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The Ego . . . Friend or Foe?

compassion-857727_1920One morning my daughter woke up in a panic.  She said she was terrified. She’d had a bad dream and apparently this dream rocked her to her core. Even though she knew it was a dream, and even though she knew the most likely cause of the dream—she’d watched a scary episode of a TV show UniKitty, she was still afraid.  She didn’t want to walk around the house until the sun arose or until I walked around with her. First, I had to make sure that I turned on the lights before we entered a room.  I didn’t get upset with her though.  I happily obliged her.  I understood her fear.  I could remember being a child and being afraid of the toilet flushing.  I would have this overwhelming need to rush to my bed and hide under the covers before the toilet completed its cycle.  And while I knew it wasn’t a logical fear, it was one I held for many years.

But beyond that, I understood because in that moment I felt as if I was able to witness the ego in the flesh.  Many psychoanalysts and psychologists from Freud to present have defined and redefined what the ego is. The ego is essentially our identity that is constructed of the thoughts and beliefs we hold about ourselves.  In the spiritual sector, and other sectors for that matter, the ego can get a bad rep.  Check your ego and humble yourself.  Don’t be so egotistical.  Don’t let your ego rule you.  These are just some examples of the warnings we receive regarding our egos.  We’re sold an image of the ego as a savage dictator and brat, hell bent on feeding its own desires well past satiation.  And sometimes that can be true. Sometimes the ego can operate like a toddler.  It can want what it wants without any regard for the consequences.  It can be bratty.  It can be ruthless in its pursuit to feel better.

But what if it’s more than that?  What if the ego isn’t actually a dictator?  What if the ego is actually just like my daughter this morning? Simply scared and asking for attention? What if our ego is actually asking us to shed some light in the darkness to illuminate those shadow parts of ourselves?  We tend to look at ourselves through cloudy lenses. We grade ourselves with high marks when we do those things which are pleasing to us or when we feel good.  When we don’t feel as good, or we feel we’ve misstepped, we tend to fail ourselves.  Perhaps our ego is our loving friend who is guiding us to look beyond the surface of what we see and to see ourselves fully as we are, without judgment.  But since we humans can be more than a bit stubborn, we don’t always take heed at its first nudging so it has to work harder to get our attention. It has to get louder. It has to start kicking and screaming.  Those are the moments where we are at what we deem to be our worst.  Those are the moments we look as if we are out of control. We’re fearful, angry, short-tempered, arrogant, and maybe even more than a bit selfish.  Those are the moments that in spite of knowing the fear is illogical, we refuse to walk around our familiar home until our mom walks with us and turns on all the lights.  But instead of it being about us getting out of control, perhaps we can consider that it’s more than that and that’s just the moment when we have the opportunity to gain control and begin to take the steps to accept ourselves. It’s the moment we get to turn on the lights to see things and ourselves as they truly are and not as they simply exist in our minds, which gives us a chance to accept ourselves and grow.  That’s a pretty radical thought, isn’t it?

Ego, just a three-letter word and yet so interesting. If we did not have an ego, we would be lost. Feeding it too much we would also be lost.

Lida van Bers

 

You Can’t Always Have What You Want . . . Or Can You?

Happy Friday!  I’ve been having a fantastic week, as I hope you have as well.  I feel like there’s been one moment after one moment after another where I’ve experienced some wonderfully happy moments. I’ve laughed. I’ve shed some happy tears. I’ve had people be incredibly nice to me.  What’s more, I’ve actually been able to receive people being nice to me! That’s huge for me! I’ve lived much of my life on the defense, erroneously believing that the world was out to get me, that I would have to scrape my knuckles against the ground to get what I want. And that’s because deep down, there was this pervasive fear that I could not actually have what I want. I’d of course heard people say things like What you want also wants you or You’re the only thing standing between where you are and where you want to be. But hearing them say such things only incensed me and convinced me even further that they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. It wasn’t until I had an epiphany of my own that the reason I didn’t believe them had nothing to do with any truth in my belief, but more because I was sabotaging my way to making my beliefs true.  Wow!

 

Happiness Really Does Come in a Jar!

Merry New Year!  I hope the year is off to a great start for you.  I hope your holiday season was filled with love, warmth, comfort and all the things that make your heart swell. As for me, I spent my holiday sick. And I mean sick.  I was literally sick for 7 whole days *cue Toni Braxton*. Then I woke up feeling miraculously well and like my old self on New Year’s Day. So I’d say my 2018 is off to a great start.

Upon thinking about things, I’ve found that 2017 wasn’t so bad either.  Sure there were some world wide upheavals and tragedies. No, I didn’t get everything I wanted and there were disappoints. But in the grand scheme of things, 2017 was pretty darn good. How can I say that? Well, a jar told me so.  My jar. My happiness jar to be exact.

I can’t remember now where I saw this, but I saw someone talk about keeping a big jar for yourself. They recommended that you decorate the jar how you like and call it your happiness jar. Each day, you write a note about the things, people, places, or whatever that made you happy in that day. I keep a gratitude journal so I figured this was along the same lines so I figured, why not? and decided to give it a try.  I found the perfect jar and I decorated it just the way I liked.  And then the note taking began.  I didn’t start until May, but I figured that still gave me plenty of time to begin to take notes for the year. And I was right.

Last night I actually went through all the notes and I’m so glad I did.  I had 8 months worth of happiness stored in my beautifully decorated jar and it allowed me to see and take in so much.  My happiness notes allowed me to see that it really doesn’t take a lot for me to be happy. I’m quite happy with the seemingly “simple” or mundane things in life.  There were several things that made me quite happy (repeatedly).  Here are the highlights of my happiness from 2017:

My Fizzle. There were many notes about how happy I was to play with her, watch movies with her, snuggle with her, walk the dog with her, or just chill and be with her.

Food.  Like seriously. I was happy as a clam about food in 2017. Especially chocolate (if you know me this is no shocker). I was surprisingly happy about grocery shopping AND cooking. Now if you know me you know cooking is a shocker. I cooked more in 2017 than I think I ever have and I actually enjoyed it.

Following in my Daddy’s footsteps, mani/pedis seemed to make me quite happy. I talked about those a lot and was really happy about it.

Paying bills. Now this one took me by surprise. But as the year went on, I began to gain an appreciation for simply being able to pay my bills. I was able to shift my perspective from Man this is due! or Damn now I have to pay that! to simply Thank you for the use of this and Thank you that I can now pay for its use.

Working out. I have never really put much thought into whether I enjoyed working out. I just did it because I enjoyed the health benefits. But 2017 helped me to gain an appreciation and love for working out simply for its enjoyment. To quote Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods, Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands.

Yoga made me very happy.  I was made especially happy by hip openers. It is said that our hips hold a lot of our emotions. I’m guessing the hip openers helped me to release a lot. Either that or I’m preparing for some stuff. I’ll allow myself to be the only dirty birdy with that thought.

Meditation. I began my meditation practice again last year and it made a profound difference in my life.  I became more peaceful and calm. I also strengthened my relationship with myself and my intuition.

Giving to others. I’ve always been a giver. Reading my happiness notes helped me to realize how much joy it brings me to be able to pour into others.

Walking. I walked a lot in 2017 and I enjoyed every bit of it.  It made me happy to get out in the fresh air and walk.

Cleaning and decluttering my house. In May I had what I can only describe as an out of body moment and I began purging and cleaning my house.  It turned out it wasn’t a passing fancy. I actually enjoyed the process and I have kept it going ever since.

Reconnecting with my family. 2017 brought me closer to my family–particularly my dad’s side of the family.  It felt really good to gather with them and laugh and fellowship and have fun.

Showers. Apparently 2017 provided me with some of the best showers I’ve ever had because they made me quite happy. I talked about the wonderful showers I had taken quite often.

My Ulta reward points. Thanks to all the shopping I do at Ulta, I had tons of reward points which made it possible for me to get so many of the wonderful things I love at Ulta at discounted prices.  That truly made me happy.

Getting out and about.  I was more social in 2017 than I’ve been in a long while. I made new friends whom I love and had a ball with, spent time with old friends and had a blast. I even got out by myself and had fun.

I also recognized that I learned a lot in 2017 and I didn’t learn through pain. While not every moment of 2017 was wonderful, I can’t say that it was a painful year.

I learned the art of detachment. I recognized how to hold my desires without attaching to the outcome.

I learned how to believe in myself and love myself and actually like myself.

I learned how to appreciate and forgive myself and how to stop criticizing myself.

I learned how to see myself as beautiful, and dare I say, even sexy.

I learned that it’s just as important to receive as it is to give. More than that, I learned how to graciously receive–to allow others to pour into me because I am worthy of it. And I must admit that it felt great to let others pour into me.

I learned to trust myself, thereby extending that trust to the Universe.

I learned how to listen to my body and rest when it called for it without feeling guilty.

I learned thatI don’t need to constantly “do” to be productive.

I learned how to truly stand in my own power. I said No and Enough so much in 2017 and it felt amazing!

I learned that no matter how sh*tty a day is, there’s usually at the very least one thing to make me happy or smile in that day.

I learned that no matter how “tight” or “sticky” the situation felt at the time, some kind of way was made me to get me through–whether it was through my own means or through the help of others it always appeared.

I highly recommend you get yourself a happiness jar. I found it so much more helpful than I imagined. It was so nice to spend the day going through each note and being reminded of the wonderful moments, people, places and things that made me happy.  I think one of the most profound things keeping this jar has done is allowing me to realize that life is so much more than the few memories we attach to and allow to tell our story.  Were there disappointments in 2017? Of course. But keeping this jar shifted my mind and heart to a space where I didn’t attach to the disappointments and hurt, allowing them to color the rest of my life.  My happiness jar forced me to start to look for reasons to be happy instead of looking at my lack, or finding reasons to be disappointed. Through keeping this jar I learned that life is so full. We just have to be open to seeing it. With keeping this jar I learned that the point isn’t whether the jar is half empty or half full. The point is more about what’s filling the jar.

Forgiving and Learning

Happy Friday!  I have spent a great deal of my life hating myself and to be honest it hasn’t felt good at all.  But here’s what’s crazy about that.  For as horrible as it felt to hate myself, I continued to indulge in the hatred.  Part of the reason I hated myself is because I was judging and criticizing myself for all of my past mistakes. I was looking at myself through this lens of hindsight vision, expecting me to have behaved in the past the way I would currently  now that I am armed with all the information I have today.  It was incredibly unfair and abusive to do and while it has taken me some time, I have finally learned to release those wounds and forgive myself.  To be even more honest, it’s been one of the most glorious and freeing things I could have ever done.  I hope you have not been as unkind to yourself as I have been to me. But if you have, I hope you can forgive and free yourself and begin to love all the parts of you there are to love because you’re so doggone loveable.

 

Moving on to Peace

Hey! How ya doing? Good to see ya.  Glad to be here.  Sorry it’s been so long.  And let’s not forget, Happy Friday!  I know it’s been a long time.  And honestly, I really want to get better at being more consistent.  It’s been an interesting journey through life thus far.  I keep finding myself in these stages of growth and when that happens, I need to take steps back and process.  So that’s what I’ve been doing.  But I had to share this video because I got a lot of feedback (unexpected feedback at that) about something I said on Wednesday.  Wednesday was the 9th anniversary of the day my dad died and I said something about that day and people really seemed to resonate with it so I felt led to share this.  I hope it helps whoever needs to hear it.  Enjoy your day and your weekend!

I Am Me, Not My Story

I was looking through my journal from last year.  I’ve told you before that last year wasn’t a happy time for me, but seeing my words–reading my anguish and despair–made me feel something that I didn’t expect to feel, gratitude.  I was filled with gratitude, not necessarily for the events and reasons for my anguish, but for the growth that has taken place to bring me from those moments to where I am now.

There are many people who upon finding out who my dad is (I told y’all I still say is cause speaking of him in the past tense doesn’t feel right), throw many assumption upon me.  If I’m honest, I have relatives who throw those same assumptions–which I find strange as they know of the hurdles my immediate family went through to get to where my dad eventually led us.  The assumptions always contain the same theory–my life has been great, easy even.  Even today, my life must be great with no real struggles or difficulties.  The truth is that my life has been full of difficulties.  I will admit that there have been some great moments and times, but those moments don’t by any means negate the strife.  When I’ve shared my story with others, they are often left shocked and they usually say the same thing, “I would have never guessed.”  That only fuels my belief that there is no way to know a person’s life by looking at the surface.  It’s one of the very reasons I’m so fascinated by the other mere mortals and their stories.  We all have a story and I believe with everything that I have that we are meant to share those stories to help one another.

In saying that though, I recognize that there is a tendency to tell one’s story so much that one begins to identify with their story.  One begins to see themselves as nothing more than the details and events of his or her story.  I fell into that trap for a long while.  I think a lot of my journey through this last year was about me releasing my identity with my story.  I became so wrapped up in the tragic things that happened to me that I felt that that was all there was to me.  I repeatedly told the tragic events of my life to the point that they became my identity.  My answer to the question, Who are you? was This happened to me and that and this and this then that and some more.  I couldn’t see those things as simple external conditions that had no bearing on who I was.

I don’t know when things began to shift for me, but I know they did.  I realized recently that I was no longer identifying with my story when I posted a Throwback Thursday photo of my beloved deceased Maltese, Snowball.  A friend asked me if he’d died and I told her yes.  I then relayed the details of things–how he passed 2 years after my dad and my divorce and a year after the passing of my grandfather.  My cousin jokingly referenced the movie Life with me.  He referenced the scene where Eddie Murphy’s character Ray reads the letter from his fellow inmate, Pokerface.  His mother’s neighbor writes him detailing all of the tragic things that have happened since he became locked up.  The letter is full of tragedy.   His cousins, sister, parents and even his dog died. It was funny in the movie, but in real life, not so much?  Yet I laughed when my cousin went there–and not to mask my pain–but because I genuinely found it funny.  That’s when it hit me.  I no longer identify with those things.  Those things no longer define me.  I have moved past needing to anchor myself with those events.  To think, for a long time, I would tell people I was a bad country song.  I even found some honor in that.  I’m truly grateful to be beyond those days and that line of thinking.

I have been speaking at Sarcoidosis events for the past 7 years and last year was the first year that I didn’t enjoy myself. The event itself was lovely.  However, I didn’t enjoy myself because I’m required to share my father’s Sarcoidosis “story.”  I don’t enjoy telling it any longer because I feel like it doesn’t do my father any justice.  It’s not his story.  Yes, he had some experiences with the disease.  However, I no longer wish to reheat the same soup year after year.  His life was so much more than his illness, the hospitalizations, allergic reactions to medication and his ultimate death.  The short of it is that he’s not that story.  So I have to stop telling it.  I have to stop telling it for him and for myself.  It no longer serves.

If you’re not already in a space where you recognize that you are not your story, the sum of your parts of your life, I hope you are on your way. My wish for you is that you can see that whatever has happened is already behind you and does not necessarily dictate where you can go.  And it’s ok if you’re not.  I wasn’t for a long time. But I’m so thankful I am now.

This Is Us Really Is Us

So can we talk about last night’s episode of This Is Us?  I have long since become a huge fan of the show and I am not ashamed to admit that I cry at every single episode. Every. Single. One. Each episode touches me in a way that makes me think they can’t possibly make me cry any harder than I did on the previous one.  Yet, they prove me wrong each time.  They did not fail to up the ante yet again with last night’s episode titled, Memphis.

In this episode, we found our beloved Randall taking a cross-country trip (even though he’d told his wife it wasn’t a cross-country trip) to take his ailing biological father William to his old stomping ground of Memphis.  It was significant for both of them because William was dying of Stage 4 stomach cancer and this is on the heels of Randall’s nervous breakdown from the previous week.  If you follow the show, you know that Randall was adopted by Jack and Rebecca because William and Randall’s mother were drug addicts, so William left baby Randall at a fire station.  They reunited in the first episode when adult Randall showed up unannounced on William’s door step.  Since then, we’ve watched their relationship evolve from strangers to a more intimate father/son relationship.

Last night’s episode was so moving for many different reasons but for me, it was a beautiful vision of what I wish I could have had to experience with my father.  Death is an interesting part of life.  We all know it’s going to happen, yet we are ill prepared when it does occur.  I loved that Randall was able to spend his father’s dying days with him, learning about him, growing with him, and even usher him into his dying breath.  It was so beautiful.  And it brought me to tears.  I was a blubbering mess in my bed.  I cried sad tears for Randall because he was losing another dad, and right when the getting was getting good.  I cried for William because he got to end his life on a happy note.  At the end, he told Randall that he didn’t have a happy life, yet the two things that were good to him were the person at the beginning and the person at the end.

And through all of my tears, I couldn’t miss that there was a part of me crying for myself. Entertainment can provide us with such a gift, and that is the ability to shine a light on some of the realest, most intimate parts of life.  I can think of no more intimate part of life than death and dealing with the death of a loved one–particularly a parent.  The writer of This Is Us gave us all (well let me speak for myself) me such a gift because it provided a glimpse into a real  moment of a relationship.  We got to see a father and a son have honest, yet difficult dialogue about life and death.  It can be so difficult to have those conversations, but I truly believe that they are so worthwhile.

While watching, I recalled the moment my father died and I wished I could have had those moments with my dad. For a long time, I felt that I was robbed of that moment.  My dad was feeling under the weather one day, went to the doctor and next thing I know I was getting a call that he was on a ventilator after going through sepsis.  He remained on that ventilator for three weeks.  He was sedated for the duration of those three weeks as well.  We never got a chance to talk.  I didn’t get to ask him questions or tell him how I felt.  The closest we came to that was during week 3 when he awoke for a moment.  He was still on the ventilator, so he couldn’t speak, but he mouthed the words to me, “I’m dead.”  I didn’t take him seriously because he would speak like that when he was sick.  I brushed it off, but he shook his head No and mouthed the words again.  He even went limp to show me what it would look like.  I laughed because I didn’t want it to be true.  While I always say I didn’t realize he was warning me, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I knew he was telling the truth.  But I wasn’t ready then to admit that so I dismissed him and hoped he was wrong.  He died two days later. He didn’t get to die surrounded by mom and me.  No, instead he died alone in a room with doctors.  He didn’t get the peaceful transition that William received.  He crashed several times, was revived each time, until that final one where he just would not return.  That haunted me for years.  I wanted closure. I wanted to have been able to hold his hand, kiss his cheek, and tell him it’s ok.  Since I never got the chance, I have envisioned how our final conversation would have gone if we’d been given the chance.  I feel like it would have gone something like this . . .

Dad:  Well Boops, it’s been real. But I gotta go.

Me:  Wait, don’t go yet!  There’s still so much more I want to talk to you about.

Dad:  Now what did I tell you? Be strong. I’ll always be with you.  You’re going to be fine. Take care of my granddaughter. Watch your back and be strong for your mama.  I’m counting on you.

Me:  Wait, you’re dying and THIS is what you have to say to me?  Not I love you.  Not I’m proud, but be strong?

Dad: I just can’t do right by you. Can I, Je’Niece?  I’m dying and  I still just can’t do right by you.  I told you before, I’m a hard man and I don’t make no bones about that.  Now I said I gotta go.   

Me:  Well dang, fine!  But don’t be a stranger.  And since you won’t say it, I will.  I love you, Man.  

Dad: I love you more.  

But I never got that moment. So I’ll have to live vicariously through Randall and William. It was a beautiful moment so I can live with that.  Thank you to the writers of This Is Us.  I cried some of the ugliest tears I’ve ever cried, but you gave me such a gift with each tear.

Silencing My Inner Critic

A very warm and joyous Friday to you!  I am still riding my high from the weekend and I’ve decided to consciously choose to live on this high for the rest of my life.  I say that with the full understanding that life is going to happen and every moment won’t necessarily be a pleasant one.  However, I recognized that allowing myself to get overwhelmed to the point that I need a get away doesn’t serve me well.  I recognized a lot this weekend.  One of the things that became glaringly obvious to me was the way that I speak to myself.  I caught myself and I actually cringed.  I asked myself, Why do you speak this way to yourself? and I recognized that it was my inner critic speaking.  My inner critic was a harsh one.  But I had to have a sit down with her and I think it was the start of a beautiful ending of a relationship.

 

An Open Letter to My Body

Dear Body of Mine,

I owe you a most sincere apology.  For just about your entire existence, I have not liked you.  I have spoken of and to you in most unkind ways.  I’ve called you horrible names like fat, awful, and ugly. I’ve compared you to others and found you to fail to measure up.  I’ve wished you were something you were not.  And each time I felt you failed me, I blamed you.  I actually felt like you were a curse to me.  In short, I have hated you.

You may wonder why I have hated you and abused you.  I could pontificate about all of the underlying psychological issues and social conditioning that I may have and have possibly been exposed to.  However, the simple truth is that I’ve never thought you were good enough.

Why did I think that?  Well, I’ll admit that I just never liked the way you looked.  In the beginning, you were just skinny. Too skinny. And remember, this wasn’t during the time that it was cool to be skinny. I felt that you subjected me to teasing and taunts from others. Laughter filled advice about eating sammiches were painfully abundant for me–despite the fact that I did, in fact, eat many sammiches and more.  Yet, you weren’t filling out any time soon.

It would be many years later when you would begin to fill out.  I would be about 24 years of age.  Yet the problem with that is that you didn’t fill out the way I wanted you to.  You didn’t give me the curves I wanted.  You didn’t fill out to create the hour-glass physique I so desperately coveted.  No, there would be no Tocarra Jones’ body for me.  Instad, you kept your athletic physique, complete with its  narrow hips and wide waistline.   But you didn’t even have the decency to give me Serena Williams athletic type.  You just gave me straight body with a tire around my waist.  And I hated you for that.  Each time I saw another woman with the coveted hour glass frame, I thought you to be an even greater failure.  Why can’t you look like her? I’d lament.  You never answered me either.  Instead, you just kept calling for me to love you as you were and I refused.

Then came what I felt was the ultimate betrayal.  Pregnancy.  After the birth of The Fizzle, you developed stretch marks in places I never wanted, never even realized one could develop there.  You began to bulge and droop in places that I didn’t think were meant to bulge and droop.  And let’s not even talk about what you did to my stomach!  I worked out throughout my entire pregnancy to combat such changes, yet they were all for naught. You still drooped and bulged and you didn’t even have the courtesy to return to your pre-pregnancy state, post pregnancy. Then you gave me the dreaded C-section pooch.   It was hard enough tolerating you before then.  Now how was I supposed to appreciate you?  I swore I would never forgive you.  And I didn’t.  Until now.

Now here we are, 10 years post pregnancy. I’ve since accepted that the pre-pregnancy body is NEVER returning.  And while I don’t like it (not one bit), I realize how cruel and superficial I have been. I have treated you as if you’re good for nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing accessory.  How wrong I have been!  You are so much more than that.  You have carried me through this world.  You even brought forth life!  How amazing is that?  And thanks to yoga, I now know you can do some amazing things I never even thought possible!  You are the vessel through which this soul of mine wanders through this Earth.  You lend your hands to help others up. And what’s more, you use your hands to pull yourself up when you fall down.  You love me so much that you will pad yourself to protect me when I am wounded.  I have finally realized that your worth doesn’t lie in what you look like.  Isn’t that ironic though? I’d have a fit if someone deemed me less than worthy based on my appearance, yet I meted that exact harsh judgment on my damn self. I have no excuses or any justifiable reasons for my ill behavior. All I can say is that I was ignorant and immature.  I didn’t know.  And I’m so sorry that I didn’t know and even more sorry for the way I have treated you.  But since I am not big on sorry’s or words, I’ll allow my actions to show you how much I have changed.  I’ll affirm you when I look at you instead of cursing you for everything I hated about you.  I’ll reframe your so-called flaws.  Where I once saw failure, I’ll see Life and splendor.  I won’t compare you to anyone.  I’ll appreciate you for who you are.  I’ll feed you well and move you so that you’re as fit and healthy as you can be.  As my Daddy used to say, I can show you better than I can tell you. And while I have never actually said this to you before, please allow me to close this simply by saying I love you.

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