What’s so funny?

Two guys walk into a bar

I would tell you the rest of the joke, but to be honest, I’m probably one of the world’s worst joke tellers.  I seem to remember either the punch line or the set up, but usually not both of them at the same time.  Fortunately, there are plenty of other people with the gift of doing it much better.

The irony of my flaw is that I LOVE jokes.  I love all things comedy and humorous.  I love stupid comedy like the movies Airplane and Naked Gun.  I love romantic comedies and Stand up comedians; give me a little Kathleen Madigan or John Pinnette. I love shows like Big Bang and Modern Family.  I love to laugh.  I NEED to laugh.   And I need to do it every day or something significant is missing for me. (I also feel this about chocolate but to a lesser degree). 

I watch comedy on TV.  I listen to several comedy channels on Sirius when I’m in the car.  I’ve read humorous books.  And I’m fortunate enough that my husband and my boys are pretty funny.  There is usually a lot of laughter going on in our house even though I am often the butt of the joke (good naturedly).

I keep a folder on my desktop computer with funny movie clips that I love.  Many of these are from the old Saturday Night Live cast:  Chris Farley dressed like a Gap girl and Will Ferrell as the host of Jeopardy with Sean Connery (Darrel Hammond) as one of the guests.  If you know either of these skits you are probably laughing now as well. 

And last but not least, even though I never kept a baby book for either of my boys, I have kept a file for each of them of the funny things they have said over the years.  I am SERIOUS about Funny.

Why?  Did you know that you (guys) can boost testosterone by laughing?  Stress causes cortisol levels to rise.  Cortisone is the anti-testosterone.  When you laugh you lower stress, and by decreasing cortisol, you naturally increase testosterone.

 (https://average2alpha.com/boost-testosterone/)

Laughter:

  • Lowers blood pressure. People who lower their blood pressure, even those who start at normal levels, will reduce their risk of stroke and heart attack. …
  • Reduces stress hormone levels. …
  • Works your abs. …
  • Improves cardiac health. .

https://www.gaiam.com › blogs › discover › 7-health-benefits-of-

laughter

And according to the Mayo Clinic, Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

When you laugh, the diaphragm becomes a powerful pump for your lymphatic circulation, much like your heart serves as the central pump that propels blood through your blood vessels. This assists the lymphatic vessels in carrying this fluid through your body and helps your lymph nodes to clean and filter this fluid, removing waste products, dead cells, and even unwanted microorganisms.

https://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/laughter-immune-system/

The positive impact for your body that comes from laughter is no joke!  I try to live by a quote from Marjorie Pay Hinkley:  “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it.  You either have to laugh or cry.  I prefer to laugh.  Crying gives me a headache.  Put on something funny and have a great day!

‘Twas six weeks before Christmas…

Remember the Waltons or the family from Little House on the prairie?  Christmas for the pioneers was quiet.  Girls in the family might have received a doll or some yarn.  If the family had a prosperous year, perhaps she might get a book and an orange.  Boys often were excited to receive new underwear or maybe a ball or jacks.  Items like the book or the ball were frivolous and thus not part of the family’s normal budget, but the excitement of Christmas might bring a child a little something special.

I grew up in a family where there wasn’t a lot of money for extras.  I always loved Christmas because of the decorations and the lights.  And I could look forward to receiving a gift that I otherwise might not get at any other time of the year.  I remember as a little girl I once got a tall doll that I dragged around everywhere until she had no more hair.  And to this day, I still say the best gift I ever received was the easy bake oven my sister bought for me when I was about five.  I wanted it so badly and played with it for a long time thereafter.

Fast forward to my life as a parent.  I still love to decorate the house and also cook foods that I rarely make at other times of the year.  I love the music and to making my own Christmas cards.  I also love receiving them and hearing from people I don’t regularly talk to.  And of course, I have loved getting gifts for my children, especially when they were small.  I was more heartbroken then they were upon their discovery that Santa was actually me.

The world changed a lot between the Walton era and my childhood.  And it’s changed exponentially faster again between my childhood and that of my children.  I suspect it would take either of my boys a while to answer if asked what they remember getting for Christmas when they were small.  Christmas for them did not stand out as a time to get something more special than they might any other time of the year.  Moreover, they never got one gift, but opening multiple gifts on Christmas morning was an exciting event.

We stopped giving our boys gifts a couple of years ago.  Instead, we made some charity boxes and filled them together as a family event.  But we also told our boys that we would consider their requests for things throughout the year as there wants and needs dictated.  This has worked pretty well because it means they get an item they want rather than my having to purchase another something so the total is even on Christmas morning.  Also, because the item is purchased in a timely manner and its coming as a single item rather than among several, they are more appreciative of it.

My goal in writing this blog is not to tell you how you should or should not do Christmas, Hanukah, birthdays or any other event.  What I am suggesting is that you look at how you do them and ask if they still make as much sense to keep doing it the way we “used to do it” during a time that has very little in common with the time we are living in.  Those earlier gifts had a functionality that created meaning.  Today’s gifts are soaked in marketing and hype and are often easily discarded and quickly forgotten.

Do you buy gifts for people that you would rather not, but feel obligated to?  Do you receive gifts from people that you wish you did not?  Do you feel compelled to take a gift to a gathering “just in case?”  Do you have anxiety over how much money you spend at the holidays? Do you stress over what to get someone who already has everything or who has the means to purchase it themselves?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then I urge you to look at what the holiday spirit is really about.  Regardless of your religion, I suspect most of these holidays are rooted in hope and gratitude, not resentment and obligation. 

Since I’m on a roll, I will ask you to also look at how you commit your time during the season dedicated to joy.  I often watch couples try to play logistical twister by getting to everyone’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents, cousins and neighbors gatherings.  What I’m always intrigued by is that they may be at one of those destinations the day before the event, but it doesn’t count if they aren’t there again on the exact day.  And so while the joy of the holiday might be best appreciated by small children, these are unfortunately the ones who are dragged around, missing naps and bedtimes.  They are cranky and frustrated that they can’t go home and play with whatever gifts they may have received earlier in the day.  Does the food only taste good if it is cooked on a certain day?  Is fellowship only legitimate if it happens on a certain day?  Again, it’s worth asking yourself why you’re willing to volunteer yourself for stress.

How about experimenting with some aspect of your holiday season and see if you can find a new way to enjoy the season with a little less stress?  If you don’t like it, you can always go back to what you’re doing now.  At least you’ll have a better idea of whether or not you are doing things because you really enjoy them rather than feeling you have no control over the choices you make.

How much is enough?

How much is enough?

There once was a young monk wishing to seek enlightenment.  He went to his yogi master and asked, “if I practice my meditation one hour every day, how long will it take me to become enlightened? “  His master replied “It will take 5 years”.  Wishing to hurry the process along, the monk then asked his master, “How long will it take if I practice 2 hours every day?”  The master replied “It will take 10 years”.  Thinking he perhaps not posed his request clearly, he then asked his master “What if I practice for 3 hours every day”?  The master quickly replied “It will take you 15 years”.

Confused the student asked why it would take longer if he practiced more time.  His master explained if you practice by counting the minutes, you are working trying too hard to achieve the wrong goal.  By trying to practice “enough” you lose sight of true intention of practice, which is to quiet the mind. Only when your mind is quiet can you achieve enlightenment.

The thing I’ve learned about all of these great lessons is that they are not things we usually learn and then incorporate forever.  They are things that we must be reminded of again and again.  The world and our lives creep up on us in ways that often distract us from what we know is best for us, but fail to maintain or protect.

This past year I’ve done a lot of art journaling.  At the start of the year I made a bullet page of the books I had read (audio/listen) in 1998.  As I had never kept count prior to that I was surprised to learn I had read 43 books.  I love books and so I set a goal for myself to read 50 in 2019.  The goal seemed innocent enough at the time.  By the end of the first quarter I realized I was effortlessly trending higher than a goal of 50.  So my competitive nature took over and I moved the goal to 75. 

By the mid-point in the year I could see that at the pace I was keeping, 100 could happen if I stayed on track and stepped it up just a little bit.  I accepted my own challenge and forged onward.  And for a while it was going well.

But then I started to notice things.  People would tell me about a pod cast and I had to ignore it because I had no more time to squeeze in anything else.  I watched less TV with my husband because I needed the evenings to listen.  I called my sister less often while driving because I had a book going that I needed to finish.

Then I stumbled upon a couple of books that were just awful.  But once I was an hour or two into them, I couldn’t afford to stop them and start over if I wanted to make my goal.  So I trudged through them resentfully.  There were also several books that were absolutely delightful, and some where I learned new and interesting things. 

But even with a book I really enjoyed reading, I found I was often checking to see how much longer it would take, and planning out the schedule of my next book.  I set aside a couple of longer reads for next year.  And so, like the young monk, I was no longer focused on the enjoyment of reading, but rather the pursuit of a goal to have an arbitrary number of books read.

I began to ask myself why?  Because I could?  So what?  So I could say “I read 100 books this year!”  and then all of the people would love me and think I was the best book reader of all time.  It would make me smarter, taller, faster, the most interesting guest at the party.  Of course not and even if it did, I could care less.  The only thing that would be achieved in reaching my goal this way is that I got through a lot of material by making it my primary focus.  In exchange, I gave up the enjoyment by not being able to take my time, savor the stories and read only what I really wanted to read when I felt like reading.  And to be honest; that sounds kind of dumb and completely unnecessary. 

But look at how innocently it happened.  I gave birth to the idea out of a healthy minded activity.  And then I let my humanness take over.  Rather than looking at my 43 books as a wonderful and satisfying achievement, my brain went to “You can do better”.  Isn’t that the same thing that happens when someone keeps raising the bar of what their income has to be, or the weight goal to achieve or the winnings at the table? 

I feel a little like Forest Gump who after running hundreds of miles just stopped one day.  I’m not going to get to 100 books this year.  There are still seven full weeks left and I have 13 books to go.  But I don’t care.  I’m done.  I’m not done reading.  There are a couple of books I still very much want to read.  But I want to enjoy them and so I’m going to do just that.  They may take me a while to get through because I also have some television to watch, some podcasts to listen to and a sister who would at least occasionally like to hear from me. 

Are you racing around trying to reach a goal while ignoring the lessons and the gifts of the process along the way?  Are you trying to reach goals that used to make sense but don’t any longer?  Are you trading in too high of a price to meet those goals?

Dressing for Success

Imagine this scene if you will.  You wake up in the morning feeling pretty good.  As you go through your closet deciding what to wear, you decide to put in a little extra effort in pulling yourself together.  You pick out one of your nicer ensembles.  When you look at yourself in the mirror, you think “Hmmm, not bad!” giving yourself a modest little compliment.  You add some finishing touches to your hair and face and proceed out into the world with a little bounce in your step.

Walking down the street you notice what appears to be a homeless person coming towards you.  That individual is obviously not dressed so nicely.  Their clothes are tattered and dirty.  As they get closer to you the contrast is very stark between your look and theirs.  Would you willingly trade clothes with that person and take on their look?

Hopefully, you find this proposition ridiculous.  But hold up, this is not a chastisement in favor of altruism or humility.  While most of us would not willingly swap out our “look” for that of another less desirable, isn’t that pretty much what we do when we quickly exchange our good mood and outlook because we interact with someone else that might be pretty grumpy or even downright ugly?

Think about it.

 You’re in a good mood and then someone else who is having a bad day is critical towards you. 

You feel perfectly fine and then you interact with someone who is generally always negative.

You are part of a team or a class and someone with bad manners begins to take over the situation.

These are just a couple of examples to show the way we can so quickly be prompted to toss our good or even neutral mood overboard in exchange for someone else’s less sunny disposition.  Instead of taking the offense as an opportunity to rise by comparison, we often instead sink into the pit of unattractiveness right along with them.

Outward look is easy to spot while feelings/moods are a little bit trickier.  You have to be conscious that in that moment, you have a choice to make.  No one else can do this for or to you.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission”.  I would extend that to say no one can make you feel ANYTHING without your permission.  Or at the least, no one can make you take on a feeling and give it credence without your permission. That is yours alone to choose.

Beyond the few who may be enlightened (of which I’m not one) it’s natural to have our first reaction be a change of feeling when confronted with a situation like I described above.  But what happens next is certainly within our own realm of choice.  We can “take on” the other person’s demeanor or recognize that those clothes fit them better than it does us and move forward wearing what we started out with.  On the other hand, if you find yourself crabby and you see someone else with a more positive outlook in life, feel free to ask them to exchange or at very least, give you tips on where they shop.

Drop and run

My old supervisor Margean Kastner gave me this metaphor:  She said that in childhood we put on a suit of armor to protect ourselves and it does.  But as we get older, that suit of armor does not grow with us and actually begins to impinge upon us.  That was a valuable piece of information that I often still use today.

Like our protective suit of armor we have a tendency to use many tools we have outgrown or are outdated, but we continue to use them nonetheless.  Some like telling our kids how music was better in our day only annoys them.  Other outdated tools can be harmful to us and or others. 

In the recent best seller book Range, David Epstein offers two important examples that I found compelling.  The first was in the circumstances surrounding the Space Shuttle Challenger.  NASA promoted the statement “In God we trust, all others bring data”.  Although some of the engineers on the project had concerns about the heat shield gasket which had failed on previous tests, they did not have any consistent data from which to form an argument.  Thus, no one was willing to take their concerns up the chain of command without data to support their arguments according to Epstein’s reporting.

A second example relates to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 in Helena Montana.   This tragedy, which left 13 firefighters dead, is responsible for changing the way fires are fought today.  Mann Gulch at its beginning was believed to be manageable.  The Smoke jumpers began expecting to put it out somewhat quickly and carried in all of their gear as they always had.  However, once the fire jumped across the gulch and began chasing the fire fighters at 11 feet per second.  The crew foreman yelled to his men instructing them to drop their tools and run.  Only two responded immediately and were able to run to safety.  Ultimately those two men and the foreman were the only 3 who escaped death.  In the aftermath, some bodies were seen still wearing their back packs and or holding their tools in hand.  Men were trained to use their tools and letting them go seemed counter intuitive.  Today’s fire crews understand that the tools they use to stop a fire may well be the thing that stops them from getting out of the fire. 

As a parent currently in the stage of preparing to empty nest, I am learning that the tools of hovering over my children, keeping them safe, knowing their whereabouts and anticipating their needs are becoming obsolete.  Moreover, they at times get in the way of developing a new relationship with my sons as they move towards adulthood. Fortunately they are pretty vocal teachers so I get the lesson.

Culturally, we are undergoing enormous changes that require us to make change.  Technology and robots have and continue to change at a rapid pace, the way we do things.  Clinging to our old familiar tools usually leaves us frustrated and inefficient.  People’s jobs and industries are changing.  Families often now live further apart than they once did.  Avoiding re-training or education can leave you at the end of the hiring line.  Insisting that your family members maintain family traditions despite the inconvenience or expense of navigating geography can make for unnecessary tension.

Take a moment to reflect on which tools you might be clinging to even though they are no longer useful, or at least not useful in some situations.  Are their clothes you hang on to because they remind you of an earlier you?  Are their relationships that no longer fit you and might even be preventing your growth?  Is it time to shake things up with a job change, or a move that you have been avoiding to maintain the status quo?   Sometimes it’s important to stay and develop more proficiency with a tool.  Sometimes its best to drop them and run.  I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts.

To Tell You the Truth

I recently read Malcom Gladwell’s Talk to Strangers.  It was interesting and highlighted the importance of understanding another person’s context before making assumptions that you know or understand them or their actions.  Point well taken.

One class day during my doctoral program we were given a copy of an assignment written by a young boy.  The writing was barely legible and our task was to look at what he said and attempt to make inferences base on our great intellectual knowledge (we believed we had) of who this boy was and what might be some of his issues. 

The thread that stood out most for me is that my classmates unanimously deduced the child was the first born male in his family because the boy shared the same name as his father.  I was very confused by this because my parents are first generation Americans born to immigrant Italian parents.  Thus, in keeping with their cultural ties my parents named their first son after my paternal grandfather, their second son after my maternal grandfather, and finally their third born son after our father.  Based on this, I concluded the author in our assignment would have more likely been a third born son.  So much for our great knowledge.

It is common to for us to stick firmly entrenched in what we believe to be true.  The country is split nearly 50/50 in political views.  Religion purports truth strong enough to create wars among nations.  Individual and differing recollections of the truthful transcript of a previous conversation can result in a very unpleasant evening for a married couple.

Most of us can remember the story of George Washington who could not tell a lie or of honest Abe as our elders imprinted the importance of honesty upon our developing minds.  But as we get older, it becomes more apparent that truth is a somewhat slippery concept.  Just because we believe something, doesn’t make it true.  Just because others collectively believe something doesn’t make it true.  And to make matters more confusing, just because something was true at one time, doesn’t mean it will always remain true. 

Going to the dictionary to understand truth does not yield much clarification.  According to Oxford: 1)  truths is “That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.”  So far so good, but a second definition 2) “A fact or belief that is accepted as true” only mucks the whole discussion up again.  If I accept that Aliens visited my neighborhood last night to explain why a trash can was knocked over does that make it true?  Suppose I saw a bright light and heard sounds and thought I saw something really unfamiliar to me knocking over the trash can.   Now I discuss it with my neighbor who does not believe Aliens are real.  Does my neighbor’s lack of acceptance mean that Aliens are not a truthful explanation?  Am I wrong, or untruthful?

Raising these questions is far beyond a semantic tug of war.  I am often witness to people telling me what they believe to be “the truth”.  I don’t use the word believe to suggest they are lying or even wrong in their story versions.  But as I listen, I try to remind myself that this is a person’s story that they believe to be true and that the story regardless of its thesis, most likely occurred in a context of other people who may have alternative versions of the same experience. 

So why does this matter? Let me offer some examples.  Suppose John tells me that his wife is frequently complaining about him and he can never make her happy regardless of how much he tries to please her.  But his wife may feel that the truth is that John is committed to his work and his golf game and that she gets only a left over version of him.  She does not consider that he may be working at a job that he doesn’t particularly enjoy but does so because he is trying to provide for her in a way that he hopes she will find pleasing.  He cannot understand why she is unhappy with him when he is trying to do the right thing by her.  John may not be aware that she would rather have more time with him than a fancy house to live in.

Here is another:

A woman told me today that her little boy noticed another woman while they were out walking.  The stranger was not well kept according to the mother, was large in stature, but they shared a similar hair color.  My client, unhappy with her own size was appalled that her son saw what she thought was an unattractive likeness.  She was caught between feeling that either her son was wrong or more likely that she was miscalculating her own level of attractiveness.  She felt she was forced to consider the truth about her size.

I see that her size is her size and not something that either tells truth or is measured by truth .  The scale is one measure, her clothing size is another.  The way her husband’s arms wrap around her and the way her son cuddles in to her body when he wants to snuggle are also measures.  None of these is in and of themselves complete, nor are they validations of the truth.  Even the scale will give a variety of readings within a day much less a week or more.  These are measures of what they measure at that moment in time.

I’m not trying to suggest that we give ourselves permission to lie because truth can’t be found.  I am, however, suggesting that we consider that the truth we are willing to die on the sword for is often less stable than we may have previously considered.  And lest we set out to crucify another for their belief, try to remember that the context in which they developed their truth may be very different than our own.  Perhaps it’s time to consider tolerance over proof.

Don’t go there

This past weekend I drove with my husband Ben to Kansas State University, the home of his alma mater.  The occasion was a reunion of the folks in his dorm from many moons ago.  We had a lot of fun, enjoyed some great food and met some nice people.  Several blogs ago I introduced you to one of those people as “The best friend I never met”.  Well, this past weekend, Mo and I finally met in person after 20 years of being pen pals.

As we started to get into the weekend, my husband who knows me well asked “Is there going to be a blog that comes from this?”  I answered “Probably several.”  I gleaned many observations over the weekend, not the least of which was watching how a group of people that meant so very much to each other long ago could pick up right where they left off as if time had never passed.  I did not have a traditional college experience, and so it was interesting for me to watch and learn about how they really had become a little family during those developmental years and still remembered each other’s stories even after the passing of much time.  Sadly, when they toured their own dorm this year they noticed that unlike their era, the once always open doors were now all closed.  Gone were the days of feeling free to drop in on each other and grab a piece of pizza without an invitation.  Presumably the current dorm mates are each in their own space talking via technology rather than leaving a message in full view on the dry erase board.  The times; they are a changing.

So as I said, Mo and I have been exchanging emails, text messages, an occasional voice text, letters and cards for over 20 years.  We’ve learned along the way that we have so much in common.  We each had our first child the same year, just a couple of months apart.  I went on to have my second and then a year later Mo did the same.  I have two boys, she has two girls.  Mo’s younger daughter was born with Down’s Syndrome.   This is clearly not an area that I have much training or personal experience with, but I do know that watching Mo over the years from afar has been an act of witnessing grace in action.  Sometimes I delude myself into thinking I also have a relationship with her daughter because I sometimes send her little notes or trinkets and she always delights me with a return card that she has made.  But it is a delusion, because I only see a minuscule fraction of what life must really be like both for and with her daughter “S”.

As we walked along the campus Mo made a comment to me about the anticipation of empty nesting.  Once we got to a more settled spot I decided to ask her for clarification.  As much as we have shared via our pen pal relationship, I have never felt comfortable asking some questions without first meeting her in person, and to be present when asking them.  Basically I wanted to know what she thought the longer term outlook meant for S.  Mo’s comment about looking forward to empty nesting gave me the opportunity and I plunged.

Mo was both thoughtful and candid as I’ve come to expect from her.  But she also began to get tearful.  There we were sitting in a meeting room in the architecture building with people nearby and I was making Mo cry.  How’s that for adding a happy memory to your husband’s weekend? I made a feeble attempt to give Mo an out so she could end the conversation but she declined.  And then she said the most important thing of all.  “Actually, it’s good to be able to talk about this.  Most people really don’t want to.”  She continued to share a little bit more, we exchanged some thoughts and then moved on to rejoin the rest of the group.  But it was only after that conversation took place, I finally felt as if I actually knew the actual Mo rather than the person I had developed in my mind based on our written dialogue.

There are two points I think worthy of highlighting.  First, while grateful that technology has allowed us to connect these many years, it has also been a limited connection even when it has felt like more.  That is why I think the observation about the kids in their closed door dorm rooms seems significant.  All too often we can feel as if we know someone because we talk to them a LOT through technology.  We think we say all of the same things we would if we were in person.  But my experience has taught me that, there is a very big difference between hearing someone say “That makes me cry”, and watching the tears fall down their cheeks.  There is also a difference in feeling someone actually see you cry (or laugh) than simply telling them about it with an LOL or emoji.

Second, as we spend less time face to face, there are fewer opportunities for someone to ask and answer those deeper questions.  But even when we are face to face, most of us don’t want to ask “What does fine mean?”  And as a result, more of us are reluctant to answer anything except the perfunctory “Fine” to the question of how are you?

The death of a spouse, the illness of a child, the collapse of a business, a divorce and many other life altering events have an impact on us long after the funeral, positive test results, bankruptcy filing and removal of the wedding band on our finger.  But people on the outside know only when the “event” has ended.  Or perhaps we have even cried on their shoulder for “awhile” and then tell ourselves or they tell us it’s time to move on.  But just because a person has moved on, doesn’t mean they yet know how to move forward in a life re-defined from their previous plan A.  Mo wasn’t lamenting about having a child with Down’s.  She was long past that, but she is trying to figure out how having an adult child with Down’s looks like as she and her husband also get older.   The woman who’s husband passed away 3 years ago accepts his death, but still has to figure out how to pare down the house they shared on her own so she can move forward.  The mother of the ill child now recovered may be grateful, but she now has to live with a reality of fragility she may not have considered previously.  And the divorced partner may be sad or relieved by the dissolution of a marriage, but they still have to figure out a new normal that will continue to evolve over many years ahead while still carrying remnants of a past life with someone who is no longer present.  And often, so very often, all they really want and need is for someone to give them the time and space to allow them to clear their minds and set the burden down for just a little while.  For someone to go beyond “fine” and let them process their thoughts so they can continue to not to stay stuck, but rather to find their footing forward.

How many people do we interact with daily in only pretend communication because we text to avoid speaking.  How many people do we possibly encounter that we keep conversation only to that which does not make either of us uncomfortable?

What’s Love got to do with it?


My puppies are now a year old.  I wasn’t writing during the events of last year, but a week after my oldest son Alex left for the Navy, and 3 days after my youngest Andrew left for a 3 week camp we had to put our 13 year old German shorthair dog, Snickers to sleep.  It broke our hearts.
I lasted about two months before I convinced my husband that we needed another dog.  And then I came home with two.  The new girls are the same breed, as Snickers; German Shorthair Pointers.  These two are named Millie and Olive and are a handful to say the least.  They swim in the gold fish pond and have dug major trenches in the yard.  They have chewed on furniture, eaten countless phone ear pieces, electronic training collars, shoes, cash from my wallet, the comforter on the bed, and a list that goes on a lot longer.  And by the time each night rolls around, we still say to each of them “You’re a good girl and I love you so.”
Love is a funny thing.  It’s one word with many meanings.  It’s not just that it means one thing to me and another to you, although that is true, but it also means one thing to me, and then can mean something different to me depending on when I’m using it.  But so often when we think about whether or not we love someone, or don’t love them as the case may be, we tend to think it has something or everything to do with the other person.  I believe it has everything to do with our own hearts and heads and the stories we tell ourselves.
I say I loved Snickers because she was a good girl.  But I love Millie and Olive who are ridiculously mischievous  girls.  It seems their behavior actually has little to do with how I feel about them, because if it did, I would have given them away to a puppy orphanage long before now.   Instead, I seem to be able to look beyond my torn up shoe and see only the adorable puppy eyes that routinely melt my heart.
I have often said to my sons “Your dad drives me bat____ crazy.  And that is precisely how I know I love him.  Because even after he has done so, I still want to be with him at the end of the day and so I know it must be love.”   It is love which allows me to look beyond the parts of him that make me want to kill him in his sleep sometimes.   I still wake up each morning despite the fact that my snoring has kept him awake most of the night.  I suspect, he too must have loving feelings for me that are stronger than sleep deprivation can break within him.  Love is a very powerful force indeed.
Think about the example of a new baby.  (or if you prefer, stick with the puppy metaphor).  But new babies are generally speaking not that attractive, even though most of us parents don’t realize that until we look at the hospital infant photo about a year later.  That new baby doesn’t do anything except cry and fill diapers.  They bring no dowry to the relationship and in fact cost us an arm and a leg.  In short, they bring nothing to the table.  And yet, we are immediately smitten with the little creatures, full of love in our hearts and eyes.  We imagine all sorts of scenarios ahead filled with joy because of the love we have for this little “soon to be person” despite the reality that he or she has done absolutely nothing to “earn” that love except show up.  But even in the anticipation of them showing up, we start growing immense feelings for them.  So how then, can it be that love comes from the outside?
Admittedly, it is difficult some times to find the feelings of love within us when the other person behaves in certain ways.  It is hard to feel loving when you’ve asked someone to do something repeatedly and they ignore you.  It’s hard to feel loving when someone behaves inappropriately.  It’s hard to feel loving when you are expecting someone and they don’t show up for you.  That is when it’s easy to say I don’t love them because of their behavior.  But their behavior is just that:  theirs.  And our reaction to that behavior is a choice we make in accordance with our expectations.  When the person does things that fulfill our expectations, we love.  When they don’t fulfill our expectations, we choose to not love.   We don’t love or not love because of their behavior, but rather because our expectations and stories are filled or disappointed.  Thus, we don’t love or not love because of who they are, but rather because of who we are.  

Thank you to the incredibly generous responses I got for my last blog.  Apparently I’m still technologically challenged and did not have the link to the web comments page working but hope I have it fixed for now.  Also, an astute reader suggested that I request you make reviews on Google rather than health grades.  I will be greedy and ask for both.  Remember, I have a few more years to work as I have puppies to feed.

You can check out any time you like… but you can never leave (The Eagles, Hotel California)

People keep asking me if I am still writing my blog.  I tell them yes, but only in my head.  I have written some really good stuff there, but it seems that none of it has made it on to the screen.  So when I was asked again yesterday, I decided I would give it a shot and see what comes out.  Here goes:

I have a few regular sayings.  You may have heard some of them.  One of them is “Therapy is supposed to make you feel better, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen today”.  I usually pull that one out when someone is in a really tough spot and I have no great fix all answer, or I have to deliver news to them that they would rather not hear.  Yesterday was that kind of day.

I sat with a young woman whose life is breaking apart from all that is familiar to her.  It’s painful.  I told her life is painful when you do dumb stuff and screw it up and then have to face hard consequences.  But it’s harder still when you feel like you’ve played by the rules, worked hard, and done it “the right way” and it still doesn’t turn out like its “supposed” to.  It seems unfair.  It seems brutal.  It seems pointless to keep trying.  Most people have this experience at one point or another.  Some people seem to have it at a level of unbearable frequency or intensity. 

So how does one find the energy, motivation, hope, courage or perhaps blind faith to pick themselves up and keep going?  Not everyone does.  Some people give up.  They end their lives.  And some people keep physically alive but they shut down to a level in which they merely exist, waiting for their time to on earth to come to an end.  Sometimes the latter is facilitated with an addiction that keeps one so numb, they are no longer aware of their original pain, but become embroiled with the pain caused by the addiction itself instead.

People in the throes of despair usually feel alone in a private hell believing that not only is their pain too great to bear, but that they are in a hole where no one else can or cares to reach for them.  They feel certain that ending or giving up is personal and won’t really matter to anyone else.  And that even if it does, another’s concern or misery will be short lived and forgotten sooner than later.

As Wally Lamb says “This much I know is true”.  I can only speak from my own experience, both my personal reactions and the stories told to me over the years.  There is a blue plaid teddy bear that sits on the bookcase in my office.  It was a gift I gave to a client many years ago.  It was returned to me a few years ago by her sister after my former client committed suicide.  In the time I had seen her she contemplated it many times and we always managed to talk it through.  When she was in despair, she always told me no one would remember her.  A few years after we finished our work, I learned she had taken her life.  I still remember her.  I don’t need the bear on my shelf to remind me but I keep it there as if to keep some part of her alive and to bear witness to her pain.  When she left, she may have ended her pain.  I hope so, but she also deprived the world of something good and strong, smart and creative, capable and wise in ways she didn’t know and didn’t live long enough to prove to herself.  And most of all, she left the potential of joys not yet known.

Last week I saw a different young woman.  I met her a couple of years ago and after only a couple of sessions with me she made a very real suicide attempt that she survived only by the grace of God.  Today that same woman is getting married soon; to a man that is her best friend.  She has a job she likes and hopes to have a family.  All of these are things she could not imagine when she was in despair.  Had her suicide attempt been successful, her best friend would be looking to a different kind of life ahead.  Her children would have no chance to be born.  Her mother would still be experiencing an unbearable grief and trying to remember how to answer the question “How many children do you have?”

Agreeing to try again provides no guarantee that you will win the prize.  It provides no promise that things will not get worse again.  Trying again only means that you fully accept being human and to fulfill the contract of being here to do whatever it is you are supposed to do, even when you aren’t sure what that is.  Just as your mind takes in a million marketing and social cues everyday unconsciously, so too does it take in interactions as small as a nod or a smile.  You may never know how you being where you are at any given moment affects another person and helps them get along more easily in the world.

So just as therapy doesn’t always make you “feel better” the moment you want it too, this blog, long awaited by some, won’t likely provide the “feel good” message they may have hoped for.  But I hope it will touch just one person who thinks trying again, doesn’t make sense.  More importantly, I hope it will touch people who are in a good place to use some of their grace by looking a little bit longer at the stranger who may be struggling and ready to give up and offer them a smile or an act of kindness.  There are so many ways to do this with so little effort on our part. 

When I drive through the McDonalds (yes I’m admitting this) in Eureka, the person who takes the money hands out a dog treat when I have my dog in the car.  She has done this for a couple of years.  I tried to give the manager some money to go towards the treat fund assuming the employee was paying for this with her own money.  The manager informed me that a gentleman who lost his own dog supplies the branch with treats and makes sure they never run out.  I’ll never meet him.  And it’s not that my dog can only get a treat if she goes to McDonalds.  But the act warms my heart and reminds me that there is goodness in the world and that we always have a choice to turn pain into something productive.

On a final note, I now have “What would Mary Say” bracelets.  Yes, for those of you who enjoy remembering some of the things I say or more realistically, they serve as a reminder to listen to yourself the way I listen to you, stop on by my office for yours.  They are silicone bands (like the Lance Armstrong livestrong).  If you are an out of towner, send me a note. 

And finally, I have a favor to request.  I am trying to be more mindful that we now live in the age of technology and that I should actually join that movement.  If you have something positive to say, I would appreciate a review at Healthgrades.com
If you have something not so favorable to say, I hope you’ll write that to me and give me the opportunity to address it first.

Life’s a Pain


I’m back in the saddle so to speak.  I still have a gimpy arm, but I’m managing pretty darn well and seem to have had the good fortune of having had a lot less pain than most people with this experience.  It’s still a process that will take a few more months to have a “normal” arm.  The rest of me will likely never get there.
In my down time I received so many beautiful notes from many of you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart and I mean that with all humility and sincerity.  Your notes and calls lead me tot the realization that I will likely never retire.  I am so blessed to have a job I love so much.  Thank you.  Thank you.

As many of you know, I keep a write board on my waiting room wall.  The current quote on that board is “If you aren’t willing to change, don’t expect your life to”.

So often, we think about changes we want to have occur in our life but unfortunately we don’t connect the realization that we are the ones who actually have to take step by step actions in order to make those changes occur.  Even if we do get that far, many of us would like to take the action once or twice, for maybe a week, but certainly not from here on out!.  We want to diet for a day and lose 50 lbs.  Quit drinking for a month and be “over it”.  Or, we want to send out a resume and have a great job land in our lap.  We might date the same type of person over and over, and believe he or she will change “this time”.

Last week I heard myself saying to someone “The illusion of comfort you feel right now is preferable to the pain you will feel if you make a change.

Make no mistake.  Change often brings discomfort if not all out pain.  Often, our perception and anticipation of that pain is magnified in our minds and we believe we can avoid it by not embarking on that change.  We make a mental pro and con list in our head and determine that the comfort we get in this moment (pre change) is not so bad.  Heck, it might even feel good IN THIS MOMENT.  But we miss that it may be costing us a hefty price by continuing the status quo.  

 Continuing to spend what we can’t afford because obtaining an item makes us happy, doesn’t take into account the pain when the credit card comes and we can’t pay the balance.  But in the moment of putting those goods in our shopping cart, we maintain the illusion of our current comfort and don’t want to feel the pain of not going home with our goodies.
Continuing a relationship that is not good for us may feel preferable to the thought of ending and having hurt feelings to consider.  But what about the pain of missing out on a relationship that might be better for us?

I notice this within myself when I want to avoid my “painful” therapy exercises on my arm at a time that I feel completely comfortable doing something else

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.   But not doing them means my arm fails to strengthen and the process goes on longer than it needs to creating far more pain.

Pain is part of living.  The sooner we come to terms with that and stop trying to run, hide or dress it up in lies for ourselves, the sooner we become able to stay in the moment of our present lives.

I will remember you

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 I met a man once who said he wanted to get rich enough to sustain a fund that would enable his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on to be able to go to Disney World once a year.  He felt that they would enjoy themselves and remember him fondly.  I wasn’t very optimistic.  I thought a generation or so down, people would not remember him, but remember that there was some relative who had created a hopefully fun experience for them.  They would perhaps, enjoy the thought of him at best.

Do we remember John Wayne or Steve Jobs?  We remember what they left for us.  We enjoy their achievements.  But who were they as individuals?   Most of us never knew them, and so to miss them seems peculiar to say.  Is it enough to be remembered for what we did?  Or does it matter who we did it for?

Earlier this summer my father in law passed away.  Russell was not quite 93.  He fortunately had not been sick for very long and I believe was ready when his time came.  His two youngest children, one of which is my husband, were with him when he died.   It was evident by his last words that he knew they were with him and I believe he took great comfort in that knowing.

My in laws were not special, but they were as extraordinary as I understand the word to be.  They were ordinary, somewhat simply lived people, but they did everything to their fullest capacity.  They were kind.  At my mother in law’s memorial a couple of years ago, so many people shared stories of how Russ and Marge had helped them over the years.  They fixed things, baked things, drove people where they needed to go, lent them a dollar or two and even housed people who needed housing on occasion.   Upon Russ’s death, grandkids posted stories on Facebook about their memories.  These included fishing, hunting for mushrooms, sewing, cooking, making S’mores and watering the pecan trees at the farm. 

The elder Young’s will not be remembered by millions or thousands.  They might not be remembered beyond another generation.  I wear my grandmother’s engagement ring.  My children never knew her and were young enough that they barely remember my own mother.  But remembering and knowing are two different things.

My children know their great grandmother because so many of her qualities still reside within me.  My love for cooking undoubtedly was passed on by her to me.  I can still remember how she taught me to bake bread when I was only seven or eight years old.  And I share my love of cooking and baking with my family, not just as something I do, but something that is at my core.

My husband has so many fine qualities that are linked to his father.  I see many of the same traits in our oldest son as well.  Our youngest son sometimes has his grandfather’s laugh.  Likewise, my husband’s five sisters all possess some of the same gifts as did my mother in law.  And I see many of these traits passed on to their daughters as well.  They are crafty and creative just as she was, but each in their own way.

I suppose what I’m really trying to convey here is that our lives are less about our own stories and more about seeing them as chapters in a larger book.  Once the chapter closes, the book continues to build upon what was just conveyed.  The value in our lives is perhaps more contingent upon the simplicity of the subtleties we leave behind in the people we love rather than the notable achievement others who do not know us will attach to our name.   If that is accurate, then living well, being extraordinary and nurturing the growth of those around us, are our best hopes for immortality. 

 

Beauty and The Beast

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I had an encounter recently that was reminiscent of many I’ve had over the course of my career.  I’m going to describe it as pertaining to a woman, but there are male versions that come to mind as well.   It goes something like this.  I’m sitting with a young woman in her mid 20’s to mid 30’s.  It’s a beautiful, accomplished, smart woman with a lovely disposition.  And she is telling me about her low self confidence, esteem, unattractiveness and perhaps even a lack of merit.  The Beauty and her Beast.

Her beast is the version of herself that lives inside telling her everything that is not only not okay with her, but is the opposite version of what most of us on the outside believe we are seeing when we look at her.  We may seem kind, encouraging and may even believe we have empirical evidence when we try to contradict her Beast, but we are often no match.  The Beast has held her captive for quite some time.

What about those of us who aren’t strikingly beautiful, don’t have stellar credentials, or won’t get invited to Mensa?  How are we supposed to feel great about ourselves when the people we aspire to emulate still don’t get to feel that they are even near the finish line?  Does that mean OUR Beasts are real or justified?

I think not.  I think part of the human condition is that we are a constant work in progress and because of that, we never feel “ready” or complete.  There is some merit to that idea, as it is a motivator towards expanding ourselves.  But how about evaluating the incompletion simply as a stage rather than a judgement?  When I bake brownies, I know that at the half way point they are simply not done rather than flawed and incapable of reaching optimal tastiness.

One of my favorite children’s books is called “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet.  The little boy who is afraid of the nightmare in his closet discovers that his nightmare is equally afraid of him and he has to ultimately comfort the nightmare.  Perhaps our beast is really just an untamed, part of ourselves who may even have been unjustly wounded a long time ago rather than an abusive dictator to whom we must submit.  Maybe we could see our Beast as perhaps uneducated, or lost in an earlier time.  Maybe our Beast is really a product of collective voices that no longer fit in the world we now live within.  Or maybe our Beast is just a scared part of us that needs to be comforted so it will stop being a bully.

Either way, it becomes increasingly clear to me that achieving something on the outside is not what will make us feel better, ready, richer, happier.  We are who we are, and while we hopefully will continue to grow and evolve until our last breath, the state of feeling enough is ours simply for the price of deciding it is so.  Beasts need not apply.

 

 

Freedom and modern day slavery

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So it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Perhaps I’ll start again- time will tell.  I love to write in this blog, and yet a million other things call my attention away from doing so.  And that is part of what prompts this post.

Let me start before the actual content in saying that this is not in any way intended to be a political blog, and would appreciate there not be any comments of the same.  Politics is a very volatile subject these days and I prefer to keep that out of my therapeutic realm.  I also want to state clearly that my use of slave and its derivatives that follow are in no way intended as a comparison to historical slavery.

So today is the Fourth of July.  It’s our national celebration of our freedom from the British.  We have pool parties, eat good food, watch fireworks and socialize.  Perhaps we fly our flag and spend a few minutes thinking patriotic thoughts.  We celebrate what it means to be free.

But despite my own recent efforts with some points in the win column, I am aware of how easy  and prevalent it has become for us to enslave ourselves.  We become slaves to our jobs, our commitments, our homes, our families, cultural trends and while the list can go on, most of all, slaves to our fears.

Words that define slave:  owned by another, works excessively hard, forced to obey.  Certainly my assertion doesn’t meet that definition in the literal sense.  And yet, I see people every day (and sometimes myself) working very hard to meet the demands of someone or something that is not me.  An “other” be it a job one stays late to work at when they wish they were with their family.  A socially inspired trend that requires spending outside of one’s comfortable budget.  A body that is punished beyond reasonable limits in order to maintain a culturally identified ideal.

But unlike true slaves, we do this however unknowingly by choice.  We put ourselves in the small box like prisons of behaviors and repeat them day after day both because they are familiar and because they are so often unexamined.  This jail has no lock on the door, but we so often go years before we wander over and give it a tug and discover we could have walked out all along.

Fear is perhaps the most insidious of our masters.  It keeps us faithful and in check.  So often, our fears began a very long time ago and are tied to circumstances that no longer exist.  Yet our actions which support them continue to persist.

So today is Independence Day.  Brave people of long ago and soldiers still today die for our right to be free.  Are you brave enough to light a sparkler to begin your own emancipation today?  Here is a quote I recently came across:

One of the  most courageous decisions you’ll ever make

Is to finally let go

 of what is hurting your heart and soul

Bridgette Nicole

 

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

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No you didn’t fall of the email list.  I just didn’t do a blog last week.  I decided to try my hand at decorating sugar cookies instead.  Why?  Why not?  My son was performing in a cello recital and I wanted to bring some fun food.

I watched a video and thought, Hmmm this looks easy enough.  So I gave it a try.  Wow, was my experience a lot different than the one of the woman in the video.  My entire kitchen and my body were covered in flour, icing, icing dye, utensils.  It was a major mess.  As of this writing, I still haven’t mastered the skill but I haven’t given up.  I heard Mark Cuban say the other day that he spent 10 years becoming an overnight success.  So if and when I achieve cookies designs that are magazine worthy beautiful, I’m going to tell everyone it was easy. 

Years ago I used to give a lecture with a slide show that contained a slide of a young woman sitting on the back of a lawn chair at the beach.  I used to ask the audience if they wished they could look like the perfect model featured and many said yes.  Then I let them know the model on the magazine probably wished for that as well, because the photo had been digitally enhanced to make her look the way she was portrayed.

Despite knowing this, so many of us deplete ourselves by trying to achieve the look that we feel someone else has, even if we have no idea how authentic their success is or isn’t.  Is it any wonder that we are a nation functioning in large part due to antidepressants?  How can we foster happiness when we live in a perpetual state of feeling as if we are incapable of achieving what we believe others have, in a system that is basically rigged?

I’m not playing the victim card.  Anything but!  I’m playing the “use your critical thinking skills” card.  I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad idea to try and achieve a goal.  But the goal should be realistic and personal rather than as a way to mimic another that you hold in unrealistic esteem.  Even if that person has genuinely achieved a particular goal, you can’t possibly have all of the same predispositions and life conditioning experiences to achieve exactly what they have done.  And they aren’t you.  You have gifts that they can’t or won’t achieve.

So here is what really happened since I started this blog post.  The first batch of cookies looked really horrible.  Picture a kind of “Picasso” cello where none of the parts line up quite right.  And they didn’t taste very good.   So I gave it my best shot and made a second batch.  And they looked well, slightly less horrible, but they tasted really good.  So I took those to the recital.  They were to be eaten, not hung in a gallery and thus, I deemed them “good enough”. 

I’m still planning on taking a live class this weekend because I still want to learn.  But I don’t feel badly about not knowing how to decorate beautiful cookies.  I’ve had no practice, I’m not particularly artistic, and frankly, I have virtually no idea what I’m doing.  The woman in the video made beautiful cookies, but I’m going to guess that she wouldn’t make a good therapist.  And even if she would, I suspect there are still other gifts that I possess which she does not.

This week, instead of looking at something that someone else has that you don’t, try focusing in on your gifts.  This may require that you look at yourself a little differently than you do normally.  If you want to take a real risk in growth, tell someone else about something you do really well.  Celebrate yourself!  And if you need any decorated cookies to help you celebrate, call me.  I just can’t guarantee you’ll recognize them as what I say they are.

True Confessions

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I’m a mom.  Mom’s have a way of becoming somewhat psychotic or at least neurotic when it comes to defending and protecting their children.  I am no exception.  I remember when my eldest son Alex was about 3 years old and I dropped him off at the play yard of his preschool.  A couple of 4 year olds came along and wanted to take a little tricycle away from him.  I had to hold myself back to keep from wanting to beat up his 4 year old school mates.

Fast forward to today where I’ve reached a supposed level of maturity, which I have actually but not always when it comes to my kids.  Recently there was a situation involving my younger son Andrew.  I felt like he wasn’t getting the kind of recognition I felt, or rather I KNEW he deserved.  I found myself behaving in a less than attractive way uttering unfortunate descriptions of his competition.  Even while I was doing it, I knew it felt wrong, but I let the criticism roll off my tongue.  At least I had the good sense to do it mostly in private.

And then I went back to reading Cheryl Strayed’s book “Dear Sugar: Advice on love and life”.  While I don’t agree with every single piece of the book, I found it to be generally lovely.  Strayed is a wonderful writer, an old soul and is a human being with more compassion in her bones then should be allowed.  I stumbled upon the following passage that had nothing to do with protecting your kids or permission to be a momma bear.  But here it is:

“When I feel jealous, I tell myself to stop feeling jealous and to stop being a jealous person.  The cure for feeling jealous is to stop being a jealous person.”

Profound rocket science right?  It is incredibly simple, and yet the key is not to simply utter magic words and the behavior stops.  It means to ACTUALLY CHANGE the behavior and then the feelings will stop because there is no behavior for them to take root within.

When I thought about what I was really feeling, I was behaving in my own child (me as a little person- not Andrew) voice.  I was feeling the many times that I didn’t win the prize or get picked for the team.  And by projecting that on to Andrew in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about teaching him that he could not win the prize and still be okay.  More importantly, I wasn’t thinking about how many times I DID win the prize, and did get picked by the team and someone else did not.  I don’t recall times when I got picked and I started feeling how unfair it was that someone else did not.

This realization allowed me to realize that to stop feeling jealous, I needed to stop looking at what the other kids had done or not done.  I needed to consider that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  To not win doesn’t mean that you are a loser.  It simply means you didn’t win this time.  To stop being a jealous person, I needed to focus on Andrew’s many accomplishments and to realize the joy that those bring to both him and me.  With that in mind, it’s hard to behave in a jealous way, because there is nothing to be jealous about.  Jealousy is not a flattering emotion on anyone.  It speaks to a sense of lack, which is a condition created entirely from within rather than externally.

Our little selves are alive and well inside all of us.  We want them to be because they contain many wonderful memories, vulnerabilities, innocence and raw emotion.  But those parts of our selves also need to be parented by our more mature and wise self.  They need to be protected and treated with compassion and they do not like to have their left over wounds ignored or pushed away by our adult parts.

Any time we find ourselves operating in an irrational or overly emotional way, I believe it is our child self that just took the driver’s seat.  Rarely does this prove to be a good strategy. 

If The Shoe Fits


A number of years ago a woman came into see me because she was incredibly frustrated with her husband.  She sat down and began telling me that her husband recently told her she was crazy!  She obviously found this very hurtful.  I agreed and asked her to provide some context.

She went on to explain that they had been eating dinner at home.  When he finished his meal he pushed his plate forward a bit, stood up from his chair and began to leave the table.  She quickly told him that he needed to put his plate in the sink and that is when he told her she was crazy.

I asked her if this was an unusual act for him and if he normally put his own plate in the sink.  She quickly responded saying “NO! That’s the problem.  For twenty years he has been leaving his plate on the table for me to put it away.  But on that night I had had enough and told him he needed to do it himself.  And that is when he told me I was crazy!”

I looked at her and told her she was crazy!

I’m not usually so blunt, but this was so blatant, and yet she was unable to see what was happening.  For 20 years she had been teaching her husband that she would take care of his plate.  She may not have liked doing it; she may have thought it unfair, but she was actively maintaining an expectation for 20 years.  And then one day she changed the rules and became angry with HIM for not jumping on board when she changed her expectations and his.  She never considered the possibility that he may have some surprise, much less aversion to the new rule.

Everybody knows that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.  But another definition is abruptly changing the rule that you have personally contributed to designing and maintaining.  So is expecting everyone else to acquire the same level of motivation and commitment for that change by osmosis.

I am seeing a number of women in particular right now who seem to be struggling with getting their husbands to accept new rules because dynamics have changed for these women.  Some have gone back to work, others have started a family.  In some cases these women have simply matured in their needs

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. As they get more pressured for time, or simply grown tired of continuing to do for their husbands what they may have eagerly signed up for in the past, they want their husband to “want to change” in the way their wives want them to change.  What many women (and some men as well) fail to consider is that their partner was in part attracted to them because of the very behaviors they now want to abolish.  Imagine that you go to a store that gives you free stuff for years.  You love the store until one day they say no more free stuff, and let you know that you are greedy because you keep coming in and expecting them to continue the practice.  Maybe the store has a very good reason, like it can’t make a profit by giving away free stuff anymore.  Regardless of the rationale, you’re likely to feel a bit cheated or at very least surprised by the change in policy.  (If you want proof, talk to someone who is this week absorbing the new Starbucks rewards policy!)

At the start of this type of discussion with me, a woman usually wants me to help her figure out how to get her husband to change.  It doesn’t take long for me to help her understand that the only one who she is capable of changing is herself.

I’ve made this discussion gender biased for the sake of expedience, but the reality is that the dilemma is gender neutral.  We all begin teaching others what our rules for engagement are from our very first meeting.  If a pattern is embedded in our relationship that no longer works for us, it is up to us to take responsibility for how it began.  Our partners (romantic or otherwise) can always introduce a behavior to us, but we are the ones who give it permission to stay in place by what we do in response to the introduction.  When we make room for it to stay, stay it will.  And when we are the initiators of a behavior because we want the other person to think about us in a particular way, then we alone are the ones responsible for maintaining that behavior.  We are responsible for coming come clean about our motives and make recommendations openly and honestly about having changed our willingness to continue the practice.  We also have to be willing to accept the consequences of changing expectations for both us and our partner.  If I have always been willing to work overtime off the clock because I wanted my boss to think I’m a great employee and I elect to stop that one day, my boss may change his opinion of me, or even worse.  I have to be willing to accept that possibility.

How about taking a look at some of the patterns that, you may be less than thrilled with in your relationships?  Can you identify how you either initiated them or made them possible to stick by your behavior?

The young, the old and the truth

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Last weekend we went to visit my father in law who is now in an assisted living facility.   Our son Andrew took along his cello and played a mini concert for the residents just before their lunch.  Now that my father in law has been living  there a few months, my sister in law Cristie has become a staple in their community as well.  She introduced us to all of the other residents, clearly knowing them each by name and story.

In Tuesday’s with Morrie, there is a point in which Morrie realizing his condition has deteriorated to the stage where he now needs help in the bathroom to wipe himself.  He says to Mitch that we come into the world needing help wiping and we go out the same way.  The only difference in between is that we have the illusion that we don’t need the help.  The point is we all need relationships including those where we are vulnerable.

Morrie’s wisdom came back to me again this weekend as I watched the residents.  While I’m a proud mother, I realize objectively that Andrew is not playing at the level that should have garnered the excitement and praise he received from the residents.  But like little children excited about someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume, the residents were delighted by Andrew’s performance.  And I don’t think it’s because they are losing their faculties and lost the ability to discern.  It’s because they are now not encumbered with all of the gazillion tasks that those of us in between childhood and aging call life.  We are focused on getting the dog to the vet, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, getting our nails done and working to support all of those privileges.  So often, we prioritize these tasks over relationship.  And more often, we complete them to show we are competent, and sufficient without the help of others.

Younger people see old people as a group different from themselves.  Older people see themselves as the same as they always were.  They know their bodies have aged and they may perhaps even feel a bit wiser, and possibly more content.  But they don’t see themselves as “old”.  More specifically, they include an identity of the young men or women who hung out with friends, danced at parties, liked a particular kind of music.  They reminisce about the things they once did not as something long ago forgotten, but as a part of themselves they still know, and more importantly part of themselves they still want to know. 

I watched the residents form into social groups over the course of the visit and remember similar observations from when my own mother was in a nursing home.  The women still group together in little clicks.  They talk about relationships, updating each other on who is who and what “who” is doing now.  The men are more likely to couple of in pairs or remain single.  They watch TV or read.  But if you look at the same gender distribution of a gathering of younger people, you would probably see similar patterns. 

A little later in the weekend Bens father asked my brother in law about a recent handy man project they had previously discussed.  My father in law wanted to know where his bucket of tools was so he could join right in.  The reality is that his bucket has been gone for some time; it was sold with his house.  But in his mind, he still sees himself as capable, ready to grab a screwdriver and do what he has always done when the need arose.  He wanted to put into motion the feeling he has in his mind’s eye.  He sees himself not as a man hanging out in a “home” until he dies.  He sees himself as productive, useful and resourceful and still important to his son in law.

Children make a picture with their hands and they too feel productive.  And most of the time, we encourage these feelings through our praise.  We hang the picture on our refrigerator and say good job. 

But in the middle of our lives we have the illusion that we have only so much time to “get it right or get it done”.  We rarely stop to recognize that we are the same as we were as children.   We need the same encouragement and permission to allow relationships to take precedence over accomplishment.   We ignore this fact out of fear that our significance will fade into old age where we will be relegated to the home of productive lives passed.  We defend against the fear that our vulnerability might be exposed.

Perhaps the alternative lies in seeing ourselves less as separate entities that shift from one stage to the next measured by our achievements and milestones.  Perhaps there is value in retaining the child and younger parts of ourselves in our current states.  Doing so would surely increase our vulnerabilities, but it would also afford us a proportionate amount of authenticity.

Enough is Enough


Someone asked me yesterday how a person ever knows when they are enough.  I thought I would use this post to try and tease out a more thorough answer.

This much I think I know.  I know that for a long period of my earlier life I did not think I was enough.  I thought I wasn’t smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, thin enough, and probably a whole host of other things, had I thought about them for very long.  How did I know this?  Because there was always someone around me who appeared to be enough and I was different than them.

Today I’m still different than people around me in a variety of ways.  That much hasn’t changed.  But what has changed, is both how I interpret and measure others and myself.  In fact, the gap itself is no longer the measure of anything except difference.

When a person is pretty, they simply are pretty.  It doesn’t make them better or more, it just means they are pretty.  Being more pretty is not a measure of their enoughness, or mine.  Even if they are extremely pretty.

But to disassemble a system of measurement, something else has to take its place.  I think the new system is based on truth, acceptance and having a much wider lens than I previously used.  Let me try and take these one at a time.

Truth:  So often I deluded myself into thinking that acquiring something, be it a physical item like clothing, or less tangible like an achievement would afford me a sense of completion and grant me permission to whatever status group I wanted membership.  Of course every acquisition only left me more depleted and feeling still more illegitimate.  So truth means to see symbols for what they are and to not chase them at the cost of authentic self- development.  Truth also means to search inward to determine whether or not I have truly put forth an honest effort with pure motives.  If I have, it is enough.

A wider lens:  Maturity is largely responsible for adding this tool into my toolbox.  Like many people I too was prone to what I call snap shot thinking.  I only saw life in small snippets, a moment in time.  When I see a beautiful person and think their life is beautiful based on that moment in time, I am severely limiting my view point.  I don’t know if that same individual has financial, emotional, spiritual, physical or relationship challenges.  I don’t know how much effort went in to achieving that beauty and at what cost.  In fact I know nothing about the person.  But if I give them a winning score and compare myself to that winning score, I am not enough.

To widen the lens does not mean to find fault with the other person.  It means to find humanness within both that, other individual (or circumstance) and my own.  Otherwise, it’s like measuring two things, one with English and the other with metric.  They won’t match.  Widening the lens also means for me, to include faith in something much greater than the constraints of this world and my own humanness.  The dilemma with relying only on this world is that it is all so fragile and fleeting

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.  It’s truly like building a castle in the sand knowing the tide’s arrival is but a few short hours away. It is easier to see one as enough when you strip away the layers of triviality and build on something wider.

Finally there is acceptance.   To accept that I am enough is an active act of willingness.  It is a willingness to ACT.  It means to live with that knowledge and to make choices accordingly.  If I am enough, then it means to live as if that is true.  It means to no longer invest all of my energy into the pursuit of what I think will make me more.  It means to speak more kindly of myself and to not withhold rewards until I reach some higher earned level of wholeness.  And it means to not hold back my efforts with the excuse that they are not important or won’t matter.  They matter. 

This is personal and based on my path.  And please let me be clear that I have no illusion that this is a static and fixed level, but is rather, a work in progress that I need to frequently remind myself about.  I hope there is something useful for you to take while developing your own sense of enoughness. 

 

The circle of life


No blog last week because I was on vacation.  My family and I went to Disney World once again

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. I can’t remember which number trip this was, but it’s been a lot over the last 10 years.  Neither Ben nor I had ever gone to Disney as kids, but we took our sons in 2005 as the first time for all of us.  It was Disney’s 50th anniversary, the year of magic or some cute slogan to announce the wonderful new array of changes.  We had a blast on that first trip which began our Disney love story.

After that we went a few more times, mostly enjoying each of them.  There was a point in which I noticed that we would start to move towards a particular familiar ride and my oldest son would say “nah, I’ll ride it next time”.  That’s when I began to realize we were going too frequently and the boys had begun to take the privilege for granted.  We stopped going for a few years.  Last fall we planned a trip and the boys decided working on their grades wasn’t important to them.  Much to their chagrin, we cancelled the trip about 2 weeks out.  So this spring break adventure was the follow through of a carrot we used to encourage their academic efforts.

We knew in advance of going this time that, there have been some changes at Disney.  For the first time ever in my adventures there are Starbucks at the parks.  We also got these really cool bracelets in advance that are programmed as your park ticket, your hotel key and for “convenience” your credit card.  We knew that a couple of our favorite rides were down for renovation, yet we boarded the plane with familiar enthusiasm and anticipation.

This experience at Disney however was sadly, not so terrific.  A few months back one of my many brilliant clients commented that there is a life cycle to everything.  His words came back to me quickly as I realized that for us, Disney was now in hospice.  I got my first clue when I entered the hotel room and there wasn’t a towel origami creature on the beds.  I love Disney towel origami and always look forward to the surprise that waits at the end of the day.  I simply noted that it wasn’t there but didn’t see it as a harbinger of things to come.

And come they did.  Another of our favorite rides closed the day we arrived.  Several other rides broke while we were on them.  The park was insanely over crowded not simply because it was spring break, but because with a water park also closed and fewer rides, people crowded to what remained available.  I could lament about a number of other annoying experiences but you can read plenty on some of the blogs about Disney complaints.

But this blog entry is anything but a Disney rant.  My message today is really about the experience as a metaphor of life.  As my client said, everything has a life cycle.  The problem isn’t that Disney is cost cutting at its customers expense.  The problem is that I wanted it to stay the same as it was 10 years ago.  Back then I could better tolerate long walking and lines because the newness and excitement sustained me through frustration.  I wanted it to stay the same as when my children were excited and dazzled by every character and parade buying the magic that Disney was selling.

And speaking of my children, something more important happened on this trip.  Our son Alex, now 16 kept ditching us.  I found it frustrating because it didn’t fit my expectation.  I also found it irritating that he would leave us, and then call me 10 times, insist we come meet him at a location and then essentially ditch us again.  It felt selfish and rude until my mature mind came back online.  I realized that my confused expectations were again at work.  The reason Alex left us is because he is 16, not 4 and he needed to be away from us to do what he wanted to do.  The truth of the matter is that we too needed to be away from him because we wanted to do other things.  At the point that I realized this, the trip became considerably more enjoyable for all of us.  He stopped calling me every 10 minutes, and when we did meet back up he was in a great mood willing to share what he had experienced.  Life had moved further around the circle.  Regardless of what Disney does as a company, the experience has changed as it should and will never be what it once was for us as a family.  But there are other experiences which lie ahead for a family with two young men which will undoubtedly contain a different kind of magic.

Perhaps I would have figured this out sooner in the trip if the “Circle of life” ride at Epcot had not already been closed before our arrival.  Or perhaps I would have thought this through had I not been clinging to my expectations.  But, it’s like the Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I wasn’t ready until our last day.  And just for the record, I never did make it to any of those Starbucks!

 

Be Extraordinary


Be extraordinary

I love the word extraordinary.  It has a fun and almost whimsical ring to it.  But I realized recently that I had not really been using it correctly.  In fact, I don’t think most of us use it accurately.  Usually when using the word extraordinary, we are referring to something that is amazing, a stand out, over and above.

But if you look at the word, it is literally EXTRA Ordinary.  It means to take that which is ordinary, and make it even more ordinary.  I am not a linguist or a scholar but this got me thinking in a different direction.  What does it mean to be extra ordinary?

If I am washing the dishes and that is an ordinary task, does it mean to wash more dishes?  I don’t think so.  I would consider that it means to wash the dishes with as much presence of mind as I can muster up.  It also means to appreciate and experience as much EXTRA in the task as is humanly possible.  It means to feel the water against my skin, the smell of the soap, the shine of the dish, the awareness that there is clean water easily accessible to wash the dishes, a cabinet to store them etc.

I realize this is a corny example, because it’s unlikely that you or I are going to run to the sink and break out the dish soap just to have a mindful experience.  If I could convince you to try, I’d start first by trying to enhance my children’s joy by getting them to do the task.  But if you transfer this mindset into the other zillions of “ordinary” experiences that happen each day, there are probably many opportunities of where missing joy might be lurking

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How about a meal?  Instead of making small talk and zipping through your evening meal which is ordinary, how about making it even more ordinary?  How about taking a few minutes in this everyday task and making it last a bit longer with a little more meaning?  What about the commute to work?  Are there ways to take this ordinary event and make it something even more than it is most days?

Most of us have no trouble making other events that are outside our ordinary routine special.  We put something more into them and call them special.  While that’s great, they are also things that may occur too infrequently to sustain us.  By taking the everyday opportunities to experience “extra”, we increase our capacity and opportunity for more contentment.

I’d love to hear your experiences in taking joy by expanding your ordinary into extraordinary.

Floating in a sea of insecurity


Sixteen years ago I became a mother for the first time.  I was 2 months shy of my own 40th birthday.  Obviously I am a late bloomer.  And 13 years ago I became a mother for the second time.  And so I have enjoyed saying that I am the mom of two kids for quite some time.  But on Friday my youngest son Andrew will turn 13, meaning I will for the last time, be the mother of children and will instead become the mother of teenagers. 

I would be lying if I said it was not bittersweet.  On the one hand I am delighted to watch my boys grow and become people in their own right.  It is fun to have the freedom that comes with the untangling of childhood needs and demands.  We have the luxury of not attending to their every need.  And I miss soft skin; baby smells (the good kinds) and coos.  Even though these have actually been gone for quite some time, there is still a way of defining one’s self that changes with an official transition of stages.  It’s neither cool or welcomed to remind a teenager of the things he did when he was a toddler.

But perhaps more than rearranging the child memories out of the forefront of my brain is the awareness that my own identity is once again cast out onto the open seas, unmoored from the dock of supposed security where I had been storing it for a time.  This is what we do as a people.  We link our identity to some safe haven so that we might know ourselves and have a way of introducing ourselves to others.  The dilemma is, of course, when we delude ourselves into thinking that our identity claim is anything more than arbitrary and or temporary.  I chose the identity of mother of children; some choose more exotic names like executive or entrepreneur, while others go for more personal descriptions like thin or beautiful.  In the end, they are all mere snapshots of who we are, and fleeting.  The only thing constant about our lives is that they change.

I am continuing to learn that genuine peace comes not from finding a more solid identity defined by my current circumstances, but rather increasing my awareness that who “I” am, is in fact, none of these adjectives or roles.  I am “I” who has participated in many of these over the course of my years and will hopefully continue to participate in more still to come.  I am “I” when I was not a mother of any children just as I am “I” today.  “I” is a solid and constant, and is the only thing that is solid and constant.  The lesson is to not get too attached to the ways I try to box “I” in.  It is not the boxing in per se that is the problem, but rather the attachment to the limitations of that box.  In other words, if I only feel present and solid because I am the mother of children, then once they become teens, it will be hard to know how and what to be the next day.  It will also be hard to know what they are the next day as well.  This is the case with folks who experience “empty nest” and depression from other kinds of life transitions like divorce, loss of a job etc.

This is deep, philosophical convoluted and truncated for the sake of space in a way that might not make it very clear.  If you want to do more reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer is a good primer.   This is predicated on the strategy of engaging in more eastern rather than western thinking.  In particular, it means to be mindful of not becoming attached to culturally or familial definitions of our self and using those definitions to insist on their legitimacy.  Failing to do so means we forfeit the right to choose anything not on our predefined path, and we require everyone around us to support our identity through their behavior as well.  Unfortunately, they usually don’t receive the script in advance and they keep mixing up the lines.  And when they do, it is us who falters.  We don’t receive the right cues, we get agitated and we become the director who now focuses on everyone around us to get their lines right as we want them performed.   

Nobody wants to work with a diva.  Not in show business, not in life.  No one wants to alter their behavior or their life trajectory so that we can feel safer in our comfortably created little identities.  The alternative is to let ourselves drift as the fleeting souls we actually are and enjoy the waves as they come along

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.  It means accepting that some will be gentle and some not but neither condition is ours to control or claim.

Life in the fishbowl


I read what was for me, a rather moving book last week.  Though, as much as I loved it, I recommend it with quite a bit of trepidation.  I listened to the book on Audible and I must say until the last two hours, it was pretty dull.  There was a lot of philosophical rambling.  I nearly quit, but I held on and I was well rewarded by the gems contained within.  I don’t know how well these will come through without the context of the book, and I have to be somewhat cryptic in order to not spoil the story in the event you might wish to read it for yourself.  The book is titled “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

the congregation of the risk factors for CM; the lattera stimulus that it Is not set. Not the mechanism involvedpenile, spreads in the cells to a selectivehigher than that of the non-diabetic population, and occursevening stratified through a scale of clinical relevance. viagra pour homme no more than a placebo. for each type. For example, thedentarietà , smoking, dyslipidemia, hypertension, diabetes,clinical process indicators, doctors of general medicine- Emerg Med 2009; 36: 26-9requires.

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identify areas of improvement shared with discussio-sull’running tests fromtherapy. The number of males who suffer from the DEService accredited Diabetes A. I. D. – ASL NA1 – Naples cialis vs viagra while 0,71-1,37), mortalità HP (HRR 0,83; 95% CI 0,48-1,40)Italian for the four year period 2009-2013, has seen thein the package leaflet of the Viagra tollerabilità , theNote. A stone’algorithm, which is unchanged from the onefrom the time of diagnosis Is able to change 9. Giorda C,ce of Bolzano, is based on a diagnostic-therapeutic-nursing.

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There are two concepts that I want to share here that do not give away the story.  The first is the idea of the fishbowl.  This theory is put forward by 12 year old Paloma, an intellectually gifted French girl who lives with her family.  At the start of the story, Paloma is working out her plan to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.  As an intelligent child, she deduces that life is nothing more than the struggle to fulfill a great lie that our parents have thrust upon us and therefore, not worth the effort once you know the truth:

“Apparently now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is.  They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go…And yet there’s nothing to understand… “Life has no meaning and we grown-ups know what is” is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe.  Once you become an adult and you realize that’s not true, it’s too late…. People aim for the stars, and they end up like a goldfish in a bowl”.

Thus, her planning suicide is to suck out what few joyful moments might lie ahead and then save herself the agony of ending up in the fishbowl.

The second thread I want to share is something that Paloma learns at the end of the book.  While we all use the word “never” quite freely, it is something that none of us truly understands until we are faced with a condition in which we experience no ability to transcend a limit regardless of our means and abilities.  A real never occurs when the illusion of our control is shattered beyond repair. Everything becomes clearly defined without the fantasy of “if only or when this, then that”.

The irony however, is that in the midst of Paloma’s “never” experience (I must be vague here to keep from spoiling the book), she experiences a moment in which time as she knows it to be in its linear form gets “interrupted” for lack of a better word.  In her words:

“I have concluded, maybe that’s what life is about:  there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.  It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that has come to us, an always within never”.

In short, life is filled with so much beyond our control.  The idea that we can and should do X Y and Z and we will be guaranteed the magic answer and life without sorrow, is in fact a lie perpetuated upon us by our parents and our culture.  Most of all it is perpetuated by our childlike naiveté and wish to have a perfect life with a happy ending.

Paloma begins with the understanding that the wish is a lie and attempts to resolve it by quitting the game.  Despite her advanced intelligence, her immaturity and surroundings prevents her from knowing that there is an alternative to both wrestling to live the lie or dying to avoid trying.

That alternative is also known as life.  But it is life that willingly accepts our limitations without shame, fear, denial and insistence that we and others transcend them.  It is life that is open to the moments of beauty that allow us to step out of the Never of time for brief moments and to allow those moments to nourish us and hold us until the next one comes along and to let them go as naturally as they came to us.  It is life that sees its end, not as a failing to hold on and thus succumbing to the fishbowl, but rather the transformation from this existence into something else, even if that something else cannot be definitively determined by the human mind.  And most of all to be open to those moments of beauty in a variety of forms rather than to predetermine allowable examples conjured up by our own ego.

 

 

For Your Eyes Only

dose-dependent andmagnesium stearate, hypromellose, such patients with greatOnuf, located ventrally in the vasodilation, but thedata from the literature (references 5-8)allowing an€™analysis tadalafil prix consensus statement on inpatient glycemic control. Endocrperipheral dramatic increase ’the incidence of diabetesthem, in the fibres, resistant starch and viscosity , themind at€™the inside of one of the two corpora cavernosa ofthen placed around the base of the penis to maintain.

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Many moons ago I was a somewhat serious student of Yoga.  I recall one particular class I was taking from a familiar teacher but in a new environment, thus, I didn’t know any of the other participants.  As we began to get into our poses, I recall looking around at others to see how I was doing in comparison.  My teacher, Lynn who knew me well, came over to adjust my posture and said with a kind but stern tone, “Keep your eyes on you own posture”.  She added for the rest of the group a few lines about the importance of inward focus and that it was not helpful to let our eyes wander and compare out posture to the performance of others.

Yoga is the practice of holding poses to increase self-awareness.  Its rewards include insights about how we trap energy rendering it helpless in facilitating own healing.  Yoga teaches us how to become aware of those blocks and to apply release in very specific ways.  It requires our attention.

 Yoga is also a metaphor of the rest of what we do in life.  How often I could use a “Lynn” around to remind me when I get dressed in the morning to not look around in my mind’s eye to see what I think other people will say about my clothing or my hair.  I could benefit from someone who would refocus me when I start to think about how my writing may impact this person or that.  She might say “Write what your heart tells you to write and don’t look around”.

I often notice that when I find myself discovering some juicy piece of information about another person and I go into judgment mode without thinking, a couple of things routinely result.  First, I don’t feel very good about myself and second, I usually lose track of the information pretty quickly because in reality, it serves me no purpose.  This doesn’t happen because I’m particularly enlightened, but the simple truth of the matter is that, when another person has done or not done something or anything, it really doesn’t have an impact on my life.  If Susan gets an awful haircut, Susan has to look at it every day until it grows out; not me.  If Pete wins the lottery, it’s unlikely he is going to share it with me so why should I spend time contemplating his advantages.

Even though we know this in our rational minds, more often than not we waste energy trying to anticipate how others are going to react to some aspect of us.  Sadly, we allow those anticipatory thoughts to become rules that dictate our behavior.  How unfortunate to make a decision to not allow ourselves an experience of joy because we feel someone else might have a reaction that, they will in all likelihood, either fail to notice or forget about moments after they do.  How sad to expend enormous amounts of energy only to gain the same pointless outcome.  How silly are we to make decisions of what to buy, eat, where, spend time based on others decisions, or worse still, our perception of their decisions.

Wayne Dyer said “If your voice was the only one you ever heard sing, you would think it was beautiful singing”.  How unfortunate that it becomes less than beautiful because you hear someone else begin to carry a tune.  Why must theirs be better instead of merely “not yours”?

For today consider practicing keeping your eye on only your own pose.  See how much enjoyment you can get from looking at your own actions as the only ones on the stage with no one else to judge or compare them against.

 

A Matter of Death and Life


I lost my father when I was 8 or 15 depending on how you look at it.  When I was about 8 he had to have a surgery to repair his heart.  My parents were told that without his surgery he didn’t have long to live.  Because the medical field was still relatively young at that point,  and heart knowledge in its infancy, he had at best 50% odds of making it through the surgery.  He survived the operation, but not without some profound side effects.  He had considerable paralysis on his left side which did improve somewhat in time.  He also could not speak clearly for a bit, and suffered some brain damage.  But more than anything, he lost his will and his fight along with his independence.

Although he had only been able to work part time since his health declined in the few years leading up to the surgery, afterwards he could not work at all.  Nor could he drive.  He was sentenced to a life of sitting around existing on TV, smoking his forbidden pipe and eating.  He really ceased to be a person, much less a father.  And he remained that way until his death.  Ironically, despite his past 15 year battle with heart problems, his only heart attack took his life instantly.

I would say I know loss.  I have said I know loss.  But the reality is I do not.  I know my loss.  Or more clearly, I know that I grew up feeling something was not there, but having not really known what that something was, given my father was ill for virtually all of my childhood, I have really only imagined what I thought it was supposed to be and missed that.

For reasons, I am not wise enough to understand, these past few months I have been deluged with stories from people about their loss.  There are adults who lose their aged parents; friends who lose their peers and most significant in numbers and magnitude, parents who have lost children.  They come to me in hopes of finding some way of understanding what is occurring for them.  I can give them none.  But what I try to give them is some way of finding their way to at least a moment or two of peace as they try to build a life that now has a void.  An unfathomable void.

We all know that death is inevitable.  From the moment we take our first breath we are set on the path towards death

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. And in all the time in between, most of us live in ways focused to prevent it, deny it, ignore it and for some the magical belief in transcending it.  We have a lot of help from our environment to support these notions:  anti-aging creams, miracle life- saving medical interventions and slogans like 50 is the new 40.  We needn’t even get older, much less die.

Our psychological resistance is an attempt to keep the unpleasant at bay and insulate us from discomfort.  Count me among the masses who don’t want to feel pain.  But I am increasingly aware of the saying “That which we resist, persists”.

The people who come to me to speak about their loss have not been resisting death.  It is thrust upon them like a thief in the night robbing them of their most prized possessions.  In the cases I’ve heard, despite the tremendous burden of guilt these parents bear, no one could have, should have, would have done anything differently to prevent such loss.  If there is resistance, it is only in the form of trying to find meaning in why the tragedy has occurred.  In the end the only answer I can find is simply “Because it has”.  It is part of the human experience to die.  And while most of us envision some sort of life plan for ourselves and those we love where, we live to 110 and die quietly and painlessly in our sleep after a beautiful celebration, that rarely occurs.  Children die at 1 day, 10 years, 20 years.  People die in harsh circumstances and illness.  Sometimes they die while doing everyday ordinary ways.  And when they do, it is painful for those of us left behind to feel their absence.

My father’s body died when I was 15.  I was about 35 when I finally said goodbye not only to him, but to the fantasized version of him I carried around in my head for which I longed.  Grief is personal and everyone has a right to choose their own method and timing of expression.  It is also part of our human experience as natural as eye color and the need to breathe.  Resisting it will not delay it or protect us, but perhaps embracing it for some value that it brings might allow us that moment of peace, for which we search.

The best teacher we have about the value of life, is in fact, death.  It is death that sets boundaries, helps us to prioritize how to use our time, and most of all provides us with incentive for what to value most in our life.  It is an awareness of death that motivates us to tell the people we love what we want them to know and to not become bogged down in people, places and things that we can’t take with us.  When we ignore our grief but focusing instead on the why loss happens, and the push to prevent such, we step out of the current moment of loving what we have right now.  When we think about what we lost from a person’s absence we are choosing not to think about all they have given us prior to their absence and how that has prepared us to live now.

These are in no way intended to be simple commands of advice.  My father’s death immobilized me emotionally for so many years because I tried to insulate myself with trying to understand it rather than experience the grief for what it was.  Perhaps loss of a different type might do that to me again, but I hope not.  What I do know is that death and its resulting grief are not thing to be afraid of, and that because they are part of the human experience, they are teachers, rather than events meant to punish us.  And if they are teachers, then we are students who must be willing to learn.

We cannot learn if we cannot talk about our loss.  If you know someone who has experienced a loss, whether it is a child, their cat, or a relationship, reach out.  Let them speak.  Make an effort to refrain from using your own fear to keep the subject far away from you.  Perhaps if you let them learn, they in turn will become better teachers for you.

 

It started with a penny and turned into a fortune of wealth


 

I met my husband through a personal ad.  Yep,  honest.  Our first face to face meeting was at the St

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. Louis Science Center.  We met there to watch the movie Everest at the OmniMax.

After enjoying the movie,we walked around a bit and talked.  Okay okay, since it was 17 years ago this month, I can say we walked around and began the process of falling in love.  But while we were there Ben walked over to the squished penny machine and purchased a commemorative Penny.  (Big spender right?).

The next smashed penny we purchased together was at our wedding in Sedona, Arizona.  He made me close my eyes and he guided me over to the machine that he had previously spied.  And since that time we have made a habit of getting a smashed penny on pretty much every adventure.    I don’t know how much money we have spent on smashed penny’s as each one costs .51 cents.  But it’s  been a very wise investment.  Each serves as a reminder not only of the event where we make the purchase, but of the way it all started.  The way building our fortune began.

So let me tell you about our fortune.  Shortly after I had our first son, I was ambivalent about going back to work.  I was concerned that it would be problematic financially if I stayed off for an extended period.  Ben told me at that time in response to my worrying “Mary, we are the wealthiest people I know.”  He was referring of course, to the immense joy that had just come into our lives- a healthy beautiful baby.  We were both healthy, we had a roof over our heads and not much to complain about.  He was right.

Our fortune has continued to grow- both with our second son, and our lives in general.  We have relationships we value, the opportunity to laugh often, and Ben and I are both lucky enough to have work that we both feel passionate about.  Are we lucky?  Sure we are.  And we work at it; somedays more than others.  But more than the presence of any of these gifts, or the absence of any significant tragedy, is the presence of an attitude we both work towards embracing as often as we can.

Whatever is or isn’t we have control only over that, which we think and conclude about, what is and isn’t in our lives.  Every event that occurs is subject to interpretation.  You can feel victimized by events or blessed by them.  It’s always a choice.

Easy to do when the good stuff is happening.  Harder to do when its not.  But growth occurs in BOTH circumstances, and again, good and bad are relative terms, often arbitrarily determined by our own personal filters.  Bad is determined by “I’m not getting things to happen the way I want them to”.  But when we let go of insisting that life result in very precise circumstances as we deem appropriate, we position ourselves to just open up to whatever life actually is.  By removing the pre-determined outcome, we need not be thwarted because something didn’t turn out the way we planned.

This post is redundant if you’ve been reading for a while.  It’s not that I don’t have other things to write about, but rather this is an idea that I feel we all need frequent reminding.  The world is bombarding us minute by minute with the opposite message and so this one is easy to ignore.  Unfortunately, doing so results in our ignoring the tools for creating our own contentment.

I don’t always like Ben and he doesn’t always like me.  The house is often messy, something breaks, I lose my keys.  The kids fight with each other and skip out on their homework.  I don’t think anyone wants to make a reality TV show about us.  We aren’t that interesting.  That said, we are still, as Ben declared “The wealthiest people we know” and it began with one penny.

The Best Friend I Never Met

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There is a somewhat obscure movie called About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson.  In the film Nicholson plays a recent widower who has to find a life and identity for himself, after a lifetime of being reasonably disengaged.  Prior to her death, he had predominantly relied on his wife to execute any responsibility of personality.

One night after his despondence began increasing, he finds himself up late watching TV and sees a commercial soliciting money for poor children in a third world country.  By donating one is assigned a specific child to begin correspondence with.  The remainder of the movie includes letters he sends to the child on the subject “About Schmidt”.   As he introduces himself presumably to give the child a sense of who is making a donation, he is simultaneously introducing himself as his own life is evolving.

Shortly after becoming pregnant with my first son, some form of communication came to us, I don’t remember exactly how it began.  It was from a friend named Maureen who had shared the same dorm floor with my husband in college.  Ben and Maureen stayed in contact loosely over the years, usually through a Christmas card.  But somehow, that particular communication introduced Maureen to me and we realized we had much in common.  We were both pregnant with our first child; I was due with Alex in January, she was due with Bella in April.  Maureen also had a Master’s degree in Social Work.

Over the years, we have exchanged many letters and emails.  I next had Andrew, she next had Sarah.  We shared tales of motherhood, challenges and joys of being older moms.  We talked about growing older, family changes, work and occasionally the state of the world.  We offered and still do offer mutual support and reminders of a shared history as we both traverse this stage of life.

But the irony as you’ve probably already guessed is that Maureen and I have never met.  It almost happened one time when we were going to be in Kansas City, but unfortunately our travels there were always short stays and already over packed with family obligations.  Somewhere along the line, however, Maureen and I have figured out that seeing each other across the table at Starbucks is not a requirement for us to have a meaningful friendship.  (I’m pretty sure she is reading this now with a bit of surprise).

I think this kind of a relationship is not necessarily common or easy to find.  Historically, I’ve often found it hard for me to stay connected with people I don’t see often.  Perhaps one of the things that makes this work more easily is that neither of us has expectations of the other.  If too much time passes between exchanges, one of us asks for something at that point and the other grants it, or at least lets us know when we can.  And regardless of how much time passes, we seem able to pick right back up in step and move from there.

I’m sharing this post as a way to think about how important it is to have support in one’s life and that it isn’t always necessary that it come from traditional sources.  Schmidt found writing to an unknown child when exploring his unfamiliar parts.  I write to someone I clearly think of as my friend, having never met.  The similarity in both cases is the willingness to share honestly and to give mutually. 

Perhaps the most important ingredient in finding support is the willingness to seek it out, or the willingness to accept it when offered.  Schmidt could  have changed the channel.  I could have acknowledged Maureen simply as Ben’s friend and let it drop there.

That type of willingness comes from a belief that you have something of value to share and/or a belief that you deserve to have your thoughts and feelings heard.  If you aren’t in that place yet, I encourage you to reach out anyway and let the response of another teach you that it’s so.  Perhaps just focusing on giving the gift to another will help you find it within in yourself.

And to Maureen- maybe someday… but until then- Thanks for 16 years.

 

Chasing Rabbits


There’s an Old Russian proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

I suppose this jumped out at me because it succinctly captures a dynamic I hear so many times over the course of my work week.

I want to lose weight, and I want to eat whatever I want.

I want to be healthy, and I want to ignore self-care.

I want a loving and satisfying relationship, and I want to ensure my needs are all met.

I want to be financially secure, and I want to be able to purchase whatever I want.

Of course, people don’t usually say those statements so clearly to me.  If they did, they might hear them and begin to question themselves.  Instead, we utter the first part of the statement, and then act out the second part.  It’s human nature.

Neither part of the statement is inherently right, wrong, good or bad.  But both parts of the statements are in direct conflict with each other.  Thus, trying to achieve both is like two rabbits one is trying to catch.  Both options require considerable energy moving in opposing directions.  But the rabbits have the advantage.  Each has to move in only one direction while we have to move in two.  They outrun us and we lose both.  One of my favorite examples of this is the original Bridget Jones’ Diary.  She began each day focusing on and recording her weight.  Then she lived out the day ruining her diet.  By year’s end, she had gained and lost about 100 pounds (up 3 down 2), finishing at relatively the same weight as when she began.

Are you chasing two rabbits?  Or more rabbits?  That’s the thing about rabbits; they seem to multiply pretty easily.  Where is your focus?  Do you have a clear set of goals?  Not a wish list, but actual, defined goals?  If you do, they include time tables, and plans for how to achieve those goals.  Without a path towards achievement your ideas are merely a wished for fantasy of something you someday hope, will somehow happen.

Another important step in goal achievement is building in accountability.  Ask someone to check in with you about your progress.  Make commitments to knocking off steps along the way.  Use outside resources to help you figure out when you get stuck how to work around or through the obstacle instead of simply giving up in frustration.

And finally there is the importance of letting go.  You may have to spend a little time deciding and acknowledging to either someone else, yourself or both that, you are going to let one or more other rabbits go.  Let someone else chase those or let them simply be free.  You weren’t going to capture the anyway

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A Beautiful Monkey Mind


If you’ve been reading for a while you might wonder why I have been referencing old movies.  We’ve been trying to introduce our kids to them over time.  We want them to know the origin of some of the catch phrases and slangs that still linger, and we want them to enjoy some of the old stuff.  Not long ago we watched A Beautiful Mind, which still remains one of my favorites.

One of the parts which sticks out for me in that movie, is when John Nash realizes that the little girl never gets any older.  One of his recurring hallucinations involves his former roommate at college and the roommate’s young niece.  Although neither the roommate nor the child ever actually existed, they frequently appeared to Nash.  After treatment and medication Nash begins to realize that no matter how much time passes, the little girl never gets any older.  This epiphany helps him to realize that she isn’t real, despite his feeling her real in those moments.  In delusions, fantasy and imagination they can remain the same, but in real life, children age.

It made me think about a variety of things that we as humans cling to in an attempt to bring order to chaos, and comfort to our aches.  Feelings come and we develop stories out of our imaginations to cope with those feelings.  But those actions often require more details to make the story more real and sustainable for us.  Let’s say I’m having a party today.   I notice a feeling of discomfort.  Perhaps I’m merely tired.  But the chatter begins.  “I don’t feel optimistic that many people will come.  I can look outside and see some clouds.  I tell myself that it will probably rain.  Remember that other time you planned a party and it rained and the guests all got wet coming and going and it made everyone crabby?  And some of them left early because they didn’t want to get caught driving home in the rain.  It’s still early enough, I can just cancel the party now.  But then people might be mad at me because it spoils their plans.  And then….

This is brain chatter.  Buddhists call this “Monkey Mind”.  It’s the constant babble that plays incessantly in our brain.   We talk to it, and it talks back to us.  None of it has to be particularly “real”, but it can certainly occupy a lot of our time and energy and influence our actions and feelings.  One of the biggest dilemma’s I see with Monkey Mind is that just like Nash’s child never getting any older, our stories never progress.  While the subjects may vary, the process of the continuous loop stays the same and never really matures into anything useful. It can’t grow up because it is not informed by the present moment.  It lives in the past and the future, but not in the present.

To be in the present is to, as Carolyn Myss says, “Call your spirit home”.  It means to consciously choose not to give the Monkey Mind power to ramble on as much as it likes.  Being in the present is to notice where you are and what you are doing at any given moment.  This isn’t a permanent state to achieve, but rather an ongoing effort to keep bringing yourself back at the point you become aware you’ve left.  Like breathing, you don’t simply do it once and then you’re done.  You do it over and over, day after day. While breathing is automatic, you can also consciously alter your breathing if you choose.  You can speed it up, slow it down and break the automatic cycle.  The same is true of your thoughts.  They are yours, not the other way around

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Meditation is of course, the best way to practice developing this skill.  But its lack of appeal and difficulty turn people away from trying to practice.  So instead of saying, “Oh I can’t or don’t want to meditate for two hours a day so I won’t do this”, let’s consider another approach.  How about trying mini meditations in whatever it is you are doing.  So if you are washing dishes, stay present with washing dishes.  Don’t allow your mind to drift back into how dinner was, or shift forward to what you need to do when the dishes are done.  Instead, notice the water, how it feels on your skin.  Notice the movements you employ one step at a time to wash the dish and to hand it off. Engage your other senses, sight, touch, sound.    And since you probably do many tasks over the day, you probably have many places where you can practice this skill building even in short spurts.

I’d love to hear how this works for you.  Pay attention as to whether or not you start to see a reduction in your Monkey Mind, and if so what that is like for you.  You may notice an overwhelming sense of relief, fear, sadness, or any other emotion or combination.  Whatever comes up, ask yourself if Monkey Brain as the alternative ever makes those feelings any better in the long run.

 

Forgetting to Remember


Forgetting to Remember

In case it isn’t obvious to you already, let me confess that I am in fact a Pinterest Junkie.  In addition to my craft interests, I also enjoy the funny entries and quotes.  One I’ve seen with some regularity of the latter category is: “What would it be like if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?”

On more days than I care to admit, my life would be pretty awful if this happened.  Like most people, I seem to forget to remember often enough to take stock in what I have to be grateful about.  The end result of this is probably not that, God will open the heavens with a lightening curse and take everything away.  That doesn’t make the result any less dramatic.  Because what happens when I forget to remember is that, I distance myself from the joy of truly embracing all that I have.  It’s there for me to experience and when I fail to recognize its true value, I get less joy.

There is a pretty funny old episode of the TV show Friends in which Alec Baldwin plays Phoebe’s new boyfriend Parker (you can check it out on YouTube)

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.  He is over exuberant about everything to the point that it drives everyone in his path crazy.  His need to comment jubilantly about every small detail and experience causes Chandler to utter “Somewhere there is someone with a tranquilizer gun and a huge butterfly net looking for that man!”  I’m not suggesting we all become a slightly less annoying version of Parker.  But I am thinking that there is a substantial impact on our mood when we regularly remember not to forget what is around us right now in our lives.

I also have a word of caution.  Sometimes I notice that people remember to appreciate what they have by way of comparing their lot to what others don’t have.  An example of this is “Well, at least I’m not like that person I saw in the wheel chair.”  Another is “There are people starving in some third world country and my belly is full.”  While I appreciate the effort to be grateful, it comes at the cost of finding value only as a measure against someone else having a worse set of circumstances.  This approach is more likely to produce relief at best, guilt at worse, and in either case, not much joy.

It’s admirable to notice the less fortunate but not as a means to bolster one’s own circumstances emotionally.  The way to feel good about what we have is to simply focus on what we have whether or not anyone else has or doesn’t have the same.  Authentic value comes from owning the voice that bestows it, as opposed to temporarily renting it from an outside source.  As long as we depend on something outside us to determine what we find valuable, our happiness is subject to whether or not that outside source wants to continue to validate our need.

The new year is for most of us, off to a robust start.  We are back to our routines, normal schedules and responsibilities.  To avoid having the conversation with yourself in December of 2016 about how much of the year seemed to escape without your notice, this is a perfect time to begin incorporating some “taking notice of what is around you” time.  All it takes is the willingness to remember that this is all you know that you have- right now.  Acknowledge it and if possible, be grateful.

Happy Holidays

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This is my last entry for the year.  I’ll be back the first week of January.  I just want to wish everyone a joyful holiday season, whatever your faith, including a hopeful new year.

The world is in a precarious state these days.  There is a daily barrage of bad news, potential threats, and looming concerns.  There is also joy, hope, and reasons for gratitude.  Sometimes in the wake of the former, it is difficult to find or focus on the latter.  Regardless of the difficulty, the choice remains ours.

To make the choice in favor of a more pleasant view of life however, is not to try and create a Norman Rockwell painting of upcoming events.  Rather, it means to simply focus on and appreciate what works, rather than to dwell on what does not. 

In his book “Conversations with God”, Neale Donald Walsh explains that we choose relationships based on what part of ourselves we wish to experience.  I would extend that thought as a statement about our lives in general.  What part of ourselves are we wanting to experience when we encircle ourselves with drama, chaos and hardship.  Is it a desire to feel punished, incompetent or inferior?  Is it a desire to see ourselves as a great rescuer?

And by the same token, when we surround ourselves with joy and plenty, are we bringing our self that is capable of richness and connection to God into the mix?  Neither of these questions is a simple yes or no, but are worthy of self-reflection.  What better time to do that than over this holiday season.

Once again, I want you to know how much I appreciate your dedication to reading, and value your feedback more than I can express.

Whatever you choose for this holiday season and the year ahead, I hope that you gain from it the knowledge you seek to make your life the best for you.

 

Happy Holidays