Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Set a date, make a change

I didn't know this about her, but my oldest, dearest and wisest friend divulged to me last night over dinner that fall is clean-up time for her. That is, she uses the change of seasons to make big changes in her life. She began the practice more than 30 years ago when she relinquished her loyalty for an unfilling marriage and called it quits. It took her ten years. She's recognized her greatest asset and liability is that she stays, like a dog on a bone, trying to be faithful to her commitments and obligations, no matter how difficult. Sometimes to her own detriment. The latest purge is a woman friend with whom she shared a daily walk. She was loyal to this woman who reluctantly moved out of the neighborhood, up the hill, even though over time my friend compromised and made the trip up the hill at 5:40 am because the woman just couldn't find it in her to make a trip down the hill. She stayed even though her broad mindedness was challenged increasingly by the other woman's narrow mindedness. She believed she was making a difference by adding to the woman's perspective, and learning some things along the way. It took her five years to sweep away this relationship in a fall clean-up.

In contrast I also spent time yesterday with a colleague I've known for years who, with her current boyfriend, selected the "nuclear option" when boyfriend fell down the stairs drunk, and because of his brush with death and disability finally quit drinking. I also talked with an old colleague and friend who has retired and loving her leisure, but is quite perturbed with the daily morning visit from one of her husband's friends who comes for coffee. Neither of them want the guy there, but neither has the incliniation or ability to change the situation. They just hate it and keep on going. Every day.

I am struck by the commitment of my old friend to live authentically, use her assets--change before drama necessitates it, change instead of enduring daily distaste, change each fall. I am intrigued by the simplicity of setting a date to call it quits when asset become liability, and the courage to pull the plug needs a boost.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You are where you’re supposed to be: using gratitude to surrender and change

Though I cannot find a source for the quote, “You are where you’re supposed to be,” a google search produces more than 260,000 entries, and every blogger and pundit seems to have a slant or rant about the concept. Pardon me for the late entry. Next month I am hosting a holiday potluck with a gratitude theme. I’m planning this in my pjs because I’m on day 6 of the crud that is causing football teams to forfeit and schools to close. So I’m listing questions that will go on a handout between sneezes and blowing my nose on the 5th handkerchief of the day:

  • What talents and gifts are you grateful for?
  • What have others done for you in the past year that you are grateful for?
  • What have you done for yourself in the past year that you are grateful for?

And last, this is the clincher . . .

  • What has happened to upset you lately (that if you dug deep), you could find a reason to be grateful for?

Isn’t that the BIG question related to being where you are supposed to be: What isn’t going your way (that may be awful) that has been put in your path to help you learn and grow? When we are upset it is because our status quo is challenged, cheated, even stolen. We see it as a problem and resist--a change of plan, a change in direction, change of mind, change in control, change that you really don’t want to make.

And here I am in my pjs. I’ve missed work. I’ve missed a couple of important events. If I wanted to be upset, body aches, burr in my nose and screaming headache are enough to bring it on. Being sick isn’t in my plan and it's awful—unless I surrender to being right where I am—where I am supposed to be. That doesn't mean that everything feels good. There's always good news with the bad and bad news with the good. Thomas Moore reminds us in Care of the Soul about the beautiful wedding that is inevitably contrasted by the mother of the groom breaking her leg at the rehearsal dinner. Change/learning/growth happens in the melancholy, in the discomfort, not in the happy place. Here are the things I am grateful for that were delivered by my change of plan:

  • I have had the gift of time. When you’re running around doing, you hardly have time to think, and especially when you are a creative or an inward type, you gotta have it.
  • I have had time to complete a draft of a website and a book submission, something that has been on the back burner for years. Just having the downtime allowed me to focus on the work that needed to be done—there’s a reason companies have their R&D group away from their operations, so the blue sky thinkers don’t get sucked into the daily grind!
  • I have had time just to sit with my cat. He needs love and attention and to snuggle with me instead of always looking up my nose from below. He is in heaven lounging with me on the bed and it supports my value for the earth and its creatures.
  • I have had time to nap. I’ve heard that sleep is for the body and naps are for the soul. I can’t remember the last time I indulged myself in a nap.
  • I have allowed myself to be a receiver instead of a giver and let my sweetie be my hero (he even made me handmade soup).
  • I have surrendered. I love letting go and being the river, finding the good in what's in front of me. It makes me feel alive and awake. It prepares me for future surrender. And for that I am grateful.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ready, set, change

I asked one of my icons of change about the transformation she’s made in her life in the past couple of years. She was a project manager for IT projects in a government agency when I met her four years ago. She is now a graduate student working on an MFA in film studies. Her films are making their way through festivals and she was tapped to teach a beginning film class as a second-year student. I asked her what it takes to be “ready” to make change in ones life. This was her answer.

“I think readiness to do the work comes from the awareness that you actually can have something different than status quo. My realization came from listening to others who have made choices to change, listening to others who were flat out miserable with the status quo, and listening to others who were miserable but hadn’t quite realized it yet. Once that revelation was made--that I actually could change--there was no turning back. It was simply not possible to go back to status quo. The only direction was one away from that life toward something new.”

I’m reminded of the photographs of water crystals (brought into the spotlight by the movie “What the Bleep?” made famous by Dr. Masaru Emoto. What Dr. Emoto found is that clean water and water exposed to loving words (either verbally or with written labels) show brilliant and colorful snowflake patterns while polluted water or water exposed to negative thoughts form incomplete, asymmetrical patterns and dull colors. The implications are huge because the world and our bodies are composed, in large part, of water.

I’m not here to debate the efficacy of Dr. Emoto’s research methods or the positive intention movement. But it’s not too big a stretch to believe that water is transformed by its environment. If your thoughts are old tapes saying things like, “You never follow through,” or “This is too hard,” or “You’re not worthy,” you can almost picture droopy faced water molecules sloshing in your body. If, on the other hand, your thoughts are new tapes like, “Imagine,” or “This might be fun,” or “This is my life and I want something different,” you might envision happy, dancing molecules rushing around impatient to make something happen.

It was Henry Ford who said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” So, today I’m thinking about affirmations, your affirmations for why making a change rocks. Out loud, song-like, with post-it notes on the mirror as reminders. Or maybe a t-shirt that says, “Celebrate with me, I’m making some change.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On being aware

I heard a story on NPR prior to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland several years ago, but it still rattles around in my head each time I engage with someone who's trying to make change. The sociologist they interviewed had observed warring societies, and after years of research made a simple but brilliant assertion. It's difficult to change the prediliction to war if war is the only thing people know how to do.

I've walked alongside student after student who is either trying to move from old and obsolete habits, or make huge changes in their life and have thought time and time again that they are dealing with the same struggle of not knowing what to do or who to be once they leave their old patterns and life behind. I've watched my aging mother, who by the way worked until she was 77, struggle to find a new identify even though the small world she's created for herself in her grief over the the loss of the old, makes her miserable. The "who am I now" dilemma as I've come to call it is likely to be affecting you if you are working on making some important change in your life.

I received a great illustration for the "who am I now" dilemma in my inbox the other day, what the writers call an "Awareness Test" that is posted on youtube ( I was reminded that our current lives are composed of the things we allow into our awareness, and there are an infinite number of things outside of our current scope waiting for our attention. Making change requires us to slow down the velocity and come to the moment at hand, and then open up our awareness beyond the things we've always seen. If we are unable to do that we continue walking through life counting passes (the old awareness) and aren't even aware of the dancing bears in our path (the possibiltiies of a new awareness).

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.