Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Inertia: Motivation to do Nothing

At our bi-annual dinner, a friend of mine and I were discussing how drawn we are to talk about change,  and the difficulty of making it happen.  It's so easy to just keep doing what we do:  even if we don't really like it.  Change usually has no guarantee of success or happiness - only of being different. It can seem risky and scary.

One of the CEOs of a company I previously worked for prohibited the company from having change initiatives.  We could propose  improvements, betterments, growth...but not change.  I get it.  Change is an investment, and he wanted a guarantee.

Me too!            

I attended a discussion group today and we talked about nihilism: the idea that the world has no purpose, that life is futile.  I know, it sounds bleak.  It's a common thought that occurs to those who seek.  Fortunately, most come around again to the realization that what they felt was probably a bit of detachment that happens as you get a glimpse of what you thought life was, but isn't, and before you get a hold of what it is.
That detachment, though, isn't as desolate as it sounds if it's paired with benevolence.  I think of it the same way that I can care very deeply when I learn of a starving child in some far off place.  I don't know the child, yet I can be pulled to act, to try to resolve the problem, or at least do something to improve it.  Yet, if I wasn't detached in some way, how could I sleep at night knowing a child is starving?  Benevolent detachment allows me to make plans, to strategize, to design the change that could impact that child and others.  However, detachment without the benevolence just lets me roll on my merry, self-centered way, tucking that picture or thought away never to be revisited.

What I've come to see is that when applied to life that is closer, this works, too.  Work, family, relationships, financial worries, grief and loss and disappointment infiltrate life, and our circumstances will still bring tears and sadness and worry.  But that bit of benevolent detachment lets me once again find the seed of joy that is still there between the falling tears, in the pause at the top of the next breath, or in the distracted thought that was not of the major event befalling me then.

I watched the moving Loving.  It's about an interracial couple, the Lovings, who in the 1950s were both arrested for going against the anti-interracial marriage laws of the state of Virginia.  And I thought about inertia.  How easy if the Lovings had decided to just hide in rural Virginia and try to stay out of notice.  I found relief in the ruling, in their favor, that allowed their children to be recognized as heirs, and allowed them the simple rights afforded to others who simply love and hurt no one in doing so.  I was reminded again why I don't want inertia to be the motivating force of  my life.  Status quo begs to be upended.

What isn't being noticed, what is going undone?

I've been on a purposeful (yeah, slow!) path to change for about a year.  I hired a coach, I started this blog. I started meditating and stuck to it.   I filed a patent.  I ended a relationship.  I am finishing up a class. I cut my hair.  And I proposed a change in my role at work.  I don't yet know how this will turn out.  Moving is probably in my path, too.

The external is never permanent, and yet I have spent so much of my life clinging to sand, thinking I could hold it still.  Another movie to watch sometime: Grand Canyon.  The characters contemplate the vastness of the earth and wonder: why don't we take more chances -- we are just a speck of nothing, what would it matter?!

My Self -- that same essence I have always been,  has never left me.  All the things that come and go are not the source of my joy.  Happiness can come, fleeting in and out, from the outside. If it comes, it  will also go. But joy - the knowing - the connection to that glue that joins all life - that is love and that is here with me and all I need do is be aware of it. Ah, there you are! Here I am.

I started this blog because I knew that writing was something I wanted to do, and my coach said, "then write!" I'm going to shift my writing and this is my last blog on the Mileposts heading. Thanks for keeping me company.  I hope that you are finding companions, too, on your journey towards your fullest experience of peace, love, and joy.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Shortcut

No time to read, have you?  Do you save it for bedtime, and are asleep after 2 pages (if you're lucky)?

What about a video blog?  Yeah, I hate waiting for them to load, too.  And I can't skim as easily, or flip around to the good parts.

I appreciate the time you take to read my blog - it's an investment in me, and I appreciate you for it.  I hope you've gotten something from it too - at least here and there.

Today, I offer my shortcut to reading:  pictures.  For this post only, I'm gamefying my blog! (That's a word!)

See if you can catch my drift, get my message, solve the puzzle:

Happy Thanksgiving.  
Next month, back to words!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Living Intentionally or Whack-a-Mole?

Has it ever seemed that, coincidentally, something that was on your mind seemed noticeably on the minds of others?  When you first thought about yoga, or volunteering to give back, or specific ideas about relationships, or avoiding sugar: why were others headed down the same path?

I'm no conspiracy theorist and I don't suffer from paranoid personality disorder, assuming there is such a thing.  I'm just noticing, again, that we might be sheep in people's clothing.

Some of what I notice seems to be developmental.  People of a certain age, which psychologist Erik Ericsson kindly referred to as a 25-year span he called middle adulthood,  will be thinking about what kind of mark they will leave: their legacy.  It's as if our consciousness knows that the body has a limited shelf-life, and is preparing us for its conclusion, even if the nudges are subtle or subliminal.

My friends and family who are grandparents and parents are preparing the next generation as best we know how.  Those who are not parents are reaching out to be Big Brothers or Sisters, or mentors, or some other role in which they can offer the wisdom and caring that somewhat demands to be launched, not unlike the cork on a champagne bottle. Maybe, then, it's partly biological and evolutionary.  And maybe, then, that's also why people in the 20's and 30's might be laser-focused on relationships, pro-creating, survival of the species, etc.: activities that dominate their line of sight for quite some time. Focused not because of media or social input, but because it is primal.

There is, however, a whole other aspect to what we think we choose to pay attention to that suggests that we may not be doing that much choosing.  The same way that we may go online to research an unknown word or fact, and find ourselves watching videos of cats ambushing toddlers or ducks befriending dogs.  There are a lot of sound-bites headed our way every minute.  And sometimes, the listening is not of our conscious choosing. 
Like the arcade game "Whack-a-Mole" do we just whack at whatever pops up?

Most of us have news channels that we follow, and some of us may feel that those sources are pretty unbiased, or as close to unbiased as is out there.  For me, I had accepted that bias, feeling that it was at least biased on the direction in which I wanted to lean: rationalization at its best. Do I listen to learn, or to simply reinforce my position?  Am I learning only what the media presents to me?

There are alternative news outlets that focus on good news, a not-so-trending concept.  The,, are a few.  Even if these will leave us short-changed to participate in the office water-cooler discussion, adding them to our dose of input might at least put some optimism back in our hearts.  And really, what difference are we making by getting all riled up at the standard daily news noise?

I pulled on this topic thread when I noticed that I was drawn to the concept of non-duality, and started to feel a bit like I was following well-placed bread crumbs.  I decided to put down my reading material, stop my obsession with new authors on the topic, and turn off the stream of others' ideas and tune into what I believe is my own (all of our own) ability to know what's true by spending more time being aware, and less time thinking.  My mind has been in charge of me for a long time.  I'd like to bring it forth when I need it, and not have it using me for its whims and distractible inclinations. This is one of the benefits of meditation.

I pulled the thread further (almost able to knit a sweater, here!) when I heard a few of my friends talking about the same topic: scaling back on the accumulation of stuff and simplifying their material worlds in favor of experiences.  I again thought, is this a coincidence of time-in-life, or is something afoot that is planting seeds?  And this something that may be afoot may very well be a positive something. If we are all tied together, perhaps one string is plucked and we all reverberate.   My intention is to make time every day to block out the input and check-in with my Self and acknowledge the Awareness that I am, and also noticing my time spent on things versus my time spent mindfully.  Baby steps towards intentionally living: towards Being. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Do you think you know me?

"I just have to get used to the new you."  Funny, I don't feel like a new me. The comment from my daughter took me aback for a moment. 

But I know what she means.  Unlike my mother, who took on the role of mother as if it had no beginning and no end, I anticipated my kids' entrance into adulthood as if I expected to hear a "ta da." There, finally, you made it.  My job is done.  

Myers-Briggs is a well known personalty type test. This is what it says about my type as a parent:

As parents INFJs, much as in their friendships, will tend to look at their relationships with their children as opportunities to learn and grow with someone they care about, while working to achieve a distinctly separate but important goal – raising someone to be an independent, responsible and principled adult. People with the INFJ personality type are unflinching in their devotion to their children, willing to grin and bear any burden without hesitation. While warm and compassionate throughout the parenting relationship, what INFJs are really looking forward to is being able to communicate and relate to the person they helped to raise, as equals.

Wait, not so fast.  Aren't you a mother forever? Well, yes, but...

I wonder if every kid gets a wake-up call.  Mine came when I not-too-hesitantly asked my dad to borrow money to replace my bald tires.  Surely he didn't want his precious daughter driving around in an unsafe car?  He lent me the money, but not before alerting me with this:  "I thought when my kids were on their own, they'd be on their own."  Okay, that was a one-two punch I wasn't expecting.  And it accomplished what he meant it to - I thought about my adult hood very differently after that.  It was up to me to live it and afford it.  I still felt my parents were my safety net - they wouldn't let me be homeless if that situation ever arose, I knew that.

If I drew a timeline of "me" as one might have experienced me through my years, it would look something like this:

From happy-go-lucky, to introspective, to independent, to being a loving wife & partner, to being a loving mom, to awakening to awareness and consciousness - now.
  A timeline from psychology's perspective:

I imagine that my parents and siblings might have enjoyed me had I stayed happy go lucky.  I imagine my ex-husband would have enjoyed me had I stayed a loving wife and partner.  I imagine my kids hope I will remain a loving mom.  I plan to.  A life-coach once told me that when one is moving forward with change, family is often the last to support the evolution. Family defines you as you were, and accepting your growth or change has implications for them.  I agree that it can be difficult, and distance can grow where there once was closeness.  It takes work to stay mutually connected, known, understood, accepted, and loved.

Some of those roles I describe above on my timeline,  I lived as if mutually exclusive.  I didn't always express what I wanted, giving in, instead,  to my awareness that the circumstance was temporary; I could acquiesce for a bit longer, but not forever.  Yet no one around me knew I was acquiescing: how could they?

The Myers-Brings type I mention above: some call this type "the Advocate" and some call it "the Counsellor."  Both fit.  This personality type takes time to get to know others, we question, we are good listeners, we have very good intuition.  I, and my type like to help others grow, get to know themselves, and learn and evolve.  What many don't know, though, is that we'd like a turn, too.

I said that to my ex-husband at the end of our marriage:  "I just always thought I'd get a turn," meaning after years of focusing on his wants and needs and vulnerabilities, there would be reciprocity.  He said in response, "Weren't you ever going to learn to say no?"  Another one-two-punch, but what a valuable one.  He was only saying that it was up to me to have boundaries, to state my case, stake my claim.  He was so very right.

It seems natural to want all lessons and all desired change to spring from compassion and love and joy and peace, but for whatever reason, momentum seems to spring from tension instead. Whether it's with myself, far-reaching, or touching a few special hearts, the tension, if observed,  acknowledged, and accepted, is a gift that I end up being very grateful for.  Buddha notes that the source of pain is craving - we want things to be different than they are, and it sets us up for so much angst.  It seems there are 3 options:

Change it, remove myself from it, or accept it with total surrender. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Thanks for Nothing (that turned out to be something)

You've seen those beautiful framed pictures with meaningful affirmations, meant to inspire?  We hang them on office walls, we put them in employee break rooms; some are of rowers with a "teamwork" caption, or "perseverance" with a lone runner on a hill. I was reminded of those posters when I saw an e-card circulating currently that reads, Thank you, Universe, for not giving me everything I thought I wanted.  How true is that!?  I know that I am very often so grateful for what were previously perceived as disappointments.

One of the most significant lessons etched on my soul is the growth, awareness, and appreciation I experience when things don't turn out as I'd hoped or planned.  It is almost always a time of significant learning, even if I don't know it at the time.  A few years ago, I began to put those moments in my gratitude jar, and I often do so before I know the outcome. It reinforces the idea that what may seem negative in my current view of it probably has something meaningful to offer. Of course, I put the things that already feel like gratitude-inducing events in there, too. I open my gratitude jar every New Year's Eve, and read the past year's moments, when I took a pause and jotted down an event, a feeling, a fleeting thought that surfaced as something I might want to reflect on again. I don't write lengthy notes - they're more like brief memory-joggers.  

John and I broke up. Mother's Day Angel's game.  My company was acquired.  Prototype 3-D printed, patent pending! Started Dorothy's life story project. Trip to Prescott with Patricia. My biopsy was basal cell skin cancer. Awesome Buck Gully run, feeling healthy. 

I am usually able to see the gift in the circumstance that showed up, versus the circumstance that I wished for: the unanticipated outcome that was better than what I'd had my heart set on in the first place. Occasionally I am aware of this in the present moment, though sometimes it takes stillness to notice.   

As life moves on, what I see is a shift from my outward search for happiness (money, men, stuff) to my awareness that I am already surrounded by a familiar essence that is enough: it's more than enough.  It feels like joy.  I never knew that I knew joy.  In my younger years, I was often seeking, yet I am aware that what I sought was already accessible to me.  (Feels like Dorothy just clicked her ruby slippers, doesn't it?)  It's like coming home.  Being known.  Being understood. Being loved.  That's my mantra:  I say it to myself (I am home, I am known, I am understood, I am loved).  And I hear it said to me from the Source of all life: You are home.  You are known. You are understood.  You are loved.  And the rest of what I was worried about, anxious for, regretful over...falls away from significance. This leaves room for: meaningful interactions, relationships of value, activities with purpose, blatant fun, passionate discourse, meaningful exploration of myself and my world, healthy habit-building, attempts at unwavering kindness, and openness to the unanticipated.

This acceptance and letting go is not giving up.  To paraphrase Ekhart Tolle, it merely makes me aware of using my mind when I need it, and not letting my mind use me to preoccupy my life with things I cannot control: the past and the future.  

The last nugget that sustains me in times of disappointment is the awareness that "it" is temporary.  While the circumstance may be unchangeable, my response to it does not have to remain my initial reaction to it:  and the goal is to shorten the gap from reaction to response. I'm told that the gap is called "the pause."  

I'll close with a loving kindness meditation that I say often for you and for me:  May you be safe.  May you be happy. May you be healthy.  May you live with ease.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It's All About Relationships -- With a Twist!

In my years of being in relationships at work, socially, and at home, I have come upon an observation that seems to stay consistent over time.  Gender perspective fascinates me, and I’ll be curious to read if you experience anything similar. Warning: sexism is alive and well in these viewpoints; I painted with a very broad brush.

In the world of work, I and other women often say, “The work will speak for itself.”  Our hope is that if we work hard, exceed expectations, and show initiative that reward and recognition will follow.  We don’t want it to be about whom we know, because that is fraught with landmines, from sexual harassment, to gossip and misunderstandings, to favoritism. We don’t want to get ahead for any of those reasons.

Outside of work – we focus a lot (a LOT) on relationships.  Relationships fuel the majority of our conversational topics, our reading, our movie choices, and the books we read.  Relationships make our world go round.  Slightly exaggerated, our life outside of work can be summed up in this graph:

And when we want to talk to our significant others about “The Relationship” he can be caught with some version of eye rolling or we’ll hear a mumbled “Please, no not the talk!” escape from his lips before he can pull it back.  There is not much “letting the work speak for itself” on the home front.  The relationship’s ups, downs, foibles and missteps will be discussed, debated, examined and scrutinized, if we have our way.

However, at work, do you find, as I have, that guys tend to take the opposite view from us:  at work, they focus on THE RELATIONSHIP!  (And we thought it was called politics).
Guys don’t leave their careers to the off chance that someone will notice their hard work and reward them.  They initiate.  They make sure to have time outside of office hours to connect in a way that doesn’t always happen in the task-oriented office environment (the business lunch, for example, our couple’s equivalent of date night).  Men and their bosses often share hobbies together: skiing, golf, mountain-bikingthey find the common connection and they schedule time to do it.  They SCHEDULE TIME TO DO IT.  (This is women’s  “you never plan anything with me” talk, #147).  The other observation regarding the focus on relationships at home vs. work is that it can’t sustain evolution and time.
It’s obvious that the landscape is changing and has to change as the numbers of women in leadership roles grow. As I said earlier, we have adopted this no-nonsense approach to business relationships because we don’t want our intentions to be misunderstood.  We therefore become idealists who hope that we can keep it simple: work hard and our work will speak for itself.

The move to the middle happens when both sides shift from their extreme. Maybe women can bring a little more of our focus on relationships into the business world.  It would serve us well, because it IS all about relationships. We can take time to relate to our co-workers of either gender and engage fully in the moment.  We pride ourselves in being great at multi-tasking, but thinking about the next thing while doing the current thing only means we aren’t really present.  People can sense that.

And for the guys reading this who are really good at business dinners and networking breakfasts and coffee meet-and-greets would probably do well to give equal effort to the important relationships that don’t happen over spreadsheets and email – the important people in our private world who make life really worth living.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

You Talking to Me?

Enjoy this vision of a very young Robert De Niro from the movie Taxi Driver, practicing the line that is also the heading of this post.  Now let it go, because he’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I am talking about is the importance of knowing ourselves.  “You talking to me?” Yes, maybe I am.
Too many of us strike out into the adult world without enough sense of who we are, and what we want.  Things like what we value, what we need, what we have to offer aren’t just quizzes in a Cosmo magazine: they’re the underpinnings of building a life you intended to have.
But many of us walk out of the door and just turn automatically in some direction – without much of a destination in mind. Yogi Berra famously said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
A lot of us take a long time to figure this out. Yes, I’ve got my hand raised. If our late arrival to this understanding only affected ourselves, that wouldn’t be so bad.  But we drag a lot of people with us when we experiment and explore during our relationships. Some of this is meant to be pre-work.

Until and unless you have at least some of the core aspects of personality, preferences, and pet-peeves discovered in yourself, how can you know what you are offering to another?  And how can you possibly know what you want from a friendship or partnership with another, if you are just winging it?
What do you value? What are your strengths?  What do you want to get better at?  Where do you most easily find your connection to the Being that is your God? How important is physical appearance to you (your own, and another’s)?  What, if anything, would you be willing to change about yourself if someone wanted you to? How would you feel if someone wanted you to change to be with him or her?  Do you want to validate your upbringing by raising your kids the way you were raised? (“It was good enough for me”). Or do you want to do a 180° from how you were raised? Is saving money important to you?  What have you always wanted to do? Where have you always wanted to go? How much togetherness do you require – how much solitude? Do you yet know that what bugs you about someone else is probably at its core what troubles you about you?
This is a lifetime’s work, spending some part of every day very aware, in quiet reflection, acceptance and presence. The exploring, growing, experimenting and risk-taking, the making mistakes and engaging compassionately with yourself is never really done.  Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you have it all figured out (you never will) before you let yourself open your heart, your soul and your life to another human being.  You’ll miss half the fun!  Have a good grasp, though, of the essentials: your essentials.

Friday, May 6, 2016

In Search of Change

I’ve had many phases of growing up female. There are so many voices shouting at us, telling us, for example, that we shouldn’t idolize a Barbie figure, and then not really changing the social context that made us want that tiny waist, those big boobs, and the legs that never end.  You females who were born after my generation was supposedly have it easier, but my view is, you have it tougher.
Yes, you have more options; there has been progress with equal pay, Title Nine, Family Medical Leave, and other legislation.  But you have been raised by a generation that has hovered over your every decision. We have tracked you down with cell phone features that let us know your every move.  We have made you report in at every change of plan.  We have taught you that you cannot rely on yourself: that you need us.  We are intrinsically connected to your lives, and in many cases, long after we should have urged you out of the nest and watched you soar higher than we ever could have.
But we didn’t.  We hovered.  We opined.  We suggested. We controlled.

Now that you are an adult, what’s a girl to do?
You want control back, but it scares you.  You want to experiment, to take a risk, but you don’t really know what that feels like.  How could you, when we should have been letting you take risks when you were young and we were there to be your guide, but instead we tried to protect you from everything.  We got away with so much when we were young!  We raised you as if our childhood had been mere reconnaissance for raising you. You want to stop worrying about disappointing others – but you’re too worried that others really do know what’s best.  You’re reading a stranger’s blog, after all, right? 
I’ll offer four changes that are still working for me:  first, you just start.  You start with noticing. Are you doing something because you want to, because you’re drawn to it, and you feel lightness and joy involved?  Or are you doing something because you fear not doing it? 
Next, you start connecting with others who are on a similar journey – hopefully some who are a little farther along on their excursion than you.  There’s nothing like a milepost marker to inspire your endurance and keep you feeling that what you’ve taken on is doable.

Third, write it down.  Whatever it is you want, there is power in committing that intention to paper.  Whether it is a material goal, to buy a house or a brand new car, a vision of a healthy relationship with another, a physical challenge, or a career aspiration, write it down. I discourage putting an age association with any of those, however.  They are arbitrary, and I’ve seen more bouts of the blues because someone didn’t hit their goal of this or that by age thirty, or whatever age was the dream.  Does it really matter if you’re thirty or thirty-three when you run your first marathon, write your first published piece, or have your first baby?  No, it really doesn’t.
Fourth is, well, I’ve saved the best for last.  Learn to meditate.  If you once knew but drifted from the practice, resume it.  Even a commitment of two minutes a few times a week will make a difference.  I’ve newly returned to the practice, and am quite a rookie.  I’m experimenting with meditating in silence, to music, and with a guide.  Each has brought me a special peace and awareness of connection witheverything and nothing. Don’t let that 70’s vibe scare you.  There is something to this.
My daughter once shared a lesson she learned from someone else with me.  When you are at a crossroads, feeling indecisive, take a few steps in either direction.  It really doesn’t much matter which.  It usually won’t take long for you to realize whether you took the path that will serve you best, or not.