Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys.

A friend of mine posted this image on Facebook:

It made my day. Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys. It is witty, and profound, and incredibly useful. There are days it is my mantra.

We have all had that friend at some point in our lives whose attraction to drama is matched only by their ability to suck you into it. After a phone call or a cup of coffee with them you find yourself worked up, drawn into their catastrophizing and anxiety. It may feel at first that you are just being a good friend, but after a while, it becomes apparent that you have been pulled into their special brand of crazy.

In moments like these- these six words are incredibly powerful: Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys. Knowing when to step back is vital. It is part of the maintenance of healthy boundaries- in friendships, in family and at work.

Let’s be clear, we all have days when we, or our own monkeys, are running the circus. Yes- it’s possible to attempt management of your circus and someone else’s, but it may not be advisable. And just as we do not want to get sucked into someone else’s circus, it’s important not to draw other people into our own.

The truth is that good friends are the ones who are able to empathize, but are also able to offer a perspective from outside of the circus. With compassion and kindness these friends are able to calm us down.

So when you feel yourself getting drawn in and spinning about someone else’s problems, remember: Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys.

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys. Say it over and over until you are calmer. With this attitude, your own circus may even seem more manageable.


Marathon Day

Today is Marathon Day in Boston and this year there are people gathered together for many different reasons. Some people are here to run in one of the greatest athletic events in the world- testing their endurance as they make that climb up heartbreak hill- some hoping to win a title, other striving to prove to themselves that they really can. But for many others in Boston today they are here because of the tragic events of last Marathon Day. They are here to honor those who cannot be here. They are here to prove that they have endured. They are here to show the strength of a city and its resilience.

Some of the people show physical scars- battered bodies and missing limbs, while for others the scars may not be visible; emotional and psychological scars – the despair of loss, the trauma of having been touched by violence.

Which is to say that the people in Boston today are very much like the people you meet everyday. Some of the people you meet carry the physical scars of life while others seem untouched by its cruelties. And yet, just because you cannot see the scars- does not mean they are not there.

There are parents caring for children with disabilities or children caring for sick and elderly parents. There are people for whom the pain of mental and physical illness is so crippling that every day they get out of bed is a personal victory for them. There are those who are haunted by trauma from their pasts and those who worry where their next meal will come from. The variations of human suffering are great and the resilience of the human spirit inspiring.

So as you go through your day, and indeed , through your life, be kind to those you encounter. You have no idea what burdens they carry or the path they have had to walk. For many of us, every day is marathon day- a day of remembrance, endurance, triumph, and pain.

Avoiding the Empty Calories of Chocolate Easter Eggs

When I was a child, a neighbor who was a devout Christian came over to our house and sat distraught, talking to my mother. She had just returned from the grocery store and found it filled with chocolate bunnies and cream eggs for Easter. She said to my mother, “we, as Christians, have already lost Christmas to commercialism, if we lose Easter too, our religion is in serious trouble.”

What my neighbor was decrying was the substitution of commercialism for content- of surface for substance. When advertisers come in to our lives and try and sell back to us our own experiences, they diminish them. Without question Easter eggs and chocolates are part of many families’ memories of the holiday. But they are not, and never have been, the sum total. The holiday has deep religious significance. Not everyone has religious connections to the holiday, but for them, Easter may also be about time with family and perhaps, the joy of Spring- things similarly not captured by commercials.

The problem is that when advertisers enter the dialogue, they are seeking to place their products at the center of our experience. Sadly, in our world of constant media bombardment, it is easy to lose what is authentic in our own lives. It is easy to let the televised version of events take the place of our own memories- swapping symbolism and commercialism for real connection.

Whether advertisers are painting a picture of the holidays, or love, or fun, or happiness, their aim is always the same- to make us buy things. Their goal is to turn our desire for authentic connection into purchasing. They want to sell us the facsimile and we are all too often willing to buy. But of course, one cannot really buy love or happiness and true religious experiences cannot be purchased at a store.

Our culture is all about convincing us that we do not have enough and that the next purchase will somehow make us whole. We are told that “retail therapy” is the way to cure our ills- when really such therapy results in greater credit card debt, more clutter in our homes and the feeling of emptiness that follows the realization that this purchase has not actually changed our situations in any meaningful way.

For, like the chocolate bunnies and creams eggs, the purchases are devoid of nutritional value. They offer us nothing that can nurture our souls and our lives. This year, resist the Easter Bunny and instead embrace what is real and meaningful in your lives. Find your spiritual center, embrace a loved one, take a walk in nature. Celebrate what is authentic and true in your lives and you will find it is a better therapy than what advertisers would have you purchase.

Exodus from the Narrows

At this time of year the Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Passover in which we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people escaped from slavery and became free.

Although some read the text literally, there are many others who read the story metaphorically. The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim” translated literally as “the narrows.”

What does it mean to be in the narrows? And what does it mean to leave the narrows to become free?

There are many types of Mitzrayim; of “the narrows”. Sometimes the narrows are a physical location in which we find ourselves trapped. Sometimes the narrows are about the relationships in our lives and the constraints they put upon us. But sometimes our Mitzrayims are internal- a narrowness of heart and mind that squeezes and confines us. Leaving such narrowness is indeed a struggle of epic proportions- an Exodus that each one of us may at some point need to embark upon.

Every year Jews are commanded to retell the story of the Exodus, to recall the confinement of Mitzrayim and expansiveness of freedom. It is a holiday that every year invites its participants to feel as though they themselves left Mitzrayim.

I would suggest that the invitation is not merely to remember the Exodus, but to embark upon it. Leaving behind the narrowness in your life can be quite difficult. It can feel like a long and arduous journey. But the rewards of the journey are worth it.

Imagine what it would feel like to escape the narrows of your life; to live in a way that is expansive and open. Imagine what it would feel like to live in a way that honors your values and makes you feel truly free.

In each one of us is the potential for such an Exodus. Our Mitrzayims and our freedoms may be different, but each one of us holds the potential for a meaningful Exodus story, one in which we go from the narrows to more open vistas.

The Duality of Spring

I live in New England and this year, in particular, I feel the hope of the season. There is something life affirming about the arrival of spring- of those first buds on the trees and the shoots of crocuses pushing through the earth- stretching their leaves with the assurance of color and sunny days.

As the dirty snow banks melt away, people’s moods lift. Inherent in spring is the contradiction of dependability and change. Even in the depths of our collective seasonal affect disorder, in the dark days of February (and this year the stormy days of March,) we know that spring will come. We know, just as we know that the sun sets and rises, that spring will arrive. We know that if we can hold on long enough, new life will sprout and color will again populate our landscape. That’s the dependable part.

The second thing that spring offers is the promise of change. As the sun warms the earth with its gentle rays, we begin our spring cleaning. We open the windows to air out our homes and clear away the clutter we have somehow managed to collect since last April. With new life, comes the possibility of new routines and behaviors. With the joy of spring comes the belief that anything is possible. Although many people make new years’ resolutions for change, it is perhaps in April and May that one has the greatest chance of following through on those resolutions (although as I have argued here, we should be making commitments instead).

The season puts a spring in our steps and a smile on our faces. This positivity leads to a spiral of positivity wherein our happier outlook creates the potential for happier outcomes.

So this year as you clean out your cupboards and your closets, do a personal inventory as well. Decide which habits and patterns of thinking no longer fit you. Look at your life and identify the things that are clutter. Open the windows of your soul and let fresh air and new life enter.

Let spring be the season in which you welcome change. Every year we can count on its arrival. Every year we can seize on its promise of change. What will you change this year?