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?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lessons from vacation: dangerous expectations


Vacation is change. We pack up our belongings, travel some distance and change everything about our lives--what we eat, where we sleep, the entire envelope of our existence. How we deal with vacation can provide insight into how we deal with change in the rest of our lives.

The first week away we volunteered on a farm sanctuary on Maui. We were traveling with another couple for the first time and worried a bit about how we would all do together. But from the get-go it was all pretty easy. The house we rented was sweet, with lots of room for four. It didn't hurt the hostess left fresh tropical flowers in large vases throughout the main floor, my two favorites containing yellow and pink ginger. The view was eastern 1/4 mile above the sloping Pacific shore enclosed in a wrap-around deck, hot tub and pool nearby. The four of us were compatible. I shot sunrises at dawn a few steps from my bed. Our work at the sanctuary was delightful. We ate well. I think that because my expectations were met I was able to ease into the massive vacation-imposed change with grace. 

The only hiccup in the entire week was the addition of mosquitoes, caused by the heavy rains prior to our arrival and a couple of late nights during our stay. I am fairly allergic it appears to mosquito bites (they swell up and create a life of their own), and the little critters LOVE me, seek me out, leave marks and residual discomfort as long as a month. The morning after a big rain we worked in the rabbit corral, under the trees and I got chewed. I felt a tinge of "ready to be out of here." And I was pretty surprised to see how fatalistic it felt. I had a moment of being grateful it was almost over. Really, in one short bug barrage, my expectations were dashed and I had a visceral flight reaction.

The second week was a different matter. The first day of week two started with a beautiful single engine plane journey island to island, the ocean below dotted with breaching humpbacks. Soon after landing though the tender layers of unspoken, mostly unrecognized, expectations mounted like a sinus infection. In paradise.

The vision was assaulted first by the "rental" car, a beast we found out later is called "The Bondo Burro." The old boy came in a bundled package deal, rent + car for one price. Our arrangement was to walk to long-term parking and find the old Toyota, the top of which was mostly separated by rust from the body below, at one point leaving the Toyota emblem seemingly floating above the trunk. Most of the rust was stuffed with dark grey bondo . . . or covered by duct tape. The keys would be under the mat. The owner's beach chairs and severely used cooler filled the trunk so we piled our luggage in the small back seat. The desperate sounding door closed shortly before the automatic seat belt pinned me in. The interior was as bad as the exterior, and my instinct was to not touch anything. 

As we adjusted our expectations bombing along in The Bondo Burro, we speculated about what produce stands and markets might have local food to fit with our out of-the-norm diet (being vegan is odd where pig and deer are hunted by necessity). By the time we reached town, we were adjusting to our ride, and could move on to food. 

We arrived unfortunately just as the farmer's market food vendors were packing up, the "health food store" was closed and we were forced to buy at the two local markets where the shelves are filled with things I don't see on my own shelves, and little to no things I am used to. Slipping expectations, even though we knew from experience food would be difficult. So we put on our flexible hats, bought what we could find, a little from each market, a couple of bags of fruits and veges from the local farmers and headed to our rented condo several miles away. The Burrow moved us steadily, if not fast, up the elevation and onto the west side.

We were met by the security guy, a local we were introduced to during our previous visit. We laughed because he knew immediately where we were staying because we were driving the Burro. He directed us to our condo, bottom of the concert path, second floor, on the end. We hoisted our luggage up the stairs of the 8-plex, removed our shoes according to the hand painted tile near the bell, and found the key inside the brass box with the numerical lock.

We had moved through the shock of the Burro by now, and were looking forward to making something tasty out of the supplies we scored in town, and on moving in to our rented ocean front condo. But we weren't ready for the HUGE contrast between where we had been staying the week before and the place in front of us. Although the lanai faced the beach and there were large windows (with some ceiling and floor screens to the outside) the place felt like walking into a theater, dark and cavernous. 

The condo was advertised as a one-bedroom and it really wasn't. It was a small studio with a loft. The one-room footprint with cathedral ceilings had an added-on (unlikely part of the original design) loft and 12 stairs up to it nestled in the pitch in the roof, stuffed with a bed and a few other pieces of furniture (which meant a trip downstairs in the middle of the night). The fan on this floor was a menacing bandit waiting to smack a hand or elbow if we reached over our heads to put on, say, a tee shirt.  The place was hot because while there were screens on the ceiling and floor windows, it was the huge sliding wooden framed door that was the largest opening, and it had to remain closed during early morning and early evening to keep out the bugs. It was hot because the main floor fan was a dinosaur with only one speed. It was hot because ventilation was missing until late in the night and the only salvation was the penetrating wind generated by the high button on the fan over the bed. 

The condo was also advertised as "ocean front," which is technically true, but for some reason my visual memory of all the VRBO ads promised a closer look at the ocean. The beach was at least a football field away, and by the way, the two beaches in front of the condos were not swimming or snorkeling beaches. Even the small cove beach a short walk up the path was a challenge for tourists. The moment I walked out on the lanai I was disappointed with the view (a feeling that eventually waned).

I officially dawned my cranky pants, however, over the intermittent-working lights, one above the bathroom sink and the other above the stove. Without the latter, it was nearly impossible to see what we were cooking. Being the type that can't leave alone something that intermittently works, I battled with the on/off switch of this under-counter light pretty much every time I cooked. Time for an attitude adjustment.

Here we were in paradise, me dressed in my cranky pants because nothing about this leg of the journey was meeting my expectations. I had two choices, continue to hang on to my expectations, or adjust to a new reality and find something to be grateful for. Cause let's be serious here (embarrassingly) I was in Hawaii! I was off work for another eight days. I had beaches to the left of me, beaches to the right. I had a treasure to look for (more on that in an upcoming post). I had my sweetie with me. I had my camera. I had acres beyond where I could see free to explore. And we saw it all, reconstructed the abandoned golf course, walked all the golf cart paths to no where, stalked wild turkeys, sat and watched the surf, explored an old pineapple bridge, got reacquainted, scrambled over lava rocks, saw whales up close and personal, had massages. 


What I want to remember in all this, as I continue to make change, is that even when I pack my bags and think I am ready to put myself through massive change, it's better to do so with an open mind coupled with hope and positivity. That attitude must be accompanied by a willingness to be grateful and engage with the new things around me. Cause the change is going to meet my expectations in some cases, and in other cases not so much. Instead of bailing, I am capable of opening and receiving what is there to create a new order. And when I'm open there is always a boat load of unsuspected surprises.

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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.