Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"... remember what peace there may be in silence."

I'll be honest: I find absolutely no peace in silence. Because no silence is perfect.

I have tried to take quiet moments for myself. To pause, take a deep breath, reboot, and refresh. But, if I'm going to enjoy some "silence," I can't actually allow things to be completely silent.

Silence always gets broken by something. Beeping. Dogs barking. People driving by in loud cars or with music blasting. An electronic hum or buzz from some malfunctioning appliance.

Whenever I try to enjoy silence, it usually ends up failing. Small noises irritate me when they punctuate stillness. Ignoring them is difficult at best. Sometimes, when I'm really frustrated, I get into a contest with myself about how far out I can extend my hearing until I can hear something really annoying (usually it's right outside my house - children screaming and dogs barking are constant noises in my neighborhood). I do this in order to put myself into a bad mood. Why? I have no idea, it just seems to be my default setting.

For me, silence means some kind of white noise. When the background noise is consistent, I can focus on it, and it can drown out that which is bothering me. I can focus on the noise, and then ignore it, while it effectively keeps everything else at bay.

That is why I constantly have noises on in the background - either the TV at a low volume, or the quiet hum of my air purifier. The sleep I experience with these faint noises in the background is much deeper than any sleep I experience when things are silent. Silence awakens me, actually.

I don't know what this says about me. Right now, things are fairly silent in my room. I don't have my white noise going. Instead, there is a constant ringing in my ears. I wonder if I've done that to myself, if it would ever go away if I were able to tolerate sitting like this for longer periods of time.

I wonder if not being able to find peace in silence suggests that I'm damaged in some way. The fact that being quiet, without anything else to focus on, alone in my thoughts... it brings me no peace... does that mean I just can't stand myself? That I need to always be focusing on something external to myself, because I find myself unbearable?

Right now, it wouldn't surprise me. I find my state of mind deplorable. Lazy. Depressed. Anxious. Tired. Thoughts circling endlessly, trying to find solutions to problems that really don't have much in the way of "solutions" as much as they just have "inevitable ends." I fixate on the same narrow issues over and over again and cannot shake them, winding myself up until I'm ridiculously angry and tense.

I don't know how to find peace in silence, maybe because I feel like I've never experienced silence. I wonder if silence is actually relative. Is right now silent? The garbage truck is chugging down my street noisily as my dogs wrestle in the background. Or maybe now... the truck is past, but I hear the dishwasher going downstairs, and my Jack Russell Terrier is trying to worm her way into my lap.

This is also why I cannot meditate effectively right now. Sitting still and drifting off... I'm so restless. I don't know how to find that stillness. This is surprising to me, because I can find stillness and peace when I'm reading a book. It doesn't take much for me to focus, and get lost in the pages. Maybe I just need to read more... to give my brain other things to think about, until it is so full of wonderful thoughts from good authors, that it has room for nothing else in terms of negativity.

I hope I can find some other ways to somehow find peace in silence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."

I constantly wonder where I went wrong in my life.

I'm almost 33 years old. I'm still over $100,000 in debt due to my student loans from law school. My business has up and down months, and during the down months, I often feel scared and overwhelmed and wonder why I am doing what I'm doing.

I get by, bit by bit. But during down months, it's easy to lapse into the same mantras. "Why am I not farther along in life? Why am I struggling when my friends can support themselves and afford nice things month after month?"

I compare myself to my mother a lot. And to my best friend. They are both these exceptional women who've managed to thrive. They have Adulting down to an art form. My mother was an engineer and business professional before she retired, holding important titles like "Chief Operating Officer." My best friend is an attorney who's worked at one of the top firms in the world. Both are highly successful, having put long hours into achieving what they have. My mother would be gone for weeks at a time on business trips. My best friend works endless hours - sometimes not coming home for several days in a row due to being at the office.

I know that kind of thing comes with its own rewards - getting to see amazing places, traveling, being able to afford wonderful things. Also getting to meet incredible people - the top echelon, the fantastically successful. People who are sharp and passionate.

Even the thought of having to work that hard makes me feel exhausted, and ashamed at feeling exhausted. I feel like I should sit back here in the kid's section with my crayons and coloring books, because I'm never going to amount to anything. Because I feel like there's nothing in my life I feel passionately enough about that I'd want to work that hard on it.

Don't get me wrong. I've done the long hours. I went to law school. Not only that, but I worked throughout most of law school, at the same demanding family law firm. Anyone who's juggled school and work understands that struggle.

After law school, I worked at another law firm for a year. It was soul-crushing. At the very least, I got to have most of my weekends free when I worked there. But the weekdays were a pressure cooker of stress, uncertainty, and verbal abuse. I'd leave the office between 7 and 10pm feeling like I'd been beaten.

Working like a dog leaves you exhausted. It's really... ruff.
When I first started my law firm, I had a side business freelance writing to make ends meet. Well, it turned out to be a lot more than I expected. For 18 months, I barely had any days off - including the weekends. I took a day here and there, for my own sanity. But my clients insisted I work weekends, and holidays. For a large portion of those 18 months, I worked terrible hours, waking up at 5am so I could confer with clients I had in the UK, or staying up all night so I could finish a last-minute project by its entirely unreasonable deadline. It got to be so that was the norm for me... always working. (My best friend worked even worse hours than that, and did it for 5 years... I have no idea how she did it, I made it through 18 months and felt like death)

And for all of that, I barely made a dent. It's true - it supported me, particularly during lean times. But the payoff was so miniscule compared to the effort I was putting in, I wondered again... where did I go wrong?

I'm still recovering from that time. I still get flashes of deep anxiety and guilt. Sometimes, I think my body is even still recovering - the exhaustion still goes bone deep on some days. Some of that is my lingering depression - my entire world collapsed a couple of years ago due to events I just can't write about yet, and the aftershocks resonate to this day (my own fault - I let things linger far longer than they should have, but the consequences are real).

But... it's time to put on the big girl pants. I can't be damaged and traumatized forever. " may become vain and bitter." Bitterness is real. Bitterness in comparing myself with others... bitterness in unfair situations that I was ill-prepared to cope with. It's time to release it, stop moping, and move on.

I cannot be bitter forever. I'm almost 33... I have a lot of life left. Even though these experiences have made me feel much older than I am. It's time to let it go... and feel young again, while at the same time accepting my responsibilities as an honest-to-god adult. It may not always be fun, but at the very least, I can strive to have the life I want for the vast majority of the time. The rest is just details.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story."

Oh my goodness, how I needed to chant this to myself today. Over, and over, and over.

I am an attorney by day. I advise people about their estate plans and help them set up wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other such goodies. When I was in law school, I took as many estate planning courses as I could fit into my schedule. When I graduated, I sought out positions that would let me practice in this particular area as much as possible. When I started building my career in this area, I took as many continuing education classes as I could in that particular area, and have continued to do so. I've now practiced in this area for 4 years. In that 4 years, I've done dozens and dozens of estate plans - I'm probably approaching about 100 by now.

And yet, today, I was confronted by someone who felt that these things did not qualify me to advise her about her estate plan. Who informed me that I was a bully and that I was wrong about her estate plan, and accused me of misleading her into the wrong estate plan. She even said I didn't know what I was talking about, that banks had access to people's private trusts, and that they named their personal successor trustees as defendants in their foreclosure lawsuits, even if those successor trustees had never been named in any records the bank had on file.

Am I really a bully?
When I received this phone call, my heart dropped into my stomach. My blood went cold, I could not catch my breath, and I felt the injustice of her accusations well up in my throat. Me? A bully? Banks accessing private documents out of thin air and suing people? Was it possible I was wrong about everything?

"I've seen it. They are named in the newspapers," the woman informed me wisely.

Then I remembered my brief foray into foreclosure law. Where banks had been consolidated in the credit crisis, acting as trustees for now dissolved institutions, and often appeared as "successor trustees" in lawsuit captions. Oh, how this woman had been misled - how she truly did not understand what she was reading in those newspapers. Oh, how she was misdirecting her anger at her housing struggles at me.

"I've had bad luck with trusts before, and I didn't want one, and you're making me do one," she told me. "I wanted wills, I said I wanted wills, and you made me do a trust instead."

All I could do for a while was listen to her volley of accusations, my mouth hanging open. This person on the phone was completely the opposite of the person I had spoken to just a few weeks ago in my office. And she was accusing me of being the exact opposite of how I knew I was when I was doing a consultation. Me? A bully? I was a humble but passionate attorney. I love my work. I tell terrible jokes that get clients to crack a smile as we are casually discussing what should happen to their assets in the event of their demise.

I let her talk. I admit, to my shame, that I interrupted a few times - there were so many things about which she was so wrong, so misinformed, that my years of education wanted to scream at her, "You are wrong! You do not know these things! I do, I'm an attorney! I do this all day, for a living!" But I did keep my temper, as I tremulously tried to explain these legal concepts about which she had gotten so tangled in a web of misinformation. I did keep my composure. Unfortunately, I could not battle the ignorance that had somehow wormed its way into my client's brain. I still wonder where she was fed this information. But, I know that people get their legal advice from just about everyone these days. Forget the attorney you've paid hundreds of dollars to take care of matters for you - clearly, your neighbor is much more qualified to give you legal advice about your estate.

In the end, we reached a resolution - in a way that truly, was less than ideal for her real situation, but at least gave her better peace of mind. In the end, I let this dull and ignorant person speak, and tell her story. In the end, I felt sorry for her - she had struggled financially for so long in the housing crisis, that she no longer knew where to direct her anger and anxiety. If yelling at me helped her cope in some way, then I hope it did some good. It doesn't lessen the effect it had on me - I take things very personally, and her attack was personal, at first, before we were able to drill down to the heart of the matter. It doesn't lessen the indignation over the fact that some person, somewhere, was able to misinform my client in such a credible way that she decided to believe him/her instead of me.

But, in the end, I did speak my truth, and I listened to her story, and hopefully we can both reach some level of peace by the time we are done with each other.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons."

Oh, how I need this reminder, virtually everyday.

Up until a certain time in my life, I was so afraid of conflict and of people not liking me, that my general philosophy was "if someone says that something I thought or said was wrong, then it probably is."

This also stemmed from a general lack of belief in myself, my abilities, and my own intelligence.

All it took was one wayward glance and a contrary word, and I'd immediately wave my white flag. I didn't believe I had what it took to argue or to be right. God forbid if someone became angry at me - it would send me into a spiral of fear and shame from which there was almost no return. If someone got angry at me and I was actually the person in the right, chances are I couldn't see it, either. All of my energy would be focused on fixing the problem, whatever that meant, in order to achieve peace with the other person.

I'm still like this, a lot. Being at odds with someone is enough to keep me up at night until the problem is resolved. Or, it sends me into a fit of depression so bad that all I can do is sleep and wake up and worry. One thing was definitely certain in my marriage: we would never go to bed angry at each other. I couldn't possibly bear it. Problems had to be fixed, or else I would be haunted all night.

Recent events in my life over the summer confirmed that this is a personality flaw from which I'm never likely to recover. I found myself in a few different conflicts. Every time, I ended up barely functional for days, paralyzed with worry, depressed, even making myself physically ill over it. I could focus on nothing else - I'd try to shake it off, try to convince myself "whatever will be, will be," and even try to talk myself down by saying that, even if it didn't work out, I'd be okay. Nothing worked.

On a positive note, I think it says something about me that I tend to value peace and friendship over being right. The fact is, I've never made friends easily, and those I do have, I cherish deeply. I strive very hard to work things out. I feel the loss of a friend like a physical pain, and it takes a long, long time for me to recover. I'm still recovering from a friend who effectively dumped me about two years ago, even though he treated me very poorly, took advantage of me financially for months beforehand, and treated members of my family badly as well. I've moved on, but the betrayal has stuck with me and makes me very gun shy.

Despite this emphasis on valuing my relationships, I've been working hard on the "as far as possible, without surrender" part. Throughout the years, due to my leanings toward compliance, I've ended up doing a lot of things I didn't want to do because I wanted people to like me. In fact, it's shaped a lot of the direction of my life. It's partially the reason I went to law school (though I've come to terms with that and now found a career I love), and why I'm living in Illinois. It's also affected smaller decisions - money I've spent, trips I've taken, how I've spent my time - that have impacted my quality of life and, honestly, my list of regrets.

Another thing I've learned is that not surrendering is actually a way to draw people to you. I always thought being compliant was the right way - but people respect you more if you stand up for yourself, even if they do not always agree with you.

One good thing about this past summer is that I did avoid "surrender" on many occasions. Many times, I just wanted to give up and retreat into my hole. But I also knew that, at the heart of the conflict, I was just trying to be happy, and it was okay for me to want that for myself, and to do what I needed in order to get there. I think I'm stronger for it, and have started finding a way to be at peace with conflict when I know there's nothing I can do. It's still a long road, but it's part of being who I am and doing things I want to do with my life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection."

These are the lines that stuck out to me the most today. "Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection."

There is a lot encompassed in this simple thought. At first, it might seem like a throw-away line. "Be yourself." We hear this kind of drivel all the time in our daily lives. Everyone wants us to just be ourselves. It's all over billboards and other advertising. Musicians beseech it in a lot of empowerment songs. Finally, we just say "FINE! I'm being myself! Geez! Get off my back!"

It's the second line that brings the first line into more focus here, though. "Especially, do not feign affection."

To me, this suggests something deeper - something that speaks of Truth. Being ourselves is a lot more than picking a series of attributes and hobbies, a sense of fashion or style, slapping a name on it, and calling it "myself." When we are truly being ourselves, we are admitting who we are. We are admitting all of our flaws and virtues, the things we love and hate, perhaps even despite ourselves.

Being yourself does not necessarily mean you cannot work on yourself. But, to work on yourself, you also need to admit to yourself who you are.

And, one of the top priorities in being who you are is emphasized in Ehrmann's charge to us - "do not feign affection." In being yourself, and admitting who you are, you are casting off deception. This means being clear about your affections and your intentions. Feigning affection, feigning friendship - this causes so much unnecessary strife in our lives. To reduce it to modern terms, it means drama, and gossip, and discord. How much strife is really caused in your life by you or people you know spending time with people they dislike while pretending to like them? 

On a deeper level, it can also cause real devastation. Feigning affection - feigning love - can ultimately lead to ruin. Even if the deception is caused by good intentions - not wanting to hurt someone's feelings, not wanting to cause them pain - it is much, much worse when a relationship has continued down a path that it shouldn't have because one or both people simply were not being honest with themselves or each other about love. When things ultimately come to a head - and they will - it's that much worse for having gone on too long. This does not mean you cannot work on a relationship where love is in jeopardy. On the contrary - admitting there is a problem and then knowing you can work on it can ultimately save it. But it also means honesty.

This does not mandate a lack of civility. Ehrmann advocates politeness and civility earlier in Desiderata - "As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons." But it does mean honesty and communication - being open rather than deceptive, addressing problems to people directly rather than talking about them. And being honest with yourself, your family, your significant other, your friends, about love. 

What this is

I don't know why I'm starting this, except I need something to focus on for a little while. I was re-reading Desiderata for the hundredth time today and it has such good wisdom in it. I'd like to track how I might live by these words a little more effectively and, in so doing, perhaps find happiness.

I am a Christian woman and I believe in living by the Bible, but I don't think the things here conflict with Biblical teachings, so I'm comfortable meditating on them and seeing where this leads. We'll see if I really do anything or if this kind of ends up in my box of untended blogs.


By, Max Ehrmann

    Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.
    As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
    they are vexations to the spirit.
    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain and bitter;
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs;
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals;
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.

    Be yourself.
    Especially, do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love;
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.

    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy.