Tag Archives: mindfulness

I will remember you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Freedom and modern day slavery

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the  most courageous decisions you’ll ever make

Is to finally let go

 of what is hurting your heart and soul

Bridgette Nicole

 

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Chasing Rabbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Beautiful Monkey Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Forgetting to Remember

Forgetting to Remember

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

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

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

Let the Wobbling Begin

Let the wobbling begin.

I’m going to attempt to create a visual experience for you.  Try and imagine yourself in this scene as you read along.

You are a toddler about 12 months old.  You are used to crawling around when you want to get to somewhere other than where you are.  Your view of the world is predominantly at ground level looking up at everyone.  While this has been fine for a while,  you now realize that others around you are doing things differently.  You also notice that your hands and knees are getting sore.

Everyone around you seems to be getting around on their feet instead of their hands and knees.  Hmmm you think, perhaps I can do this too.  You inch your way over to a table or chair and using all your might, you pull yourself to an upright position.  “There! You exclaim. “That wasn’t so hard.”

Full of confidence and wonder you lean towards the direction you want to go towards.  First your right foot, followed by your left and boom!  Down on your bottom you land.  It looked so easy when you watched others complete the operation, but it doesn’t seem easy now.

Of course you eventually learned to walk, but not without a few good drops to the bottom and perhaps your head as well.  It’s the natural evolution of learning to walk without the conscious processing that I describe above.  Yet, if we were conscious, I don’t think my description would be too far off base.  It might include varying degrees of excitement and fear depending on our nature and our success rates. And of course, there are many other milestone achievements of which we partake as developing children that have a similar structure.

I submit that, to some extent, we retain our childlike approach to change and development throughout the life span.  The differences however, include that 1) we are often more conscious and 2) we are often filled with judgment and fear, both of which, are founded on information we have collected over the years.  That information not even need be accurate, but it still influences our decision making capabilities.

In application, this means that if I had to learn to walk today, I might say to myself “No, I’d rather not, because I don’t want to risk falling.”   Or “I don’t think I’ll take up playing the piano because I don’t ever stick with things.”

Thinking about this topic reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because the trust is not on the branch, but on its wings.  (author unknown).

Perhaps my argument is lost if your position is that you don’t trust your own wings.  But even the most confident will at times lose faith in our selves.  It is during those moments that we can trust that even our baby selves were once brave enough to take the risk towards change.  We can know that sometimes we have to fall a bit to make progress and our boo boos and ouchies will heal.  Wobbling is a sign of progress towards success rather than a prediction of our failure.

The baby in us has the desire for something more.  It remains focused on the goal rather than the limitations.  It is not necessary to recreate a state of unconsciousness to achieve this skill.  Because we now have the ability as adults to exercise choice and reason,  it is a matter of prioritizing the goal we want over indulging the fears, some of which are irrational, so that we might move towards the direction of our goals.  We need not employ denial or ignorance, but rather the confidence that we are strong enough to tolerate the necessary wobbling and sometimes falling as a means to our achievement.  And  to consider that wobbling isn’t a sign of our failure, but is evidence of our willingness to grow.

The City of Lights

The City of Lights

We are a couple of weeks past the tragic attacks on Paris.  Hopefully, those affected more personally have begun the process of healing.  The word process should be emphasized, because it is fact that and not as many expect, an event.  Grief, like many other life circumstances ebbs and flows through many changes and takes time.

Paris is often referred to as the City of Lights.  I would like to take liberty with that title by highlighting one of the stories I heard among those involved, because I believe they shine on the potential of a brighter existence for all of us.

Hélène Muyal-Leiris, left her husband of 12 years and their 17month old son, Melvil to attend a rock concert on Friday evening.  Instead of returning to their lives, she along with 128 other innocent victims lost their life in the massacre.  Upon learning the news, her husband Antoine offered the following powerful message to those responsible for his wife’s death:

“I will not give you the gift of hate.”

Leiris went on to interpret his understanding of the ignorance that leads to such violence, as well as, the limits of which, despite his grief, he will allow this to impact him and his son.  When referring to his child’s future he added “He is only 17 months old, he will eat his afternoon tea as always and then we will go and play as always, and this little boy’s entire life will be an affront to you by being happy and free. For he will not hate you either.”

I am in awe of this truly remarkable posture.  I often write about the accepting the freedom of personal choice in how we respond to what comes towards us in life.  This example is one of the best examples I have seen of application.  Leiris could choose to remain bitter, angry, devastated or immobilized by what has occurred.  Who would judge him harshly for choosing any response?  But instead, he opted to respect his grief, while also honoring the magnitude of love he felt for his wife.   He achieved this by choosing not to tarnish his or his son’s love by being forced into other feelings dictated by the actions of others.

There won’t likely be follow up stories to let us know in 5 or 10 years of this man or his son succumbed to depression, drugs and alcohol or a life of crime of their own.  But I have to hope that his gift of love will touch many people, who will in turn use it as motivation to choose in kind.  I hope that his current posture emerges from a spirit within him that looks towards the good in the world and that as a result; he has surrounded himself with like- minded people who will continue to support him through the days and years which lie ahead.

I often hear people say they can’t choose their feelings.  I’m not sure I agree.  I believe that circumstances appear to us and then we create a story around those circumstances.  How we build the story is predicated on our individual circumstances, both historically and in the present.  Sometimes this information is in consciousness and sometimes not.  But the story we tell is inevitably powerful, because it is the fuel that ignites our feelings.  Thus, while we may not be conscious of choosing our story, we are nonetheless its author.  Even if someone else originated the story, when we reinforce it by retelling it to ourselves, it becomes ours.

The good news is that all of our stories are subject to revision as we acquire new information.  We don’t have to stop editing until we take our final breath.  If you are not comfortable with the feelings generated by your plot lines, you have every right to change them.  I hope you will choose those which allow you to shine at your brightest.

 

 

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.

 

Limitless

There is a new show this year called Limitless.  The premise in case you haven’t seen it, is that an ordinary guy Brian Finch,  takes a pill (NZT) every day which allows him to access every single part of his brain.  This makes him the smartest man alive.  While the pill is active, Brian is capable of figuring out pretty much anything and absorbing endless amounts of information.  This ability makes him quite valuable to the FBI.  The pill does, however, wear off at the end of each day and also has some pretty grave side effects for Brian Finch.

I have a similar pill.  It’s called Google.  But it too, is not perfect or without its side effects.  I can quickly learn about events in history, medication interactions, even how to solve mathematical equations.  The latter is something I couldn’t do before Google with any other kind of aid.  Now I can find a recipe, learn how to wire a wall switch, and find out which movie stars have the highest IQ’s.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  He thought the world was flat.  He and the rest of us were pleasantly surprised to find out it is not.  We didn’t understand the basic endocrinology systems of our bodies until the mid 1900’s. (Society for Endocrinology 1946).  And the calculator wasn’t invented until 1967.  We’ve come a long way in our understanding of how the world works.  Or rather, we believe things about the world and ourselves today that are very different than what we once believed.  But remember, that which we used to believe felt very much as TRUE to us then, as what we currently believe is true now.

We all function on individual systems of truth for things both big and small.  There are some assumptions we operate under because we always have.  We assume they are true because they are familiar or culturally accepted.  It doesn’t require much of our brain cells to operate within these because we are on auto pilot.  But there are others practices we will defend to our death.  We have deemed them true from our vantage point based on information available to us.  It is however, information obtained from only the limited availability of our brain’s capacity.

While our access to information is limited, information itself is not limited.  We can’t possibly acquire it all, which means, we always run the risk of having some part of our argument which, is indefensible. Today I hear a report that wine is bad for me.  Don’t drink wine.  That is true.  Tomorrow I hear a study that wine is good for me.  Drink the wine- that which is true has changed.

I’m not suggesting that we not adhere to truths or fight for them.  I’m merely suggesting that we consider the possibility that our truths are in fact, are just that—ours.  We come by them honestly enough, but so does another person whose truths are different than our own.  When we are compelled to try and change theirs, we expend enormous amounts of energy, often with little if any success to show for the expenditure.

I’m also suggesting that we take the same tactic with ourselves.  Engaging in patterns of behavior that leave us depleted or unfulfilled because we insist that a truth requires us to do so, may deserve a little dose of critical thinking.  Perhaps the information you once used to develop your stance has changed over time and your conclusion needs revisiting.

Statements (or commands) that begin with words such as I must, I should, It would be better if, may be fertile ground for challenging why you do what you do.  While many of these items may in fact, survive the scrutiny, it’s possible that some may not, making it a worthwhile exercise.

I’ll leave you today with a quote from Steve Jobs:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary,”

Please take a moment to leave me a comment- I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Power Struggles 101

When my eldest son Alex was a baby and also when he was a toddler,  he was the easiest child in the world.  He had a period of about two weeks after he turned two,  during which he got somewhat feisty.  My husband and I looked at each other and concluded, “Oh this must be the terrible twos.”  It lasted about two weeks and we thought “Hmm, I guess that’s over with”.  Life went back to easy.

In contrast, our second son had a temper that was obvious from the start. He apparently takes after my side of the family.   I don’t recall a time when Andrew ever went into time out without having to being restrained.  He would rage about it being Monday or any other thought that came to mind.  He would rage for not having a reason to rage. When I tried to discipline him, he would hit me.  Flabbergasted, I would hit him back.  He would hit me harder and I would get a little firmer with my slap back.  Then he would haul off and smack me. And I would…..

Nope- here is where the story changes.  Somehow I knew to pull him in close and put his cheek next to mine and that would almost always calm him down.  Okay, the reality is I knew I could not smack him harder and perhaps out of not knowing what else to do, I tried the cheek thing and it worked so I went with it.

I learned from that strategy something about power struggles which, I try and remember still to this day.  As much as I want to stay engaged and make my point louder than the person I am power struggling with, the smartest and most effective thing I can do is counter intuitive for me in those moments.  It is to try to do nothing or find a way to join them.  I don’t choose this out of defeat, but as a way to keep the ball moving down the field.

Everyone knows the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Continuing to engage in the same behavior of whatever I’m doing to keep the struggle active is therefore crazy.  Participating in such a way to enable the other person to keep doing that, which keeps the struggle active is crazy.

Even though I say I try to remembering this, I usually remember it AFTER I’m locked into the power struggle.  Then I remember it and try to implement it.  But the other night I had a cool experience, at least from my point of view.  My eldest son (no longer the easy toddler, but a hormonally charged Aspergian 15 year old boy) asked me for something that he was pretty sure I would say no to.  Of course I said no, as I was prepared for this.   He went to the next level of debate and yours truly said…

“NOTHING!”

Those of you who know me can appreciate the Herculean effort it took to keep my mouth closed.  I just sat there while he looked at me.  A few moments passed and he repeated himself with a bit of a twist in another attempt of engaging me to spar.  I calmly replied that, “I had nothing to add as I had already stated my answer.”  With that my son walked away.

What Alex saw was a resolute, immovable parent that was not going to argue with him and wonder into new topics or pull out my litany of reasons to defend my response.  I must tell you on the inside of me, there was a giddy cheerleader type character high fiving myself that this actually worked.  But once I settled myself down, I realized that it worked because I had ended the crazy power struggle—not by winning, but by refusing to repeat the same behaviors that lock it in place.

One small step for parenting.  One giant leap for my own sanity.

Do you find yourself locked into power struggles with people?  How often do you notice that it’s the same argument over and over?  Is there anything you are willing to do differently without the focus on attempting to change the other person’s behavior?

 

Time savers

My son asked me today what blood is made of.   Of course, I didn’t know the answer so I did what I always do.  I went to consult the great wizard known as google.   In case you’re curious, the answer is plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.  But as I went to find the answer, I thought about how if I had needed to know that answer when I was a kid, I would have had to get someone to take me to the library so I could consult an encyclopedia.  Boy, have times changed, and it’s amazing how many time saving tools we have available today.  These gifts are not just limited to information gathering.  We have modernized and improved every aspect of our world right?

So that got me thinking about the things I now have available to make my world improved.

After I got divorced I lived in a 560 sq. ft. apartment.  Now I live in a 4K plus sq. ft. home.  Of course it used to take me about 45 minutes to clean what now takes about 4 hours to achieve.  But I have a lot of sweepers, cloths and specialty products to make it “easier and faster”.  And each of those gadgets needs batteries or filters or bags that must be replaced from time to time but…

Transportation.  I can’t imagine how people used to get around in a horse and buggy, much less on foot.  Obviously they didn’t travel often or very far.  But we are so lucky because we have jets to go around the world if we choose.  On a smaller scale I have a car that will take me anywhere very quickly.  Now that is a huge time saver over walking to the grocery store.  The interesting twist though is that I seem to spend a LOT of time in the car.  I pick up kids; drop off kids, tote kids to and fro a variety of places.  I pick up food, dry cleaning, household items.  I make a lot of trips to Starbucks.  I drop off a prescription at Walgreens and then go back to Walgreens.  All because I can.  I have a car to save me effort and time.  It just seems to use a lot of that time.

Communication.

It must have been astounding when the Pony Express began delivering mail.  People who had been cut off from loved ones and even substantial news information now finally had a systematic way of being able to communicate from afar.  My maternal grandfather came to America and wrote letters to his future wife to keep her abreast of his plans for their ultimate reunion.  It must have been grueling for her to wait for his words to finally reach her.

In contrast, I can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world instantaneously with only a click of my mouse.  Sometimes, I have to wait a few hours because of the time zone differences, as someone in Russia may be sleeping when I send my email, but that is about the limit to my hardship.  Since I no longer have to spend time waiting for replies, I can often make plans or decisions much more timely.  However, I have begun trying to reduce the amount of email I receive because I get overwhelmed by the abundance.  I find myself becoming slower on replies, to even important requests because, there is often more in my inbox that requires my attention than there is attention I have available.

Food

My kitchen is well stocked with pots, pans and utensils for faster and improved baking and cooking.  I also have no shortage of gadgets that I’ve never used.  These are for foods I was going to make, but haven’t had time for.  Mostly these days we eat a lot of take out.  That of course, is why it’s so great that I have the car I mentioned above to help me save time.

Personal care-

Boy I shouldn’t even start on this one.  There are 3 products for my hair and an anti-frizz towel, two different contacts, glasses, hearing aids that require frequent batteries.  I have products for softer feet, smoother skin.  I own anti- wrinkling cream and I don’t even wear makeup.  That would require another whole bathroom vanity.  The current one is filled with mouthwash, toothpaste, a rechargeable toothbrush and charger, a water pick.  It also has a magnifying mirror, hair dryer, assorted tweezers, and nail files and…

So all of this is to say that life is what life is.  We can try and “solve” problems, streamline and minimize efforts and there is nothing “wrong” with that approach.  The problem comes in with philosophy of solving or rather illusions of solving.  Some things simply can’t or don’t need to be solved and its okay to live with them the way they are.  Often our efforts to “simplify” a process results in a far more complex system of maintenance our “solving tools”.  Another approach is in learning to let some things go.  There are some areas of life that can’t be made simpler.  They are difficult and we may need to accept that the effort required to have them in our world is significant.  It’s okay if we choose those things, but we have to become willing to let something else go to achieve a balance in the amount of energy required.  In other words, we can’t give 100% to two tasks simultaneously.  The math just doesn’t work.  I know this, because I looked the answer up on google when I couldn’t find one of my three calculators that purchased.

 

 

 

You Must Rock!

The political season is in full bloom and many ads will soon be bombarding us with “Gotcha- politics”.  Regardless of your political affiliation, both parties use this technique which is simply, to catch someone doing something that is going to hopefully make would be voters turn away from their opponent.

You don’t have to spend much time on the internet to discover a video of someone doing something incredibly dumb.

We walk into our boss’s office when he or she calls and expect to be told what we’ve screwed up.

How easy is it to walk in the door of your home with an expectation that something will be completed, or waiting for you, only to instantly know that the person you counted on let you down? (This asked by the mother of a teenage boy).

Tonight on my way home I picked up takeout food for my family’s dinner.  I was instantly annoyed when I noticed, as I was driving off that, the person who bagged my order had missed about ¼ of the order.  We are trained to catch others and ourselves doing something wrong.  Many of us have finely tuned radar that can scope out failure in a nanosecond.

What would it take to train ourselves to catch people doing something right?  Better yet, how about catching ourselves doing something right?  Why is it okay to notice the wrong, but to dismiss the right as the norm with little regard for the effort to secure it?

I’m not suggesting that we walk around issuing press releases every time we or someone else ties our shoes correctly.   Greg Behrendt has a pretty funny (comedy routine called “You must Rock”.  Unfortunately, the language is pretty vulgar, so I’m not going to put the link on my site, but it can be find pretty easily in a google search if you are curious.  One example he give is the comparison of how we treat rock stars.  They perform, while the crowd holds up signs and yells “We love you!”  Behrendt asks his listeners to consider what it would be like if we treated the person who makes our morning Latte or drywalls our kitchen, with the same level of excitement when they do their job in an amazing way.

So if you don’t want to hold up an “I love you sign” for your barista and chant his or her name, you can certainly do that with a tip, which is always appreciated.   But the tip goes in the jar and is split among everyone including the person who did not put in any extra effort.  How about taking the extra step and saying “Hey, thanks!” in a personal way like “You always do that so quickly!” or “How do you manage to stay so cheerful every day?”

Better still, are you as likely to call and recognize an employee for good service, as you might be when they mess up your order?”  This is something I really like having the opportunity to do.  Usually the manager comes to the call braced for a ripping and is so incredibly grateful to hear that I am complimenting their establishment or employees that it is great fun for me.

This week make it a point to catch someone doing something right.  And if you really want to have fun, catch yourself as well.

High Tide

I got divorced in my mid 30’s. I moved out of the house I shared with my then husband in January and hoped by my birthday in March that, my life would look magically like I dreamed it could. That of course,  did not happen. There were times when it was hard to see IF this adventure was going to work out well, much less how it would work. And it was sometimes hard to sit in the period of not knowing while my biological clock ticked loudly drowning out the sound of comfort.

Eventually, however, I met my wonderful husband, married and had two children. At around the same time, I also completed my doctorate. Over a couple of years span, I went from being an unhappily married woman, to a divorced woman, to a happily married mother of two with a doctorate. Talk about identity change!   And despite the odds, I was 40 at the birth of our first son and 43 for the second. Blessed is an understatement.

The other night I re-watched the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks which is such a great movie. I highly recommend going back to view it if you haven’t seen it in a while. What I was most struck by this time around was a soliloquy Hanks gives near the end. Upon realizing that his fiancé had married someone else after she believed him dead, he describes to a friend how he was dealing with the loss of her in his life now that he returned to civilization.

“I was never going to get off that island. I was going to die there totally alone. I was going to get sick or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when and how and where it was going to happen. So I made a rope and I went up to the summit to hang myself. I had to test it, of course, you know me. And the weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree. I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew somehow that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing even though there was no reason to hope. And all of my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I kept breathing. And one day that logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in and gave me a sail. And now hear I am. I’m back in Memphis talking to you. I have ice in my glass. And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad I don’t have Kelly. I’m also grateful that she was there with me on that island. And I know what I have to do. I’ve got to keep breathing. ‘Cuz tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.”

It can be excruciatingly painful when relationships end, and even more so if they are not of our choosing. They might be family, romantic, platonic or even loss of a job or other significant structure in our lives. In the aftermath of realization that we are now without that, which we once held dearly, it can be difficult to see into the future of how or if anything is going to work out for us. We are often so attached to what we lost that it is difficult to cultivate a vision forward of what might be possible.

What I love most about Hanks thought is that, he relinquished the need to know what or how and instead began to focus on the most basic of tasks in the present moment. He started with the baby step of just breathing. He stopped trying to control and insisting and instead agreed to live with whatever he had in the moment. And when the next moment brought him something new, he lived with that moment.

I’ve always felt when looking at my own story that something similar happened. After my marriage ended I dated a lot. I agreed to go out with people that I knew were a bad fit but I wanted to make something happen even if by sheer will and persistence. When I quit however, and decided that my life was pretty full just as it was, I met my husband shortly thereafter. He was indeed my sail. And now here I am, talking to you.

Are you on an island without hope? Remember, tomorrow the sun will rise and you never know what the tide may bring in. Until then, just keep breathing.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is everyone dying?

My son introduced me to a campaign on the internet that he had recently found and was trying to implement for himself. I’m reporting this second hand without checking sources, so forgive me if I am a little off. The premise is to “Treat everyone like they are dying”. As Andrew reported, when you think of someone as dying, you might try to be a little nicer to them and even consider holding back criticism you might otherwise have leveled. Andrew likes this idea as a goal for himself, with the exception of treating his older brother this way- but that is another story for another blog.

In our discussion, we both agreed that in reality, everyone is dying and so the thought process really doesn’t require much of a mental leap. This concept is another great example of how a small shift in perception can have a significant impact. However, Andrew and I tended to disagree a little, as to what degree we interpreted, which party is the point of focus. For Andrew, the significance is seeing the other person differently. For me, the emphasis is seeing your-self differently. Neither of these is right or wrong, nor better than the other. The end goal is met in both cases and it makes for a happier world.

I suppose I was predisposed to my position because of the strategies I often take with couples. These are the steps that are elucidated in the book “Managing from the Heart”. In particular, this strategy of seeing others as dying parallels the step “See the other persons loving intentions”. When you can see another person as having a positive intention for choosing an action, it is a lot harder to stay angry and/or defensive with that person, even if you disagree with the action. By aligning with their potentially positive intention, it gives you a more open and willing stance from which, to negotiate alternate behaviors for you and them.

But the reason I want to point out the emphasis on self rather than other, is that it reinforces the concept that we only have control over ourselves. Again, while the outward goal in the moment may produce the same result in behavior, there is a difference in the use of our energy. When I choose a kind comment because I see the other person as dying or lovingly intended, I still choose a kind comment. But when I choose a kind comment because I see myself as, one who strives to choose the kindest comments in situations, I believe there is another level of pay off in personal satisfaction and sense of agency. It is consistent with a mindful approach of awareness of what I have control over. Moreover, if the other person seems hell bent on proving their intentions were, in fact, not loving, or they don’t seem to be dying soon enough, it doesn’t have to change my behavior. In other words, what the other person does or doesn’t do does not have to determine how I choose to behave. More importantly, I don’t even have to try and create a story about them to get to my final position. My final position is the same as my starting position with this strategy.

Again, I’m not condemning the “see the other as…” approach. I like it and I teach it when possible. But it is a starting place or a falling place when the mindful of one’s own posture is either undeveloped or weakened. In the end, the only person we can truly directly impact the thoughts of with any measure of accuracy is ourselves.

I’d love to hear your feedback and comments, as well as, any experiences you have with this approach.

 

 

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.

 

 

Houston, we have an opportunity!

Recently, a couple of sessions have reminded me of the old Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks.

The first involves a woman who was feeling the pressure to stay at work later in the evenings in order to get everything she felt needed to be done. She is a consciences worker, and wants to do the tasks necessary to get ahead in her career. She also has small children at home and would like to spend time with them in the evenings.

Another session involves a woman taking care of an elderly relative. When she signed up for this ominous task, the conditions were understood and seemingly manageable. However, unlike the marriage vows of “for better or worse”, her initial agreement did not include a set of variables that have since come in to play. Thus, she now finds herself trying to maintain her original agreement, but under a whole different criteria with far more rigorous constraints.

One of things that always intrigued me when I worked in residential treatment was this: people who had been starving, feeling unable to eat another bite would come into treatment and immediately comply with the nutrition set before them. People who said they couldn’t get through the day without binging came into treatment and the binging ceased. These examples also made me think about Apollo 13.

When Hanks uttered the infamous “Houston we have a problem!”, the ground team began their mission of finding a way to help repair the capsule and bring the crew down to safety. All of the engineers pulled out their slide rules to find a solution. and I remember asking my husband why they didn’t use calculators. He reminded me that the calculator had not yet been invented. While there were some solutions that were readily apparent to the ground team, these were quickly eliminated when they realized the needed supplies were not on board the spacecraft.

Finally, the team replicated all of the supplies that WERE available to the Apollo crew and began to find a solution that could implemented. Ultimately that is what happened and the rest is, of course, history.

So often, we get stuck on a problem because we insist on finding a solution that is dependent upon something that either hasn’t occurred or might never occur. In doing so, we prevent ourselves from moving forward until that variable occurs—meaning we don’t move forward.

Sometimes what we see as a problem is really an opportunity to see the capability we have to creatively look beyond our self-imposed limits and for us to do something differently from where we currently are. Again, this involves a spirit of willingness.

In the example above with eating disorder treatment, the patients who immediately changed their behavior became willing to do something different. Food didn’t instantly become tastier, the sense of fullness did not immediately dissipate. What changed is the elimination of an paradigm in which they felt they couldn’t do those things. The support around these individuals allowed them to sit with the same set of discomfort without feeling overwhelmed while they tried on new behaviors.

I suggested the woman who is missing her children consider looking at her job as having a mandatory, non-negotiable quitting time. Act as if the building will blow up at a certain time and you have to get out. That paradigm shift would encourage her to prioritize the most important tasks that have to get done and to let lesser ones go until the next day.

And the woman taking care of her relative will ultimately have to take stock of what “supplies” she currently has on board, rather than those she wishes she had to insure proper care for her elderly charge. It will mean acknowledging that the original mission has changed and she may no longer be adequately prepared for the new one with which, she has been presented.

None of these are easy solutions. Nor is continuing to beat one’s head against the wall stuck in the rut of the non-productive status quo. The difference however, is that the latter never changes. And in that sense true identification of the problem presents an opportunity for growth and change.

 

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.

 

 

Commas save lives

As a Craftaholique, I’m always looking for funny T shirt sayings. One of my favorite finds is

Let’s eat Grandpa.

Let’s eat, Grandpa.

Commas save lives.

 

 

Such a small thing can change the meaning of an intention so drastically.

 

Communication can be a tricky thing. It is so often the presenting item for which, people come into my office asking for help. And, like the comma shift above, very often the solution they are looking for isn’t a major change, but rather a tweaking of smaller behaviors.

 

Two of these we can easily focus on are intent and tone.

 

Can you recall a time when you intended to ask someone a question, but it came out like a declaration? Often, you know that is what has transpired because, rather than answering your “request”, the other person goes into a defensive mode. You might reply with, “I was only asking”, which falls on deaf ears as the other person is walking away frustrated and mumbling “It sure didn’t sound like a question!”

 

I am so familiar with that one personally, that I often hear myself prefacing my speech with “This is meant to be a question, regardless of how it may come out!” I have found that doing so clarifies my intent and prepares my listener if I feel a little confused about how to get the question out. More often than not, my listener is more receptive and forgiving of my fumbling because my intent is deemed genuine.

 

There are many other examples where clarifying your intention upfront can be very useful, but your intent has to be sincere. In other words, saying , “I don’t want to hurt your feelings but….”, does not let you off the hook. Most likely, you know you are about to say something hurtful but you’re trying to get a pass.   Sometimes we feel we have to say things that will be uncomfortable for the other person to hear. If we choose to do so, then we have to acknowledge that there will be a reaction.

 

Another communication game changer is tone. Some people are lucky to have a more steady tone throughout most of their dialogue. I am of Italian heritage. We don’t have that genetic make-up. My tone goes up and down like a two year old playing on a xylophone. And, I’m lucky enough to have the facial and body movements to support the rise and fall so there is no denying what state I’m in when expressing myself. Helen Keller can read me loud and clear.

 

As a result, I have to work a little harder to make sure that my tone is expressing what I hope for it to. In other words, if I’m in a frustrated mood about situation “A”, and I try to express something to someone in situation B without making an internal shift, I’m likely to use a tone (with supporting features) that conveys an unrelated frustration. An easier way to say this is, man gets mad at boss and comes home to kick the dog!

 

Tone, however can creep in and wreck a discussion in far more subtle ways.

-asking a question with a tone of suspicion or disbelief?

-offering a compliment with a trace of sarcasm or feigned enthusiasm

-providing support while distracted with something else.

 

In any of the examples, the way to improve our skill set begins with mindfulness and expands with practice. An exercise in mindfulness includes noticing the reactions others have to our declarations, and even asking for feedback when we aren’t sure. Obviously, those around us don’t want to be our constant communication coaches, but when asked with sincerity, our request for feedback may also be viewed as a genuine interest in knowing the other person’s experience communicating with us. They may even appreciate our desire to improve our skills in interacting with them. However, even when we don’t ask for feedback, we can step back and notice whether their responses to us indicate clarity of understanding what we thought we were attempting to communicate.

 

Practice means to start with clear intentions and be thoughtful about our speech rather than to give license to whatever we want to say when we want to say it.   The following quote* sums it up:

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

 

So, while commas may save lives, a little extra care in communication may save relationships!

 

*There is a debate as to the origin of this quote. It may be Rumi, Buddha or someone’s Aunt Ruth who stitched it on a pillow, but it is clearly not mine.

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

Most of you know me as a therapist; some as a relative, a neighbor, to others; a friend. The people who spend the most time with me know me as a wife and mom.

When I’m working as a therapist, I have an uncanny ability to remember minuscule details of people’s lives and stories. I sometimes file a piece of seemingly innocuous information into some complex storage system in my brain and can readily call it to the surface without even trying. But, when my alter ego of wife or mother takes charge, I can’t remember where I laid my keys down five minutes ago or which names I originally designated for each of my children.

As a relative to my husband’s family, I can often see things with a kind of clarity not available when viewing my own siblings. As an acquaintance, I’m more detached to various circumstances than I might be with a friend.

When I dress for work, I at least make an effort to put some thought into whether or not my shoes match, or if my hair has been at least touched within the past 24-48 hours. Going to the grocery store is another matter. If you run into whichever personality of mine that shows up there, it’s anybody’s guess. The best you might hope for is that I’m fully clothed and have shoes on as the store requires.

I suspect your many personalities have their own definitive characteristics as well, separating one from the other, and at times blending as beautifully as a Monet painting. I don’t imagine I’m all that unusual in my distinctions, nor do I suspect my own “ multiple personalities” as I describe them, would line up with the DSM. So my purpose in babbling about this isn’t to highlight the fact that these dichotomies occurs but rather to illuminate the notion of whether or not these personalities are congruent with a center core. And, to increase one’s awareness of what degree to which the balance of their presence or absence in the bulk of your day is satisfying to you.

I remember a time a few years ago that I found myself spending what seemed like an awkward amount of time in one of those cheap import jewelry shops. It seemed awkward in that I seemed to have a sudden need to buy a bunch of “bling” when I’m not really a bling kind of girl. Yet it seemed at the time, imperative that I get the junk so I went with the impulse. Upon further reflection, what I realized is that my mommy self had begun to obliterate my girl self. At that point in time, my boys were moving out of toddler stage to becoming, well… boys.  Meaning, there was a sudden surge of testosterone in my household, leaving very little hint of anything girlie around and I was feeling the absence. If I had figured out this need a little earlier I would probably have saved a few dollars and some closet space.

Life can often take twists and turns that result in some of our parts being thrown around carelessly, and in some cases, they are even sadly discarded. And the result can range from mildly disturbing to near terror. I’ve met people who were knee deep in relationships with others before they woke up and upon further reflection, realized that they had nearly suffocated some part of themselves at the first encounter.

Fortunately, our parts tend to remain intact—even when we try our hardest to obliterate them in the service of others. Almost like weeds that pop up through the cracks in the sidewalk, they yearn toward the light to be known to us. And they try to get our attention through behavior.

The next time you find yourself engaging in behavior that doesn’t seem to make sense to you, its time to ask the question “what part of me is trying to find a voice.” But it’s probably a good idea to have that conversation with yourself when others aren’t around. 😉