Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who's In Charge of You?

What kind of life do you want to live? Yes, you. No one else can decide except you. I imagine I'm already hearing hemming and hawing about your limited choices. Really? What are your excuses? I'm too fat. Too old. It's too late. It's too soon. Each day we stand on the brink of our own beginning. Every moment we are invited to show up. How will I show up for myself?

Just moments ago I was lying in bed with my cat, Aslan, snuggled on my chest. My head is a little achy and I'm bemoaning the fact that it's gray again and the temperature probably won't top 60 degrees. I'm not getting any writing done. I'll never be an author. The spiraling thoughts began. I have a choice. I can lie here in bed (if that's what feels good) or I can show up for myself and do something different (which today feels even better.)

Even though I've changed positions, my cat is still in my lap, because he knows exactly what he wants and he goes for it. Every day. Every moment. There's none of this I'm too old or it's too late business. If he wants to eat, he eats. If there's no food in his bowl, he meows. If there's no one around to feed him, he goes and takes a nap. He's in charge and so are you.

I choose to take care of myself by being TAO (transparent, authentic & open). As someone whose profession is helping others, it can be a little tricky. For some clients it's quite disturbing for them to see that I have "off" days. On the other hand, some people are bothered when they think I'm too positive and only see the bright side of everything. It's a fine line to walk (and no doubt I make mistakes), but being TAO is what it's all about - especially when it comes to being TAO with ourselves. So, I ask again. What kind of life do you want? Do you already have it? Great! If not, ask yourself why not?

I just read an article that highlighted the successes of people whose careers are taking off when society says they should be checking into the retirement home. Actress Betty White has revived her career at age 89. Jeff Bridges just won the Best Actor award at 61. An eleven year old is a singing sensation on America's Got Talent (or some show like that). These are people who've chosen to follow their dreams and defy what society calls "normal." My sister is another one. This amazing woman just had her first one woman art show and is joining me in a 1/2 marathon on Saturday (btw - neither of us are experienced runners.) While she's not a contemporary of Betty White, she has surpassed Mr. Bridges by a few years, but you'd never know it in either attitude or appearance. She is phenomenal.

People recently have been saying to me, "You have such an interesting life," and they're right. But it hasn't always been that way. I didn't own a passport until I was almost forty-five, but once I got the travel bug and realized I could do things differently, the world has opened up to me. I went back to graduate school around the same time and embarked on a dreamlike journey of transformation that I don't see stopping anytime soon. I'm doing things and taking risks that scare the heck out of me, but still I'm going for it. I've learned to see beauty in the smallest things and bring presence to everything from food to breath. The list goes on, but bottom line: I started showing up for myself.

So, I ask again: What kind of life do you want to live? Who or what is standing between you and your dreams? My guess is your answer will show up the next time you glance in the mirror. Think about it and consider taking a hint from my cat. He's in charge and so are you.

In invite you to visit me at Diamonds in the Soul to learn more.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pause before you Punch...

... or How to Deal with Mean People

My friend and colleague, the beautiful and talented, Deb Smouse, recently asked if I had any tips on dealing with mean people. Not knowing exactly what she desired, I decided to do a little journaling around the topic to find out what I know ☺.

Bottom line, no matter how hard we try and hope it isn't so, they do exist and well... Sometimes mean people are just plain mean. They get under your skin and make you feel like you want to lash out and be mean too (or at least I do.) When I feel my blood pressure start to rise and my chest begin to pound, I realize that’s usually the time to take a deep breath and pause for a quick look in the mirror. Stop. Look. Listen. Notice and begin to imagine where their nastiness might be coming from, because most often it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’ve also learned that without the pause, I’m at risk of feeding their fire (or ire) by turning up the heat with my less desirable Lucy-girl tactics. While momentarily this might feel good, it typically feels downright yucky and both of us walk away feeling singed. If I can avert this quick response and gather my pause, I often discover it’s the perfect time to pull out my super-secret (wish everyone knew about it) diffuser: Compassion. Whether or not the other person is willing to receive it, depends on them. In any case, through compassion I can stay grounded and with much better-feeling results than trying to match their nasty attitude.

(Warning: If you offer compassion and kindness to someone and consistently walk away feeling guilty or at fault for their bad mood, you’re probably dealing with a narcissist. My advice is to steer clear!)

Grumpsters come in all varieties and curmudgeons are my favorites. They’re usually just big old teddy bears who lay on the mild end of the “mean” scale just before hard-to-love, prickly, but ultimately approachable people and far away from sociopaths or narcissists who can rarely be won over and always leave you feeling icky. My approach with curmudgeons (and I realize I’m now giving away trade secrets) is to tame them with kindness. I like to get playful and perhaps a little sassy with these growly bears while feeding them their own direct medicine. I truly love being their pal, and rarely let them off the hook, because curmudgeons typically enjoy a good jest and are usually just trying to stir things up.

In my experience mean people are always asking for something and while it usually looks like they want you to go away, the exact opposite is often true. My kids, for example, have perfected the nasty look or growling get-away-from-me grunt. They can trigger me faster than any living person, so it’s trickier with people you’re close to, because you’re often a lot alike and/or it feels like there’s more at risk than with someone you don’t know. Once I began to understand my own insecurities and hidden motivations for being mean, it became easier to stick it out with others and turn on the loving compassion. It also taught me to slow down and consider how things aren’t always as they seem.

If pausing, looking in the mirror and calling on compassion, doesn’t do the trick for taming a mean person, then my surefire, foolproof approach to not letting this person get to me is to imagine they are about four or five years old. I see them slightly past the terrible two’s (although it can be fun to think of them at this age), but not yet jaded by a world of should’s and should not’s. By seeing an offensive person as a tender child who only wants to be loved, I’m able to drop my own defensiveness and tap into unconditional love and compassion. If four or five years old doesn’t work, I drop the age even younger until I can only see them as needing care. I can’t even begin to imagine retaliating or hurting them. I try to envision what this child might need – a kind word, a grounded presence, a hug or pat on the back. Mentally offering it to them can be equally powerful when it’s inappropriate to do it physically. In some cases they may just need to be left alone. In the case of hard-core offenders (sociopaths/narcissists), sometimes we just need to walk away and take care of our own inner child (i.e. don’t add to the abusiveness by staying in the line of fire!) It’s ok to move away gently and acknowledge for ourselves where and how it hurts. Finally, I allow myself to remember sometimes mean people are just plain mean.

Be sure to pop on over to Debra Smouse’s To Box or Not to Box for another viewpoint on dealing with those mean-spirited people in your life.

You can also visit me at Diamonds in the Soul to learn more about me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turning the Tables

"Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work." -- Steve Pressfield, The War of Art

Late yesterday afternoon and into the evening, I noticed that I was uncharacteristically unsettled and unmotivated. I ate crummy tortilla chips for dinner and lay on the sofa watching endless episodes of Cougar Town. Yuk. I felt not only restless, but also rather worthless. The evening slipped into this surreal game of chess where I moved from couch to back porch with fresh air, and then returned to the stifling inside air and sofa.

Open hours lay before me and it was the perfect time to write and add a few more entries to my nearly finished compilation of daily meditations. Subliminally (and not so much so), the message I was avoiding crept into my consciousness: My writing is worthless. Quickly followed by, I am worthless. Byron Katie's (BK) first question of "The Work" ran through my mind saying, "Is that true?" Again, Yuk. Sometimes I get so tired of the questions and want them to stop. I encourage the judgmental voices to back off, but mainly I desire for this lethargy to end. I want to write. I want to finish my book and I am terrified of finishing it. It is a big part of me and if you don't like it then you won't like me. Again I hear BK say, "Is that true?" In some ways it is true, because, you see, my writing is me. It is my story, my heart, my soul. I feel exposed as I write and I feel more whole than almost any other place I know. I find in writing that ground of meaningful connection and if for only a moment, you connect with me, then you have seen me and I you.

I spent some time today with my coaching buddy working around the thought, My writing is a waste of time. Together we explored what I consider 'valuable' and what is a 'waste' for me. As we talked and wiggled the thoughts via BK style, themes came up. Overplayed ones and new ones. Old ones with fresh twists. Begrudgingly, I dove back into that familiar place where I decided that it's not my writing that is a waste of time, but rather I am the waste. It stems from old stories and while I hate to disparage my deceased mother or put the blame on her, it comes back to the messages I heard (whether they were delivered that way or not) that I had wasted her time. The story goes that my father was the one who wanted another baby. I've often wondered how my mother would have spent her time had she not had to care for me, "the baby," of the family. Did I keep her young or make her old? Did I enrich her life or did I waste her time? While I can never really know the truth of those questions, my guess is I probably did a little bit of both.

During the course of our exploration, my buddy and I landed on several themes that showed up for me while naming how I see "valuable." Words like flow, enjoyable and fun rose to the top. Restful, playful and engaging also made the top ten. Pondering (which is what I love to do most) seemed to encompass most of them. When I place a judgment (or value) on my writing, such as other people have to like it to be valuable or it needs to be published to be worth something, then I take away the flow and the enjoyable aspect. I start to perform for others rather than myself. I aim to please the ghosts of my past by projecting into the future. When the truth is I will never please anyone 100% of the time, including myself.

As we continued to do turnarounds, the last most surprising and enlightening one popped out of my mouth: Wasting time wastes me. When I lay on the couch and eat junk food while watching mindless TV, I am wasting myself. I can feel it in my body as the lethargy (not rest) seeps in. While my hunger scale says it's time to eat, I sense and know that what I'm ingesting is not satisfying. I turn on myself. I choose to not write or feel good. I become the waste that I fear I am. Isn't that fascinating?

The beauty of this coaching-type work is that once I landed on "Wasting time wastes me," I got pretty indignant and took the control back into my own hands. (Oh wait, I think it was there the whole time.) Nonetheless, my energy shifted, my motivation revved up and, voila, the words began to flow onto the page. The tables had been turned. Isn't that fascinating?!?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Be Curious

“As I started looking, I found more and more.” -- Valerie Steele

On a breezy evening that threatened rain, but offered amazing cloud formations and lighting, I attended my daughter’s graduation from high school. A monumental event for all, and one that arrived more quickly than a parent could possibly imagine. We braced ourselves for a potentially boring evening as nearly 400 graduates streamed into the stadium, paired off boy-girl boy-girl. The evening, however, flowed seamlessly as the class president opened with a simple statement, “Good job. We did it.” - followed by talented choral groups ranging from high brow classical to street rap.

The most lackluster speech of the evening was the one meant to inspire. The adult speaker literally said, “I’m going to inspire you” and then began to read a list of former graduates (mainly from the ‘50’s and earlier) who had “made it big.” I recognized one name of an actress I adored during the ‘80’s and my husband identified a real estate mogul who he’d had less than pleasant business dealings with. The delivery was dry and as my own eyes glazed over, I couldn’t imagine my daughter or many other students being inspired by this recitation.

Looking out over the stadium, I was struck by the style and creativity of the students on the field. I witnessed mortarboards decorated with glitter and sequins glistening in the evening light. Students with oversized sunglasses; a boy with Mickey Mouse ears cleverly attached to his graduation cap. An array of finery peeking beneath red and black gowns: rubber sandals, glittering high heels, blown out blue jeans and pressed tuxedos. I watched the crowd: proud parents, raucous friends, and people holding elaborate signs, flowers from street vendors, cameras, bull horns and video recorders. In my musing, I became curious about who these people were, where they had been and where the future might carry them.

With curiosity the night came alive. Why did the seagulls soar over the crowd in the intricate patterns of swoop and dive? Who created the formation of night clouds and evening light that added a glow of perfection to the evening? Flashes of history went through my mind (good, bad and indifferent) as names were called to receive diplomas. Children I’d known since they were four years old strolled across the stage as the next generation of leaders. Later, I would pray for their safety and protection as they departed for Senior Spree, private parties and celebrations with family and friends. I wondered where time had gone, opportunities missed and adventures to come.

In my mind, the “inspirational speaker” had missed the mark. While a list of former accomplishments might or might not encourage others to move forward, curiosity could be a lasting companion. Curiosity inspires. It is my friend daily as I wonder about the world and myself. It motivates me to move forward and calls into question (without judgment) why I might stay inert. It encourages me to ask questions and seek new horizons. If I could leave a legacy for the generations to come, it would be this: Be Curious. Be grateful. Be you.

Ponder this: How are you inspired? What would be your legacy for those to follow?

photo by mark karras (used with permission... since he didn't get a model release and janey is featured :)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Labyrinth of Life

I’ve been away from this page too long, so today I invite you on a literal and metaphorical journey through the labyrinth of my life. This past month I have stepped through many doors, beginning with a weekend I spent with my grad school buddies. Together, we have been through thick and thin. We’ve discovered our mothers, hated them, loved them and become mothers ourselves. We have filled and emptied our nests. Buried our parents. We’ve become grandmothers, new moms and orphans. We’ve laughed hysterically, wept relentlessly and grown beyond our narrow boundaries. Our hearts have been like melting chocolate, swirling and fading in steaming milk. Comfort brings us home.

This month I have relived the birth of my son and his life of disarray. What can I even say? I’ve held him in my arms and he in mine, and so the journey goes… There is green, new life and growth. The touch of a hand. Swirling life around the edges. The roots of messiness piercing the whimsy of freedom, brilliance and light. I can feel it as I spin around the side. A new song, starry night, candles in the wind and paper umbrellas in a magical sky. (Phoenix remembered). Stripes of brilliance and color smash up against the gray of despair. Grief is always near. The cup of celebration teases me and then disappears as I round the corner to more light and celebration.

Petals of white greet me before being pierced by the messiness of more necessary growth. My hands hold it all as witness to the brokenness and darkness that is both parenthood and childhood. The path continues. I cannot stop now. Will I open or close my eyes to despair? I choose to feel the life that comes from releasing emotion. Light and dark blur together until I can’t tell which is which, and still life dances around the edges and angels offer me the cup of salvation as the center reveals it all – light, shadow & life. The embers glow and beckon me to continue the journey.

Golden light leads the way out. Fresh pink and spring green remind me that roots are essential and seeds grow into strong trees. (A sister. A friend.) Closed eyes offer prayer and meditation as they touch the heart within. (A workshop.) The shadows hold new life and there is nourishment in the messiness. Roots point the way to sweet nectar. (A prom & more.) Celebrate. Celebrate where you’ve been – the darkness – the brilliance – the new song of swirling life. Take in the colors and shapes that are this life. Hold them all. Celebrate birth and death. They all lie within your beautiful perfect heart. Amen.

labyrinth collage - designed & created by KSH 6.2011