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?

Friday, December 31, 2010

A little pleasure, a little pain

New Year's resolutions make me sweat. I failed fruition too many times. I try instead to look back on the year, see what I did well and what continues to hold me back; and figure out how to increase/decrease respectively in the coming year. Here it is New Year's Eve, again. I think I'll set an intention for what I want in 2011. It's kinda like a resolution but in this case, less goal-oriented and more action-based.

As luck would have it, my wise friend CC sent me an email today thanking me for being significant in her life. She writes, “It wasn’t the best of years for me, but the rough parts confirm that I am part the human broil. Delight in a butterfly resting for an instant upon a delicate spring flower petal, may later abet a thorny broken heart. For that, I can be grateful every morning I awake to another chance.” CC has learned to embrace both the pleasure and pain that defines life. I'm sure she's better at it after the initial blow and better some days than others. The important thing is she's learned to celebrate it as an essential ingredient to her life.

Instead of getting good at appreciating the melancholy, we spend much of our lives trying to avoid the pain. The search for the happy place is linked with our insatiable love of pleasure, sometimes to our own detriment.

I want more of this balance in my life next year. So what I am willing to commit to is increasing my awareness, and when I am present with it, breathe in the pain of tragedy as an essential ingredient that makes for better alchemy, like fish sauce in Thai food.

I responded to CC with, "I do hope things are peaceful in your home and tonight. I wonder who was supposed to prepare us for the dichotomy that is life? A little pleasure, a little pain. I guess it's something you learn to love rather than born with. I still have a ways to go. But you've inspired me to set an intention. Thanks. Love, T."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Making mountains out of mole hills: catastrophizing stifles change

Her cheeks were tear-stained, her breathing noticeably frantic, and and her voice at that pitch only a woman in crisis can produce. She was rambling about what a horrible pet owner she had been because the cat she tried to foster had escaped his new home and was lost. She lamented how her lack of consideration had put him in jeopardy, and in the same sentence how her failings were likely to reoccur as disaster as she embarked on a move to Southern California. "Whoa, that's a pretty big leap," I suggested. In her moment of fear she had resorted to "catastrophizing."

Essentially catastrophizing is when we make assumptions about what's going on based on very limited or circumstantial evidence (usually a crisis or emotionally upsetting event), we assume a more dire conclusion than we have evidence for, and then we react emotionally at a level proportionate to that dire conclusion we made up. Who among us hasn't written the future using a pencil invested in past disasters?

There are two kinds of catastrophizing, one focused on situation ("This project was a disaster. I am a failure and my boss hates me."), and one focused on the future ("I failed my cat and I will fail myself when I move to California.") Neither are very helpful when you are trying to change because both can be paralyzing. Both limit your choices in life, work, relationships and more, both affect your outlook and can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and disappointment.

How to stop
  • Awareness is the first step. Step back and breathe and notice when you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Jot down the facts about the situation.
  • Check your log for incidents, patterns, thoughts or situations and identify the "situations most likely" to send you over the edge.
  • Enlist the help of a supportive person who has permission to call you on your behavior.
  • Practice. That is, assert yourself to yourself by dousing the fire with a dose of reality. "Wait a second, what does the fiasco with the cat have to do with moving to California?"
Carl Sagan told a story about early astronomers looking at a cloud covered planet Venus. They concluded it must be a tropical rain forest atmosphere much like when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Sagan mused, "Observation, we can't see a thing. Conclusion, dinosaurs." It is always helpful to get more data.
Change and transition requires grounded thinking and thoughtful decisions. It's hard work that can be derailed by making mountains out of mole hills.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Be the change

This is Paul.

He likes hugs and believes the world could use more of them.

And so he offers hugs to passers-by, no pressure, just silent offers of kindness.

He likes making a difference, one person at a time, whether they hug him or not.

Paul is being the change he wants to see in the world.

Monday, November 01, 2010

S-O-S

When I was a high school senior my boyfriend, knowing I was a pretty good seamstress, asked me to make him a jacket. With zipper, cuffs, a collar and such, a jacket is challenging. But I was ready, picked out the pattern, bought and prepared the fabric, cut out the gorgeous deep brown brushed corduroy and set about making what promised to be a show-stopper. I followed the instructions to the letter, except when I carefully sewed the right sleeve into the left sleeve hole. Not only had I sewn the main seam, but I stiched a line about 1/4" from it in order to reinforce the shoulder. I was devastated. I pouted. For about 3 months. Not only did I have to correct the mistake to go on (and ripping out a seam on fabric with "nap" can frazzle it), but for some reason I hung the thing over my bedroom door, smacking me with my failure every time I entered.

It took my Mom finally asking, "Would you like me to tear out that sleeve?" when she tired of looking at the jacket collecting dust. First I was shocked because I hadn't even thought of it as an option, and then I was relieved to finish the thing that hung over me (literally) for so long.

Making change is like making a jacket. We can't give up when it's difficult, even with the threat of a frazzled seam. And sometimes we can't find our way unless we ask for (or someone offers) help. Oh, yeah one of the tricky things is to let someone help instead of saying, "Oh no, I'll be fine."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't settle, ask for what you want

"I bet you could help me choose," she called from the jewelry counter. "Which one of these do you like best?"

"Well the one on the left won my heart when we were watching the artist's demo," I confessed. "But it's more important that whatever you buy wins your heart. Which one do you like best?"

"Well I have clothes to match both of them," she hesitated.

"But which one do you really love?"

"Well the one I really love isn't here. It was at the demo, but there isn't one like it here."

"Which one was that?"

"Oh, it was pink and blue," her eyes danced with the memory.

"Then why don't you have this lady call the artist and have her deliver it? You have a day-and-a-half until we leave."

"Do you think that would be okay?"

"I think you should have the one you really love, and it can't hurt to ask." Oftentimes the distance between what we want and what we settle for is the courage to ask.

Sure enough the artist was contacted, happy to deliver the necklace, and the woman was elated to buy the thing she really wanted.

Piece of cake. Next.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I am enough

So here I sit, bowl of stew warming my left hand as I shovel with my right an assortment of mostly white vegetables recommended by Chinese medicine to fortify the lungs for the coming winter. I am preparing myself, like nature does, to return to the earth, to introspection, to letting die off those things that don't serve me well in favor of rebirth in the new year. And I've figured something out. I am enough.

It started, as do most of my musings, with words from one of my peeps, S, who through a series of events had developed the moniker, "I am enough." I don't think I asked enough questions to really understand what it meant to her, but the three words have rolled around my brain since last we lunched on the steps of the library at the local university. "I am enough," she declared with resolve.

It continued with a visit to an Oregon artist friend who lives in Ashland. Our visits are filled with food and friendship, and a touch of shared inspiration. We are always working on the next big writing project. "Maybe it's enough that I take photos and add poetry to them," I supposed. "Maybe there never was a book or anything bigger. Maybe what I do is enough." I said out loud what she had been chewing on all summer.

I even conjured up the courage to submit my photo-poetry pieces to a community college literary magazine, asserting the work is worthy of a category of its own. The editor accepted the submissions. I am enough.

And then this morning I cleared my calendar and actually have a day to write. A whole day uninterrupted. I went for a run, relaxed in yoga poses to counteract the pounding, had a good breakfast, finished some paper work and headed for the shower to begin my writing day. I "woke up" in the shower, well into the routine, finally coming into my body. I was hyperventilating--my predictable reaction to anxiety. Really? A perfect day and I'm hyperventilating. And then it hit me, "I am enough." There is a place deep inside that isn't so sure I am enough. That childlike place that rewrites history to prove it. And when I make time to write, that fear hampers my ability to catch my breath.

Yoga has taught me about breathing. It has taught me to send breath to places in my body that hurt on the inhale and release the pain and tension on the exhale. I'm pretty darn good at it after five or so years. And so I inhaled and sent my breath filled with "I am enough" to the catch in my lung. I exhaled and sent my breath filled with "I am not enough" out with it. Inhale and exhale. In goes enough, out goes not enough. Until the hyperventilating ceased.

It wasn't a huge surprise to rest my hands on the keyboard and find my fingers type my first words of the day, "I--a-m--e-n-o-u-g-h." No matter what I write. I am enough.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Our job is to discover our true north and take daily steps in that direction.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I am change

In the spirit of the Italian film "I am Love," I devote time to the topic "I am change." Change, like love is complex and powerful.


I am change:

dissatisfaction
awareness
insight
inspiration
dreaming
action
planning
leaping
crashing
baby steps
trial
error
rework
frustration
joy
defeat
life
enduring
rebirth
contemplation
wishing
creation
exhilaration
re-creation
fear
relief
invisibility
unconsciousness
consciousness
pride
conspicuousness
transformation
paralyzed
hard work
cycles
laziness
ambitiousness
desperation
satisfaction
relentlessness
overload
choice
resistance
procrastination
denial
inconsistency
courage
controversy
magical
practical

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I have become my mother


I remember the day I was standing in the narrow hallway of the ranch-style rental I lived in with my daughters, hand on hip, speaking in a voice that could only be my mother. It was a perfect example of "family of origin" stuff. There I was in her image, saying the words she would have said to me. Family of origin is roughly the imprinted behaviors implanted into our own lives from habits that belonged to our ancestors.

The idea rattled around my brain. I remember wondering why my daughter sniffing her nose and the neighbor's barking dog made me crazy. Why did they bother me?

One day I realized my sweetie and I have very different perspectives about standing up (in public) for what we believe. I can still hear Mom in the backyard, speaking angrily to me about my having told the neighbors that she was a Democrat. "It's no body's business," she scolded in a loud whisper
. Funny, I don't talk about political beliefs with anyone except very close friends and family. My sweetie on the other hand has ancient black and white photos of his mother marching in a crowd in Times Square. He's the kind of guy that will stand on the street corner with a sign of protest stapled to a 1x3" garden stake. There is a part of me that envies his courage and a part of me that cringes at his gall.

Most disturbing is the reality that I too mop the backsplash behind the kitchen faucet when it is puddled with water. It is creepy because it was one of Mom's disapproving actions I hated growing up. Her messy countertop obsession transferred to my own aggravation.

It's one thing for me to choose these behaviors. It's another for me to do them because they are incidiously etched in my brain and I'm bound to live out the insanity that came before me. If I'm going to do something weird, I want it to be conscious and intentful.

Lots of work.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another day is over

Were you who you wanted to be?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Escape from the archives

I pulled this photo out of the archives today because someone asked for Portland photos that are portrait or vertical for a calendar. I didn't know until I searched that most of the photos I take, especially of bridges, are horizontal. During my search I looked at this 2-year old image with a new eye. I found a beauty I had set aside in favor of images in the glow of a blue sky captured at the next photo shoot. Like this sleeper photo, sitting there looking pretty every time I went past her, we ignore the little voice that informs us at a deeper level. We prefer the chatter in the attic.

I related this to those of us who are seeking the blissful path and how hard it is to know where to go and what to do, and how easy it is to latch on to the next sunny idea that bounces in our head rather than stick to that sustaining idea that keeps calling us from our gut. Instead we jump on the next bandwagon
or throw up our arms and surrender to status quo because there are too many options. If I hadn't been asked to look at the archive using a different lens this solid piece of work would've gone unnoticed. I'm sure the lesson is in being true to my artist's eye and avoiding making artistic decisions based on superficial attributes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Transition--lean into it and then cut the cake

I was summoned to a women's circle that I am able to attend infrequently because of time and distance. It's run by a couple of wise women in the their 70s who provide comfort and inspiration through reading or writing, but certainly talking and eating. I have always had the feeling that some of what these women do has a little magic. It was a larger group than usual, triple the size of the usual five- or six-person gathering. There was food and the topic of conversation was inspiring books.

One of the women waited until everyone else shared and then admitted she really didn't know why she was there, she was physically hurting and really had nothing to say except that she felt like her life was falling apart--job, relationship, health. Everything out of control. She was crying by the time she uttered her last word. The blanket of concern silently covered her shoulders.

Someone joked about how little we control, and we laughed about the lessons to help us learn to recognize it. And how we are offered the lesson over and over until we get it. There was nodding consensus.

"Have you given birth to a child?" the woman sitting on the piano bench asked her.

"No," was all she said.

"No matter, it's just a metaphor anyway for the kind of human pain that occurs in things like childbirth."

"It's called transition. I had one woman grab my arm and yell 'I cannot do this one more minute, I am losing it!'" remembered the nurse in the overstuffed chair.

"Yeah, I literally pushed my kids' Dad out of my way and told him to get away from me I was so over the edge," said the hostess.

The woman quietly sobbed through her puzzlement.

"This is where the Mom is dialated and ready to give birth," the nurse confirmed.

"Sometimes change feels like the transition of childbirth. Just when you think you cannot endure one more moment, you give birth to a new you or a new part of you. Is it possible you are in transition? And you're about to give birth to the new you? asked the woman on the piano bench.

The women surrounded the crying woman, each touching a small patch of her aching left side. The leader said some words of blessing.

And then they cut the cake.

Friday, August 13, 2010

No Joke

We really do reap what we sow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teach your children well

Mt. Vernon is an 18 mile buggy ride from the Capitol, a distance to prove the farmer that was our first president. He was an unlikely leader who relinquished the power earned him as an officer in the Revolutionary War in favor of returning home to experiment and farm. “George Washington never gave up!” announced the tour guide to her 4th grade tutelage. The never die spirit was sliced by her father’s unkind words said standing over her small 6-year-old frame, his humongous face inches from hers, spit occasionally sprouting from his lips.. “Stop singing! You are always singing and driving everybody crazy.” I cringed and wondered if her song was her passion, the dirt under George Washington’s nails. I thought of J still wishing she was someone's teacher fifteen years after an influential elder stopped her pursuit of a teaching career with well-meaning warnings. I whispered in the child's ear when her Dad wasn’t looking, “I think your song is beautiful. Never stop singing.”

Working wholeheartedly

Hopefully at some point in your life (I'm all for doing it daily), you have felt what it feels like to work "wholeheartedly," literally with your whole heart. I'm sorry to say I think it's rare, and so I've been feeling pretty lucky to be working wholeheartedly for the past month or so. As I've mentioned in earlier writing, I'm trying to be less of a teacher and more of an artist. And I keep repeating that every time I follow my bliss, new doors open. I keep saying that photos don't come knock on my door. I have to be out mingling with the world's people.

When I'm working with all my heart I do crazy things like willingly get up before 5:00am to get the best light. I sit for hours waiting for the perfect context to live by so I can capture
it. I spend hours looking and re-looking at images and going out again to get better light on a promising shot. No sweat. No taste for grumbling or hesitating. I even bought a ticket on a Saturday evening for the local river cruise so I could shoot by my subject from a prime vantage point while others ate and drank. I have a feeling no one bothered me while I lurked around searching for the perfect shot because I had this big smile on my face the whole time and no one dared encounter the grinning nut with the camera.

Part of the joy for me comes undoubtedly with the assignment itself. I was actually hired to take photos of a local historical landmark (permanently
altering my amateur status). I like having the clarity of an assignment. I got that assignment through my network, those who are aware of and support my work. As a matter of fact I wouldn't have been considered for the assignment had it not been for one of the women in my writer's group. Daily, walking the path of bliss. But the other is in living my mission--behold, ask, learn, create, share, connect. I walked within the joy of my talents and gifts and it left a silly smurk on my face. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Monday, June 07, 2010

The meaning of life, part three

Follow your gut even when you don't know where it's taking you.

Congratulations! You have dug out what you believe to be your essence--your mission. Maybe you haven't discovered all of your potential gifts yet, but you've watched yourself now, paid attention to when you are in the flow and have recognized that your recent peak experiences include, say, rescuing animals and providing respite to creatures. Now you find opportunities to do it (whatever it is) baby step by baby step, oftentimes having no clue of where it's taking you. You volunteer somewhere you can do more respite providing. That experience will either turn you off or on, and you begin to build a knowledge-base and network that will end up sending you to your next adventure. My attorney friend decided at 58 she had always wanted to act and there was no time like the present. She started taking acting classes in the evenings. She was good at it and got accepted to a prestigous acting troupe. Each experience reinforced her love for and desire to learn more about this gift she had for acting, and each opened up a new door.

The behold word on my mission is the perfect petrie dish to examine for how a mission unfolds. I had taken photos beginning in college with an old Argos C-3 box camera of my dads. I remember looking at shots of my daughter thinking how good the camera. What I didn't realize at that time was that the shots were good because the camera was good AND I had an eye. I actually see things others don't see. It happened all my life on hikes and in a crowd and in ordinary events. So my sweetie bought me a digital camera before we went on an international trip in 2006. Because I carried my computer in order to send photos home I had the luxury of seeing my "catch" immediately. I was pleased with a good percentage of shots. And I loved every minute of shooting.

When I arrived home I attended a photo exhibition opening and immediately thought, "Geez, I have photos at least as good as these." I mentioned it to my aunt who serendipitously was trying to upgrade a great room in the local community center to be better maintained and decided creating a gallery was the perfect answer. I framed and hung photos and sold $600 worth. I mentioned this to a salon in a fancy area of town and next thing I know I'm framing photos and hanging them there and selling $1200 worth of photos. I hooked up with a local artist group through craigslist.com by agreeing to put some of my photos on greeting cards. I added words to images to make a deeper meaning. I find I love my artist community, but don't fancy selling my art at a booth at the local Saturday market. Step by step gaining clarity on how I want to work and present my work. Some roads are fruitful, some are not. The best step I took for both writing and photography was setting up blogs. They keep me writing and they allow me to be the artist I want to be gradually putting my work up for others to see, and finding my way as I go. In the meantime I am creating a collection of what I know and the work I've produced. I am practicing what I want to do by doing it, even not knowing how it will turn out.

I keep telling my Creating The Life You Want participants that you first discover the bliss and then you walk down the road pursuing that bliss. Every action you take has an equal reaction that creates more options, or an understanding you are walking down the wrong road. If you can let go of the need for a deadline, you can enjoy the journey and eventually zero in on the target. I'm learning to enjoy the hunt.

L's deliberate path to change

No telling what one thoughtful human being can do when they set their mind to it.



Yesterday I took a brave step--for me. I ate a couple of slices of a red bell pepper dipped in garlic dip. That may not sound like such a brave move, I mean it's not like I'm a taster for the king and any bite might be my last, but for me it comes close. To taste something I've never eaten or have eaten and decided I didn't like--there is a fear I won't like it, won't be able to swallow it, choke on it, and then won't be able to get the taste out of my mouth. The verdict. The pepper wasn't too bad. I had decided I would eat at least one slice. I actually ate 3-- pushing the limit. Now I know that I can eat a red bell pepper, maybe even a green one or a yellow one. This is a step toward having more veggies in my diet. Of course without the garlic dip I don't know if I could, but... one step at a time.


The other addition to my diet is juice (never a big fan); 8 oz of those V8 infusion juices is supposed to equal one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetable. I like the blackberry cranberry and it is pure juice, no sugar or anything else added.


We had dinner at Stanford's last night. They have wonderful hamburgers and fries, fish and chips and steaks. I ordered grilled halibut and garlic mashed potatoes. Another small step to fewer calories and less fat. And I had iced tea to drink instead of a coke or a beer. Good grief - how wholesome.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Lazy or exhausted?

Fast Company (June 2, 2010) has a Dan Heath article about change. He believes that some of what appears to be our laziness is really exhaustion. Turns out those asked to exercise restraint by eating radishes instead of chocolate chip cookies in a laboratory test (even when the researchers were out of the room) persisted on an impossible puzzle an average of 8 minutes, while the group that ate cookies instead of radishes (even when researchers were out of the room) persistent on average for 19 minutes.

While one might wonder if the persistence of the cookie eaters might have been caused by a sugar rush (no mention in the study), it's interesting to consider that too much change affects our ability to stick with it. We know this intuitively when our company is making too many changes at once, but I think it's a rare bird that considers their personal change/exhaustion quotient. I'm thinking about W and her choice to stay with her current job amidst multiple changes--only daughter's high school graduation and move away to college, selling her house, considering international travel. I guess she knew in her heart that taking on a new job might add too much additional change and exhaust her. The rest of us overwhelm ourselves and wonder why we struggle.

Good reminder for me as I work on changing careers; make only as much change as I can tolerate on my worst day. When I fail to make the change I'm courting, the next attempt is harder because the failure monkey can howl to my distraction--making every attempt critical to successful change. Better to focus on the vital few and celebrate success than focus on the trivial many and lay myself out, too pooped to change.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Stuck

"My shoulder is killing me," I whined to my massage therapist/healer.

"Show me where on the diagram; describe the pain and when you feel it."

"To tell you the truth it's been going on for a while, it's acute today. But I've been feeling crooked for a couple of months. I think I've even had you work my left side the last couple."

He had me sit and started poking around the area of pain. He hit a trigger spot.

"Ow."

"What do you suppose that is?"

"It's got to be my Mom. It just gets harder and harder."

He asked question after question while he countered with his thumbs the tension build-up at a line of spots just under my shoulder blade, each tightness triggering tears and deeper sharing of indelible words, an image of the 7 year old version of myself still resenting old hurt. Through imagining he had me love and support my angry little girl and feel compassion for a mother I see trapped in a coccoon. He revealed to me the old tapes that keep me from playing the mature adult I mean to play. He helped me unstick my painful shoulder, AND my interactions with my mother. I wondered if the stuckness had anything to do with a dry spell in my writing.
"Stuck"for me is when I stop making progress in an area I am trying to change. Being stuck in one area of our lives can set us up to be stuck in other areas. Plus, most of the things that make us stuck are emotionally charged, often unresolved things from the past. Our unconcious is so busy working to fortify the effects of the past it hardly has time to work on the present. If we are aware, we can even pinpoint its physical sign, hyperventilating, anxiety, sadness, etc. If we are smart, we'll get some help to break up the jam. That's when I first went to see Tom--my stuckness expert and psychologist.

It seems when I experience one lesson, it's usually followed close by a couple more of the same theme. As a matter of fact, one of our friends expressed her stuckness via email too recently to be coincidence. She had been trying to work on some long-term health issues. In the course of the written exchange, she mentioned that she hadn't slept for years. She was working on it. I applauded her insight. I supported her delaying more big life changes until she gets unstuck from her sleeplessness. It's difficult to find clarity about just about everything when you're Z-deprived.

Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend and a reunion of women working on creating the lives they want. Z is a lifelong learner in her 40s, very successful in her career. Her career is not her passion. She's searching for that. Her story includes a long-standing resentment toward her family, struggle to let go of hard feelings and an unexplainable angst. D works hard on finding her mission (she's zeroing in on her talents and passions), but struggles to breathe most of the time due to a tightness in her chest and tears just beind her eyes. I wondered out loud if it was possible they needed to unstick themselves before their next big burst of progress. I'm confident each will find a way to unlock their stuckness . . . in their own time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with L

Making change is not for sissies. It requires a step by step journey from notion to action. It requires awareness, and lots of tough conversations with yourself about what holds you back. Michael Meade in Fate to Destiny believes our fate is what we are born with and our destiny is how we unfold as we overcome our fate. Don't forget, Albert Einstein was reported to have had a learning disability in school. He overcame his fate (circumstances) to create his destiny. It is right that we are every changing . . . like the earth.

T: L, how are you doing with your change work?

L: I continue to argue with myself about change and what I need to change and why. I've run the gambit of excuses and explanations and I'm not sure which is which. To make it worse, procrastination allows me to do nothing - except continue to think about it, which allows me to believe that I am doing something. I make lists, discard or disregard them.

T: Are you any closer to figuring out what change you want to make?

L: I can't say that I am, but I haven't given up. Of late, the weather makes me want to hibernate and just sit in my chair and watch the birds in the feeder. They sure have a lot of energy. My sleeping or lack thereof is very draining and immobilizing, inertia sets in. My medication causes my appetite to increase. And lack of sleep causes my body to reach for food to get some energy to keep going on the job and not fall asleep mid-afternoon. I worry that these are excuses rather than explanations.

T: Any good news?

L: I think so. A c-pap machine to combat sleep apnea. I know some people who use a c-pap and they say they wake up rested and eager to get on with the day. I am looking forward to that. It became clear to me as I was trying to make change that I needed more than a few hours of sleep each night to be clear about what changes I want to make. I had run myself ragged, resigned to my sleep deprivation..

T: Is there anything else you want to share:

L: Well, I had an interesting conversation with God recently - well maybe not a conversation, as I did all the talking or blaming. It surrounded things like - why doesn't a chocolate cookie have the same nutritional value and caloric content as a carrot? Or why can't a carrot taste like a chocolate cookie? I mean really, who made up these things. I hear people talk about how sweet carrots are or onions. They do not taste sweet to me. Why is that? Is it part of a conspiracy to keep me overweight and unhealthy? I take it personally. I know part of this is just my being ornery and argumentative about not having things the way I want them. And so it goes.

The internal dialogue is good for me, requiring some examination of who I am and if I can still be who I am (the parts I like) if I change.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

L's excellent adventure continues

More from L, whose vegetarian pursuit transformed into something entirely different . . .

So - the veggie thingy. It is on my mind all the time, not just the veggie part--rather my issues with food in general, my weight, my health and my inability--unwillingness--to change. The veggie thing actually, and I hate to tell you this, I have dismissed. It is more of a change than I can possibly make and I don't want to, not wanting to only leads to failure. If anyone could motivate me to do it, it would be you, but I can't do it for you, of course.


Talkaboutchange set me thinking and examining. Here's what I have been doing: figuring out which foods I really like, ones that are satisfying and don't leave me wanting something else, thinking about each meal or snack. Why I am choosing this and not that. What's handy and what's not. What do I really want?


This past week I have eaten a beef meal only once. I have had at least one serving of fruit each day and one veggie. I did have chicken one night. The rest of my meals were not really about veggies (except pasta sauce) but they weren't meat meals either.


In the movies there is always a moment that brings about change. An epiphany, a light bulb, someone says something and suddenly Dr. House knows what's wrong with the patient and everything falls into place. I do not have a magic pill. I am well aware of my need to process and take small steps, perhaps even tricking myself into something. I console myself-- I'm not really going to be a vegetarian, not really going to quit eating sweets--good heavens no. But behind my back, I just choose to eat a little less meat and an extra vegetable along the way. Maybe one less cookie. Nothing dramatic. So I won't even know what I am doing to me.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

L’s excellent vegetarian adventure


A YouTube video about the meat industry triggered a friend of ours to try eating vegetarian. This is a notable change mostly because she doesn’t much like or eat many vegetables. Below is her wisdom and humor sent via email, used with her permission.

May 3
I'm eating a vegetarian diet for one week. Took me some time to figure out what to eat, it seems a hard choice at first. However, I am not eliminating dairy. I realized that black beans and cheese on a taco would count. And fettuccine Alfredo, no chicken would be a good dinner. Might even eat some lettuce and spinach with a good dressing; hold those other things, like onions, tomatoes, cucumbers etc. Tomorrow when I lunch with P it will be a real challenge. We go every Tuesday to the Barley Mill and I always get a burger and fries. I'm going to try a Boca burger. That's what P eats. However, the last time I tried one, I didn't much like it, but I am willing to try it again. At least that will quiet P's nagging advice, “Just try it,” he says. I have such wonderful friends, always looking out for my best interest. It's fortunate for P that after 26 years I am still willing to put up with his nagging. No commitment past this week; just thinking about what you said and thinking about my ever-spreading self and what to do about this love/hate relationship I have with food. I’m going to read Eat, Pray, Love again. Might be easier if I could run off to India.

May 4
A funny thing happened on the journey to a vegetarian week--a meatball sandwich! After work my friend A and I stopped by the store; I got my kitty litter and was waiting for her to finish shopping and the subway shop was right there and the meatballs smelled so good. I decided I'd get a 6" meatball sub to go for my dinner. I did. Got home, ate my sandwich, read the paper, fed the cat and then checked my email. There was your name in my inbox. It was only then I remembered I was being a vegetarian this week. A-r-g-h. A failure the first day. I totally forgot. The lure of meatballs must be deeply ingrained. So I will start over today.

May 6
What I think I learned.

As I thought about being a vegetarian for a week, I thought, “How hard can it be to not eat meat for a week?” Turns out, a lot harder than I thought, or perhaps it was a lack of thought that made me think I could, on not much more than a whim, change my eating habits for a week. Turns out for me, change takes more than just "trying something on" and a lot of planning and perhaps even a true commitment. I didn’t have either.

Monday, it was meatballs that did me in. Tuesday, I went to lunch with P, as mentioned, and when we got to the Barley Mill, the cook had my burger on the grill as soon as he saw us walk in and before I had given it a thought, our lunch was on the table. After all, P and I have been having lunch each week for about 26 years now, 10 at the Barley Mill. They know us there. I didn't have the heart to tell the cook I didn't want a burger that day. He takes pride in having our lunches to us promptly and exactly the way we like them. We are creatures of habit and each order the same thing every week.

Wednesday went okay and now it is Thursday. I am not going out to lunch, I have a veggie lunch. Actually it can't be called a veggie lunch, it is a meatless lunch, no veggies visible. Tomorrow night M and I are going to see Carole King and James Taylor. We will have dinner first at my favorite restaurant. I always have the halibut, pecan encrusted. It is so good. And halibut is good for me, really, lots of omega 3s, proven anti-inflammatory. When I thought about a meatless week, I knew I would have the halibut Friday night, regardless. And I will.

Back to what I have learned. This is about change for me, not really about being a vegetarian. And change takes practice and commitment and planning, which often goes against my natural approach. It is in my Scorpio nature to just dive into things, often hitting my head on that rock hidden in the water. I must find middle ground as it is my tendency to be at extremes, all or nothing. This is all good information for me to review. It's not like I didn't already know this about myself, but it is easy for me to "forget" just how stubborn and set in my ways I am.

Perhaps I will begin with practicing being more conscious about what I eat, why I eat it and when and how much. I'll ponder these things and do a little planning. I don't want to be an old dog that can't learn new tricks. And I will avoid my often used Scarlett O'Hara approach, thinking about things tomorrow. Tomorrow too often never shows up when it becomes today and tomorrow again becomes the future.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Surrender and let go

Let go of the need to control

I'm going back to Sangha this evening; sangha is a community meditation. I have a friend who is interested and I offered to go with her, renew my interest and commitment and support her through an hour of orientation before the larger Sunday evening gathering. While I'm thinking about entering this 3-hour mindfulness, I am preparing myself to let go of the things I'm thinking about. Meditation is about letting go and finding quiet.

And so it's probably not a coincidence my aging parent lesson this week has been that of surrender. It's been coming for a long time, but I finally "got it." The more I dig my heels in the more difficult the relationship. So for some reason this week when we tested for yet another health problem that doesn't exist, I was lucky enough to sit alone with the doctor for a few minutes. She reminded me of something important--I'm more likely to have success if I set my expectations so that she can meet them. I get some peace of mind and she gets warmer regard, which makes her more confident and in less need of constant reassurance. Because of her short-term memory loss I'm going to have to start out new pretty much each day.

I like the bumper sticker I saw recently that said, "Don't Panic, Adjust." Life brings periodic panics. We choose how we handle them. We either surrender to the circumstance and adjust our behavior or we fight the inevitable. How tiring and what a wasteful way to spend time. I'd rather go dig in the dirt.

I wonder how many lessons we are sent in attempt to teach us to let go of things we cannot control. Hopefully I really got it this time.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The meaning of life, part two

Mission is not a job title or description. Mission is a few words that describe your essence. What you are here to do (and who you are here to do it for). In our class we use the zebra as the icon for mission. Zebras, like snowflakes, are unique. Each one has a slightly different set of stripes that distinguish them from the rest. People are unique, but by the time they've been through school are so atuned to pleasing others and doing what's expected that their stripes (their unique identity) have often faded or disappeared.

The past month I had the luxury to dig in and work on my mission. Even after you've identified the stripes, there's work to do to figure out how to take action. By contrast to the people I've encountered who are wandering and longing I ended up rubbing elbows with researchers at the local historical library. These people sit for hours, digging, reading, looking for clues and stories. They have found their stripes and are enjoying the benefit of working wholeheartedly. I even ventured into the local Earth Day celebration nearby and marveled at the guy who is working to have license plate holders (they apparently weigh a pound) removed from cars to increase their efficiency. He passionately lists the fuel-saving benefits and talks to anyone who will listen. I signed the petition of the raucus women who are trying to rid the state of plastic bags. These people are ignited by passion.

If you are one of the lucky
ones who know (even if a small part of) your mission, give it voice, put it in writing.
  • Start doing something with it; volunteer, take a class, set up an interview, something.
  • Each time you follow your passion, watch for the door that opens next.
  • Write down every experience that makes your heart sing.
  • Dig deep and observe.
If you don't have a clue about your mission, I'll share mine and then describe a bit about what each word means to give you an example. My mission is simple. It's only six action words, in no particular order. Others use phrases or sentences. It should never be as long as a paragraph because you should be able to tell others what it is on command.

Behold
Ask
Learn
Create
Share
Connect

I begin my explanation with "ask" because it was the first stripe I identified doing this multi-year process. I finally dug deep enough to remember being teased for being the great interrogater for as long as I remember. I ask questions. As I mentioned in the previous post though, "ask" has more than one meaning. It also represents my voracious need to research, always interested in digging and asking, my love of inquiry-based coaching and why I am a good community-builder.

Learn (ing) is what happens when you ask. I learn from those who speak to me, I learn from my research, I learn from the collective wisdom in the communities I build. I am not happy unless I'm learning the next big thing.

Create (ing) is as necessary to me as breathing. I must create. I create beautiful food, I create beautiful photos, I create messages. I am a creative being. When I don't create I suffer.

Share (ing) is a natural output of creating. I write for others to read, I cook for others to eat, I take photos for others to enjoy.

Connect (ing) is a way of saying that I bring the learning and creation and sharing together to connect with other people and ideas. I build communities of people who benefit from watching each other learn and grow.

I added Behold late in the game (within the last year) because as it turns out I see things others don't see, one of the reasons why people like my photographs. I'm still playing with the concept to see if it really fits with what I'm here for mostly because I'm the luckiest photographer that ever owned a Nikon. I take photos with an intuitive sense that often doesn't know what it's captured until I see it on the screen.

Here's what I'm not allowed to ask next, "But how am I going to get a job doing that?" The how will come in time. Getting bogged down in the job that you're supposed to pursue next is counterproductive. This is an intuitive, iterative process that requires taking some steps and letting them compost. Taking some action and seeing how it feels. Every time I pursue these stripes another door of understanding and opportunity opens. And I sit like a pig in mud, joyous in the actions I take that match my stripes.

Allow yourself to be satisfied with the joy of the search.

Next: The meaning of life, part three

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The meaning of life, part one

Not sure about your young adult experience, but mine included sitting around oftentimes high, asking esoteric questions like "What IS the meaning of life?" Turns out we were asking the wrong question. We were on the right track, we should be asking ourselves insightful questions. Down deep, though, I think we were asking, "What is the meaning of MY life." It was easier to speculate about the former.

Decades later, nothing has changed. I'm surrounded by people looking for meaning in their lives. Point in fact during a long overdue dinner with friends I asked about his life since he had taken early retiement a couple years ago. He's a cycling nut so it was natural to take a part-time job working on bikes, he has a couple of cycling groups, and he has a bunch of free time. He gladly helped the neighbor build a fence partly because he's a really nice guy and partly because it filled the time.

His story reminded me of my pause when two other friends during a recent trip to the coast verbalized their quest for the next big thing. Both women are accomplished and have a history of leading people and service projects. They took opportunities as they came, but they never found their real passion, something they can do wholeheartedly.

It also reminded me of my poor Mom who worked as a hairdresser until she was 77 and at 88 is bored silly, depressed and doesn't know what to do with herself now that she can no longer work 12 hours a day and then go home and keep up with a large yard. Her purpose, literally, was working and raising a child. What now?

Nothing prepares us to find meaning and purpose in our lives. In school we fulfilled requirements, were directed to a course of study, but no one ever asked us, "What are you passionate about?" "What makes your heart sing?" If we were college bound, well-meaning counselors directed us to colleges and degrees and if college wasn't our path, in short order we got a job. Our others-directed path intersected with careers and titles and job descriptions. It's likely we've been admonished for what we really love, "You can't make a living doing that!" We may even have forgotten what we really love, or see it vaguely in a distant dream once we retire. What a crock.

Then life shifts into gear and the days and months go by and we accumulate responsibilities. We get a bigger better job, bigger better possessions until one day we wake up living someone else's life. Thoreau called it ". . . lives of quiet desperation." It's not too far fetched to believe that people who lack meaning and feel desperate try to fill the hole with "busy" or bad habits. Our soft spots provide relief from the malaise.

The people who sign up for our Creating The Life You Want course have, to some extent, figured this out. While they come in very different places in their lives, they've all become discontent enough with status quo, they want to make some change. They are searching for more meaning in their lives. Their success is as varied as their reasons for attending. Over the years I've notice, however, that many are satisfied with applying values and boundaries (two of the early modules) because it feels doable even if a bit fearful. However, most of them fall short of discovering their mission (module five). We define mission as one's "reason for being," "daimon," in Martha Beck's words, "your own north star." It is the shining light that has always called you from afar, sometimes an old avocation or dream cast aside. I have grown to believe finding our mission is the KEY to creating the life we really want. Stopping short of figuring it out is to "settle." Settle for what is easy, safe and predictable.

Here are some of the reasons why mission can be hard:
  • We have negative connotations about "mission statements" and struggle to distinguish the different between the statement and the core of what it represents. Every word in my six-word mission has double and triple meanings.

  • We have years of experience sucking it up and making a living. We are tired at the end of the day and calm ourselves by buying in to the idea that we should just be happy with what we have. At the core we are also a bit lazy (until we fire up with passion).

  • We have chatter in our heads about whether or not we are talented or smart enough to have a purpose, and what does it matter anyway. This negative voice gets louder when things get difficult.

  • We have to tolerate the abstract nature of the question itself, a tendency to discount our own gifts as being trivial, and the reluctance to follow our gut.

  • We get hooked up on reality while we are trying to creatively tap into our talents and gifts.

Mission takes thinking and writing and observing and feeling and intuiting. It calls on us to ask ourselves, What am I doing when I am acting wholeheartedly? What comes easy to me? Who am I here to do it for? I have always been known for asking questions. It's what I do. Who knew it is good for building community and researching, both parts of my mission. Watch your patterns and observe what you're doing when your're "in the flow."

Next: The meaning of life, part two

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Expert, Savior, Facilitator . . . you choose!


I was lucky enough to be invited to my daughter's first training session for a group of her co-workers. She's working on her graduate degree and saw some applicability of what's she's been studying to the welfare of the people she works with. So the insightful managers in her unit agreed to let her conduct a class. Turns out she's a natural in front of a room.

So, the back story is that she's a social worker, and the topic of her thesis boils down to the social worker's perception of the role they play in order to be the most helpful AND avoid what is called compassion fatigue--caring too much.

The terms my daughter uses to describe the roles professionals generally play when dealing with tough and numerous clients are that of expert, savior or facilitator. Most often compassion fatigue is caused in part by what role the helper perceives is theirs, plus how well whatever they do works in the end. Helpers can be:

Experts--someone with all the answers, here to give advice and see that things are done according to the expert view.
Saviors--someone who is there to save others; make everything better for those who believe.
Facilitators--someone who is there to help people help themselves find the way.

It can't be just me that sees a correlation between these roles for social workers and roles we assume with friends and family on any given day. When we play the expert we are bound to give everyone we know advice for how they should do this and that and how they should live their lives if they'll sit still long enough to hear it. When we are savior we are bound to give until it hurts. The only role that makes sense is that of facilitator--one who helps others figure out their own problems and solutions.

What does this have to do with change? Making change doesn't make sense unless it fits into the values of the one who's changing. The more time you spend on other people's lives, the less amount of time you have to spend on your own. No one is an expert in anyone else's life. No one can be our savior if we aren't able to save ourselves. The only logical and compassionate role we can all play is that of facilitator--walking alongside and letting others figure out their own lives.

What we get is more time to work on your own stuff. Too bad, though, other people's problems are so much easier and quicker to solve.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Keep your eye on finish line, and push

Every change requires some kind of discomfort. When it gets uncomfortable I want to bail. Like yesterday 25 minutes into my wait for the bus, shivering in the wind, thinking "I wish I would've brought the car." People were smoking around me, it was late and all I wanted to be was home. Then I remembered why I was waiting for the bus--trying to be more mindful of how much I consume in all areas of my life. Trying to make a change. The bus is new and a bit inconvenient, and it's an entitlement for me to be able to take off in my car at whim. However I gloated a bit as I deboarded, feeling smug I had taken the bus instead of driving my car alone.

At home we've committed to composting. It takes some set-up, but we've had the bin for some time, and the thing between us and composting was moving the bin six feet. Finally a beautiful Saturday, perfect for compost work, but as soon as we ran into the gaggy little worm-like things all packed like sardines in the center, we were ready to quit. Way less convenient than the disposal in the kitchen. Way harder to go out and dig in worms. Until you watch your garbage dwindle in half because of your bin!

I remember when my daughters played high school volleyball, both on state championship teams, the days they could muster up and push a little farther than they thought they could was the day they won. "Push," we used to yell. Keep your eye on the finish line, and push.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Find what you own

If we are too close we miss what is in the background.

She shared with me the details of her tenuous living situation and the events leading up to it.

"How long into this did you know you'd made a mistake?"

"I knew in the first year," she replied.

"Why have you stayed in the relationship so long?" She made a face. Maybe because she was afraid this was her last chance at a relationship. Maybe because she was more afraid of being alone than of walking into a situation that any reasonable person would have dashed from. I wondered if she would find what she owned in the fiasco.

I told her about having been married twice. I told her that at a certain point I realized the common denominator in my dysfunctional relationships was me, and I could only blame my ex-husbands for so long. Afterall, we get into relationships to work out our kinks, don't we? I had to figure out what I owned, learn the lesson, try to avoid it in the future and move on. Can't change what is already done. Why does it seem to take so long to learn the lessons?

Own up. Move on. Make a change.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Power of Community

"We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free."
Starhawk

I'm just back from a weekend retreat at the coast where we work with people who are trying to make changes in their lives. They tell us their dreams and we tell them ours. We talk about what we are doing to make some change, and what's holding us back. Soul work, important stuff, beyond the small talk of the Olympics and facebook.

I looked out over the group of nine this weekend and couldn't help but think about Tom (former beloved counselor) who tried to get me to join "group"--a collection of patients who met regularly to discuss . . . I guess I really never knew. I declined. Several times. I think I'd seen too many movies and sitcoms about "group." I really didn't want to bare my soul to a handful of strangers, and wasn't keen on hearing their stuff either.

What I didn't know then was that "group" was a community--a handful of travelers trying to get rid of their monkeys/gremlins/demons by keeping a commitment to come check in and share stories with others. No better learning than hearing what happened to someone else. Our group at the coast was made up of bright, curious people who want more out of their lives and are willing (at least in spirit) to go for it.

What I didn't understand about Tom's "group" was the power the community had to support change for its members.

I think I saw the following benefits for most people this weekend:
  • Having/getting to speak out loud about what's not working (coveted clarity).
  • Having others listen.
  • Keen, insightful questions.
  • Ahas about things previously misunderstood.
  • Being able to report on others'"blindspots" (things we know but they don't).
  • Laughter at our fallible human selves, the joy of shared humanity.
  • The recognition that we are small and making change is big.
I used to attend a nearby Sangha, a buddist meditation community. The amazing thing about that particular Sangha is that for the first 40 minutes we just sat, eyes closed, body surrendered, breath peaceful, free from suffering. While there was a lesson and chanting that followed, the sitting itself was inspiring. Where else in your life are you surrounded by a group of people all looking for quiet minds?

At some point one of the nine bright and curious people said, "I just feel blessed to be part of a group that comes together to talk about important stuff. I don't have this in any other part of my life," which made me cry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Look in the direction you want to go


There's an awesome bike path close to us that has a spot on it where the turns are kinda tricky, you've got to move slowly and still stay balanced, and if I'm not clear which side of the metal post that symbolically halves the path for comings and goings, I am bound to run into it. I had to learn to make a clear decision on which side of the pole I was going to use to enter the path or I'd have a near accident every time. Life and change are a lot like that.

A friend/colleague stopped by my home office today to talk about her next big professional thing. She's choosing between starting her own business and joining another company. I couldn't help pull out my bicycle pole story. The problem with not making a decision about what side of the pole is when you crash into the middle of your own indecision. Try working with a potential client for your new business only to find a great opportunity of a job later that afternoon. Where will you spend your time? Researching and doing the work for the client, or beefing up the resume, doting over a cover letter and finally getting it into the mail at 4:57? Even if we work 24 hours a day we only have so much capacity and it's where we spend our time that gets the best results.


It's valuable for me to think about my decisions, but not productive to avoid them. And if there are obstacles in the path, all the better I'm clear what side I'm passing on. It helps me miss the pole and march forward with more confidence. Go me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let it be

Learn to sit. The sweet dirt comes from patient composting of coffee grounds and egg shells.

My neighbor greeted me at the mailbox when I arrived home from two weeks vacation. Our embrace was submerged in catch-up chatter. I was a month behind in her career development status. We had partnered on her website, she had to define for potential patients who she is and what she does. I offered the photos.

When last we talked she had been worrying a bit about her direction. She trained to be a sports healer. But as our angels sometimes choreograph, she was offered the opportunity to work with a terminal cancer patient. She found herself peaceful and compassionate with one facing eminent death. She volunteered time to returning veterans. Turns out, she loved the work. Now what? How can she define herself without limiting her possibilities? How could she use words referring to sports medicine without eliminating terminal or ailing patients from her work? When we are discovering what we're here to do, it's terrifying to limit our range, miss out on an opportunity.

"I've been working with a business coach and it's been truly great. She's made me get clear about who I am and how I want to communicate that," neighbor says to me.

"Fantastic! When are you going live so I can send you the photo files I promised?"

"Thirty days," and then she added incidently, "You know it's the same stuff we talked about a few months ago. I just had to sit with it for a while," she admitted. I was struck by her insight. Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, encourages us to appreciate "composting," the time and patience it takes to take a rough idea and let it sit long enough to transform it into something great.

Me, I am wired to want a plan and action. Quickly. It takes effort for me to just sit and let it be. I want some results and then I want to move on. Nothing like learning to be a writer and photographer to teach me "go with the flow." Work, work, work, wait, wait, wait. So I'm trying to learn to give it my best and then let it be, let it happen, let it go.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pick yourself up, brush yourself off




It's highly likely that by now (45 days later) your new year's resolutions are at best a struggle and at worst a fading memory. You are not alone. That's what human beings do. We make some change, then fall off the wagon. We make some change, then fall off the wagon. How predictable. How annoying! Problem is we live in a throw-away culture. It's easier for us to toss in the towel than to put our heads down and persist.

What a gift we give ourselves when we learn to "stay." Stay with our gut, stay with the dream, stay when it's hard, stay when we're tired, stay when we hear some vague message about our foolheartedness. My eternal optimist can't evade Frank Sinatra's distant voice, "Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again."

I am able to make change when I pick myself up, lick my wounds and try again. The more I persist, the closer I come. It's a lot like work. Sigh.

Friday, February 05, 2010

React and regret!


Learning to respond (instead of react) is a significant part of all the change I've made to transition my career. I had to do new things I didn't know how to do, duck my self-doubt, learn to be okay when what I did while I was learning wasn't perfect. I had to experiment. If I would've applied my default reaction I might have frozen in my tracks at the first disappointment. Change requires a devotion to thoughtful response.


Brain review 101

The part of the brain that controls human reaction is called the amygdala. Your amygdala is said to be "highjacked" when emotions take over your actions. You've likely heard of the "reptilian" brain reference (fight, flight or freeze). When emotion rules it can cause us to act inappropriately and later regret our action. I have this nasty little reaction to things that sound like the other person thinks I'm not smart enough to have thought of the obvious. My reaction is beast-like, think snarl from a BIG cat. I am aware of it, but the reaction is so quick it's hard to resist. I am able to see it the instant I'm done snarling and find myself regretful. I hope to continue to get better at managing my reaction.

Why change?
  • First of all, anything we do when we're being beast-like could be embarrassing. How many of us (minus the heroics of lifting a car off someone) ever did anything to be proud of when we reacted in fear or anger? How does it damage our relationships with important people in our lives?
  • Second is the pattern we establish that causes us to repeat the same dumb behavior over and over again, often getting us the same results over and over again. That's why old habits are so hard to break, and new habits are so hard to start and sustain, even if we're really trying. If I have a value for the earth and its creatures and my local grocery store encourages me to bring my own bag, and I own at least 2 dozen bags--why is it I often get to the top of the hill, list in hand without my reuseable grocery bag?
  • Believe me you don't get any better at changing the older you get, so start now!
Here's what I'm working on:
  • Recognizing what happens to my body when my amygdala is being hijacked. My head gets light and my ears fill with cotton, and I go from "pussycat" to "cougar" in less than a second. Luckily it happens rarely. I had to become aware of the emotion in order to change my behavior so it's great practice for me to observe.

  • Identifying the emotions to watch for. I tend to feel angry and then I withdraw to make sense out of the incident rather than yell or leave, although sometimes I want to leave. Saying "Oh I know what that is," helps to calm me.

  • Stopping my habit of adding meaning to the actions of others. We are wired to react and then assume some worse-case scenario. The better I get with the mantra, "This is not about me," the better I get.

  • Learning to slow down the velocity and ask, How did it feel? What did I learn? How can I use what I learned?

  • Learning how to put into words the change I want to make, figuring out the baby steps I have to take in order to move forward, working sometimes just on gut, learning new ways of doing things, and feeling inconvenienced sometimes like the rub of a new shoe.
Epilogue

Almost four years ago we began a house remodel and toyed with the idea of a shoes-off house. Sometimes we enforced and sometimes we didn't. We were terrible at taking off our own shoes. We stopped and started shoes-off efforts, even buying a big basket of all size slippers. But we never could enforce the rule.

We've resurrected our efforts, and here I am finally working on changing my own behavior to be no-shoes in the house. How can I ask others to take off their shoes when I'm walking around in my own? What a hassle. I either end up with a large parcel of shoes on the small landing near the front door or in my closet 1/2 floor up.

The key for getting started was getting clear on the reason for the no-shoes policy and exactly how it worked. It had really been our lack of clarity that caused us to delay our commitment. To begin, we can work on changing our own behavior. I hope it doesn't take as long as the grocery bags.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Change requires focus on what we can control

I'm grateful to my former counselor Tom who showed me that I was trying to control outside myself feelings I could not control inside (I think it happened when my daughter moved out of the house during her senior year to her Dad's house--and wouldn't talk to me for 5 months). Major revelation. It only took me several more years to realize that the uncomfortable feeling inside me was anxiety.

Anxiety is what happens when our nervous system seeks to fight, flight or freeze. The more uncomfortable we are with the anxiety the more we freak out and the more controlling we become. I could hardly construct a sentence I was so distracted by the disappearance of my daughter.

Years ago Stephen Covey introduced us to the circle of control (things over which I rule--what I say and how I act) and circle of influence (though I don't control things in this circle, I might be able to influence their outcomes--convincing my significant other to increase the distance between us and the car ahead, or getting someone from tech support to refund my money on the phone); and somewhere along the line I've picked up a third, the circle of concern (things that concern me, but are outside my control and and influence--the economy, lay-off decisions, my mom's aging experience, who my daughters date).

My circle of control is where I can make the most change--I can diet, carve out time for regular exercise, study, and pursue my dream if I make the time to make it happen. But I cannot make change in anyone else's circle of control. No matter how much time I spend. Are you spending as much time in your own circle of control as you are in others?

Questions to ponder:

What is in your circle of control?
Are you taking control of the things that will get you what you really want?Are you letting go of the things you cannot control, refusing to spend too
much time there, and letting others take control of their own lives?

  • What is outside your circle of control that usurps your time and energy?
  • What can you do about it?
  • Are you a control freak? Use the questions on the link to raise your awareness of your behavior.
  • Do you have a strategy for dealing with the anxiety that triggers your need to control?

Making changes requires me to identify and sit with my anxiety--fear of the unknown, insecurity about my skills and abilities. I have to be "full" if I am able to take on extra anxiety. I have regular body work done. I exercise enough but not too much. I eat a healthy diet. When I am at my best I am more optimistic and I have set enough time aside to play with my change work.

What are the things you CAN control that will fill you up and help move you to where you want to go? Start there. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish once you've "put on your own mask first," and filled yourself up by taking action in your circle of control.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The truth opens the door to change


The holidays smack us in the face with human paradox, simultaneous and incongruent feelings leave us dumbfounded (relief and sadness, joy and fear) and foggy. Uncomfortable feelings often sprout into honest (if not heated) conversations otherwise left in the vault locked away feeling no particular intention to speak, but pissed off by their own silence.

The stress of some event likely erupts them. My heart pumps for my sweetie who had to endur that awkward moment when the children, obviously beside themselves with excitement, watched me open their special Christmas gift--a couple months after he bought me a similar item. He was silently crushed that I wasn't able to say, "Wow, how cool. Too bad XXXX bought me one already. How about I trade this in for the speakers I still need?" I was just so excited that they had bought something so meaningful and prideful and wasn't ready to let them down. Sigh.

As she ages my Mom struggles with adapting to new things, and remembering some simple ones from the past. This sometimes makes me impatient and short. There were tears mixed with her complaints over the the holiday break, "You talk to me as if I'm stupid and worthless."

"I'm sorry," I said, "I am your daughter, not your caregiver. I am not a good caregiver."

There was something about those blatant, honest statements that HAVE to be said, are essential to feed our souls, extract the sting out of "the secret" we harbor, and allow us to go on. We hate sucking up the breath to speak, worry about what others will think, stew about what we assume others can't handle and yet when we actually speak (or are spoken to) it is cathartic.

After our tough conversation I am more aware and hopefully more sensitive to how I speak to Mom. That's a good start. My sweetie, once he spoke about his frustration about the gift "pinch" informed me he's fine with me using the kids' gift over his. Both parties just needed to be heard. Done. No more time spent thinking about, planning or worrying about worst-case scenario. No more energy devoted to assumptions.

The point is that if we have things we are unhappy about but are unwilling or unable to speak about, it takes up brain space, keeps us from living our values (how's that honesty value measuring up), devotes precious time to something other than pursuing our life's work, keeps us in a foggy spin.

I'm thinking about how much time we could devote to important things if we were able to speak about and put tired old things to rest. Think about what we could do that is REALLY important, something that might stand long after we are gone.

Oh, and a note. When we speak our truth we must focus on the issue, and the issue is almost NEVER outside ourselves. The issue is inside us. I can't speak to you being a tail-gater. That is arguable. What I can speak about is the discomfort I have when I feel scared about how close we are to the car in front of us. The issue is MY discomfort. I need to speak to you about my discomfort respectfully, as if I our relationship is at stake. It always is.

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.