Pruning Dead Wood

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Recently where I live we had an ice storm. 2/10 of an inch or more of ice caused some havoc with electrical outages where I live. The aftermath of that storm also left some trees which had lost a few small branches, or lost major branches, or were even uprooted. Those trees that could bend under the weight of the ice survived with almost no loss of limbs. The pruning by nature took place in the whole area where I live, but how severely each tree withstood the ice storm varied greatly. I believe this metaphor also works for all people including myself.

“Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion- towards ourselves and towards all living beings.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

During my life there have been times when I needed to prune my own dead wood. What I mean is, I needed to change or transform ways of thinking and doing things, or habits of thinking that had not worked in my life. When I did not prune those habits, I made poor choices of people and things in my life that did not serve me. I learned this kind of behavior in my own family. Once I finally became a parent in my 30s, I found out what a challenge it was to rear a child. I had one child. However, I was one of five children. All of my siblings and I were born close together, 5 children in 7 years. Since I was number four, I was glad to be born, but great challenges were part of my childhood. My parents did the best they could. My mom had to do much of our rearing alone with the help of my grandmother because my dad had a job that was many miles from the home my father built for us. My mother had it hard trying to give all of us the attention we needed.

From these beginnings, I learned some not great habits. One of them was I had a poor self esteem. That hindered the choices that I made of people who I made important in my life. I did not know how I needed to be treated. I also was a people pleaser, which was not helpful to myself because I was clueless about how I felt about what I honestly wanted. I was not seeing “my part” in my own life. I had nearly no boundaries for myself, so that I was taking on other peoples’ issues without knowing it, and not acknowledging my own issues. This kind of dead wood I did not know I needed to prune until later in my life. There have been consequences to me and others I love because of the choices I have made, and particularly after I became an adult (in age) and lived on my own.

My first pruning and personal ice storm came after I was divorced in my mid 30s. I am thankful that I became a more reflective person after that time. I started to look at what “my part” was that may have contributed to the end of that marriage. After a year or so after the divorce, I started to feel happier and freer because I realized I had an opportunity to find my own profession, and learn who I am. (I had married at 20 years old.) I also did not want my divorce to become some kind of anchor that I dragged through my life as some personal failure or shame. At the same time, I did need to be honest about what had happened to me during that marriage and not dismiss my own feelings about it, and, importantly, I had to summon courage to face some parts of myself that I was not happy with.

“I don’t think we spend enough time in reflection and introspection. We don’t know who we are as individuals in this culture anymore.”

Naomi Judd

For me this process of pruning has taken a long time. The way I grew up, I rarely knew what I honestly felt or wanted. These were habits that I “lived” for years that I needed to prune and overcome, and I am still learning to ask myself how I feel each day. I am finally learning what boundaries actually are between myself and others. I am still thankful for that first ice storm of a divorce that happened many years ago because it started the process for me to begin to reflect on a deeper level about myself and my life and to learn who I AM.

I wrote this poem more than 10 years ago. I can’t even remember what triggered me to write it. It may have been when my father died 13 years ago.

Light or Load
by Barbara E. Wade

Underneath our professional, adult veneer
Aren’t so many of us
Still needy children
Grasping for our mother’s
For our father’s attention…. approval?
Longing to be heard.
Waiting to be acknowledged,
But met with silence.

As we grow older
Time dulls the ache,
But life’s circumstances
Show us that…
Underneath our professional, adult veneer,
That so many of us
Are still needy children.

How do we get past the suffering?
How do we shed the pain?
Tell ourselves how much we hate
To feel emotionally disconnected once again.
Notice that life’s delivering you
Your childhood experience
In an endless stream of repetition.
And accept that this emotional hurt
Of unfulfilled expectations
Is a mistake of perception
And we aren’t even aware
Of our self-deception.
Even though it feels exactly
Like it did
When we got little attention,
When we were merely kids.
Underneath our professional, adult veneer,
So many of us
Are still needy children.

Embrace, comfort, and protect your needy child.
Love and care for her/him.
Let her/him lay down his/her load,
And be filled with light and lightness.
Observe her/him when she’s/he’s feeling down,
Remind her/him it’s old healing wounds
To let go of and live.

This year has taught me that after my mother died in October, that she was the source of LOVE and goodness in my family. The needy child that I have had in me did not fully see who my mother was and that she was unable physically and was too overwhelmed to LOVE me as much as my needy child wanted during my childhood. Now she and I are both free and I have pruned away that false expectation and perception of whether my mom loved me or not forever. These days I am also learning to be more compassionate of myself, as I do all this pruning of dead wood.

This blog is complementary to my own;
http://tinybuddha.com/blog/5-ways-to-feel-more-love-compassion-for-yourself-and-others/

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Change and Changing

“There is nothing permanent except CHANGE.”
– Heraclitus (Died 475 B.C.)

In nature change is obvious. Every day I see the changes from light to dark, seasons changing and places that have changed. Change is inevitable, and I am pretty good at accepting those changes.

Making changes in my OWN life has usually been dramatic for me. The one constant has always been ME. I have been the one present for those changes, so I needed to learn to become clearer about my part in making better choices for the next stage and changes in my life. It took me surrendering and learning that I am not in control of everything. I needed to learn it was my SOURCE’s
Way NOT MY Way for my life. I can plan, make goals and set deadlines, but I am NOT in control of every outcome! I have been deluding and frustrating myself when I believed this in the past.

The other thing that made change so difficult for me was my expectations of how things SHOULD be. Those phony pictures in my head, the DISNEY version of the perfect family and the prince arriving to save me, were FALSE expectations. When I look back at my life resisting CHANGE has just cost me a lot of undue suffering, which today I am learning to let go of. Yeah, FREEDOM!

I remember hearing about new way of seeing change at a workshop at least 35 years ago, from a very smart young man who had to use a wheelchair all the time. He had completely accepted this huge change in his life. He said that he had seen many able-body people who were disabled in their thinking and attitudes. At the time, I did not realize and was not aware that I was one of the people of whom he was speaking.

My sister-in-law, who is a beautiful human being called me as I was getting ready to publish this blog. She is in my life now and is an extraordinary woman who had a spinal cord injury almost 30 years ago when she was in her thirties.
She had to change her whole life. At first, after her accident, she said that she felt rage at her new fate. She said that she has transmuted that rage into positive action. Sometimes the only positive action she can do is pray.

As you can tell, I love inspirational stories about people who are making great changes. May 9th, I heard about a program that is helping convicts change their lives. It was on PRI (Public Radio International) during the show “The Takeaway” with John Hockenberry. A community college program is retraining inmates in Walla-Walla, Washington. Take a listen:
http://www.wnyc.org/story/walla-walla-community-college-prisoner-education-program/

Years ago I heard another quote:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
– Heraclitus

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Overthinking

Thinking and questioning are skills we humans need to live. However, overthinking is another matter. Much of my life I have been a person who would do what I call overthinking. I did it frequently, but I was unaware I did it. Overthinking includes worrying a lot about the future. I used to even plan what I would say, almost full conversations when I had to deal with a problem. I was always sure I was wrong, so I had to defend my position.

I also had expectations about my marriage, my job, and people I love. What was interesting with all this overthinking, I did not ask myself important questions such as: What did I need and want? What were my deepest concerns? What was I willing to do? What was I unwilling to do? I thrived on my fairy tale-like expectations which never came true. (I still do NOT like Disney because so many of his movies sell this fairy tale version of life to little girls and even boys.)

With all of this overthinking, often I had very little peace. Instead, I had a lot of anxiety with all this constant thinking, usually about others, and I did not even know myself. One thing more recently that has helped me stem some of my overthinking is to meditate regularly.

In my practice with meditation, the amazing monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, keeps showing up in my life. Read about his life story online. He has endured great suffering, so his teachings are revealing and always helpful. I love his perspective and his simple and beautiful explanations about life.

On youtube there is this video about Plum Village where this great monk has a center in France; it has subtitles.

Another piece of overthinking seems to be criticizing. The ridiculous part about criticizing is that it is a usually a waste of time. I still criticize how other people drive, instead of just paying attention to my OWN driving. Of course, I am talking to myself in my own car about the “bad” driver, and that other person cannot hear me criticizing them anyway!

I think I’ll go and meditate on this some more!

One other negative consequence of overthinking, it keeps me from experiencing the present. Because I am obsessing about whatever, I miss seeing the bird flying, a flower, a child do something that makes me smile, a squirrel, or even enjoying a breeze on my cheek. I miss the beauty in my own life.

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