Tag Archives: happiness

The young, the old and the truth

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.  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. 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.

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.  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”.

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

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.

 

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. 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.

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).  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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Thankful

This is the time of year that we are reminded to be thankful; to count our blessings.  I rarely look at Facebook, but I suspect if I did, or if you have, we would see lists of people posting that for which they are thankful.

For the most part, I’m going to save you from having to read my list.  But as I think about this task for myself, I am reminded of something from the movie American Beauty.  If I remember it correctly, this passage, uttered by Kevin Spacey, is from the final scene of the movie:

 

It’s hard to stay mad when

There is so much beauty in the world.

Sometimes I feel like

I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much

My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst

And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold onto it and then it flows through me like rain.

And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid life.

 

I think perhaps the reason that Gratitude lists get annoying is that most of us treat them like an activity or a single step in the pursuit of how to be happy.   It’s something we sometimes remember to do and sometimes not.  Or, we do it, and then we check it off as done.  Perhaps it might be more useful to think of Gratitude as a philosophy- a lens with which we look at the whole of our lives.  I think that is the intellectual understanding that many of us believe we are utilizing when we make our “lists”. We use our line items to verify the philosophy is intact.  But to truly operate from a stance of gratitude is to realize that it’s all a gift.  That which brings us joy and that which brings us pain is a gift.  The ability to feel all emotion, from sadness to grief, is a gift.  The opportunity to have and to lose is a gift.  The very act of being right here at this moment, no matter how wonderful or dismal, is worthy of gratitude.

It’s hard to feel grateful when the house is a mess and no will help clean it up.  It’s hard to feel grateful when your car breaks or the dog runs away, you get cut off in traffic or you catch yet another cold and feel miserable.  But if one is operating from a philosophy of gratitude, there is less temptation to separate single events into categories of good and bad.

One definition of gratitude is appreciation.  Appreciation is further defined as having a full knowledge and awareness of someone or something.  Often our inability to feel appreciation comes from a limited knowledge of someone or something.  We see only what we see in context to us and what we want in this moment, rather than a more comprehensive picture.  For example, the messy house is viewed by the number of toys on the floor and causes frustration.  But to see that the same house provides a safe shelter where our family can grow is a larger picture with more information, and thus more easily appreciated.  The broken down car is one view, but knowing that one has a job that can manage repair costs, provides for opportunities to consider a more grateful conclusion.

It’s curious that the word gratitude and great attitude sound so similar.  They also have in common the quality of choice.  In the end, there are no prizes for being grateful enough.  But there are rewards.

I began this post by saying I would mostly save you from my list.  But I am going to give you one item from my list.  I am grateful for your patronage, for your time in reading my posts, your encouragement and feedback that helps to keep this blog alive, despite its sometimes rushed, typo filled, over comma’d and under proofread existence.  Happy Thanksgiving.

 

One Small Step for man… and Woman

Yesterday I had a session with someone I’ve known for quite some time.  I’ve watched her grow considerably from a few years ago.  I originally met her shortly after the dissolution of her first marriage.  She was young; the marriage had been brief.

She began working on her career, knowing all the while she also hoped to remarry at some point and have a family.  Her career has taken her to places near and far.  Yet, despite her attractiveness both physically and psychologically, she hasn’t met another suitable mate.   She understandably finds this disconcerting.  It’s not that she hasn’t put effort into it, because she has.  Although she has met people potential suitors along the way, none, seems to be suitable.  And in case you’re wondering, she is not being too picky.

I sat with her, wishing I could wave a magic wand and produce a perfect candidate, or at very least look into a crystal ball and tell her when it will happen.  Unfortunately, my wand is broken and my crystal ball is cloudy.  I also cannot resort to some text book prescription that will instruct her on exactly what to do to insure her desires will be fulfilled.

Sometimes there is luck and fate to contend with.

What I did do is ask her “If I could tell you without a doubt that, it’s not going to happen, what would you change in your life?”  I wasn’t attempting to be prophetic or pessimistic.  I was relieved by her answer, which was simply “Nothing”.  And I appreciated that she was certain about it.

I was relieved because it said to me that she wasn’t missing any of her life by waiting until it was “Right” in order to live it well.  She was instead, getting up every day and moving towards the things that she could control.  She had settled on living in a place that made her happy.  She had recently changed jobs to find work she felt more authentically aligned with.  While she would like a mate to join her world, she is no longer looking for one who will build it for her.  She is a smart girl in addition to being beautiful and charming.

Sunday I finally got around to seeing the movie Martian by Andy Weir.  I mentioned the book in a recent blog.  As I was leaving the theater, my friend mentioned to me that Weir had originally self -published the book as blog entries.  Intrigued I looked up more information to better understand the story.

Weir, a computer programmer always had an interest in writing, but took a job in programming to earn a living.  After reaching some financial independence he took time off to try his hand at writing.   According to an article in the Washington Post “His first efforts weren’t very good, as he freely admits. He couldn’t get an agent, much less a publisher. He decided that his childhood ambition of being a professional writer was unrealistic, and he went back to computer programming.”

But he kept writing.  He loved writing and it made him happy.  Eventually, he self-published it on Amazon and it was later picked up by Crown Publishing.  The rest was, as they say, “History”.

 

Many people give up on their dreams when they aren’t validated by the outside world quickly enough.  Weir obviously did not.  My client is continuing to do what makes her happy without any evidence that a book deal is in the works.    And others may wait for the life to feel “right” until after their dreams are sufficiently met by their own standards.  The ideal circumstance is to push towards living the life you want, while experiencing the one you actually have.  It is possible to dream of more and live in what it is currently.

Are there any paths you are waiting to take because someone or the world has not given you a clear map?  Are you living the life you enjoy even if nothing else changes?

Happy Hallowthankmas

Happy Hallowthankmas

This weekend is Halloween.  And the next day begins the official time where it’s legitimate to start the barrage of holiday ad campaigns.  That’s not to say that others haven’t already intruded into the not really legitimate time to begin because they have.

Come Saturday night doorbells will be rung by ghosts and goblins scarfing up as much candy as they can carry.  They will take home whatever doesn’t get eaten along their route.  Tired, and wired they will drift to sleep and awaken to parents who realize that it’s November and game day is in sight.  Short sight of only 7 ½ weeks and a mere five weeks for my Jewish friends.  Thanksgiving is just a means to an end; a kind of speedbump on the route to holiday shopping.  And with more stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, it’s not a very big speed bump anymore.

Maybe you are one of the wise men who have already done your shopping.  I doubt this makes you immune to the hustle and bustle which lies ahead.  There are outfits to buy, decorating to compete, parties to attend and a whole host of other unplanned for activities including family dynamics to wrestle with.  ‘Tis the season.

I’d like to propose an idea for you (and me) to think about this year.  I’ve noticed in the past that when I try to plan better I don’t get particularly great results.  For example, if I buy my kids gifts early, I usually end up buying a lot more because as the time grows close, their list gets longer.  I feel compelled to get the thing they now know they “really want” in addition to the things I thought they wanted back in August.   If I plan out my schedule, it often doesn’t include all of the spontaneous things that pop up. But there is also an element in my traditional approach to planning the holidays that contains the inherent quality of building expectations that will ultimately yield disappointment when they, are inevitably, unfulfilled.  I might picture in my head the perfectly decorated house because I’ve planned it.  Only to find that the light bulbs for the tree need replacing once it’s all done and putting new ones on after the fact doesn’t give me the look I had imagined.  Or the gravy turns out lumpy.

So my proposal is simply this.  Use this week before the insanity sits in to take a few moments and think about what you want the holidays to mean to you and how you want them to feel.  Write out a different kind of holiday list this year.  Here is an excerpt from mine.

I want to watch a great movie or two with my family over our time off.

I want to spend at least one lazy morning sleeping in and hanging out with my (3) boys in our pajamas.

I want to look at some old photographs from holidays past with them and share stories about their childhood and reflect on how much they have grown.

I want to try and focus more on remembering to be aware of the millions of things I already have to be grateful for, instead of looking towards what I don’t yet have in my life.  I especially want to try and practice this when I want to purchase things.

I want to celebrate that this is the time of year when I met my husband and started down this path of the life I so love.

My list doesn’t include shoes, or jewelry, or even a new toaster.

My list is still in progress.  What I want may be very different than the things you want and I encourage you to make your list a true reflection of your wishes.

So before your dreams of ghosts and goblins turn into sugarplums and fairies, take a little time out while time is still available.  Unplug from the cultural madness that is ready to pounce upon you and armor up with thoughts of a life designed by you rather than a marketing agency.

I’d love to hear some excerpts from your lists.

 

 

 

Hot Pad Hannah

I’m far from being a novice in the kitchen. And I’ve owned several kitchens in my life. Despite experience and knowledge however, I have a recurring dilemma in my current kitchen of 9 plus years that, still continues to plague me. For reasons I can’t fathom, I can still get burned while using my oven. There is something uniquely awkward for me about its height that has resulted in a number of scars on my forearm over the years.

The other night it happened again. Only this time the damage landed on the top of my thumb, right at the joint. I pulled back quickly and noticed a white residue on my skin. While the initial sensation caught my attention causing me to jerk my hand out quickly, the pain dissipated almost immediately. This led me to conclude that I hadn’t really burned myself and the white reside was a film left on the oven’s top surface from a recent cleaning. But to be sure, I did put a little ice on the spot for a minute or so.

The next day I noticed that my thumb clearly had a burn. I also noticed it still didn’t hurt. I came to another conclusion that, there must be relatively few nerve endings in that part of my thumb, hence the lack of pain.   Admittedly, it was pretty cool to not have it hurting, but it reminded me of a story that I read as a kid. The story was about a short order cook or waitress nicknamed Hot Pad Hannah. As I recall, Hannah had a unique ability to handle hot pots and plates without using an auxiliary hot pad because, apparently she had no nerve endings in her hand to signal pain. For the life of me I can’t imagine why this was a children’s story. I also can’t imagine why anyone thought this skill was virtuous enough to write about, but I digress.

While I agree it was a novel ability, the downside is that Hannah also remained at risk for touching something hot enough to burn the flesh right off of her bones. It might not feel hurt, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be hurt. Obviously this story traumatized me enough to imprint it on my brain but it has since become useful, as I’ve learned to see feelings much the same way.

It’s generally easy for most of us to allow pleasant emotions to surface and even share. Negative emotions are a different story. All too often we see them as unnatural, something to be conquered at best or worst, destroyed. At the very least, we try and minimize undesirable feelings with a host of tricks many of which have to be repeated making us vulnerable to addiction.

Hannah was able to avoid the feeling of pain because of her natural anesthesia. In doing so, she was not able to use them as a warning sign or a call to appropriate action. Feelings, while sometimes painful are like sensors to let us know that something is happening that we find unappealing. Sometimes our feelings could be seen as a warning sign telling us that a certain behavior or action is necessary. We might need to change course, end a relationship, and let something go. When we dull the sensation of the feeling we may leave ourselves perpetuating the status quo and causing further dissatisfaction.

Other times our feelings may be indicators of something that we can’t change. Loss is a natural part of life and denying it by numbing the feeling does us a tremendous disservice. The absence of loss and disappointment deprives us of the necessary contrast to appreciate growth and satisfaction. Moreover, it prompts us to live life in ways of overprotecting ourselves to avoid the risk. This strategy is rarely, if ever, effective or satisfying.

The burns on my arm have become warnings to be more careful. Obviously I need to keep working on this. But I must be changing something because at least I have moved up to my thumb instead of my arm.

 

 

 

Even the Experts Fall Down

Last night was the final showdown on America’s Got Talent. The little guy who scales the tall ladders is clearly not going to win. Last week he took a nasty tumble off of the high ladder. He was saved on the show,  I suspect somewhat out of curiosity and mostly out of sympathy. Even though he was given another a chance to perform last night, he had a very mediocre showing that can’t possibly win him the grand prize. He did his best, but it turns out he was taken to the hospital last week by ambulance after the show. He obviously sustained some injuries that made it far more difficult for him to perform anything strenuous or risky in his final performance. Unfortunately, that pretty much sealed his fate on the show. He may be a professional, but even professionals fall sometimes. And they fall not just in practice, but during peak performances as well.

I describe myself throughout my life as someone who had a few hard knocks along the way, bummed or sad from time to time, but never as one who was “officially depressed”. Until my second pregnancy that is. I pretty much spent 8 months throwing up daily and in general not having a good time despite the fact that, it took me nearly a year of trying to get pregnant with Andrew. I very much wanted a second child and was elated when it finally happened. It also occurred at a wonderful time in our marriage and while I was enjoying toddler years of my eldest child Alex. However, the pregnancy itself was pretty miserable. And over a few months I became clinically depressed. I found it difficult to do anything except get to work and get home. I had to force myself to find joy in Alex at the time, and often would sit and cry for no apparent reason just to get it out of my system. I remember once watching a movie, putting it on pause, taking a bath and crying in the bathtub and then returning to the movie as if I could finally concentrate.

I spoke with my doctor about it at the time and he suggested I try an anti-depressant. He gave me samples that I brought home but elected not to take. I had hoped to nurse Andrew and the antidepressants would have been a no no. I decided to try and get through the remainder of the pregnancy and then decide but I was certain if I continued to feel the way I did after delivery, I was going to take medication. Lucky for me my mood lifted almost immediately after his birth. I remember having a similar reaction but to a lesser contrast, after my first delivery so I was more relieved than surprised.

But this experience taught me first-hand the difference between I’m unhappy and clinical depression. Since that time, in fact I have gone on medication. It seems that my hormones have a mind of their own and don’t always play nicely in my body. Heading into menopause I again talked with my doctor about my less than optimal mood. I didn’t feel blue that time, but I sure was cranky. Very very cranky even though again, my life on the outside looked pretty good to me. And while I’ve tried a couple of times to wean off medication, I think I’ve finally accepted that my body no longer makes on its one whatever it is supposed to, in order for me to not bite the head off of an inefficient bank teller without the help of a little jolt of Celexa.

So I would say for the most part I’m a pro at this mood thing at least certainly in comparison to my non-medicated (or untrained as the metaphor goes) self. But that said I still have my moments. This past week I had my days. I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blue for a few days. I didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of work. I had little motivation to do anything and subsequently got little done. I didn’t want to hear the radio or a book on tape. Ironically, I had been listening to Dan Harris’s 10 percent happier when it hit. And I slept a lot which is very unusual for me. I scanned my life and feelings to see if there was anything unchecked that might be dragging me down. I considered several possibilities and tried to assess if there was something that I needed to attend to. While my life isn’t perfect, I just couldn’t settle on anything specific that felt particularly out of whack.

So I went with it. I let my husband know that I didn’t think anything was wrong but that I was on a mental time out. I slept more, cleared tasks from my calendar and just tried to be as gentle with myself as I could be. Last night I stayed up ridiculously late and predicted I would pay for it with an even lower mood today. But to my surprise, while I did wake up deprived of enough sleep, my mood has clearly lifted. I am myself today ready to tackle projects and be with people. Apparently somewhere along the way I fell down, but I took time to heal and I’m ready to perform at my best again.

I will fall again. It might not be next week or next month. Perhaps I will fall because of something besides my hormones not working well and I will have to heal by taking action other than just time. What I have learned along the way however is that, when depression grips people, no amount of picking oneself up by the bootstraps can wriggle it loose. It’s kind of like Thor’s hammer. It takes the right arm, not the strongest arm to break it free. (Sorry non Avenger’s fans).

For me, the right arm is self-nurturing and self-care. It means to not beat myself up or push myself to do more than I can during those times. It also means to work harder at finding joy wherever I can and having a well- stocked tool box to choose from. Tools like classical music when I can’t tolerate voices talking at me. It means beading small jewelry projects to have a place I can focus and get a quick sense of the ability to complete something. These are just two examples.

What is in your toolbox? How do you behave with yourself when you fall down? Are you too embarrassed to let yourself acknowledge the injury and get it the treatment it deserves?

Don’t spoil the ending… if there is one

Don’t spoil the ending… if there is one!

The other day my son Andrew was listening to the news as we drove along in the car. There was a story about stem cell research and Andrew commented that he hoped the endeavor was successful. I asked him why, because I wanted to know how much he understood. He said it would be cool to be able to grow a new arm if you lost one. Then he asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I told him that if I was the one missing the arm I would think it was a very good idea, but that I sometimes worry that, we are trying to take medical advances to a point of believing we can avoid death entirely. At some point we just have to let it go. No one will ever accuse me of sugar coating things for my kids.

I’ve been reading “The Martian” by Andy Wier. (Side note for anyone thinking of reading this, the first chapter is brutally dull unless you’re an astronaut, but if you’re not, read on it gets better.) I’m not going to spoil the ending because I’m not finished and don’t actually know how it ends. The premise is that a mission on Mars has to be quickly aborted due to a sand storm and one astronaut Mark Wadley, is left behind. The rest of the crew thought him dead but it turns out he is alive and has to figure out how to survive and get home. Calling a cab is not an option.

As the story unfolds, the whole world begins to join in the effort to bring Mark Wadley home safely. I have found myself rising and falling to the triumphs and failures along the way in these efforts as other book reviewers suggested would happen. And while I hope he makes it for a happy ending, there is another part of me that thinks “Wow, what happens if they spend 100 billion dollars bringing him home and find out he has terminal cancer or he gets hit by a car the next day. Will everyone still think it was worth it”?

Call me morbid. And again, if Mark Wadley was my husband or son, I ‘m sure at least part of me would want to be stand on the corner begging for money to fund the “bring him home” campaign. But Mark Wadley is a fictitious character. He is only brought to life on the silver screen when played by Matt Damon in the upcoming movie version. And so because of that, coupled with the fact that this is my blog, I get to philosophize over the deeper questions of how much is enough and how much is too much?

We are largely a Type A nation, believing we are capable of doing just about anything we put our minds to. There is plenty of evidence to suggest we are accurate. But we are also people who are burned out, insatiable and sometimes disillusioned by the realization of our achievements when they either fail to satisfy us or we can’t stop long enough to enjoy them because we are on to the next challenge.

I saw a T shirt the other day that said “I never finish anyth” I thought it was funny when I saw it, but now I’m thinking it might be profound. What if there are things we simply don’t finish because they are no longer worth finishing rather than chastising ourselves for failure? What if we let something go because we have had enough or simply because we are willing to recognize that all things have a season or a life cycle. What if we didn’t put in a heroic effort just because we know we could?

For years I wouldn’t allow myself to stop a book or a movie once I started. No matter how much the experience lacked satisfaction I hung in there hoping for an eventual payoff. Finally, I began to realize I was wasting a lot of life doing something that I didn’t benefit from, just because I could or thought I should.

I do not profess to know where the line is. I think it varies from person to person and depends on each situation. I do know that feeling perpetually exhausted is an indicator of when I’ve crossed the line too frequently.

Two other great movie scenes that exemplify this concept come to mind. The first is Forest Gump when Forest, after having run hundreds of miles across the country, just one day stops. He has had enough and it was something from inside of him, rather than outside that told him when to stop. The other is Regarding Henry. The character played by a disabled Harrison Ford, learns over time that he can no longer live the life he had before his disability and learns to say he has had enough of trying. He learns to say when it’s time to let go of what was and embrace his life for what it has become, limitations and all.

How about your movie? Are you perpetually exhausted and out of time because you’re giving it all, your all? Are there somethings that you might be willing to experiment with to not finish? I probably have more to say on this but

 

how will you Fall

This is an excerpt from the lyrics of “bring him home” from Les Miserables:

The summers die One by one How soon they fly On and on

I heard this the other day and it seems appropriate for this week’s blog. The kids are back in school (although one could doubt that if you note the plethora of TV commercials advocating the purchase of supplies). The pool is closing and college football begins this weekend. All that remains missing is, a nip in the air to set the tone. But even with the anticipated heat this week, it is undeniable that summer 2015 is ready for the memory book.

How did you spend it? Will you remember anything that stands out positively or negatively or will it blur into the stream of “summer memories” that meld into one vague feeling?

If the latter is true, then this is the perfect opportunity to think about welcoming in fall and the holidays ahead. Why not consider doing so with your eyes wide open and your heart ready to experience the days ahead, rather than to endure or conquer them with a checkmark of completion.

Digital cameras have become so prolific that we often take a million images never to look at them again. I’ve been guilty of hoping a photo will save the memory for me instead of taking the time to actually enjoy the experience in the moment. Try going on a family or personal adventure without taking photos. Consider instead imprinting the memory in your mind. Gather all the surrounding stimulus, sights, sound and smells to help cement a vivid film for future retrieval.

Make it a goal to try something outside your normal activities. Break a routine, check out a new path or route. You might consider taking on a new hobby or more importantly, ending some old practices that no longer serve you, but instead nibble away at all of your time. Facebook anyone? Last week a blog reader commented on the time wasted on funny cat videos. A few days later I caught myself watching a loop of something stupid, remembered his comment and immediately stopped myself. Thank you!

Another suggestion is to think about the company you keep. Are you spending the bulk of your time with the people you would most like to have in your life?  The people that you say are important to you? If not, what is keeping you from that fulfillment? Work, play? Other people? This is a great time to take inventory and reflect.

And last, but not least, is your health, or lack thereof, preventing you from truly enjoying your life at this time? Physically or mentally are you either disconnected from your body or your needs that you remain numb, or overwhelmed to the extent that it preoccupies your every waking thought? This would be a great time to awaken to the life that is yours and begin with one single step at a time to make changes towards greater fulfillment.

Here are two more line from the song that I’d like to share. They follow those listed in my opening:

And I am old And will be gone

So before you are, consider putting forth the effort so you will not only know you were here, but will have enjoyed the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A guest post from Brad Tinnon- more on money and health

I have the pleasure of introducing you to Brad Tinnon this week. I hope you will enjoy Brad’s wisdom.

 

DOES WEALTH AFFECT HEALTH?

Dr. Mary Young recently guest blogged on our website about money causing fear and anxiety in people’s lives.

In relation to her blog, I want to discuss how money can interfere with balance in your life which in turn can affect your health (and possibly your happiness).

Money in and of itself is not the problem, but rather the love of money is.  In fact, those who love money will often times pursue it at all costs. You see, the pursuit of money is generally a very time consuming task so, let me make a bold statement:

If the pursuit of money consumes your time, it WILL likely consume your health!!

HEALTH, WEALTH, AND BALANCE

Health comes in a variety of forms: physical, spiritual, and emotional. If you don’t practice balance in your life in relation to these three areas, then you will not truly be healthy.  Let me give you a brief example of what I mean:

If you pursue money by means of being a workaholic, then your health will suffer in the following ways:

(1) You won’t have time for a proper nutritious meal (physical health will suffer).

(2) You won’t have time to exercise (physical health will suffer).

(3) You won’t have time to get a proper night’s sleep (physical and emotional health will suffer).

(4) You won’t have time to connect with friends, family, or God (emotional and spiritual health will suffer).

(5) You won’t have time for activities and interests that you enjoy (emotional health will suffer).

To sum this up, the love of money prevents you from living a balanced life. And as a result, your physical and spiritual health will deteriorate, your relationships will be broken, and you won’t get that needed time away from work.

HOW TO FREE UP TIME

Maybe the pursuit (or love) of money is not your vice, but perhaps “being too busy” is. And many times it seems we are too busy with the wrong things.

I often times wonder how I can free up my time to focus on the things in life that are important.

IDEA #1

One way to do this is to just simply say “no” to things. If your plate is already full, stop taking on new responsibility when somebody asks you to pitch in and help out. You will never please everybody even when you say “yes” to things.

IDEA #2

Another way to free up time is to stop trying to be an expert in everything.

We all know people who are a jack of all trades.  They fix their own car, do their own taxes, handle their own home improvements, etc…

There’s nothing wrong with these things unless you are horrible at them of if they consistently take you away from spending time with family, friends, and God; preparing or eating a nutritious meal; exercising; helping someone in need; having alone time; etc…

There’s also the aspect that you could end up costing yourself more money in the long run because you perhaps don’t have the necessary training to tackle certain tasks. After all, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

I’m not saying that you have to turn over every aspect of your life to a professional.  But if you have a task in which you lack the time, desire, or knowledge to accomplish, then I challenge you to consider allowing someone to help you out.

In summary, there is nothing wrong with working and making money.  However, too many people go to the extreme and pursue money at all costs.  It’s helpful if you just look at money as one part of your life and recognize that there are many other parts of your life that need your attention as well.

I encourage you to live a more balanced life and spend your time wisely. And if you do this you may also find that you are more healthy and happy.

Please feel free to share any experiences or comments you may have.

Brad Tinnon is owner of B.E.S.T. Wealth Management and has been in practice for 9 years. He currently holds the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist™ designations. Brad specializes in helping individuals and families with their personal financial planning and investments. In addition, he specializes in helping small businesses with their company sponsored 401k plan. Brad is married and has two girls who are ages 6 and 2. He welcomes any sympathy you may have.

 

 

Damn I broke a nail and other impending life challenges

Regrettably, many of my conversations begin with the words “I saw this on Pinterest”, but here I go again. Recently, I saw a meme satirizing our “First world problems”. Some pinners have entire boards devoted to these. Here are five that I saw:

 

  1. I have more clothes than I have clothes hangers
  2. The phone rang in the middle of my song
  3. My laptop is dying and the charger is in another room
  4. I had to get a new phone and lost all of my Angry birds progress
  5. I ordered a Coke and the waitress asked me if Pepsi would be okay

 

But if you’re not a Pinterest addict (and hopefully you aren’t), I’m going to share with you five of my own that I have said (probably more than once).

  1. The air conditioner isn’t keeping the house cool enough on these hot days
  2. I spent a lot of my summer driving my son to camp
  3. I forgot to pick up dog treats when I went to Walmart and will have to make another trip
  4. I have too many bathrooms to clean
  5. The backup camera on my car isn’t working properly

Now, in my defense, it is HOT in St. Louis and it’s muggy as all get out right now. But there are people in far more physically demanding circumstances from Africa to those living homeless on the streets not all that far from where I live. These folks would never waste energy to think about any air conditioning, much less its efficacy.

Don’t I deserve your pity for 1) having a son (that I was fortunate enough to get pregnant with at age 43), a son that has the ability to have a talent of cello playing, to have the funds to send him to camp and the reliable transportation to get him there. Not to mention a job with the flexibility to take him to and fro. The unfairness of it all.

On a trip to the Bahamas earlier this year our guide mentioned some astronomical number that I’ve since chosen to repress that represents the number of stray dogs that roam in Nassau. There isn’t enough money for the people to have treats, much less the dogs. And while I’m pretty sure they have a Walmart, I doubt dog treats are a big seller.

Okay few people like cleaning bathrooms and I’m on the top of that list. But again, my house is too big? I imagine there are at least a handful of people in the world (including many who still use outdoor plumbing) who might enjoy having a bathroom to clean.

And the final tragedy I’ve listed in my life is the backup camera. I especially like this one because I’ve had my car with a backup camera for all of three out of my 55 years. And while I would like to enjoy the benefit of that for which I’ve paid, I think I can still remember how to back up the car without a camera if I put in just a little effort.

I suspect I’ve said enough to make the point of this blog clear, but just in case it’s simply this: We spend a lot of our energy on “problems” that in fact are not. Yes, they may be things that require a little more time than we might have planned, but they are simply tasks to knock off in a sub-list on the main list called life. They don’t need to be announced, grieved, overwhelmed by and certainly not immobilized by. Everybody else has theirs and they go on about the day of getting them done and many people find a way to do so without complaint, because they realize they have a choice to feel content and satisfied or depressed and deprived. They live by the motto espoused by the great philosopher, Larry the Cable Guy: ‘Git R done!”

The good news is that our brains are malleable and with a little practice, we can change the pathways or ruts we often get into and build new circuitry formed on a more positive outlook.  The practice helps to make this thought process more natural as our “go to “position. I’m not suggesting that I or anyone simply ignore frustrations, but rather that we keep them in perspective that they may not be as big as we sometimes make them out to be.

 

 

Fleeting emotions

I want to share an insight this week. Actually it’s a revisiting of a lesson I learned several years ago when my first son Alex was a baby. Most mornings Alex would wake around 4 or 5 and I would pick him up from his crib, bring him to our bed and nurse him back to sleep.

On one such morning, I went through the same routine not unlike so many others. What was different however, is what happened next. As Alex snuggled up to his father, I lay there watching the two of them and became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I looked at them both slumbering and thought “This is the most perfect moment of my life! I have everything I could ever imagine right in front of me!” And so I watched. And I watched trying to soak up all of this perfect joy.

And that lasted about 15 seconds.

After that, I got up and went on with my day a little dumbfounded as to why the sensation of reaching nirvana seemed to occupy my attention span for only about 15 seconds before becoming “over” it. Well, not over it exactly, as I still remember it very clearly. That said, it wasn’t something that entranced me to the point of choosing to gaze on.

So the lesson I learned was this. Emotions; all emotions, positive or negative rarely, if ever seem to have the power we ascribe to them. We are simply incapable of sustaining them. That is both the bad news (when we want it to last) and the good news (when we fear they will overwhelm or destroy us).   I suppose this coping mechanism is built in to our species DNA for survival the same as needing to pee is.

The reminder lesson came this past week with child number two. Andrew was at cello camp in Bloomington. It was his first time away from home and the camp lasted two weeks. Okay, it was my first time away from Andrew that long and it was excruciating for me. When I went up to visit, he stayed at the hotel with me instead of the dorm. So this idea I’m about to try and describe to you happened a couple of times over that visit.

I noticed when I first got to hug him, I hugged really hard. There is that sensation when you first make contact, that is new and fresh and seems to touch parts inside of you; even parts that aren’t making physical contact with the other person like warmth in your toes or joy in your heart. But it dissipates quickly. And if you try to hug harder or longer, the feeling doesn’t increase. Then, I noticed at other times, when I went to kiss him that, if I pressed my lips against his cheek the same thing occurred. The “reward” came in the first few seconds of the kiss. After that, pressing harder or longer just seemed weird or mechanical, like lip skin touching face skin, rather than the adoration of a kiss.

So I came away reminded again of the gap between our desire for wonderful things to last forever and the disappointing reality that they don’t, or maybe “can’t” is a better term. But like most things, the disappointment comes from expectation and ignorance rather than the events themselves.

If we could feel that level of joy all of the time, would it really mean the same to us? Remember the wisdom of the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial that tugged at our heart strings? The commercial featured a song by the group Passenger, “Let Her Go”. While it played, a man ultimately feels such joy reuniting with his horse after the two had been separated for a time. It was the absence that made his heart grow fonder.

The following excerpt from the lyrics are relevant:

Well, you only need the light when it’s burning low, Only miss the sun when it starts to snow, Staring at the bottom of your glass Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last But dreams come slow, and they go so fast

If we don’t expect the good to last forever, and can instead, appreciate it for what it is in the moment, we can greatly reduce our disappointment. And the flipside is that if we can remember that pain too, will not last, we can greatly reduce our fear.

How about practicing this week a willingness to let feelings come and go naturally without having to either hold on tightly or push them away.

I’d love to hear your stories about your experiences in this area.

 

 

 

Now that I can hear, can you?

First, another thanks and round of applause to the wonderful comments I’ve received the past couple of weeks.  My readers are incredibly awesome and insightful people!  Not everyone posts their comments publicly- but they are all fantastic!

I learned a new word this week. I mean really learned it instead of just having heard it before and tried using it in a sentence. The word is “ineffable”.

Maybe you already know what it means. The dictionary says “too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.

But I realize now that it is the word I haven’t been familiar with enough to describe the experiences people often share with me. A feeling, a condition, an experience so great or extreme that they find it difficult to capture in words.

In a blog a few weeks ago I tried to describe someone’s physical pain. This week someone described the tragedy of losing a loved one far more prematurely than expected. Others try to describe to me a fear of a situation looming, the dread of lingering past betrayal. Sometimes they try to describe a longing for something that seems out of reach, a lover or a child to name a few. For the record, the longing for chocolate is not ineffable. Rather, it is well documented by many including me.

My job is often an attempt to help people describe in words that which is indescribable. The goal is to help them feel understood, to share, if only for a few minutes that someone understands the weight of their burden. No one asks me to take the burden home with me, only to be heard and quite possibly to find a way to manage the feelings with a little more ease or at least grace.

I recall back when I worked in residential eating disorder treatment, the residents were often anxious around fat people. Some were disgusted, others literally terrified. It was as if, sitting next to someone fat put them in danger of catching the same. I find people’s reactions to intense feelings much the same. They grow impatient when listening to another, or worn down when they have to hear the same thing more than once. I believe this is most likely due to either not wanting to have to think about the same situation potentially occurring in their own lives like a contagion. Others may have a sense of inadequacy from not knowing how to respond appropriately. Of course, there are situations where we simply don’t care about the person or the subject, but these are not the ones I’m thinking about in this blog.

It is our human nature to want to be understood. Words; the construct of language is perhaps our best attempt to unite us. But what happens when words cause us more distance because of their inadequacy? What happens when the experience is ineffable?

Maybe the simple demonstration to not speak, but rather just to stay with another is an alternative. What might happen if we allow someone to describe something so ineffable to us and we don’t leave? What if we simply reached out our hand to theirs or put our arms around them. Maybe the best we can do is hand them a tissue. Don’t underestimate the value in simply being present with another who is in pain. Sometimes the value lies in the fact that they can see us sitting in our own discomfort and our willingness to stay as a model to help them tolerate something within themselves. Maybe it simply will make them feel less alone.

Someone recently introduced me to a video called “It’s not about the nail”. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s worth the 2 minutes or so watch. It’s another way of addressing the power of listening. And maybe, through the practice of listening to others with compassion, we will become more willing to do the same for ourselves.

 

The Business of Marriage

The Business of Marriage

Imagine this if you will. A guy named Joe opens up a restaurant near your neighborhood. Not only is it your favorite food type, it’s absolutely fantastic food. Joe is a phenomenal chef. The prices are fair and the service is good. You try out the restaurant, enjoy it immensely and decide to go back on a regular basis.

Joe is a great success. So much so, that he decides to open up a second location and a third. You’re happy for him. On the other hand, it now means that Joe isn’t spending quite so much time at the first location. You can’t count on him coming out to the table each time to ask you about your meal. But when he does, he promises you that the place still bears his name. “You can trust him,” he says.

And at first, everything seems normal. But after a while, you start to notice that the servers don’t seem to be as friendly as they used to be. They aren’t familiar since many of the more seasoned crew have gone on to the other locations. The new staff doesn’t know you. You have to tell them what you want each time, unlike the original team who used to bring you your drinks as soon as you sat down because they already knew your favorites. You start to feel resentful for having to leave a tip for unexceptional service.

Sometimes when you go in, they are even out of your favorite dish. They don’t seem to be as prepared for the crowds. You try and alter the time you eat getting their earlier and earlier in hopes that you can enjoy your meal. Sometimes it works but usually it does not.

And the more time passes, it doesn’t even seem like you get the same quality of ingredients or consistency of preparation. It’s almost like you don’t even know this place any more.   You begin to patronize Joe’s place less frequently until you stop going all together.

You entered into a contract of sorts with Joe. And when Joe stops delivering what you felt you had agreed to, you are ready to pull out of that contract. Who wouldn’t?

This metaphor very closely resembles many of the stories I hear about marriage. I see relationships very much like a business contract that two people enter into. They make agreements based on their individual desire to receive certain benefits of marriage. As long as things stay exactly the same everyone is happy. The only problem is nothing ever stays exactly the same. Especially marriage.

Kids come along. Jobs come along. Extended families, illnesses, deaths, financial challenges, purchasing homes, relocations and the list goes on, comes along. Not to mention the fact that what we desired originally also changes. And some years into the marriage, people find themselves frustrated that they aren’t getting enough benefit for the price they feel they are paying. Sometimes they feel blatantly ripped off.

It’s easy to look at your partner like “Joe”. How he or she is no longer keeping their end of the bargain. And perhaps that is accurate. If that is the case, are you justified in just dining across town without bringing the problems to the attention of the owner to see if they might be resolved? Joe may not be aware of the issues and while that’s not your responsibility, it is impacting your dining experience. Perhaps some honest but constructive feedback could help Joe maintain the success he strived for from the beginning.

But its also worth considering that you might be the “Joe” in the relationship. Have you lowered your standards because you are taking for granted that your partner must be okay with the changes if he or she is still hanging around? Do you make justifications of why you no longer have to give your partner what you used to? You may be a whole lot busier than you were in the beginning and have less energy, but simply assuming your partner doesn’t want or need the same level of interest in him or her that they used to get, could be a very unfortunate path. Even if you can’t keep that pace up, it still requires a renegotiation of that original contract and some empathy for your partner, rather than, putting in substandard ingredients and hoping they won’t notice. Or worse still, not caring if they do.

 

This week, how about taking a look at key relationships and ask yourself if you are giving what you agreed to when you said “I do.”

 

 

 

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

 

I had an unexpected complication in my first pregnancy. What started out as a nagging backache in my 11th week turned into a pinched nerve. I was getting ready for work when the pain literally dropped me to the ground. I somehow hobbled to the bed where I called my husband, barely able to speak and ended up going to the hospital by ambulance. I stayed in the hospital for 3 days while they tried to figure out what to do with me. Eventually a pain management doc started me on steroid injections which lasted several weeks outpatient.

In the first two weeks after the hospital the pain was really intense. I never slept more than 2 hours at a time. Frustrated one night I asked my husband “What if it’s like this the whole time?” He replied “Then it will be like this the whole time.” It was as if I expected him to come with an different answer because I wanted one. On another night in a sleep deprived stupor I exclaimed “I’m an American! This can’t be happening to me!” Brilliant- I guess only 3rd world countries are expected to have pain. Eventually the pain subsided. I was lucky.

A few years ago I met a young woman who had chronic headaches. I don’t mean take two aspirins and call me in the morning kind of headache. Rather, they were headaches that left her debilitated. Any kind of fluorescent lighting or screen light from electronics caused her considerable pain. She was forced to drop out of school.   After a couple of years she began to have some success with a variety of new treatments. It was hard to find hope when no one understood the cause much less the cure.

More recently I met Joyce who came to see me at the suggestion of her physician. Joyce has been coping with an excruciating pain which, at its peak left her housebound. She has tried every treatment she can find, both traditional and non-traditional. For the past several months Joyce has received relief through a medication intervention that has made the pain bearable, but it is far from gone.

Unlike my own experience of believing that if I could just use my national status or reason my way out of pain, Joyce, a very spiritual woman says that the pain has only strengthened her relationship with God. It has been educational, enlightening and frankly, beautiful to watch Joyce process her experience.   While it has been a journey for her, I will fast forward to the present resolution in the interest of brevity for this post. To state it succinctly, Joyce has moved from praying for the pain to be gone, to praying for the strength to use the pain as a tool to do whatever it is that God would like her to do in this world. Joyce has expressed that this reframe has enabled her to feel more empowered and less victimized by her circumstances.

I’m fairly confident that no one will read this post and hold up their hand to say “give me some pain please so I can grown stronger.” I think Joyce would really appreciate a vacation from her pain so she could get a good nights sleep that she hasn’t had in a very long time. But like many things in life, we don’t choose circumstances or pain that comes at us. Sometimes we do, but often we don’t. What we can choose is what we will do with it when it arrives.

I chose to become indignant. My first client chose to be focused on searching for a cure. Joyce tried both of those routes, but settled on a third posture. To find a way to keep living even with her pain, but even more importantly, to see it as purpose rather than ­­­­­persecution.

There is a wonderful little book called “Intoxicated by My Illness by Anatole Broyard. After learning he had terminal cancer, Broyard decided to use the metaphor of drunk as a way to describe how his illness afforded him the opportunity to fully live with whatever time he had left, without any inhibition or prohibition. In essence, he became “intoxicated” by the illness allowing him to do and experience every ounce of life in his remaining time. Broyard’s wife had to finish the book for her husband as he passed prior to its completion.

As author, Geneen Roth writes “Real people feel some kind of pain every day of their life. Living hurts, dying hurts.” And the Buddha says “Pain is inevitable, suffering is extra.” Which will you choose when pain, physical or psychological knocks at your door?

How long do I have to wait?

I heard Carolyn Myss tell a story a long time ago that I often repeat in therapy. She was working with a man, with whom, she felt needed to develop patience about some event or transformation in the future. Myss told him he needed to learn to wait. The man acknowledged this and asked how long he would have to wait. Myss replied “Until how long you have to wait no longer matters.”

 

Waiting can be stressful from the big to the small. Waiting to find out the sex of your baby during pregnancy. Waiting to see if you will get the job you interviewed for. Waiting to get test results on a health matter. You can try and ignore the wait, control the wait or as Myss suggests, withdraw your emotional investment in the wait. Then the wait simply is. The wished for end will either come or it won’t, but the tension invested in waiting itself, no longer exists.

It occurred to me that this idea was applicable to other sources of tension as well. Recently, someone asked me the question “Why does my self worth and value depend so much on what others think of me?” And I thought about Myss’ story in my reply: “Because it matters. And it will continue to matter until it no longer matters.”

Now of course, this is not rocket science but yes, I do try to think through what are seemingly obvious answers before, replying with what sounds like sarcasm at first glance.

When we fail to invest attachment to ourselves as valuable, to recognize our significance, that energy is a magnet waiting for a source of attraction. It might be to another person, an achievement or an aspect of our appearance. Why would we fail to fail to invest in ourselves? Any number of reasons may contribute, including the failure of our early life to model that for us so, we could internalize it, or because of some event, or series of events, for which, we feel shame. A shame powerful enough to override anything valuable that may have been put in to begin with.

Once our source of value is outside of us, it serves like a carrot being wheeled around by a speeding car. We might be fast enough to see it in our sights, but we can’t ever manage to catch the darn thing. So we try to run faster, manipulate circumstances to try and get a little closer. Some will die trying.

And how do we get out of this race? Back to my answer. “When it no longer matters.” The “it” is the outside source. When “it” ceases to have as much power as the inside of us has. When the source of value comes from within us, we are no longer under the desire to pursue what is outside for validation. This doesn’t mean we don’t still have goals that we work towards. It means only that we don’t assign things and people outside of us to determine if we are “enough”. That job remains ours. Maybe Hollywood producers won’t find me pretty enough to cast in their movies. I won’t be an actress, but that doesn’t determine if I am valuable as a human being.

So often, I watch people struggle to get validation from sources and people that they themselves don’t like or value. Yet, they still aim to please. Is it any wonder that in the rare exceptions that praise actually does come, it falls short of satisfying the seeker?

How do you value yourself if you don’t value yourself? (I bet more than one person was about to post that comment). It’s a process, not an event. It takes practice. Start small with what feels authentic. Maybe you can only value the way you behave with your kids or your dog. Start there. Build on it. Be truthful and use the same scale to measure yourself that you would for others.

 

 

 

Reflections from a theme park Part 1

 

As part of my recent vacation, I enjoyed three days at Universal Studios. Believe me when I say, I use the term “enjoyed” loosely. A few weeks before my vacation, I had begun to play with an idea in my head about theme parks as a metaphor of life. So regardless of my personal satisfaction, this trip was really a great experience in field work. That said, I’m pretty sure my accountant would never agree to this as a business trip.

The Despicable Me ride at Universal is apparently one of the newer and most popular attractions. After observing the lines on day one, we noticed the line had gotten longer throughout the day, but never shorter. So, we decided our second day that we would stand in the 60 minute wait line. About 20 minutes into the line, an announcement came over the intercom informing us that there was a problem that the “minions” were trying to repair, but they didn’t know how long it would take. If you’re not familiar with the movie, minions look like twinkies wearing denim overalls and big round glasses.   We waited about another ten minutes through a few more repeat announcements and gave up.

On day three we decided it was now or never to enjoy this ride and got into the line as our first stop of the day. The board said it was an 85 minute wait. And so we added ourselves among the millions of other cows and stood in our cattle line inching our way closer to the ride. Line standing is often a time to bond with other people who are suffering the same misery. It’s also a great place to people watch in order to entertain yourself. And roughly 85 minutes later we were relieved from the heat, but not the standing as we were herded into a small crowded room to watch a short movie about the ride. Then the doors opened and we moved to…another small room with a different short movie about the ride. And finally, we were herded towards the bins to pick up 3D glasses and finally, the ride itself.

The ride was a delightful 4 minutes of 3 or 4 D (I can never tell the difference) action that include bits from both of the Despicable Me movies. Then the lights came on simultaneously with the announcement of where to return our glasses and asking us to quickly exit the auditorium. As we made our way towards the exits, I could see the next group of exhausted line waiters and room watchers piling in. These seats were no longer ours, and were about to become theirs.

So the idea is this. Amusement parks are a metaphor of life itself. Most of us spend the majority of our time in the mundane routine, non-exciting, and even sometimes painful chores of everyday living, working towards some brief time of exciting, satisfying moment. But those moments are short lived, only to have us once again return to the wait lines of the next anticipated moment. Some people look at the wait times and say “nope, not going to do it”. But the reality is, they only trade one wait line for that of another kind.

The rides, no matter how pleasurable are inevitably short. This is true both literally and metaphorically. My children being toddlers, was too short, the great meals I had on vacations ended too quickly, even getting a haircut I really like grows out quickly and I can’t get it back to the way it used to look. From the big to the small, pleasure is a fleeting experience that cannot be sustained. Even if we could logistically allow something to go on longer, our own psyche begins to diminish its sense of pleasure within us after a time. A job we were thrilled to get hired for becomes mundane and routine over time. The lover we once couldn’t keep our hands off becomes boring in our eyes. A male client once said to me that he suspected “Even Cindy Crawford’s husband gets tired of having %#@ with her after a few years.” And so, often, our remedy is to go stand in another line looking for the next thrill.

The French philosopher Jacque Lacan, made addressed this issue with his theory of what he called registers. Lacan designated the term demand as that part of our selves that wants and wants and wants, but can never truly be satisfied. In contrast, he used the term desire to describe a more mature experience of yearning for something with the knowledge that it will ebb and flow. That which we desire, are not things we expect to last and thus, are not disappointed when they pass. In fact, part of their satisfaction lies in the knowledge that they are temporary. The very essence of their fleeting nature does not over tax our psyche.

Another way to reduce our imbalance between wanting and getting is to reduce the disparity between the two. This doesn’t mean to buy a fast pass and shorten the line, but rather to embrace the wait itself as a pleasurable or at least neutral experience, rather than simply a means to an end. Often, what makes the wait line bearable are factors like, who are you waiting with, how much can you learn to play while waiting. Is it possible to even enjoy the wait instead of using your energy to either fight against it, numb yourself out from it, or complain about its every aspect of discomfort.

I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

acceptance vs resignation

Before I jump into this week’s post, I’d just like to thank you all for reading last week’s post, and for the bunch of comments I received both publically and privately.  I had no idea when I wrote about Leonard that it would impact people so favorably.  I am humbled and more importantly, I am thrilled that a piece of his life touched others.

This next piece is actually something  I wrote a long time ago.  Since I’ve been referring back to it a lot recently, I decided it was time to dust it off.  I hope you find it useful.

 

Many people seem to be confused about the concept  of acceptance.  I often hear them say, if I accept “this” as it is, “it” will never change, and I simply can’t live with the way things are.  Thus, they draw the conclusion that they can’t accept their current lot.  Maybe you’ve said, “if I accept my weight the way it is, I will never get thin.  And I don’t like my body now.”

I find it helpful to make the following distinction.  Acceptance says this is what it is AT THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME.  It doesn’t require that you agree with the circumstance, that you like the circumstance, or that you hope it will always be this way.  It is merely acknowledgment of what is.  And this is the part people really struggle with:  acknowledge it without judgment of the condition being good or bad.  Rather, it is a relinquishment of the past and the present in favor of being where you currently are.  It is only from there that you can objectively determine the appropriate course of action.  Without your energy in the present, you are instead destined to cloud your choices by old habits and patterns and/or future fantasies.

In contrast, resignation is the inclusion of the judgment.  It says, okay, I’ll live with it the way it is, but I don’t like it.  Resignation is a victimization.

Acceptance is the recognition that where you are at this moment is all you can absolutely be sure exists.  It is an affirmation of the here and now which is the only thing you can impact with any real accuracy.  You might argue that if you change A, you can also impact the future of B.  I would agree that while that is likely in many cases, there is no guarantee that the future will occur at all, much less with the certainty that one might try to predict.

On a spiritual level, acceptance is an acknowledgment of what the universe has offered you at this particular moment.  Standing still in acceptance gives you the opportunity to see if there is anything you can learn, about you, about the world, about life.  Resignation doesn’t provide you with the openness to consider these messages.

I hope you will leave me a comment about any insights you have to share on this subject.

 

 

 

 

Go ahead.. make your day

 

The stock market dropped 200 points this morning. On top of yesterday’s big drop. There is another identified Ebola patient in Dallas. Isis took another city this week, despite our efforts with air strikes.

Every other commercial on TV and radio is about the wrong doing of one politician versus another. And, I also saw my first Christmas shopping begins ad earlier today. Unless one considers shopping as an appropriate retail therapy for the woes listed above, the idea of starting to think about Christmas shopping now, does not put me in a mood of cheer and good tidings.

The world does at times seem to be tilting a little funny on its axis. What I mean is that, either a lot of news seems to converge at once, or perhaps there are times for reasons I can’t explain that, the intensity and proportion of bad news to good seems tipped in the direction of despair.

Unless.

Unless you decide to do something different.

You can decide to ignore it.

You can decide to pretend it isn’t true.

You can decide to argue about it.

You can decide to act out about it.

And you can also decide to fall back on some solid principles. Change what you can, live with what you can’t and understand how to tell the difference.

Ebola- If you work in a hospital in Dallas you have different decisions to make than if you currently work in a hospital in St. Louis or anywhere else. If you have Ebola, you certainly can’t decide to ignore it or pretend it isn’t true. But you can choose between believing your life is over, or that you are being punished by God. But you can also opt for putting all of your energy into healing your body, which includes a regiment of fostering hope.

If you’ve lost money in the stock market you can jump out of a window, but I wouldn’t advise you to do so. You can pull out all of your money and blame your advisor or spouse. Or, you can calmly review how and if, this change affects you over the long haul. Is it time to try another strategy? Or is this one to wait out?

Have you ever noticed what happens when a little kid loses a tooth? It can be a range of things. There is often fear because they haven’t experienced parts of their body falling off before and growing back. But as adults, we have and we know what to experience. Sometimes the child has some accompanying pain. That’s never fun. Hopefully, the child will mitigate that pain with a little excitement because they believe something magical will come, take their tooth and leave money behind in its place.

And eventually the hole in their mouth is replaced with a bigger, stronger more reliable tooth that they need to live in the world more easily. But if we told them that news prior to the loss, it may seem too difficult for the child to grasp. This is a metaphor of what happens to us as adults. We tend to hold on to our ideas of comfort, most likely out of familiarity and limited experience with the alternatives. But if we were promised something else down the road that seemed magical, maybe we might be more willing to go with the flow.

Unfortunately, I’m not a tooth fairy, 401K fairy, Ebola elimination fairy, or any other kind of fairy. But I would like to give you the reminder, that you have enormous power within you to choose what thought patterns you are willing to limit yourself with, or which you will use to promote yourself.

If you choose the latter strategy, what I can promise you is that you will create the world you live in, rather than allowing it to create, mold and limit you. The possibilities are nothing short of magical if you’re willing to take some risks

 

 

Nice guys and gals just finish

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post,  click on the link below:

 

f you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may remember that I had a different career prior to becoming a therapist. The job efficiency was largely measured by a matrix of conditions, all of which could be measured by percentages. Each month one of us was awarded darling of the month for coming the closest to our numbers. At the end of the year, the person with the best success was darling of the year.

I think I won one month. It probably had little to do with my effort, and more to do with good fortune that something in my department had become a high demand item that was short lived, and thus not repeated in another month. And this was often the case for most of us in the department. Some were harder workers and received a little more prestige, and others got lucky from time to time as I had. But the interesting part of this for me is the progress of my friend and co-worker, Julie.

Julie, who was smart and a very hard and conscientious worker, never won her 15 minutes of fame at the monthly meeting. She was always a runner-up, but never the queen. And so, all of us were shocked, as Julie, when the coveted Distributor of the year title was bestowed upon her. At first, all of us scratched our heads and then we realized, while she didn’t have peaks… she also didn’t have valleys and therefore, her numbers averaged out to a much higher total than did anyone else’s.   This story isn’t too far off from the tortoise and the hare.

I often think of this memory when I’m at a place in life trying to figure out my own goals and how much I should be achieving at any given moment. In my youth, I was very much the hare- rushing to get as much done as I could. I ran a perpetual race in search of affirmation for my competence and validity. But the older I get, the more I realize the need for a steady pace that is focused not on recognition, but on dependability, consistency and the value of finishing the race in a comfortable position. Comfortable enough, to not be so exhausted, that you can’t enjoy the sense of accomplishment.

Sometimes I have patients who come to therapy expecting that every session will produce an “aha moment” for them. I can appreciate their wish.   Therapy is expensive financially and emotionally. But the aha moments are not actually what therapy is about, any more than vacations are what life is about. Vacations are special because they don’t happen every day. They need everyday life around them in order to stand out. The relationship built in therapy, session to session, is the context needed in order to make an aha moment useful.

But I digress, because this post is more directed at life in general than it is therapy specific. How many people long to be the YouTube discovered star? How many people are playing the lottery? How many people are searching for the latest fashion, the biggest house. How many people stood in line to get one of the first new iphones? The cost of scurrying to be the best is dangerously lethal, yet coveted and promoted in our culture.

When is the last time you saw more than a cursory news story about a little old woman who dies with a million dollars in the bank because she saved and lived a frugal life? Or about the couple who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary still living happily together, working as best as they can to take care of each other? Or the millions of people in middle America who go to work every day, pay their bills and tend to their responsibility? It’s not exciting news, but its still the standard that many of us could well consider ourselves lucky and fulfilled if we can achieve. It’s also doable and doesn’t require the exhaustive push of trying to be the one who stands out for 15 minutes of fame. Nor is it likely to cause the life of profound disappointment if it doesn’t result in those 15 minutes.

It’s easy though to blame society. What’s harder to remember is that we are society- you and me. We have the choice every day to let mass opinion impact us, or make decisions, one person at a time that impacts society. But be patient, because it takes longer than 15 minutes. And chances are, no one will remember to cite you with the credit.

 

 

 

Smacked up side the head with perfection

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

To see the video referenced in the post click below:

 

 

There is a pretty funny video that circulated around the internet a while back. I’ll post the link on my website so you can watch it if you haven’t already seen it.

It’s in another language, but you don’t need to understand what they guys are saying to get it. There are three guys. Guy A shows guy B how to hold a wooden spoon in his mouth, bob his head up and down and use the spoon to smack Guy A on the top of the head as hard as he can while guy C looks on from behind Guy B. Guy A takes the spoon and demonstrates. Except what guy B doesn’t realize, is that Guy C secretly pulls out another spoon and whacks him painfully hard. He thinks that guy A has done it using only his mouth.

Now its time for B to give it a try and of course, he can only make a little tap on Guy A’s head. They repeat this sequence a couple of times. It’s funny and sad to watch, but if my description didn’t make it clear, take a look.

I’m not sharing this due to my secret love of sadistic video. Rather, it made me think about how people try and “win” at something they think others are doing, without ever realizing that the deck is stacked and they never had a fighting chance. Yet, they will pursue their goal over and over again in an attempt to achieve the unachievable, all the while berating themselves for their inadequacy.

Women try to look like supermodels with flawless skin. It’s flawless because the photo has been airbrushed.

Ever try to prepare a recipe that looks like one in a magazine? I once met a photographer who does food shots. She told me that food for photos is prepared differently, and is usually inedible because it is made to appear attractive for the camera and is often cooked improperly for consumption.

Ever compare your relationship to someone else’s and find that that same couple ends up divorced and no one saw it coming?

Real people are not perfect. Their houses, cars, clothes, relationships are not perfect. Heidi Klum is divorced. Steve Jobs died of cancer. Johnny Depp didn’t finish high school. Nor did Robert Downy Jr. or Walt Disney.   Oprah was fired from her job as a news anchor in Baltimore.

I’m going to share with you one of my favorite all time pieces of printed material. This comes from the book Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth.

Real people feel some kind of discomfort every day of their lives. Being born hurts. Living hurts. Dying hurts. If we know that, if we don’t expect to be happy all the time, then we don’t have to feel frightened or cursed when, inevitably we are in pain. The expectation that pain is bad, abnormal, or avoidable creates fear and confusion when pain arises. It also creates varied and complex systems within us that are designed to avoid pain at all costs.

Most people never touch the bottom of their pain. They become compulsive instead, and in so doing, they exchange one pain, that of being alive, for another, the pain of compulsion.

Neither road is easy. Compulsion is painful, and living without compulsion is painful. Compulsion has its joys, so does living without it. The biggest advantage I see in living without compulsion is that you stop being afraid of the pain.

 

What would it take for you to be willing to look at your pain without the veil of compulsion? Or without the veil of perfection.

 

Which Way is North?

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post,  click on the link below:

This morning I had to run some errands before work. I tried to leave myself enough time. But I was day dreaming and I, unfortunately, took a wrong turn. I was actually on a familiar road, but that road had nothing in common with my first destination. However, since it was familiar, I drove pretty far down the path before I woke up and realized I had to turn around.

But turn around is what I did. It cost me enough time that I cut it close getting my tasks done while still arriving at work on time.

This is similar to the feeling I have when people tell me about their life not being on the right path. The dilemma is that, often they are afraid to turn around and take another direction. The road they are on may look familiar, so they stay, even when they know it won’t lead them to where they ultimately hope to go. They may stay the course because they feel safe knowing which twists and turns lie ahead. Another thing that keeps people stuck is the feeling that sometimes it may feel like it’s too late to turn around. They’ve lost too much time. So they concede to live the remainder of their life going where they don’t really want to go, rather than risk ending up some place else in between.

My first career illustrates this challenge. I fell into a line of work and then kept doing it because it fulfilled financial needs. I hated it, and knew my growth was pretty limited, but taking another path meant I had to get an education. For awhile, that seemed unsurmountable. I shudder now to think how miserable I would have remained, had I not turned around and gone in another direction. Now I love my job and have for 23 years.

When I contemplated a divorce in my first marriage I was scared of the unknown. I remember thinking what if I leave in hopes of something more and end up with everything less. I recall a friend who said to me , “It’s true, that if you leave, you might not get what you want. But if you stay, you guarantee that you won’t.” That advice helped me make the decision and I started down a new path.

Please be sure that as I describe these two major turning points in my own life, neither of them landed me on a shiny road made of gold with clear painted signs and beautiful flowers along the perimeters. Sometimes my car stalled, I got lost, it rained, sleeted and snowed on my journey. But each new day, the sun rose and I resumed my travel. I had to learn to remember that the sun is still present even when I can’t see it through the clouds.

One of the things that helps a traveler is having a good map. So often, we forget to ask ourselves at the start of our journey, where is it we really want to go. Many of us end up going where others suggest. Perhaps well meaning others, but in the end, no one can really know where each of us needs to go better than we will. It’s personal. The answer needs to come from within.

Another useful tool is the ability to stop and ask for directions. Though no two people will experience the same journey in an identical way, others can still help you seek out and recognize milestones.   They can let you know at least some of the pitfalls ahead to expect, or caution you about detours or construction. In non metaphor terms, this can mean someone with a lot of marriage experience teaching you that marriage happiness ebbs and flows. Another example is a career mentor who might tell you the pros and cons about a vocation with honesty.

But probably the most useful tool for a traveler is willingness . You have to be willing to stay awake at the wheel and not daydream like I did on my morning adventure. And in that state of attentiveness, be willing to ask yourself if you are going where you want. And if the answer is no, be willing to turn around, no matter how much time you have invested.  Because even if you don’t ultimately end up there, at least you’ll know that you were headed towards your happiness, rather than going further away.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this entry. I’d love to hear your comments and I hope you’ll pass it on.   Until net time- take good care.