‘All the feels’: What 40 days without music taught me about the emoticoaster

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So 40 days without music might be a slight exaggeration. What it really was is 40 days without music…in the car. As I mentioned when it started, in Christian tradition we have a period of 40 days before Easter when we often make some sort of sacrifice and/or add in some sort of spiritual practice in preparation for the celebration. This time is called Lent and it isn’t the most fun but I’ve always found it to be helpful and a good learning experience.

Listening to music in the car isn’t a bad thing by any means. In fact, singing along to the radio has been one of those daily joys that enlivens my routine and lifts my spirits without fail.

Why give it up then?

Lent is meant to be a more somber time – hopeful, yes – but a little toned down. To me, giving up music in the car (I drive a fair amount) would give me the opportunity to be a little more contemplative and present to this time period while also maintaining some of the seriousness (singing along to Dierks Bentley’s ‘Drunk on a Plane’ doesn’t help maintain a somber attitude).

It was hard. I love music and this was the first time since I was 13 or so (whenever front seat privileges started) that I couldn’t reach out to turn on the radio while in the car.

However even though it didn’t get easier, I did learn from the absence of music day in and day out.

My main takeaway was this: the ‘feels’ aren’t everything.

I noticed that a large part of my frustration with not being able to listen to music was that I was left alone with my often anxious and uneasy thoughts and/or unpleasant emotions. For the longest time I had been able to avoid that by turning on 103.5 WEZL (‘the weasel’…yeah) and listen to the upbeat tunes that helped me not think and feel good. Now I didn’t have the option and it was upsetting to say the least.

Music affects the way we feel. The same thing can be said about a movie, tv show, or even the book you’re currently reading. Media feeds our emotions and people who create it are aware of that. We have increasingly become a culture that is focused on how we feel.

We don’t want to think about the objective reality behind something, but rather how it makes us feel. We judge things as good or bad based on how it makes us feel. We rely on our feelings and emotions to guide us.

In a way, this is helpful. Emotions are meant to be a sort of guide, a compass. We know it’s not okay when someone is mean to us because we feel upset…our sense of justice has been violated and our emotions reflect that.

Being hurt by someone feels bad, therefore we are less likely to put ourselves in a similar situation again. We learn and grow from our feelings.

The problem with emotions is their fleeting nature…I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘emoticoaster.’

One minute you’re cheerful and excited about the day ahead of you, the next you’re livid someone cut you off in traffic on the way to work. Should you act on that emotion? Will it help to yell at the car in front of you or cut someone else off later on?

Not likely.

Like everything, moderation is important when it comes to being guided by our emotions. Not only do they change frequently and easily, they also can be marred by past experiences and hurts. Someone who has been hurt in a serious way before is likely to continue to be affected by that over the course of time. We often develop filters that cause us to interpret things in a way that isn’t in accordance with reality, causing our feelings to also be faulty and potentially lead us astray.

Sitting in the car with nothing but my own thoughts for company, I learned that it’s okay if I don’t feel excited or cheerful or even loving all the time. That doesn’t mean that I will act on those feelings. We aren’t our thoughts and we are not our emotions.

While emotions can be helpful in certain contexts, remember that there is more to us than what we feel. We have our reason, we have experience and we have the reality of right and wrong.

‘All the feels’ can be nice, but to maintain that over the course of time is unrealistic. Acting solely based on how we want to feel isn’t helpful because there is more to us and more to life than how we feel. I love listening to music in the car, and I’m certainly glad I can do so again now that Lent is over. I’m also aware that it shouldn’t be a ‘fix’ to emotions that don’t feel good. Those will typically come and go on their own…and that’s okay.

To live fully means to embrace all of life. Our emotions (including the bad ones) are part of that…but not the whole picture. It’s kind of nice knowing that a bad mood or passing fear doesn’t define you.

The ‘safe space’ we actually need

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As I mentioned in this week’s Monday five, I went to the University of South Carolina on Saturday to attend a chamber music competition. Beforehand, we were exploring the music department and came across a room that was labeled as a ‘safe space.’

While I had read and heard of these before, it felt a somewhat surreal to come across one in real life; it took seeing one in person to realize that this is something that is really happening…not just a story the media is making up. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I think the concept of ‘safe spaces’ is a little silly. Not because anxiety or stress isn’t real or trivial, but because of the idea that somehow a room – like the one we found at USC – can somehow fix our emotional or psychological distress.

How is that room different from any other? Because no one can challenge you or tease you? Because it is a designated space where you can break down? How is that helpful?

If we think that four walls that protect us from the outside world will solve our problems, we are sadly mistaken.

We shouldn’t need an office at our school to hide from our problems…which are most likely not caused by our peers anyway.

The fact is though, we are distressed. More and more of us are starting to take medications for anxiety and depression. The fact that a ‘safe space’ is becoming commonplace on college campuses is indicative of how our generation is feeling.

The reality is, we do need a safe space. But it isn’t a room in the music department of a college campus with bad lighting and gray carpet…it’s our home; it’s our family.

Mothers and fathers (or other primary caretakers) play an irreplaceable role in not only teaching us good habits, but also our temperament, our ability to be in relationships with others, our proficiency at interacting with the outside world and our emotional and psychological health.

This has become more and more clear to me, especially taking a human growth and development class in which these formative relationships are especially emphasized. There is so much evidence which demonstrates that distant relationship between children and their parents is strongly associated with personality disorders (including anxiety), drug and alcohol abuse and delinquency.

The home is where we are formed…physically, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually. When we come from a strong, loving, supportive family, we are able to go out into the world confident in our ability to face the challenges that inevitably will come our way. When we don’t have that stability in our lives early on, our skill to interact with the outside world and develop close relationships with others is stunted…we are immature and therefore unable to deal…hence the need for a ‘safe space.’

When we look at the importance of the family and how many of ours are broken today, it really shouldn’t be surprising that levels of anxiety, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse are increasing more and more. That safe space that a close, loving family provides is essential. Of course even the healthiest of families has it’s problems, the difference is the family that remains close despite them, instead of allowing them to separate or distance them.

I think as Americans we pride ourselves in being independent. We started off as a nation of independent thinkers who strove for freedom. However, the idea of the self-made man just isn’t true…just ask their mother. We were made in, for and to love; and that is something we can’t teach ourselves. How can we possibly love if no one teaches us how or what that looks like? We don’t expect a five year-old to teach themselves how to read…the same logic applies to this. We are born dependent on others and that doesn’t really change as we get older. You may know how to feed yourself (thankyouverymuch) but there is probably nothing more detrimental to the human person than loneliness. We need others and that is not a weakness, it is the beauty of being relational creatures.

We all have dreams and goals that we want to achieve, and that is perfectly healthy. However we have to remember that close relationships with others – love, essentially – is really what gives our lives meaning. That starts at home. Family is where we learn to love and be loved…it is the sanctuary of life. What do you think of when you think of sanctuary? Maybe some place sacred…certainly some place safe, a refuge. Nothing can replace the safety that family provides and we are seeing the consequences of it’s loss with the increasing levels of distress, especially in our young adults (who should be the most lively!).

It isn’t silly that we need a safe space, we do. But a college campus can’t provide it, and the sooner we realize this the better off we’ll be.

 

 

Monday 5: Boundaries & other things I’m excited about

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Woohoo it’s Monday!
I’m sure this is exactly what crossed your mind this morning when your alarm rudely interrupted your sleep.
It’s true that Monday’s are not fun; but I think a good attitude can change the most dire of situations…even a serious case of the Monday’s.

Monday’s are a #cleanslate. We start a new day, a new week with new opportunities to grow, change and accomplish our goals. It’s exciting!
I know that excitement can feel a little out of reach this morning…to help out I make a list of 5 things I genuinely feel enthusiastic about. Even though you and I may not be excited about the same things (although if you are, you’re like, really cool) this list may help bring to mind a few things you’re excited about!

  1. Boundaries.

    I love to give. Give my time, give my advice (whether others want it or not), give my energy and encouragement…however, recently I’ve been learning the importance of knowing my own limits: both physical and emotional. An important part of self-care is being aware of and respecting your own limits and working with them; not against or around them. Whether that means saying no to a friend when they want to get coffee so you can have some ‘me’ time, or refusing to let yourself get pulled into someone else’s pity party, or declining to eat cake even though your sweet grandmother is insisting on it…whatever the case may be, it is important to have some boundaries around yourself. You (and no one else) are responsible for taking care of you; and part of that is guarding yourself (your time, your energy, your emotions) from the demands of others. This book is helping me learn to do just that.

  2. These Jacks.

    This was another sweet buy during my shopping trip in Atlanta last weekend. This wonderful re-sale shop called Labels has 3 shops in the same block- one of which is just for shoes. I found these Jack Rodgers there and have absolutely loved them. Cute, comfy and completely versatile, these are definitely a new favorite.

  3. Chocolate banana bread

    My friend introduced me to this recipe for chocolate banana bread this weekend and I can’t wait to try it out. It was super delicious and only a little unhealthy. #yesplease.

  4. sky-gazing.

    We’ve all heard of star-gazing; and if you’re like me, it makes you think of a romantic scene like in Nicholas Spark’s ‘A Walk to Remember’ with a dreamy guy and hot chocolate to accompany the activity. However, a friend of mine introduced the idea (via Instagram) of ‘sky-gazing.’ As the term implies, this consists of  just laying on your back and looking up at the sky. This weekend I tried this at Mepkin Abbey (a monastery about an hour outside Charleston) and immediately was amazed at the therapeutic value of this. There is something miraculously healing about this; of remembering how small we really are and how temporary our problems, our feelings and our fears are. The truth is you are just one person, responsible for your life and no one else’s. Not your friend’s, not your parents’, not your boyfriend’s…just you. All you can do is your best (knowing sometimes we will fail even at this) and accept the high’s and low’s that make life the rich adventure that it is.

  5. Johnny Stecchino.

    One of my favorite parts about college was taking Italian for 4 semesters. I love learning about different cultures, and Italy certainly has a satisfyingly rich one to accompany it’s beautiful language. As part of the classes, the Italian department at Clemson (go Tigers) would put on Italian movies throughout the semester for us to watch and discuss. One of these was Johnny Stecchino. One of my absolute favorites, there are few things that have made me laugh as hard as this Robert Benigni film. Last night, after several months of pleading, my family watched it with me; definitely worth a watch if you haven’t already (just make sure you get a version with subtitles).

Hope these things help brighten up your Monday, or at least make you think of things that do. Here’s to a fresh start!

xo

Miranda

Lizzie McGuire and what she got right about our thoughts

What are you thinking about right now?

I’m sure part of you is focused on this article and wondering where this is going. You may also be simultaneously asking yourself if you’re hungry enough to eat the rest of your breakfast, or if you should stop reading this and do something more productive (definitely not), or regretting not going to the gym this morning, or worrying about work/school/your family…

My point is you’re probably not just thinking one thing at any point in time. Our thoughts tend to jump around from one thing to the next so quickly and often overlap so that we can do one thing while thinking about at least one other thing that is completely unrelated.

If you grew up in the 90’s, you most likely came across a show called Lizzie McGuire. Just your typical teen girl, Lizzie struggled with all the things normal teen girls go through like buying your first bra, the dreamy (but sadly oblivious) guy and the mean girl who somehow was super popular despite her mean-ness.

In the show, Lizzie had a cartoon counterpart- we’ll call her Cartoon Lizzie. So when Lizzie was in the middle of a conversation or event we would get insight into what was really going on in her head through Cartoon Lizzie’s (much more honest) reaction.

Often I feel that I have my own Cartoon Lizzie living in my head who talks and reacts relentlessly. In fact sometimes I feel more in tune to my inner voice than what is going on around me.

I became more aware of this tendency recently when I started reading ‘Mindfulness: An 8-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world‘ (highly recommend it, btw). I’ve increasingly noticed my ability (or vice) to be having a conversation with someone while thinking about something or someone else entirely.

While this may seem harmless (if slightly rude), the chaotic stream of thoughts is what often causes the anxiety and uneasiness we experience in our day-to-day lives. Instead of focusing on what is currently happening we live inside our heads, controlled by a constant, frantic stream of thoughts that is often unrelated to reality.

As hard as it may be to wrap our heads around, our thoughts are not truth. And you are not what you think. This is crucial to grasp because I think too often we accept our thoughts as matters of fact instead of what they really are: just thoughts.

This can be dangerous when you have thoughts like…

I look like crap right now.

I’m not good enough for him.

I shouldn’t feel this way…why do I feel this way

I shouldn’t have eaten that

She’s prettier than I am

This is not going to go well

Whether they’re anything like these or completely different, we often have thoughts that are pessimistic and self-defeating that we quickly accept without question.

Thoughts ≠ Truth

If we don’t learn to live in the present moment and forgo the constant stream of thoughts, we leave ourselves to the mercy of something that will never serve us or allow us to enjoy our lives.

While Cartoon Lizzie certainly added humor and even some honesty to Lizzie McGuire, I don’t think we should let our inner cartoon run our lives. Staying grounded to (the often less dramatic) reality and living the moment instead of thinking about it is definitely something I want to learn through mindfulness.

After all, I’d rather live my life than just think about it. Wouldn’t you?

xoxo

Miranda

 

High Standards: why I have them and why you should too

High standards: why I have them and why you should too.

I’m going to go ahead and give you the key takeaway from this post:

You should have high standards for yourself, your relationships, your career and your life because you deserve them.

I just saved you five more minutes of reading; so, you’re welcome.

Here’s the deal: high standards and being a perfectionist are NOT the same thing. I already wrote a post about the dangers of being a perfectionist and I stand by what I said.

Having high standards doesn’t mean you, or everything you do, is perfect. It doesn’t mean you’ll never mess up, it doesn’t mean you’ll never fail or never disappoint yourself or someone else. You will oversleep, you’ll miss the gym, you’ll eat too much, you’ll forget something important for work and you’ll wear your shirt inside out. (Hopefully all of this won’t happen on the same day, but, you get what I’m saying).

Having high standards means having goals for yourself and your relationships that are worthy of who you are.

Having high standards means taking care of yourself. Always aiming to get enough to sleep, stay active and eat well, even if that doesn’t always happen.

Having high standards means dressing in a way that reflects your personality, your love of beauty and most importantly, your dignity.

Having high standards means only being friends with people who love, care and respect you and treat you in a way that reflects that.

Having high standards means knowing your talents and pursuing a career that enables you to use them.

Having high standards means knowing your worth as a person and not allowing any relationship in your life question, undermine, or contradict that.

The thing about our standards is that you only live up to the standards you setMeaning if you are afraid to go for what you really want and work hard to get it, you won’t get it. In order to achieve something we have to first recognize that it’s possible. Unfortunately people often close the doors on their dreams because they tell themselves it’s unrealistic and that’s that. I know that you are completely capable of achieving whatever you want, but to do so, you have to raise your standards to the level you ultimately want to reach.

People will challenge you. People want to feel better about their decisions, so they try to make yours more like theirs. This is an important reason why I always have surrounded myself with friends who inspire me to be better. Look around, are the people you spend time with encouraging you or bringing you down? It can be hard to face but letting go of the people who affect us negatively is crucial to success.

What do you really want? What kind of lifestyle do you want to have? What kind of relationship do you want to be in? Take the time to think about what it is you want, it can be scary to admit because it seems so out of reach; but I’m here to tell you that it is completely possible, you just have to raise your standards and start working to reach them.

Life lessons I learned from Pam Beesly

I love The Office. It is my favorite TV show. I have seen every episode multiple times and know WAY too many lines by heart. Regardless about anything else, if someone else thinks The Office is awesome, we can be friends.

There are many reasons I love The Office so much; it’s funny, witty and generally isn’t crude. It is entertaining but also can be deep and creates drama without being a soap opera. I love that the characters are believable, especially Jim and Pam. They are just average people working in a paper company living ordinary lives.

The more I watch the show the more I find myself relating to Pam. She is kind and warm and funny, but she isn’t perfect. Sometimes she loses it, sometimes she makes bad decisions and sometimes she doesn’t achieve what she set out to do.

As someone who likes to look up to people who have it all together, it is nice to see someone who is awesome but not perfect. No one actually is perfect, but through social media and the natural human tendency to hide anything that is wrong, it sometimes feels like everyone else is doing a lot better than you.

Here are some life lessons I learned from Pam Beesly:

It’s okay to lose it sometimes.

Generally Pam isn’t very dramatic but there are times when something is just too much. For example when Michael dates Pam’s mother she (understandably) releases a previously unseen wrath upon Michael that culminates in her slapping him. I do not advocate violence but I do think emotional health is crucial to our general well-being, and this includes expressing our emotions and not just trying to subdue them all the time. While losing our temper isn’t the healthiest or most effective way to express ourselves, (even Pam admits it wasn’t satisfying), it happens to all of us and it doesn’t mean we are crazy or unbalanced, but rather that we are human.

Watch the famous slap here.

Failure isn’t always a setback 

Pam decides to go to art school and after failing a class she decides to come back to Scranton instead of staying in New York to re-take the class. Later in the series Pam becomes a saleswoman at Dunder Mifflin and doesn’t succeed in making many sales. At this point she confides in Jim: “I don’t want to fail. Again.”

No one wants to fail, it doesn’t feel good and often it doesn’t make us look good either, which in turn makes us feel worse. But when Pam moves back to Scranton after failing out of art school she is able to move forward in her relationship with Jim. They get married and start a family. Pam understood that staying in New York away from Jim would prevent her from advancing in her relationship with him. She chose to prioritize love over her success in art school.

After not doing well in sales, Pam becomes the office administrator, a position she feels much more suited for and in which she thrives. Her trying and failing in sales enables her to find a job which she enjoys much more.

I failed to graduate in May this past school year. Even though it was what I had planned and what I had told all my friends and family I was going to do, I became too overwhelmed with my work load and had to extend my college career a summer session. It did not feel good to drop the classes and it felt even worse telling my family and friends about my decision to do so. But I knew pretty immediately afterward that I had done the right thing. I was much more relaxed and well-rested the rest of the semester. I was able to enjoy my last few months on campus and did better in everything in which I was involved.

Failure isn’t always a setback, sometimes we have to try something and fail to find a better way.

You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy

What I love most about Pam is that sometimes she does or says something dumb. She makes mistakes and she fails. She doesn’t eat only what is healthy or wear what is most fashionable. She loses her patience and dates (and almost marries) the wrong guy. But she is also kind and warm and funny and helps people that she sees need it, she never loses sight of who she is or gives up trying to be better.

It is hard for me to accept myself and my worth when I know my shortcomings. I know that I lose my patience many times a day, I know that I care too much about what others think, I know that I make stupid grammar/spelling mistakes and am not good at math. I know that I have hurt people who love me and trusted people I shouldn’t have. How is it that I am still worthy of being loved?

Pam helped me see that though we are not perfect and will always fall short, we are still capable of doing good and deserving of love.

In the end it isn’t what we do or don’t do that makes us worthy, it is the dignity we have as human beings. We were made with love to be loved and to give love.

Lies the world tells us

Lies the world tells us

Romans 12:2 says:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

Unless you live under a rock, you probably have regular contact with the outside world. Not just your friends and family but also outside of that. People who are different from you, maybe some of them seem to be doing a lot better, maybe you feel like you have it all together in comparison to others. There are a lot of beliefs out there that may influence how you see and evaluate yourself. 

It’s good to be part of the world, to interact with different people and to impact your community. However inevitably we are also affected by our world. Whether it be individuals, the culture, or experiences we have. Sometimes things we go through, people in our lives or society in general can cause us to believe things about ourselves that aren’t true. For example, you see a smiling couple on Instagram and suddenly you feel lonely, a model on a TV ad makes you feel insecure, your friend’s A on a paper makes you feel inadequate. 

In the moment these doubts and feelings seem perfectly rational and tangibly real, that’s why we should know that they aren’t true. These are lies that the world tells us:

You will be happy when you are in a relationship:

We see smiling, radiant couples and it is easy to convince ourselves that when we meet someone all of our problems will disappear. How can you possibly be unhappy with a cute guy by your side? While it can be a exciting and fun, a healthy relationship also brings all our personals struggles to the surface. It is important to understand that happiness isn’t found in someone else, it is found in God. And your value is independent of your relationship status.

If you don’t have it all figured out you won’t be successful:

Graduate from high school, pick a major, stick to it, graduate from college (Summa Cum Laude) and then go get your dream job. That is the formula we know and compare our journey to. We see friends, (whether it be our close friends or ‘friends’ on social media). appearing to follow this pattern and flourish while maybe you don’t know exactly what you want your career to be. Discernment is important, it can be frustrating when you don’t have exciting things to tell your family or friends or Instagram followers but it is also better than choosing a path that feels wrong instead of taking some time to try things out. If you look at the story of Steve Jobs, or J.K. Rowling or even Pope Francis (he was a bouncer at one point), you’ll find that they lived very unique lives that led to their success in an unconventional way. None of them graduated from high school and followed a carefully laid out plan. 

So and so’s life is better than yours:

I think that is one of the greatest dangers of social media: comparison. With Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter we all share the edited highlights of what is going on our lives and there are many times when it seems that someone else’s life is more fun/interesting/exciting/lavish than ours. The truth is that that picture, status or tweet isn’t necessarily an accurate representative of their life as a whole but just part of the persona they are trying to create. Not to say everything on social media is a lie, just to keep in mind that it isn’t the whole story. We all have problems and struggles that we don’t necessarily want to share with others.

Having said all this I just want to encourage you guys to know that what you come across whether it be in social media or other encounters you have isn’t always the whole truth. It isn’t good to compare ourselves period; but especially not to unrealistic standards. To battle these feelings and doubts always make sure you take time to renew your mind in prayer, self-care and genuine interactions with real people who love you.

Peace,

Miranda