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, January 03, 2014

Learning to ask for what I want and need

I need to breathe air while I may want to breathe 85 degree air. 

One of the equally annoying and delightful things my sweetie brought to my life is a knack for asking for what he wants. He was raised on the east coast, me on the "left coast." He learned it can't hurt to ask. I learned asking could be considered suspect or presumptuous. He has made me squirm with some of the things he has asked others for. . . tickets, parking places, meals, you name it. He is that engaging stranger you are compelled to invite to dinner. But often people give him things because he has the courage to ask. It alternately delights and disgusts me. But undeniably his behavior has affected my own.

I need temperance. It's an undeniable part of my being. And so I started using the temperance lens to determine which work I choose to do. I am beginning to take on clients only under certain terms--a type of asking-for-what-I-want and need.

  • I bid a job recently and had the customer balk at price. I respectfully stood my ground, even offered to refer someone to do the job. The client withdrew his counter offer and agreed to pay the proposal amount. 
  • I said no recently to a former client whose stressful workplace issues were more personal and complex than I have energy or desire to handle, and referred him to counseling or mediation. 
  • Two organizations I like working for all of a sudden started including clauses in contracts requiring petitioners like me to carry liability of insurance (the type that made sense in some professions but not in others). I began to opt out of the process when it required me to add what I felt was unnecessary insurance in the hopes of getting a contract that might cover the cost of it. I don't know what happened, but next thing I knew both organizations had eliminated the requirement for some contracts. 
I stood up for what I believed in, asked for what I wanted and was willing to turn down work that violated those beliefs.

Some of this work involves figuring out what you truly need and want. When you pay attention to your behavior and how you feel it's not that difficult to figure out. The knot in your shoulder, shortness in your breath, even pit in your stomach are enough to get a clue. It's when we run fast and numb that we struggle to think, let alone identify our desires.

It's a new year and part of my upcoming vacation will be spent thinking and talking about what my sweetie and I need and want for 2014. We are viewing it as a renewal process, to garner courage based on the baby steps we made in 2013 and things we can improve. 
I am so grateful he brings his ability to ask for what he wants to our collective table. We're hoping 2014 is the year we avoid working ourselves blind and we have to be prepared to talk about what that looks like in every day decisions. Always work ahead.

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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.