Archive for March, 2013

Easter and Rebirth

March 28, 2013

Easter is only a few days away, and while for many, the main association of this Christian holiday is with marshmallow eggs and sales at Macy’s, the promise of rebirth and redemption fortunately exists outside the flotsam and jetsam of our secular society. This promise, I believe, is available to all—regardless of their official religious (or not) affiliation—and, further, the more immediate opportunity of personal rebirth and redemption is real for each of us as we go about negotiating our daily lives.

Think about how many rebirths you have already had: you’ve gone from a newborn to a child to a teenager to a young adult to a matured person. Note that I have not said that you are fully realized because none of us is. And, as Re-booters, we are driven by the impetus to discover more about ourselves, to refine who we are, to question our assumptions, and to seek out a higher way of living. Would you agree with me that this process constitutes a regeneration of self?

If one examines biblical teachings in an archetypal manner, whole worlds of possibility open for us. For instance, “Give us this day our daily bread” is not referring to literal food, it’s referring to spiritual nourishment. “Deliver us from evil,” suggests a supplication to help us avoid the quotidian perils of jealousy, bitterness, impatience, resentment. If you look beyond the immediate, literal definitions of the words used in this prayer, new doors of possibility open.  You don’t need to be a practicing Christian to benefit from this approach. Take this premise and apply it to your life! What familiar beliefs that you hold might be reexamined in a new light?

While I very much believe in life after death, it isn’t necessary to do so in order to dedicate yourself to a personal rebirth over the course of your years. Look, the only people who are going to read this blog are ones who are curious and open to the possibility of enhancing their existence beyond the place it currently is. I think that there are powerful examples—religious and secular—that can be utilized to inspire new strategies for how we might go about this. And, because we are each so very different in our approaches, our temperaments, our strengths and our weaknesses, there is no one size fits all.

If I were to set out as one of the most important lessons that I have learned as an adult it is that at the end of the day, I am in charge of myself and my experience—my ability to influence others or vice versa is severely limited. Such knowledge places the responsibility for my life squarely on my shoulders, but it also gives me tremendous freedom. I can make of it what I will. Rebirth is available to all who wish to seek it out—the others will remain in their caves, secure in the knowledge that the boulder of their fear or ignorance will limit them to the boundaries of their current familiarity.

So, on this Easter Sunday, take a moment or two to reflect in private what your personal rebirth may look like. It’s yours for the taking.

A Life Vest in a Sea of Self-pity

March 26, 2013

Ok, as Re-booters, we spend a certain amount of time thinking about our lives, the situations we find ourselves in, and sussing out patterns that may evidence themselves as sources of personal distress. All well and good. However, this accomplishes little unless we move beyond such contemplation and step boldly into the realm of doing something about our unhappiness.

Too often, people lapse into a place where all they do is dwell upon what is wrong in their lives, neglecting the next step which is to identify remedies. The angst then feeds on itself—remember, anything we exercise grows stronger—and we then allow it–this unhappy episode or annoying person–to characterize who we are. No, no, and no! Hear ye, hear ye, all Re-booters, you are more than your losses, mistakes, or aggravations. Do not let such things define you, no matter how much suffering these people or events create.

A related mistake people regularly make is to engage in the erroneous and magical belief that somebody will rescue them from their misery. Sorry, Charlie, but the solution resides within yourself. You have to be the one to do this, to identify a way out, to learn from this, and to move beyond it. The motivation to recover also lies within; the wellspring of healing action is internal. As an example, ask anyone who’s recovered from an addiction and they’ll tell you that it couldn’t have happened until they made the decision to tackle this demon. All the support in the world is useless without that personal impetus.

Since this is my blog and my soapbox, I will subject myself to the examination table as I continue to grapple with my own difficulties. Faced with painful loss, I’ve been tempted to retreat to a position where I could spend all my time licking my wounds and shaking my fist at the heavens, but I recognize that such behavior gets me nowhere. In fact, it only makes things worse. Next, I’ve spent a goodly amount of energy privately declaring that this loss serves as confirmation of a lifetime of disappointment, and that Fate has decreed that I got the short end of the stick. Poor me. I’m the sad, little match girl. So sad, she had so much potential. I’m good at this, right?

I bet you can think of people who have had something hard happen to them (divorce, job loss, betrayal, major injury, etc) and from that point on, they defined themselves through the prism of that experience: “I was wronged,” they telegraph to the world. “Interact with me knowing that I am not 100% because of this bad event.” Alas, they are reframing their entire life to accommodate this suffering instead of overcoming it. They are lowering expectations for themselves. “I can’t do as well anymore because I’m sad.” Really? Get over it!

Everyone has suffered—this is part of the deal of being here. Why would you ever define yourself and your future by your lowest point?

The myopia that results from such narrow focus on our suffering and frustration makes it nearly impossible to conquer these conditions. We drown in an eddy of self-pity when a life preserver is within reach, at all times, but we must be the ones to take hold of it.

So here goes:

  1. What can I do to turn this situation around?
  2. How can I do this?
  3. Where do I begin?
  4. Who can help me?*

The answers will not magically solve all our problems, but they will lift us out of this passive, poor-me state and get us to re-focus on our strengths and opportunities. For me, when I refocus on what I can do instead of what I’ve lost, I immediately begin to feel better, more hopeful about my life. Sure, I’m disappointed that there’s no magic wand, but I’m also stubborn enough to be determined that I’m stronger than whatever hardship has been thrown my way. I refuse to let “them” set the terms, so I cling to my life vest and doggie paddle for shore. It ain’t pretty, but I ain’t drowning, either.

There is never a point in life when you have no resources to help you because you always have yourself. But you have to be the one to take action, not just navel gaze and moan sadly. This is why I’m such a huge proponent of baby steps. Most likely, your challenge won’t be solved in a day, but each step you take moves you that much closer to the goal. Don’t succumb to the juvenile temptation of wah wah wah’ing your way through life. Cry me a river ‘cause everyone’s too busy dealing with their own shit to worry much about yours. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.

Ok, so paddle on out there and grab that vest. It’s yours for the taking.

*taken from Psychic Self-Destruction and How to Reverse It by Robert R. Leichtman, MD

Moving Beyond What You Already Know

March 21, 2013

In 1963, Madeleine L’Engle gave an acceptance speech when she received the Newbery Award for her work A Wrinkle In Time. It’s a superb book if you’ve never read it, and if you have, it’s well worth revisiting. In her speech, the author describes her worldview as one incorporating, “a universe of continuous creation and expansion.”

 

While this quote may reflect what most cosmologists believe to be the case about the universe, it is also a perspective on life which too many adults forget. As I look around, I see far more examples of people who, say, by their late thirties or early forties, draw the conclusion that “this is the way things are,” and tell themselves, “I already know everything I need to know about life.” In other words, they simply stop asking questions and assume a fixed worldview. Curiosity, uncertainty, and creativity fade away from their daily thought processes, no longer providing that necessary dose of intrigue which keeps our existence exciting and brimming with new potential.

 

How many examples spring to mind of people you know whose world’s have gotten smaller as they’ve aged? Settled routines, downsized expectations, a resignation into disappointment or grief have shrunk the boundaries of their lives to what they describe as realistic. “I’m just trying to get through the day,” they mutter, angry and threatened by any suggestion of reaching for more. “I’m too tired to learn something new.” “I don’t know and I don’t care!” And, the tragedy is, they really don’t. So much for a universe of continuous creation and expansion.

 

It’s hard to learn new things; I’m sympathetic! As I continue to struggle with my prolonged job hunt, I’m pushed to consider fields far-flung from the arenas where I hold professional expertise. Immediately, my resistance stamps its foot: What am I thinking? How could I possibly manage X at this stage in my life? What if it doesn’t work? People will laugh at me when I fail. This choir of criticism is precisely why people opt to remain where they are. “I know enough,” they argue to themselves. “I don’t want to be disappointed again.” “It’s safer to stay where I am because at least I know what to expect.” Does any of this sound familiar?

 

In order to expand our universe we have to push ourselves! Trying something new is awkward and comes with no guarantees. What might happen if you stopped agreeing simply to keep the peace or actually spoke up for yourself? Would your world truly implode if you quit that soul sucking job? But, my thesis goes beyond such questions because creativity stems from a positive idea—you need to want to go somewhere, to achieve something, to extract from life more than you are currently experiencing.

 

As many risky ventures have shown us, innovation can be enormously threatening to individuals and society as a whole; they can reinvigorate or destroy entire ways of living. But, it’s only through such experiments (take democracy, for example) that marvels can occur. There are no limits to the universe—we may not know what’s beyond a certain point, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing discoveries to be found. The only thing for certain is that you’ll never, ever see them if you limit yourself to what you already know.

Appreciating Yourself for Who You Are

March 19, 2013

Springtime is just around the corner here in Washington. The air is a smidge softer, the sun a bit brighter, the skies a little more blue, and the ground is swollen with bulbs, awaking from their wintry slumbers, working their way up through the hard, cold ground.

I look forward to the moment I spy my first crocus, my first forsythia bloom, my first daffodil.  Each of these glorious creations adds so much color and beauty to the world. And while, they’re all flora, one thing is certain: a daffodil will never be mistaken for a crocus.

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Now, why do I bother saying something so patently obvious? Because we can learn a lot from our floral friends in terms of appreciating who we are and not trying to be someone else. Think how difficult it would be if all a daffodil ever wanted to do was be a crocus; a daffodil would make a lousy crocus! Where one is low to the ground, sporting cool colors, the other is defined by its long, green stalk and brilliant yellows. Our world would not be improved if there were more daffodils at the expense of our crocus friends.

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This is important to remember when grappling with a situation of personal dissatisfaction. It’s even more challenging when society sends messages about what is “ideal”: the ideal body, the ideal family, the ideal education. You know the drill. It’s not that this is a message or an observation that hasn’t been made a million times before, but, somehow, when the analogy is made between two glorious flowers, it feels a little bit easier to accept.

I could dedicate a part of each day moaning about how much I wish I had the physique of an Olympic volleyball player or the delicate finesse of a ballet dancer but that’s never going to happen! Besides, ballet dancers’ feet are a mess and volleyball players skin can get leathery after so much time in the sun. In other words, they may have their glorious pluses, but so do I! So do you! At times, it can feel nearly impossible to appreciate all the solid good in us just being ourselves, but those around us can see it—that’s one of the bonuses of enjoying their company. And to turn it around, think how concerned you feel when you see a good friend or your child diminish their own charms out of a misplaced desire to be something they’ll never be.

Is a daffodil better than a crocus? Does it have a more meaningful existence? Is it appreciated more or does it reflect any greater glory? The next time you’re tempted to run yourself down while building another person up, I want you to think about this analogy. It may not be clear what the exact purpose of the daffodil or crocus is, but we’re glad to see them every spring. We’d miss the absence of one, even if there were a hundred fold more of the other that same day.

If you can be all embracing of these two very different flowers, perhaps you can extend a little of this appreciation to yourself.

Living in an Upside down World

March 14, 2013

Nonsense. Alas, we’re subject to it each and everyday, whether at home, in the workplace, from the media, or our fearless political leaders. It’s ubiquitous. We can do nothing to eradicate so much of it from our lives. All too often, people decide to be inexplicably ridiculous and, thus, nonsense boomerangs around us 24/7. At times, it can feel like a seemingly bottomless well. But, were we to be fully honest and brave, we might each admit to being guilty of dishing out some of this stuff, ourselves. Caveat emptor!

 

So how do you find your way through such a morass, especially when the source of the worst of it lies within our immediate situation? This is especially tricky when nonsense is delivered by people close to us, people whose opinions we value, people we rely on. When such types start spouting nonsense, we are caught off guard and earnestly respond to them, believing that their declarations are a temporary, correctible blip. Ha! If only that were true.

 

The mistake we make is responding to this nonsense. In particular, I refer to the claptrap generated by those in our daily lives. Were it possible to populate our families and workplaces with only thoughtful, sensible folk—well, best not to daydream. That having been said, what does one do to manage intelligently such a barrage of balderdash?

 

This question is actually more serious than it may first appear. Why? you ask. Because the source of this twaddle can often come from people we who are important to us—our bosses, our teachers, our spouses, our friends. Regularly, individuals make declarations that they vehemently believe—often targeting us with their “helpful” observations–when the words they issue are utter folderol. The trap we fall into during such an interaction is to respond, to defend ourselves, to justify our choices or, even worse, to try to please them. Sometimes, it’s far wiser to leave that gauntlet where it lays.

 

Nonsense such as: You must be crazy to turn this down. There’s only one way to support me. I can’t believe anyone would be so selfish. A real man would want X. I failed at college so I’ll fail at life. No one could forgive you for what you did. How can you think that way? If you had a heart you’d do X. You’re a wimp if you don’t fight back. Trusting your gut is stupid, considering your track record. You have no choice.

 

 

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Think of the world of Alice in Wonderland, filled with characters who only spoke nonsense. Alice kept getting in deeper and deeper as she tried, in vain, to reason with these absurd types. For us, rather than letting a snide comment or honest (if erroneous) opinion roll off our backs, we engage in one of these impossible exchanges. Sigh. It’s really quite exhausting. My friends, fellow Re-booters, please don’t forget that nonsense, by definition, insists on its veracity and will not listen to reason!

 

As an example, note the exchange between the White Knight (on a horse) and Alice:

Alice: I was wondering what the mousetrap was for. It isn’t very likely there would be any mice on the horse’s back.

White Knight: Not very likely, perhaps, but if they do come, I don’t choose to have them running all about. You see, it’s as well to be provided for everything. That’s the reason the horse has all those anklets round his feet.

Alice: But what are they for?

White Knight: To guard against the bites of sharks.

 

My point in this post is that as hard as it is to pull oneself out of a programmed need to acknowledge and answer whatever anyone says to us, often times, it just makes things worse. Re-booters understand that nonsense doesn’t merit the validity bestowed by a reply. Remind yourself of this the next time your boss or spouse says something ridiculous! Keep your trap shut, your head down, and do what makes sense. Capiche?

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding the Right Fit

March 12, 2013

It’s understandable that people seek out a group of kindred souls; by nature, we are (well, most of us) a sociable bunch. We like being with others of our kind. The fault lines that individuals select to demarcate their posse are as varied as the colors on a color wheel. But what about those times when your color simply isn’t offered?

Whether it’s Santa Barbara or Washington or anywhere else on the globe, people come together using all sorts of crazy criteria: Lulu Lemon blondes, earth mamas, cycle guys, My Little Pony aficionados, Trekkies, rebels, neighbors, opera snobs, you name it, there’s most likely a group for it. But, what if you don’t know where your group is? Or what it is? What if you’ve tried inserting yourself into a variety of groups and none seems to fit the way you hoped?

I know a menu of people—nice people—who can’t seem to find a comfortable place to land. Sure, they can contort themselves, temporarily, to get along with the other school parents or coworkers or those with whom they are politically aligned, but it just never quite seems to “fit.” Looking around, it appears as if everyone in the group is fully embracing the gestalt of who and what they are, but what about you?

Personally, I’ve spent plenty of time enjoying (or not) the activities of groups where I kinda sorta fit in, but not really. On occasion, I’ve even lead groups which I regularly considered dropping out of! Who does that?!? Apparently, I do. Don’t get me wrong: this is not a diatribe against cliques or a paean to the Individual. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of just how afloat some of us can feel much of the time.

As often as I may have wanted to qualify as a Lulu Lemon blonde, I never belonged. Truth be told, they’re not so great, anyway, but part of me worries about discounting all these routes to association because I feel awkward about being there. Is it that I don’t belong or that I’m loathe to get typecast or something else, entirely?

Perhaps this poses a greater dilemma for women than it does for men. After all, friendships and group dynamics seem to play a much greater role in women’s lives than they do in men’s. But, perhaps I am wrong. And, while most women are not utterly obsessive about joining a pack, I believe it’s fair to say that it’s female interactions that drive so much of social interaction in this society. The men mostly reap what we happen to sew, although I know they thoroughly enjoy spending time with their pack, too.

So, back to my original question: what can you do when you haven’t found a spot on which to land, fully comfortable with the group you have chosen? Truth is, these groups change and shift and morph as much as our personal needs do. We need to realize that it’s ok to only semi-fit in. It’s ok to hover on the fringes. Sure, you may never be fully embraced by the self-identified pack leaders, but I’m willing to bet that they have their own doubts about belonging, too. As Re-booters, we may need to accept the possibility that, absent one or two very special circumstances, we’re never going to feel fully a part of any assembly. And, in fact, this may be a very good thing. Group minds and collective thinking have an insidious way of snuffing out an individual’s creativity, so the trade off of living life as an independent thinker may be that you aren’t fully vested.

How does that make you feel?

What is valuable?

March 7, 2013

What does the term “valuable” mean to you? It amazes and mystifies me that my definition of what is valuable can, in certain ways, change on a dime. The same goes for society’s definition. Whether it’s the perception of an individual, a family, or a collective society, reevaluation of what is valuable is changing—fast.

 

I suppose that, initially, a lot of value came from the rarity of an object. For pioneers and early settlers of the US, it took numerous man hours to produce a single piece of furniture, so pieces were handed down from one generation to the next for the practical purposes they served and the fact that they were hard to come by.

 

Fast forward a century or two, longtime antique dealers in Georgetown are going out of business because the demand for dark wood, colonial furniture has been replaced by the desirability of mid-century modern. What happened? Does this mean that the value previously accorded to these dark wood pieces was false? Was it some version of now discarded sentimentality that made these pieces precious to purchasers? And, what sort of augur does this shift represent such that these antiques are no longer cherished? After all, it’s just décor…isn’t it?

 

Why do we hold onto things? Why do we hold onto fixed ideas or expectations? What is it about them that makes us value them? Do we really hold them in such esteem or is it because somebody else told us one thing is of little value and another is worthwhile?  How extensive is the reach of this question in your life?

 

We’re told to value family relationships—and for very good reason…mostly. But what about the relative who has no interest in you or your life? Why do you continue to want to value them? What about marriage? In a society where women can provide for themselves, why does the formalized union of two people continue to have value? And is that value limited to marriages involving small children? An easier example is the message we’ve all received about how a major cornerstone of adulthood and society is home ownership. But, why does something like ownership necessarily equate to qualities like responsibility and maturity? A major element of our nation’s economic meltdown is related to people who leveraged themselves way above what they could afford, for the express purpose of appearing “successful,” when the real success story is the person who lives a dignified life within their means.

 

And, further, why is it so hard to change our perception of what is valuable? If you’ve lived your life with an antique chair that you never sit in, have to treat with kid gloves, and you once thought is beautiful, but now has no practical place in your life? Just because it isn’t practical, is it no longer of value? Or, was your original perception of value in error?

 

What is value based on? Why and under what circumstances do we change that definition? Does that say more about the valued object or about us? When re-booting our lives, we need to be prepared to challenge our old perceptions and to test them for current validity. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you coasting on old, unchallenged beliefs? What relevance do they have in your life now? Do these longstanding values continue to hold their worth? If so, why? If not, what makes sense for your life today?

 

Clearing away some of the cobwebs surrounding such ideas can help you streamline who you are and how you are living your life. It can enhance your flexibility which comes in handy as life has a funny way of changing on a dime. The questions I am posing are considerable and may feel threatening, but this is just for you to play with, to mull over in the privacy of your thoughts. You may be surprised by what you discover. 

Mistakes: Our Most Faithful Teachers

March 5, 2013

A key need of any Re-booter is the ability to forgive oneself. We’ve all made mistakes and experienced the guilt that accompanies those errors in judgment. If we were perfect, none of us would need to be here; so, I, for one, take comfort from the fact that we’re all on this journey together.

 

In many respects, I believe it can be harder to forgive ourself than it is to forgive those who have trespassed against us. I say this because, usually, the mistakes we make involve errors in judgment when we have had ample warning that we were heading down the wrong path. Alas, I know this condition all too well. There were many red flags to warn me off from committing myself too deeply in a relationship that straddled the professional and the personal and I still pushed forward—I did so based on  a myriad of reasons and by the time I allowed myself to acknowledge my concerns, I believed there was just too much at stake not to continue. When the whole thing blew up in my face, there was plenty of blame to go around, but much of it I aimed at myself.

 

Has anything similar ever happened to you? Have you played a role in your own misery? Do you cringe when you think about all the signs you ignored? The off ramps you could’ve taken? The blind insistence that it would “all work out?” And the worst part of it is, you can’t fool yourself, so no matter what you might try to argue back, that condemning voice won’t be silenced.

 

Guilt is a wasted emotion—it accomplishes nothing. Even taking responsibility for something you’ve done means little unless you also take active steps to make amends. How might you make amends to yourself? Well, the first step is to resolve not to be so willfully stupid again. There! See? You’ve already improved your lot in life. Even if you do nothing else about this mistake, you’ve accomplished something. Compassion can be a hard thing to come by—especially self-compassion—but I believe that if you can’t, somehow, find it in your heart to forgive yourself, how in the world will you truly practice compassion for another?

 

Waging war against oneself is easy because the target is hogtied, unable to escape. Besides, we usually hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do others, so our rage is greater when we fail. But think about how this attitude impacts those around you, especially your children. They watch what you do and then apply this sick standard to themselves. Is this what you want for them? Children are like sponges, you know that. So, if you don’t want your kids to do this, why is it ok for you to do this to yourself? There’s no virtue in self-flagellation. Nobody admires it–remember that creepy bloke from The Da Vinci Code? Yuck.

 

Forgiving yourself isn’t always easy, for all sorts of reasons, but it’s crucial that you do so. Each of us makes mistakes; the beauty of doing so is that we can learn from them. We should learn from them—they are our most faithful teachers. We’ll get a whole lot further in life if we make this the goal, rather some ill-placed idea that dragging around our guilt and regret is something we deserve.

 

What mistake has been bothering you that you really need to forgive yourself for and move beyond?


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