of the children. I had my spots for that being. They all seemed just right in the moments I sat there.

Everything about the place felt just right.

At first I was tempted to chalk up my unusual sense of Peace to the place itself: the cozy cabin and the little calm lake and the big old trees and the sandy beach. These are my kinds of conditions, after all. Put them in any travel promotion and I am in. But to attribute my profound serenity simply to those physical characteristics would be to miss a key ingredient in the magic potion: the people.

My sister has a way of setting the scene at the cabin with just the right blend of everything. It is engaged conversation but also sitting with you in silence to take in the beauty of the sunset or the songs of the birds. It is meals that are delicious but also low-maintenance and easily eaten anywhere. It is being up for fun and excitement but also up for quiet reading time afterward. It is filling the day but also making sure the kids get to bed at a decent hour. I guess I would describe the tone she sets at the cabin as a perfect balance.

It helps, too, that her husband makes no drama about anything, and her younger kids play easily with mine. The older kids are fun for me to talk with but also want their own space enough to also keep their presence low-key. They all come together to make it feel like a come-as-you-are, do-as-you-like kind of place. There is a goodness and sincerity about them that complements the simple beauty of the surroundings.

That sense of welcome and acceptance, I am seeing, are a key part in what makes their cabin a unique and surprising place of Peace for me.

You see, prior to last weekend, I would have told you that the four places that have always made me feel calm and centered are 1) my childhood home, 2) my family’s lake cabin, which I mentioned above, 3) my current home, where I have built my own family in the last eight years, and 4) in the grand beauty of Nature (e.g. an ocean beach or a mountain forest). As I see it, the thing those first three have in common (outside of a connection with family) is a sense that they are what I think of as mine. I feel some ownership there, like when I go there, I am not a guest and don’t have to play by someone else’s rules. I am welcome as I am. They are my homes. And while I don’t feel like I own Nature when I am out amidst its soaring grandeur and staggering beauty, I feel a part of it. I feel like it is where I am from and where I am welcome. And it is okay that I don’t own it, because there is a feeling that no one else does, either. I am not intruding there, and I have no need to temper who I am. Authenticity is welcome. That is a crucial connector to my other three long-time homes.

This is why my sister’s cabin–literally someone else’s home–seems an unlikely place for me to come upon this overwhelming Peace. The kind of Peace that makes me feel like home. After all, I am a visitor there, a guest playing by someone else’s rules. There is no sense that it is “mine” or “at least not someone else’s” like with my other soul homes. That is not typically a recipe for relaxation for me.

And yet, there it is. An astounding Peace. Two visits in a row.

And thoughts of that Peace stuck in my mind, demanding answers as to why.

Because it would be nice to be able to locate other places where I could feel this way. But I suppose that you feel just how you feel in a place and probably don’t have control of those forces behind that, or at least some of them. So, perhaps I will stumble upon another spot like my sister’s cabin and be melted by its Peace. Or perhaps not. But her brand of welcoming and acceptance is something that I can learn from. I can keep my sensors attuned to it in others, but perhaps more importantly, I can do better to try to foster that energy and those feelings in my own home, and even in my mere presence. I can work to help the people I encounter feel seen, heard, and accepted just as they are. I can make them feel welcome.

In a day and age when divisiveness permeates, I think that might be a welcome surprise.

How about you? Are there places in your world that aren’t home that somehow feel like an emotional or spiritual sanctuary anyway? Open up your journal and take a tour in your mind to all the stops on your journey through Life. Which places have felt the most peaceful to you? What is it about those places that brings you to that feeling of serenity? Is it the familiarity of the place, somewhere you know so well by the time spent there (e.g. your home, Grandma’s house, a favorite vacation spot)? Is it the physical beauty of the surroundings (e.g. a beach house, a mountain chalet, an opulent mansion)? Is it the personal safety you feel there? Is it the memories you have of the place? Is it the people with whom you share the space (e.g. friends, family, spiritual community, co-workers, social club)? Is it the proximity to Nature? Does it have something to do with your sense of the Divine? Is it your sense of ownership of the space? How many places do you have on your list? If you have more than one place where you feel that deep Peace, do they all have something in common? What is the theme running through them? Is there any place, like my new discovery of my sister’s lake cabin, that stands out for you as somewhere unlike the others on your list, a place that surprised you to feel that ease and contentment there? What about that space doesn’t fit the bill? How does it make it onto your list despite its differences? What is the magic ingredient or combination of ingredients? Do you believe it can be duplicated and that you might find it elsewhere? Is your home or your physical presence a place of unique Peace for someone you know? How can you become more of a sanctuary to others? Are you willing to try? Are acceptance of people just as they are and welcoming them into your heart the keys to a more peaceful world? How cool would it be to find Peace around every corner instead of only in your own home? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where have you stumbled upon Peace?

Be a haven right where you are,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your people. When we share our stories, we build bridges of empathy.

P.P.S. If the journey of self-discovery intrigues you, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

How Will You Judge Your Life When You Turn 80?

DSC_0175“It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you know you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.” –Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

 Hello friend,

This weekend we are celebrating my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. Her big day was a few weeks ago, but you know, you gather when you can. I am a chronicler, of course, so I am inclined to get something in the books. And hey, 80 is big, so let’s mark it! To get her to talk about her past, however, much less to assess her life and open up about how she feels about it all, is like pulling teeth. When we record the kids singing her “Happy Birthday” (or celebrating other occasions), I often then aim the camera at her and ask her how she feels about turning 80 or if she has any thoughts about her life to this point, anything she would like to say to commemorate the occasion. “NO!”  Every darn time!

As a guy who assesses his life on a daily basis and enjoys sharing his thoughts about most anything–but particularly about the life I have been given—I have such a hard time understanding her guarded mentality. I will be that old guy who annoys every grandkid and nursing home assistant whose turn it is to humor me, talking their ear off about my memories and any nuggets of wisdom I may have gained along the way.

Still, thinking about my mother-in-law turning 80 has me in a pondering mood. And since she won’t let me in about how this late milestone is playing on her heart and mind, I have done a mental transfer instead. I started imagining about how I will feel turning 80, how I will assess my life up to that signature year.

I am more than halfway there already and have a lot of habits and tendencies that have made well-worn paths in my mind. How much can I expect to change about my essence between now and 80? Are the final chapters of my story already easy to read? Or, perhaps, have I just wiped the slate clean? Maybe I can surprise even myself. I hope to keep it interesting, of course, but I can probably make a few educated guesses based on the current course. After all, I have been studying this subject pretty closely for a few years now!

The part of my vision of myself at 80 that gives me the most comfort is that I believe I will still be extremely happy. I am on a run right now of a solid 19 years of deep happiness. Many circumstances have changed during that time—and I fully admit to being blessed with a healthy family and a life of good luck—but the one thing that has not been threatened is my happiness and gratitude for my life. I am planning for that to stick with me until the end of the ride.

I am also quite sure I will still be writing—a big part of what keeps me happy—still trying to understand myself and my relationship to the Universe a little better. I will still be in love with books and the life of the mind, striving to learn and grow every day. I want to think I will still be up for adventures and new experiences. I will be doing my best to leave a positive impression on the world. I know I will cherish whatever family moments I have, perhaps even with grandkids if I am so blessed. These are the things I am most sure about my 80-year-old self.

The one thing I wish I were more certain of at that age is my degree of contentment and satisfaction with myself and my journey. I would like some measure of peace about my run, some feeling of acceptance of the life I have been given and what I did with it. I know that at 43, I am extremely dissatisfied with my achievements and contributions to the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like who I am. I can acknowledge some good qualities in myself and appreciate the man I have become. But to pass the test—graded by myself, of course—I will need to DO more good and maximize the potential of my gifts, not just be a good guy on the inside. There is a big difference there.

I imagine myself being dragged kicking and screaming to my death, begging for more time to accomplish more, give more, learn more. I want to think that by age 80, I will have done most of the things I plan to do—like publish books and share the wonders of this great world with my kids—and will not be so desperate to finish the job, pleading for a bigger share of the pie, a few more hugs or walks on the beach or hours to create.

If I am to arrive at 80 with peace and acceptance, there is a lot of work to do! I will die doing my best. That much I know. Maybe that is all there is. I will try to make peace with the process, too, not just the end result. What a challenge!

I am grateful to be alive in this moment, grateful for my chance to live my purpose and know the wonderful joys of existence. I look into my daughter’s eyes as I write this to you and think, “Oh, how I would miss this! Thank God for this great chance called ‘my life’.” I will savor it now and for however many more tomorrows may come.

How about you? How do you think you will judge your life when you reach 80? Open up your journal and your imagination. How is 80-year-old you feeling about yourself? What do you believe are the biggest factors that will determine that feeling? Companionship? Close family relationships? Career success? Financial security? Health? Evidence of a lasting legacy? Faith/connection with the Divine? Belief that you have lived authentically and with integrity? Completing your bucket list items? When you get to age 80, how willing and eager will you be to share your story and the lessons that life has taught you? Compared to how you are now, how much do you think your personality and outlook will change by the time you hit 80? Will you be more or less content? More or less happy? More or less satisfied with the impact you have made? More or less optimistic for the future of the world? If you could jump ahead and ask your 80-year-old self anything, what would you ask? What advice do you think 80-year-old you would give you about your life right now? Are you taking that advice? When you picture yourself that many years down the road, how much ground do you have to make up between now and then to become as satisfied and at peace with your life as you would like to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How contented will you be with your existence at age 80?

 Eat the dessert,

William

P.S. If this letter was helpful to you, please pass it on. It is not too late for any of us to change for the better.

The Fine Line Between Compromise & Cowardice

DSC_0144“Accepting all the good and bad about someone. It’s a great thing to aspire to. The hard part is actually doing it.” –Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

Hello friend,

A couple of nights ago, my wife shared with me some wonderful news about one of her oldest, dearest friends. Then she followed it with, “She is just the sweetest person on Earth. It is too bad she is incredibly homophobic.” Huh??? My sensibilities had just been completely offended by such a statement, and my mind started spinning with questions and challenges. How could you call someone “sweet” in one breath and then point out her severe intolerance in the next? How can you claim to be so close with someone who embraces such bigotry and not even challenge her on it? Even more, how can you even be friends with that person? What does that say about you?

These questions were flooding my mind, and I had to take a step back from the situation to keep my blood from boiling. I am probably on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to how quickly I am offended by intolerance and bigotry. I am highly sensitive to racism, sexism, classism, and in this case, heterosexism. Thus, I had to fight myself to keep from pouncing on my wife’s statement about her friend’s seemingly contradictory personality traits of sweetness and homophobia.

You see, I hold my wife to a very high standard. She runs a multicultural center and is a highly conscientious and brilliant educator in the field of tolerance and diversity. She has been a shining example for me to follow in the many years we have been together, so the bar is set high regarding the people I expect to find in her inner circle. Thus, even as I was struck a bit sideways by the mere idea of a “sweet homophobe”, I was shaken even more by the fact that this walking contradiction was her dear friend. How could she fraternize with a bigot? Where were her high-minded ideals of tolerance and inclusion? Had they been compromised? Was my wife–this paragon of virtue–actually a spineless coward?

Before I let my idealistic image of my wife crumble in front of my eyes, I needed a reality check. I needed to understand just how glass my own house was before I started throwing stones at hers. I started combing through my mind and my history to dissect my closest relationships. I wanted to know if, and to what degree, I had compromised my own standards to make friends and to keep my loved ones dear to me. Maybe I was spineless, too?

I didn’t have to look far to find examples. My family is the greatest. Of course I love them all, but more than that, I genuinely like and respect each of my siblings and my parents. I very much look forward to every chance we have to get together; these are my favorite times of the year. BUT—there just had to be a “but”—there are definitely things that don’t get talked about for fear of upsetting the applecart. Several years ago at Christmas, I mentioned casually that I was no longer a Christian. BOOM!!!!! It was like a silent bomb went off. No one has spoken about the topic in my presence since. Then there is politics. I grew up in a house that worshiped Ronald Reagan and all things Republican. As far as I can tell, the rest of the gang (and their extended gangs) has remained pretty far—some very far—to the right. I, on the other hand, lean heavily the other way on pretty much everything. So, do we have a dialogue on the important issues of our time and the way our country is going? Heck no! We stay as far away from that as possible. Nobody wants to start a fight or to risk thinking less of someone that is going to be in his life for a long time. Avoiding the conversation keeps everyone from exposing themselves. Our silence keeps the peace. Denial runs deep.

My dearly departed father-in-law wanted nothing to do with his Black daughter dating—much less marrying—a White man. It wasn’t personal–it didn’t matter that I knew him before we even dated and never had a problem with him—the rule was for any White man. He openly denounced the relationship from the start, and carried it to the point of not attending his daughter’s wedding. He was always kind to me when I visited his house after our marriage, and my wife continued to dearly love and even admire him to the day he died. Still, it was tough to wrap my mind around, and despite his friendly actions, I never quite got myself to the point of real comfort around him because I could not untangle the web that could hold such extremes of belief and action. My wife, though hurt by his disapproval, remained as loyal and loving to him as ever.

It reminds me of the way we idolize people and want to see them one way, subconsciously blinding ourselves to the not-so-heroic stuff. We see Christopher Columbus as the brave explorer and discoverer of America, neglecting the land-raping, slave-taking parts. We see Thomas Jefferson as the author of our Constitution, top-tier President, and one of the most brilliant men in our country’s history, conveniently looking right past his history of holding (and having children with) slaves. We see Martin Luther King only as the great Civil Rights champion, ignoring his infidelities. We shield ourselves from the truth in order to make things fit more comfortably in our minds. Caricatures are easier to deal with than complexities. This goes as much for our heroes as for our loved ones.

Is it even possible to have it all one way, though: to see our loved ones as entirely commendable and agreeable, to sit comfortably with everything they do and stand for? As it turns out, human beings—all of us—are complicated creatures. We are not cartoon characters, so plainly hero or villain. No one is completely clean or completely dirty. Despite our greatest efforts to paint each other entirely black or white, it turns out that we are all a big, messy rainbow of grays. If we chose only to love the pure, we would all surely be lonely souls.

So, we do our best. We love those whom our hearts can’t help but love. We love our family members through some cosmic-genetic-magnetic force that pulls us together in that “no-matter-what” way that we can feel but can’t quite explain. We love our friends because we fell in love with their best qualities when we met and now cannot simply choose to fall out; they are residents of our hearts whether we like it or not.

For all of these residents of our heart, we find a way to make peace in our mind. It is a delicate balance of trying to see the good in them without being in total denial of the less savory elements. We become managers of our interactions, chemists desperately trying to avoid a combustible mix. We choose to steer clear of conversations that will explode in our faces, only dealing with certain issues if they are thrown hard at us to the point of inevitability, and even then only briefly and tactfully. We choose our battles.

There is no doubt that it requires a certain level of denial. There are just things we don’t like to think about when it comes to our loved ones. Even more than thinking about it, we definitely avoid actually confronting the offending companion. Be honest, do you really want to have a dialogue—either internally or with the problem person—about your father’s racist comments? Do you want to address your best friend’s homophobia? How about your sister-in-law’s belief that poor people are poor because they are lazy? No, as repulsive as all of these things make us feel inside, there is no doubt that our tendency is to deflect them as best we can, steering instead toward safe harbors of conversation in the service of keeping the peace.

But how much can you swallow—how much can you compromise your principals—before you reach the point where you feel entirely spineless? The answer, of course, is different for everyone. Much, I suppose, depends upon how much we feel like we “need” the relationship (frequency of visits certainly plays a role as well). If we are willing to let it go—obviously not as convenient with family as it is with friends—we may be more willing to take the risk. Sometimes we take the risk because the relationship cannot be let go of (e.g., if you and your sibling have fought and made up a million times before, you might think one more round for a good cause is worth the family drama).

Whatever the justification, it seems that we, more often than not, pretend that our loved ones’ unacceptable views do not exist. We sweep them under the rug. It is, whether conscious or not, a compromise of our beliefs in the service of keeping the relationship. But perhaps it is really much more than a mere compromise. Maybe that is putting a nice face on it. Perhaps it is more accurate to call it cowardice or spinelessness. After all, if you are not sharing your Truth or not addressing your loved one’s Truth for fear of disliking each other, aren’t you living like a coward? It takes a lot of courage to be who you are and accept others for who they are.

That was the one part, in hindsight, that my complicated father-in-law had down. He may have openly disapproved of my relationship with his daughter, but he didn’t shut her out or stop loving her because of it. They both spoke and lived their Truth—and agreed to disagree on how she should live her life—and kept right on loving and admiring each other despite their differences. They were able to meet each other right where they were and accept the other’s beautiful complexity rather than living in denial and pretending everything was wine and roses. Perhaps that is the courage we should all aspire to. Yes, I think I will start there.

What about you? How do you justify spending time with/accepting/loving someone who holds views so antithetical to who you are and what you stand for? Get out your journal and write about your relationship with your loved ones. Which ones can you share your Truth with and fear no drama? Which ones do you not even want to hear their Truth?  How willing are you to challenge someone on their actions or beliefs? Does it make a difference if that belief regards you (e.g. your race, sexuality, politics, etc.)? Are there people you avoid at family gatherings, knowing they will say or do something that will make it hard for you to hold your tongue and keep the peace? What issues are off-limits when you get together with family? Are those issues different when you gather with your friends? Which of your relationships could withstand a challenge like this? Which relationships would crumble? What does the answer to those two questions say about how you should value the relationships in each camp going forward? Maybe you would be doing both parties a favor with a challenge. Is there one relationship in particular in which, if you don’t challenge them soon, you will pass from the point of compromising for the sake of keeping the peace to the point of feeling like a spineless coward for not telling your Truth? Leave me a reply and let me know: Where do you draw the line between compromise and cowardice? 

Surround yourself with Love,

William