Roots

What are your roots?

And who told you?

Therapy homework one year consisted of writing the letter to my parents that I’d probably never send but always needed to write. At the time, the words gushed like a fresh wound–thousands and thousands and I never even reached the end. At the time, reading what I wrote and sharing bits and pieces became a cathartic therapy for me. It felt a bit like watching the wound scab over. Last week–and I don’t remember why–I pulled the letter up again. This time it felt strangely foreign. Oh I remember every second, but it’s not . . . I just don’t . . . need to remember anymore? It feels a little gratuitous now?

If I decide to go back, I can remember the odd and dizzying experience of trying to find my footing as a 20-year-old in a reality very different than the one I grew up in. Slowly dicing onions with shaking hands, I would contribute some thought to the chatter, something I thought sounded normal, and the whole Chipotle crew would fall silent and turn to look at me a little too curiously. Like I was from a different planet. We’d open the doors to a stream of normal people on their normal lunch breaks, and as I looked down and fidgeted with the tortilla press I would deliver the tense line, “What can I get for you?” over and over until Max stepped in with some brotherly taunting to teach me how to speak terrifyingly confident greetings, like “Well hey there, what brings you in today?!” My shoulders tightened progressively through the day until I ended my shift with a splitting headache and found myself back in bed crying over how completely lost I was.

Memories like these once served a useful purpose in fortifying my rejection of the world I had known where there were no crowds of normal people and I wasn’t allowed to get a job and rarely allowed to go to a friends’ house. The memories helped me prove to others (really so that I could prove to myself) that my childhood had been dysfunctional, that it was a culty experience that left me helpless in the outside world, and that I was right to get out when I could.

But now the memories feel, as I said, a little gratuitous. Like re-watching a bloody surgery I don’t need to re-watch. Reading my letter with its story after story of weird abuse doesn’t seem therapeutic anymore, at least for now. That time of uprooting is done.

We all come with confusing stories about who we are, why we are, where we must be headed, and what is even going on in this strange world. Many of these stories we’ve accepted from others, and they can feel set in stone. The stories speak of values deeply ingrained by our families, or by our cultures large and small. Values we rarely stop to question. Assumptions rooted deep within our psyches. Truths rooted deep within our bodies.

And then when things hit just enough of a chaos point, just enough dissonance and impossibility, just enough crashing and burning–we sometimes get to see that these roots may have been quite arbitrary, and realize it’s time to dig ourselves out.

So we uproot and replant. Or uproot and be blown around a lot and maybe never replant. Life can be hard and is different for each of us.

Uprooting, by the way, is not always a choice and is rarely pleasant. It takes courage and it usually means having hit a low point. So when you see someone uprooted–whether they’re still blowing in the wind or have found different soil–remember compassion.

So what were you told were your roots? Were they really roots for you? And are they still? And do they have to be? And are they allowing you to grow beautifully? Or are they stifling and starving you?

When I wake up in the middle of the night and, with the willpower of a person half asleep and half needing a distraction from the high pollen count, find myself scrolling from Kyiv bombings to missiles in the Korean peninsula to a senator swearing assault rifle regulation is off the table to a rich bully threatening the employees who make him his money to a major news outlet reporting on a major celebrity stating the least sexy thing a guy can do is fart to a money guru tweeting in all caps about the economy crashing and how you need to buy silver . . . it makes me wonder where my roots are?

I think a lot of us these days are finding ourselves tangled in news feeds. Somehow supposed to digest a thousand threats and crises and scandals and tragedies and offenses during an afternoon on the couch. Until we’re left with no willpower and little imagination and just a fizzle of who we were somewhere deep inside, sputtering a little weaker each day.

And then there are those who have a firm foundation from which to accuse and judge and know. Simple arguments and convenient theories and too much confidence and too narrow a window on the world. Some of us live with unquestioned roots that explain everything for us so that we’re not lost and anxious and we know exactly how it will all turn out. Until something drags us down into the street and exposes just how full our society is of things we don’t know, don’t understand, and wish we hadn’t seen, but can’t unsee.

In my experience, the logic-y, dogma-ish roots are too dry and inflexible and they tend to snap when life gets stormy enough. Which may be why despite hundreds of millions of people who are pretty sure they know what’s up, our society seems to blindly stumble from year to year, blaming and blaming and never quite fixing.

And if you also find yourself sleepless some nights, I wonder how your body itself may support you with its own roots in those worried moments. When all the reasons and plans and budgets and jobs and rules and structures and explanations aren’t working for you, maybe your breath will still sustain you like it always has, and your feet will find they’re still rooted to the ground, and you’re still alive, and you’re still here, and you can still touch and taste and see and hear and feel and laugh and cry and hug and dance and sing and do the body things that don’t require a credit score or a stock exchange.

Your feet can’t tell you why the world is the way it is today. Your hands can’t tell you where we’re headed. Your breath can’t change the trajectory of humanity–except that it can calm and center you and that a bunch of you’s make up humanity and that maybe if we all stopped to breathe calmly our trajectory may change. You, though, in your body, right now, can’t solve it all. But I think it’s your chaotic, scrolling brain that is insisting you find all the solutions–not your body. I think your body is just waiting for you to drop in and find the same aliveness and ease that you did as a running and pushing and swinging and bouncing and singing child, before you joined the world of the adults who have to know it all.

Today, your feet and your hands and your belly and your lungs and your movement and your stillness and your ears and your eyes and even your nose and your mouth can be your roots to a different kind of place, a different state. Not one of fixing or judgment or worry or need. One of aliveness, of being. And with those roots you may find some rest and peace.

And while the world needs you to come back to the work from time to time, when you find yourself blowing in the wind I wish you the courage to let the wind blow around you as you feel the ground with your feet and enjoy being a body.

~

Let’s find roots together as we go? Email address below. <3

Attention-seeking

What if half our problem is that we’re not asking for attention?

Junko is a handful, but she’s not complicated. She is a 2-year-old very-puppy who has no qualms about putting her foot down (literally–like on top of us) when she needs . . . . . or even just “wants” attention. (Is there really a difference?)

On the other hand, I’m super cool, but I’m complicated as hell. My deepest wish in life is for people to give me the exact sort of soothing care I want, at the exact moments I need it, without my having to say anything. That would be best, right? If people could just predict what I need?

Or I could do it the Junko way and say “I want a hug right now please and thank you.

When little kids “act out,” we like to call it “attention-seeking.” When 20-, 30-, 40-year old little kids have an outburst or stop showing up for work or start saying sad things all the time, we also sometimes call it “attention-seeking.”

And my goodness, what if we all could seek attention? Not just the ones who are honest about their needs.

What if your little kid doing whatever they know how to do to get your attention is actually asking for exactly what they most need, just in the only way they know how today?

And what if your friend or co-worker is literally just reaching out in the dark to see if someone still cares enough about them to pay attention and care for a minute?

Sure we could all be a little more like Junko and say things directly instead of throwing tantrums, giving the silent treatment, hinting for days, or all the other indirect ways we ask for attention.

But could we maybe appreciate “attention-seeking” for being one of the healthier self-interventions that someone’s able to do in a lonely moment? And provide each other some loving, caring attention instead of labeling each other needy or dramatic or annoying?

What if instead of saying they’re “attention-seeking,” we would say “they have unfulfilled needs”?

Because I bet if we’re all being honest, we need some attention, too.

What if you were allowed to ask for attention? Would it maybe help?

~

Do you need words and encouragement and hope sometimes? I’d love to write for you:

From 1 to 92

and so I’m offering this simple phrase
to kids from one to ninety-two

The Christmas Song

One of my earliest vivid memories, marked by the musty smell of old books in the college library: Two fellow professors stopped my dad and struck up a conversation. They held their briefcases and said big sentences to each other and I knew that the world would be okay. The grown ups were in charge.

I can’t remember, on the other hand, when exactly I began to realize that’s not true. First, they’re not really in charge. Second, they’re not really grown ups anyway. I think I see this more and more every year.

I wonder what would happen if all the people who think they’re in charge remembered every day just how not grown up they are and not grown up everyone else is.

The term “grown up” is misleading, and I a little bit vote we retire it.

~

Have you ever slowed down enough to carry on a conversation with a little kid? It’s funny, they’re shockingly alive.

Jack was my oldest tiger, Sebastian was my biggest tiger, and Dakota was my favorite tiger. It’s not that my world quite revolved around them and all their stuffed siblings, it was more like they were my family, like I retreated to them for love after a day of facing my other family. There was Basil (pronounced like the pesto, because who doesn’t like basil pesto?) the beanie gorilla, and Peter Rabbit the sleepy rabbit, and India, the beanie baby bengal given to me by my best friends’ little sister I had a transient crush on, and more. (Notice the tiger theme, because tigers are awesome.)

At its peak, I think my stuffed family consisted of 50 or so. And while I remember a few of their names, it’s challenging because their names morphed every few weeks (kids clearly don’t automatically think identities must be set in stone). The whole lot of us would gather for a feast, prepare for a battle, or hunker down for a stormy night. I loved my stuffed animals.

“You’re getting older now, Peter. You’re becoming a man. It’s time for you to stop playing with stuffed animals.”

It felt like getting punched in the gut. I hadn’t thought yet of questioning my dad’s alwaysrightness, but I knew this one felt impossible. My face felt a little numb and dizzy and I cried tears of growing-responsibility and I loosened my grasp on wonder a little more.

My dad softened a little and let me keep the tigers only. The rest had to go. Adulthood is inevitable.

~

Each time a need goes unmet, we’re called by society to bury it deeper. This is called growing up.

We’re encouraged to get in line. Follow the guidance the other “adults” made up. Not rock the boat. Do our budget and then die someday.

Rarely are we encouraged to get back on all fours and imagine again that we’re a tiger living under a waterfall in the jungle. Or even just to laugh or cry or dream like a child.

~

I’m not saying don’t budget, don’t work hard, don’t do important grown up things. If nobody did grown up stuff we wouldn’t have doctors and farmers and plumbers.

But the doctors and farmers and plumbers and politicians and pastors and CEO’s aren’t as certain as we think they are. Somewhere under numerous coats of grown-up paint, they’ve still got their sensitive childhood-colored skin.

And while we grown ups have to make grown up decisions and face a grown up world and take grown up responsibility, we could make the world a safer place by remembering and reminding each other that deep down, we’re all just doing our childlike best.

It’s okay to retreat back into your pillow fort once in a while. The world isn’t as grown up as you think it is.

~

The world is not as okay as we believed it was when we were 5. The grown ups aren’t really in charge. And the ones in charge today won’t be tomorrow.

But maybe while we fight an ongoing fight to protect each other from angry or selfish grown ups with their guns and their rules and their money and their hierarchies, we also make the world a little safer by coming back to our childlike selves and each childlike other. Making the same safe space for each other now that we felt decades ago, where we get to retreat for a minute and let everything be “okay” for now.

None of us can carry the grown up world without childlike rest.

~

And I want to just say, those childlike rests are very much more possible for some of us than for others. I’m a white male whose family has lived in America for generations. I have no kids to pay for, and a salary that allows me to disappear to the mountains on occasion. I can afford Disney+ and a TV to watch it on. Whether or not I “should,” I can habitually buy artisan cheeses that cost $24.99 per pound.

And I have neighbors that can’t. And many neighbors can’t because of decades and centuries where our world went along with the “grown ups” who insisted they’d figured out how to make the world better. But better for who?

So as we make ourselves spaces to soothe our inner child, let’s also make safe spaces for our neighbors who don’t have what we have.

I had scores of stuffed animals. Somewhere in my city there is a kid clinging to an old tattered one. And after thousands of years and trillions of dollars, the grown ups haven’t yet figured out how to fix this difference. So maybe sometimes when we retreat to our pillow forts, we can invite a friend who doesn’t have a retreat.

~

tl;dr “grown up” is a lie or at least an unhelpful term, nobody has it all figured out, it’s okay to admit you’re still a child, and remember to share <3

~

Can I join you on your fight against growing all the way up?

Deeper

Do you ever catch yourself looking into someone’s eyes just a little longer and thinking “holy **** there’s an actual person in there!” before quickly breaking eye contact and saying something like “ugh, winter” or “thank god it’s Friday” just to lighten the tension of the tangible spirituality you just experienced between two powerfully human beings?

How much energy do we spend trying to avoid seeing each other as humans and deeply connecting?

And then, once we’ve carefully avoided truly connecting, how much TV do we watch alone on the couch wishing that we had someone there to talk to? But like to really talk to?

And then when we do find someone to talk to, how quickly do we replace the magical mystery of deep connection with a less fragile, less volatile, maybe less explosive normalcy like “how was your day?” again or “what do you want to watch?”

Really seeing someone is uncomfortable. Really being seen is uncomfortable.

When someone says “Hey. . . . how are you really doing?” there’s this strange hit–half ecstasy, half terror.

Deep connection is too good.

And full of too much potential.

So we sign it away in exchange for casual predictability.

No more rocking the boat of our lives or each other’s lives. Safe familiarity. Safe predictability. Safe blandness.

Safe nothingness.

Lonely nothingness.

And then one day we dare to hold someone’s gaze a little longer and speak with a deeply felt emotion for the first time since high school. And the possibilities of being a human and how magical it is come flooding back.

How many words do you speak in a day? And of those, how many do you actually care to speak? How many of your words are just social lubricant so you can avoid honesty and vulnerability and connection? Tailored to avoid the smallest chance that you’ll reach your tender, childlike hands out for connection and be rejected again?

Toughness is manufactured. Toughness is protection against the chance of experiencing the pain that can come along with being deeply human. And so toughness accidentally protects us from the magic of being human at all.

But what would happen if you looked someone in the eye just a little longer and said something like “Hey . . . I appreciate you.” . . . ? Or even the terrifying baggagey words that you’ve learned not to use, or at least to breeze quickly through, diluted with as much casualness as you can muster: “I love you.”

What if you risked connection?

What if you risked touching souls with someone?

What if someone else is waiting for the same thing?

Do you think the weather could wait?

Is it scary? Yeah. Yeah, it is. We’ve all tried before and failed.

As a kid, I laid it all out there with my crush after years of “being mature” about stuffing my feelings, until she’d thoroughly moved on, and I realized I had to go ahead and speak from my heart, and . . . well, it didn’t go as planned.

Then as a young adult, I shared with my mom some deep feeling of sadness over leaving my students, and she just brushed it aside and updated me on her garden or something and it felt so yucky.

I learned it’s safer to stay surface level. “How’s work?” when I’m really more interested in how my friend is doing on their insides. I learned to make sure there’s an “activity” planned instead of just inviting someone to be together to be together.

This is a lot of rambling.

Okay.

I guess what I’m saying is,

it’s not too late,

look at someone in the eye,

see that they are a human,

feel that you are a human,

and say something real.

Live your deep humanity.

Don’t live a script.

Let your insides out a little.

Not every place is a safe place,

but I think we live as if there are no safe places,

and a world with no safe places isn’t the world you’re looking for.

You know at least, like, 20 people. Chances are, one of them you could get real with. And find in that realness–that connection–a strange feeling of care and love and aliveness and togetherness and magic that you haven’t felt since you were listening to Death Cab for Cutie as a teenager.

You’re allowed to go off script and show up as your deeply human self. And it just may free someone else who needs the same thing.

Get weirdly connecty.

Sending you love today. <3

~

Can we stay connected?