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?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Go ahead make some ripples

We are delighted again and again by stories from those who are making changes in their lives, and the effect it has on those around them. Make a change and watch the ripples you create in the pond around you. In some cases others cannot change their behavior until you change yours. The latest story is a simple but powerful example of what you can create when you have the courage to make a small change.

One of our students was fascinated by the "ripples in the pond" concept so decided to experiment. He parked in the same parking spot for most of his tenure at his company and so decided to park in a different spot for a week and see what happened. The first five employees he encountered:

Employee 1: Hey Jack where's your car??
Jack: It's in the parking lot, why?
Employee 1: I didn't see it when I came in.
Jack: It's out there.

Employee 2: Hey Jack, did you get a new car?
Jack: No, same ole volvo.

Employee 3: Hey Jack, did you drive your truck today?
Jack: Nope, drove my car.
Employee 3: I think it was towed, there's a truck in your parking place.
Jack: No, I think it's still out there.

Employee 4: Why did you park in a different spot today?
Jack: I felt like making a change.
Employee 4: WHY DID YOU DO THAT?
Jack: Just to try something different.

Employee 5: Jack why did you park in my spot today (teasingly accusatory)?
Jack: I'm parked in YOUR spot? I didn't see your name painted on it.
Employee 5: Laughs
Jack: I tell you what, tomorrow I will park where Scott normally parks so you can have the spot back. He's not here anyway. Both laugh.

Jack was amazed by the number of people who walked right past his car and then expressed surprise to see him at work; curious about the hubbub he was able to create just parking in a different spot. He's so dazzled by this new power he's wondering what to change next.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Change your story, change your life

The danger in being too sure

When I started writing I was asked to join a writer's group, a long-standing cadre of mostly poets, who met each month, read their work and asked for feedback. I can remember each time I was asked to give feedback on a poem, I prefaced my comments with, "I know nothing about poetry, but . . ."

I told those who asked, "I'm not sure what I write yet, I'm still looking for my voice, but I do know I don't write fiction and I don't write poetry." My writing was slow and tortuous. I went to my writer's group most often empty-handed. Until one day I was in the shower, actually present to the sensory experience and a poem spilled onto the page. I figured it was an accident until I found short poems popping out on a regular basis. I do write poetry.

I continued to write non-fiction and poetry until one day I was writing a very short piece about a little girl and her dad, a situation that didn't really turn out the way I wanted it to, so I wrote it my way. I wrote a tiny piece of fiction. Soon after I wrote a longer story with a moral inspired by a group of women. I was embarrassed at how preachy and self-serving it sounded. So I rewrote the story as a conversation amongst the women instead of first person-know-it-all. I wrote a bigger piece of fiction. The next thing I tackled was a fictionalized version of a very personal story of a friend. It's the best thing I've written to date. I do write fiction.

When asked what I write these days, I say, "most anything that speaks to me." I changed my story and am writing more and better everyday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Plan no regrets


José María Morelos, Mexican Roman Catholic priest and revolutionary rebel leader who led the Mexican War of Independence. One occasionally finds his broad face in a crowd of Morelians.

Our struggle with finding vegetarian-friendly food had taken us to a neighborhood restaurant not too far from the apartment we were renting in Morelia, Mexico. It was recommended by an aunt, a restaurateur who had adjusted her celebration menus to accommodate our eating habits on more than one occasion. Our gratitude spilled into the hometown eatery, with its simple décor and waitresses dressed in traditional costume. We were elated at the prospect of more than a cheese quesadilla, and though it was late, we cleaned our plates full of enchiladas.

I’m not sure why he needed to talk to me, but a well-dressed gentleman in his 80s who was sitting directly behind me seized my attention and the next thing I knew my chair was facing his and I was looking in his eyes. He spoke tentative English, but asked where we were from and why we were visiting Mexico. I told him our elaborate story of traveling from the U.S. to meet the family of my daughter’s boyfriend, and launching the kids on a South American sojourn. I'm not sure how much he understood, but he held on to the interaction like a small child hangs on to a toy, eyes glued to mine.
He touched my arm, and his eyes filled with ears. “I wanted to travel to America, but we were stopped in Texas.” He lapsed into Spanish and I was lost. He introduced me to his wife. In English he tried again, “I wanted to see the world, but it’s too late now.” I told him I was sorry. He reverted to Spanish and I asked for my daughter’s help. She saw our distress and jumped in with generosity, filling in the blanks the language left between us. Local custom says it is bad manners to keep someone from their meal, so my group was exiting and adding pressure to end our interlude. The dear man gave us their address and invited us to visit them. I kissed him on the cheek and we said goodbye.

I was reminded that whatever in life you are called to do, you only have so much time. Living with regret is heartbreaking. Check out Bronnie Ware’s Regrets of the Dying and get busy creating a life without regret.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

There's no place like (someone else's) home

Kayaking trips spawned a family joke because my sweetie was always looking for the fastest side of the river. Whatever side he was on felt like the slow side, and sure enough once he maneuvered across to the faster side, the side he just came from looked faster. I'd call to him "Is the water always faster on the other side?" We thought we were pretty funny.

I noticed how we slipped into faster-on-the-other-side mode when we arrived in Mexico. Immediately we came alive, became observant and appreciative of how lovely things were. We hung out in the beautiful downtown area where everything happens. We visited the hometown sites and attractions. We noticed individual faces and stature. The truth is we already live in a amazing place. People who love us are here. We are about an hour from both the coast and the mountains. It is beautiful and green. There's a lot going on, whether or not we get out of our routine and go enjoy it, like we do when we're on vacation

My daughter, wise beyond her 17 years said on the train as we were gulping the scenery from London to the countryside, "I wouldn't want to live here."
"Why," I asked.
"Because I wouldn't want to sleep on the train."

We spend way more time speculating on the speed of the river elsewhere than we do enjoying the flow of our own side. Today I'm speculating: Is the water really faster on the other side?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Looking at the world from a different viewpoint

As a vegetarian traveling in a country of meat eaters I had tough restaurant encounters in Mexico where pretty much everything is made with meat, poultry and fish and their by-products. I was raised in a sanitized world where children are shielded from their food sources and meat is in packages wrapped and stacked in plastic. My first face-to-face experience with an animal head was walking through Quiroga in Michoacan on a narrow walkway between vendors to the square where one finds infamous "carnitas" (pork tacos). Something caught my eye and when I turned it was a pig's head all pink and dismembered staring back at me. I cringed and moved on quickly. So when I came upon this bloody shelf in Morelia's Mercado de Dulces, I decided to be a real photographer and take the shot even though it grossed me out, rather than pass it up because I couldn't handle something so foreign. Note to self: disregarding things one doesn't understand makes one narrow-minded, and going to places that scare me is a first step to understanding, something I aspire to do.

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.