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Peace, Love & Anxiety

The Freedom of Learning

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s very possible that everyone else in the world but me knows this, but I recently learned that the origin of the term “liberal arts education” was based around the idea, long ago, that when it came to learning, if you did not have to learn things to work in order to make a living (because your family had a lot of money, say; or because of other serendipitous circumstances), you were free to learn more about things for the sake of learning them – things like the humanities, the arts, etc. The Latin word for freedom is “libertas,” which the English word is drawn from.

Learning for the sake of learning – learning just because. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? It’s different from how a child learns; a child learns in order to understand the world around them. It’s different, of course, then how a scholar learns, or how a person who works in a trade learns – all of those types of learning have ends to them. Anyone who’s watched a YouTube tutorial (*raises hand*) has learned for the sake of a particular goal in mind.  But learning something just because? There really is freedom in that!

And these days, it’s so easy to do that because of the sheer volume of information that is so readily available to us. If I wanted to, right this minute, I could look up how to create those amazing Japanese fluff-ball edible desserts that are designed to look like a cherry blossom suspended in a raindrop. (I’d make it and I’m sure it would come out looking nothing like it is supposed to, but I could try.)

And I should – and so should you. Not the Japanese cake (although, it does look challenging and delicious; and if you do it, please post a pic in the comments, because you’ve pretty much just become my personal hero), but learning something new – and not because you need to. Because you’ve always wanted to, but never did. And you may not have time (I feel you – I’m a mom of two young kids, and so personal time is an extremely foreign concept to me), but I think this “liberal learning” would be beneficial. And you can find the time, because you can learn new things during your self-care time; the time you take to practice taking care of yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

What’s that, you say? Self-care? To quote that ever-famous meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Indeed. But you and I both know that it is essential to our mental health to find some time, even if it’s just a sliver of a few minutes. And just like looking at glossy Instagram pics of beautifully-plated, delicious whole foods does not make you a nutritionist, neither does just thinking of delighting in something new make you more learned in it. We live in a time period full of accessible knowledge that was unthinkable to people not even a generation before us. We have more time than they did to think liberally (meaning freely – no politics here!) about things; and so I really encourage you to take a few minutes to learn something new just because.

So, take a minute. Close your eyes. Smile, and think of something that delights you. Now, research how to do it / build it / pronounce it. For no other reason than that you delight in it. After you’ve done that, smile again. You’ve learned something new.

Wasn’t that fun?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

What Do You Mean?

I have to go potty!” My daughter called from the other room.  I put down the dish I was washing, slipped off my rubber gloves, and hustled out of the kitchen.

Great!” I told her.  “Let’s go!” I’d been hoping she’d finally gotten far enough in her potty-training journey that she’d be able to recognize when she needs to go on her own, rather than having to rely on my near-incessant reminders throughout the day.

We rushed to the door of the bathroom, and she stopped short.  “I don’t have to go.

Let’s go!” I told her, anxious to get things moving, and not at all excited about the prospect of having to clean up yet another accident.

I don’t have to go.

I looked at her, trying to keep my exasperation level down.  (I was only mildly succeeding.) “You just said you had to go, honey.  Let’s give it a try.

I. Don’t. Have. To. GO!” She screamed, stamping her foot.

I threw up my hands.  “Fine.” I headed back to the kitchen, and was only about a foot away from her when she called out.

Mama, I DO have to go!

***

We had a saying growing up that I plan on making sure I pass down to my kids: Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. It comes from the Bible, and it’s always made sense to me. But as someone who has spent most of her life thus far wanting to be The Favorite, The Most Well-Liked, and The Best Friend Ever, those words gave me a lot of anxiety. There are so many things I want to say, but I’m always so worried – what will the person I’m talking to think? Will they still like me after they hear my thoughts? What happens if they don’t?

I know, I know – my insecurity level? Expert!

I spent so much time in my life tamping down what I think in order to always say the “right” thing – or, rather, what I think others wanted to hear. If I did that, I reasoned, then I could be everyone’s friend. No one would dislike me. It made sense!

Until it didn’t. Because I’ve found that generally, people do two things when confronted with behavior like that: 1) they know exactly what I’m doing; and 2) they don’t like it, because they know it’s not authentic. And I’d get called out on it. And when I did, I’d move through this really interesting cycle of behavior: someone would say, “Is that what you really think?” I’d say yes, then feel awful and terrible about myself afterward, because I knew I was lying – not only to them, but to myself.  It feels awful to deny yourself the truth, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. I didn’t know how to be my authentic self.

Not such a long time ago, I happened to be at the library in my neighborhood when I struck up a conversation with another mother with young children. She was starting the process of homeschooling her oldest, and asked me if I home-schooled or, if I didn’t, if I knew of anyone in town who did.

I don’t,” I said. “But I have many friends who do, they live in another state, but if you want, I can give you some bloggers I read that home school, for ideas.

She shook her head. “Thank you, but no,” she said. “I really just wanted to know if there was anyone local, so I could meet up in person. Thank you anyway.

We got on talking about something else, but that short little bit of conversation was so striking to me, precisely because it was the opposite of something I would do. If our roles were reversed, I’d probably throw a bunch of clarifiers in there, floundering around in conversation, but she didn’t do that. I loved so, so much that she knew exactly what she was looking for, and when she didn’t find it, she thanked me, but also made her point perfectly clear with no animosity, no worries that I was insignificant, and without belittling me. She knew what she was about and communicated it clearly, and didn’t seem to care about my opinion one way or another.

All of this is something I have such a hard time doing! But I was able to use it as a wonderful example in my own life, for clearly communicating my own thoughts and needs. As I’ve been able to learn about how to be assertive, and how to speak up for myself, I’ve been doing my best to listen to others and realize that just because I think one thing does not mean they are any less of a person because they don’t agree with me.  It seems so silly to say that, but it’s what I had been doing, in reverse. Before, if I had spoken my mind, and someone would have disagreed, I would have felt ashamed, or stupid, or less than, even if the person I was talking to didn’t intend those things. But I’m learning now that all of that thinking had to do with my anxiety, not with them.

And so I’m trying to learn, and to practice the skill of clear communication: of my yes meaning yes and my no meaning no. It’s a hard one to master, but it truly feels worth it. It feels authentic! And it feels really good. If insecurity in conversation with others is something you struggle with too, you are not alone! Let’s go through it together.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Taking It In

by Christy Gualtieri

I’ve always been captivated by the the things I “took in.”  When I was a kid, I’d watch a movie and get so caught up in the plot and the scenery, I’d spend a not insignificant amount of time afterward acting like my favorite characters. I devoured books to the point that if I got in trouble at home, those were the first things taken away, not dessert or television time. And when I did get older, and TV took the place of going to the movies (because when you have kids, time to go to the movies significantly decreases), there would be some episodes of shows I’d watch where I couldn’t do much but sit with my mouth wide open, trying to process what I’d just seen. (I mostly did this after every episode of Breaking Bad.)

When I was a kid, I was pretty impressionable. I’m thankful that I grew up around family and friends who were good and decent people and gave me a good example to follow. Most adults grow out of their impressionable-ness, but I don’t know that I have. I think I still have the type of personality where it would be relatively easy for me to change my own feelings and actions after being immersed in some type of popular culture.

And I don’t think I’m alone, either. I think most of us, as cemented as we are in our own thoughts and opinions about things, are still that way. We take in the world around us, and it’s hard not to become immersed in it. Think of how much we’re absolutely bombarded with each and every day. Think of how much we take in when we look at our phones almost as soon as we wake up. If the first thing you see in the morning is the front page of a news site that’s screaming in capital letters about how the whole world’s going downhill faster than anyone could reasonably predict, is it any wonder you start the day in a bad mood? And as the day continues, you’re checking out other people’s lives and what they’re up to, do you feel inexplicably sad, like your life doesn’t measure up somehow? And after getting through your day, what’s the last thing you see on your screen? Will it help you sleep well, or will it put you in an uneasy place that might lead to anxiety-filled dreams?

I don’t say all of these things to judge you if you use your phone all the time. I use my phone way more often than I’d like! But I do say this to remind myself and you, too, that I think these things do matter, even if it’s on a subconscious level. You might not think your actions and your thoughts are so dependent on what you’re taking in, but there is a real connection there. And that’s not to say it’s a bad thing! You just might want to focus on the positive in all of it, instead of just negative.

And do I mean you should throw away your phone, unplug your TV, and bury your head in the sand? No. But I do mean to say that your anxiety and your worry might decrease if you step away from the frenetic static of Internet World and you focus on the world that is directly in front of you, because it’s the world that you live in. It’s so much fun to imagine yourself, as I did when I was a kid, in The Matrix; or in the Civil-War-torn era that the March sisters lived in. But the reality is that you are here, now.  You live where you do for a reason, and you have such power to influence those around you, for the good.

So I’m challenging both you and myself a little bit this week! How can we move (even if it’s a slow, sloth-like pace) away from what we see on a screen, and focus our vision on what’s around us, now, in the present moment? And if there’s nothing of interest there, can we turn again, inward, to ourselves? Our own thoughts, our own feelings? I can assure you that there is a whole world of adventure to be found.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Saying Yes – and No.

by Christy Gualtieri

Recently, my family helped out a neighborhood family up the street while they welcomed their second child into the world.  My kids and husband and I stayed with our friend’s older child, an adorable three year old, and spent the day with him as his parents and new baby brother settled into a routine at the hospital.  Our neighbors had a rough go of it; the delivery had some complications, and although everything, thankfully, turned out all right in the end, there were some really harrowing moments in between the long hours of the day.

Our neighbors were really thankful for our help, and we were glad to do it.  There have been many times that we’ve needed to rely on others, and we try to raise our children to feel that if we can do something to help someone else, we should.

It doesn’t need to be anything big.  It could be offering to babysit, walk a dog, pick up groceries, bring in the trash cans, picking up mail, whatever.  Offering to help an older person cross the road.  Spending some time on the phone with a long-distance friend who is going through a hard time, just offering to lend an ear instead of your opinion.

I have many friends who would do anything for anyone at the drop of a hat, just to lend a hand.  Are you that way?

It makes sense that we should try to help.  But, like everything else in life, helping requires balance.  If you find yourself being the kind of person who says “yes” to helping all the time – maybe more often than you think you can – you can find yourself getting burnt out, and starting to resent doing so much for others.

Helping others also requires saying, “no,” too.  See if this sounds familiar:

“Why isn’t anyone helping me? I do so much for everyone – take time out of my day, with all the things I could be doing, and no one helps me.  Can’t they see I’m struggling? Where’s my help?”

If it does, then it’s time to start saying “no.”  Take care of yourself.  Because if you carry on and try to push through your resentment with gritted teeth, your resentment will cause both you and those you help distress.  Something’s going to give, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Maybe you do have balance – you say “yes” when you can, and “no” when you can’t, which is wonderful!

But…do you also say, “thanks!” Meaning, you let someone help you?  Because it can be common for people to help others all the time, even when they do so responsibly, and not accept any help when it’s offered to them.  Letting someone help you gives them a great gift: it helps them feel like they’re doing something nice, it helps them remember that it’s a good idea to reciprocate and to give after they’ve received something, and it helps you to realize that you are not a superhero who needs to do everything for everyone with nothing in return.

Of course, there are seasons in our lives when we are not in a position to do as much as we would like.  But remember, balance: if you are able to help others in need, please do.  If it causes you distress, anger, or resentment, then don’t (or, find something or someone else to help).  And don’t forget to take up an offer to have the help reciprocated, every once in a while.

In doing all of this, we can help our families, neighborhoods, communities, and world be a much, much better place.

Until next time, be well!
Christy