Archive for November, 2013

Finding Your Healthy Mean

November 26, 2013

As you reflect upon how you are living your life, what is your “healthy mean”? In other words, how would you define the ideal balance in your life, given the realities you currently face? What I’m suggesting is not fantasy play—not “pretend to envision your life as a rock star”—that isn’t what I’m getting at; rather, this exercise is more aligned with the concept of fulfilling your responsibilities without them overwhelming your ability to be you. Alas, we all know people whose personal identity has sunk to the bottom of the pool while they scramble to fulfill their roles as caretakers, professionals, or some other, outer-directed persona. The dissonance so many adults experience in their lives stems, in large measure, from such an imbalance. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” they think to themselves. “How did my life get to be like this? Where’s the joy I used to feel?” So, to make this extra clear, what I want you to think about is given who you are today, given the activities and people and responsibilities that are a part of your life, what is the combination that would provide you the greatest amount of personal fulfillment and time to enjoy you being you?

This is a trick(y) question, so think carefully.

How far from this ideal are you? An important point I want to make is that as much as our responsibilities use up many of our hours and can present real and difficult problems that must be solved, there still remains time and opportunity for us to pursue our personal interests and passions. This premise is not always so obvious when we get lost in the complicated realities that many of us live. When I ask myself this question, I know that I am way off balance from my ideal, in many important (but not all) parts of my life. Struggling to find employment and establish a fulfilling life here in Washington is a lot harder than I had expected it to be. Doing whatever it is I need to be doing to kickstart this blog or my writing career is not so obvious, and I occasionally get distracted by wondering if I should be doing something else, entirely. I confuse myself with doubts and an occasional flash of shame that I should be accomplishing a lot more than I have.

I offer myself up merely as an example of a re-booter struggling to reach their healthy mean. It is irrelevant how different your life and healthy mean are from mine, the theme for today is to focus on what your healthy mean looks like. How can you be you and still satisfy your obligations? We’re not shooting for perfection here, folks; we’re not asking that each and everyday be filled with champagne kisses and caviar dreams, but what we are aspiring to is a life where you can go to bed each night with a solid “knowing” that, overall, you’re where you need to be, that your life makes sense.

An ongoing theme here at Dignitary’s Retreat (oooh, “The DR is in” I just thought of that!) is examining the re-booter’s struggle to recognize life imbalance—however it manifests—and then go about righting the scales. And, while much of what we ponder involves shifting our perspective on how we think about things, there remains the real requirement that a certain amount of active change may be necessary—how we spend our time, what activities we engage in, etc all of which needs to reflect accurately who we are, today. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t struggle with this yourself, and thank goodness you have sufficient awareness to do so! Do you realize just how many more people out there are drowning in lives they’d just as soon not lead? And how alone they feel? Not you! Because we have a community of Re-booters right here, who take comfort and strength in knowing we’re not alone, but that still doesn’t give you an excuse not to articulate for yourself what your “healthy mean” is and taking steps to get there. Baby steps. One at a time. What’s one, tiny thing you can do today? I know, I drag my feet, too.

The way forward isn’t always clear—that’s another thing Re-booters understand—heck, I have no idea what I’m doing with this blog, but it’s important to me to keep doing it. My internal voice insists upon it and when I write, time drops away. I love what I do, even if I don’t know where I’m going. It helps me keep my balance. So, what about you? What step might you take to regain your equilibrium? How might you carve out some time to pursue a passion just for you? If it helps, you can lean on my shoulder to get started.


Reminding Ourselves that Values Start at Home

November 21, 2013

I feel fully confident when I make the assertion that my father is the only man on the planet who selects a freshly laundered and pressed button down shirt and khakis to wear when he cleans the gutters. I stand mesmerized, as one does passing an accident, watching him, hard at work, while globs of wet gunk shoot across his bald pate–like a meteor crossing the skies–past his glasses, landing on the front of his red and white striped oxford. But, most marvelously of all, is the moment when he sets down his equipment, picks up his keys, and heads out into the big world to join friends for lunch—with it never occurring to him to change his clothes. I defy you to surpass this example of sartorial splendor.


Now, while it’s true that we all lack common sense on occasion, after a lifetime of knowing my dad, I continue to be stunned by his daily deficit of this important life quality. I don’t know what to make of it; few things confound me, anymore, but my father’s behavior tops the list. It’s so random and there’s no thread of bizarre logic to follow—he just does all this stuff that makes zero sense! Do you have someone like this in your life? How does it make you feel?


Back in the 1980s, there was a fantastic New wave band called Talking Heads that put out a concert movie entitled Stop Making Sense which includes classics such as Once In a Lifetime, Take Me to the River, and Burning Down the House. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s terrific; but then, I’m a child of the 80s so it all makes sense to me.  In the song Psycho Killer, David Byrne croons, “You start a conversation you can’t even finish it. You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.” These are lyrics all re-booters understand, whether we’re the ones feeling as though we’re talking in circles or we’re in the front row of someone else’s absurd performance. What do you do? Do you get up and walk out? Do you close your eyes and pray for it to end? Do you start yelling at the person to get off the stage? What do you do when nothing they do makes sense?


Of course, your answer will depend a lot on the context in which the absurdity is occurring, but one of the most important questions I have learned to ask myself when exasperated is, “How important is it?This is the key question I ask when struggling to manage my reactions. Ultimately, my goal is not to be bothered by folderol such as my father’s wardrobe choices, but the first step in achieving this is learning to control and channel the irritation I do have so that I’m no longer surrendering to the urge to criticize. Far easier said than done, my friends! Now, my temperament is most likely very different from yours—I suspect I struggle more with impatience and irritation from inefficiency than others do—so it wouldn’t surprise me if most of you are more unflappable when it comes to such matters. But, as I have progressed through life, I am realizing ever more that one of the very core re-booting skills to have is patience and tolerance for those around us, even when we don’t understand them.


Politicians and theologians and their ilk dedicate plenty of time to preaching about acceptance, justice, and compassion—which is fine—but it all starts at home. How patient and tolerant are you of your family and friends? Of your coworkers? Can you forgive them their sins? Those people who ignored an effort you made towards them, who strongly disagree with your approach to things, who hurt your feelings by haranguing you about something you haven’t achieved, can you forgive them? Are you patient with their intolerance of you? All the theoretical tolerance and compassion and forgiveness in the world for people you don’t know pales in comparison to the challenge of your living these same values on a daily basis, where it counts most. We will never fully understand the choices of another, and they will never fully understand us, but what’s important in who we are as people starts in how we behave at home. Remember that.


So, as ridiculous as it is for my dad to push around the lawnmower in his oxford shoes and navy blue pin-striped trousers, I remind myself that he’s tidying up the yard. I bite my lip to keep from being snide; one of these days, I hope no longer to notice.



Telling the World More than We Realize

November 19, 2013

Of course, we all know that appearances can be deceiving: somebody who looks “nice” can turn out to be a snake in the grass and someone who seems gruff or snobby reveals themselves to be way softer and more approachable than we’d ever have guessed. But, there’s a lot of credence to be given to what we do see. While it may not provide a full picture of an individual, appearance tells an accurate story on many levels. The catch (as it almost always is) is that we don’t realize just how much we’re revealing about ourselves, when we least expect it.


I’ve had ample opportunity to think about this during the hours I spend at my gym. As someone who maintains a regular schedule, I have the opportunity of observing my Fellow Creatures of Habit as they hit the treadmill, lift weights, or interact with their trainer. I notice the outfits they reliably select, their choice of coordinated footwear, but mostly I study their facial expressions when lost in their routine.


It’s amazing how varied people’s “regular” look is when they’re unaware that anyone’s paying attention. Studies have shown that we do some of our best thinking while undertaking standard tasks, whether it’s walking the dog, commuting, or exercising—something we’ve done a million times before. Our brains shift into another mode as we lose ourselves in an activity that requires little active focus. For those few moments, we don’t think about our impact or what our facial expressions are communicating; this is when it gets really interesting for devoted people watchers, like myself.


Some folks look as though they’re in pain—their mouth drawn tight in a line, brow furrowed as they plow their way through their 45 minutes on the Precor. Others communicate hesitation and a certain amount of what looks like fear–a complete bell curve away from those who express “ownership” of the gym by grunting loudly and then dropping their overly heavy bar bells onto the floor, headphones turned up so high that I can hear the tinny sound float up to where I perch. The determined clenching of their jaw muscles as they participate in this choreography tells me a lot about them—and I’m willing to bet my prognostications are fairly accurate.


In an entirely different setting, a famous political pundit lives near me. I see him and his wife stroll in front of my house on a regular basis, and while he has no idea who I am, he waves and has a friendly, open expression which always surprises me considering how famous he is and how Washington is known for blowhards who can’t be bothered to notice the hoi polloi. So the fact that he notices and greets a familiar, unknown face, tells me a lot about his natural orientation—he’s interested in people, regardless of who they are. Unlike the woman who scowls the entire time she’s on the Precor or the guy who’s showing off for nobody, my neighbor has revealed an interest in others which gives me useful clues about how he interacts with the world, considering he’s played on such a big stage. So, what is it that you’ve observed about the people around you when they have no idea you’re looking? If you have the advantage of knowing them at all well, does their expression accurately reflect a part of who they are? How might this provide some insight into your understanding them better? How do you think you come across when lost in thought?


Appearances can’t tell us everything, but re-booters know they tell us a lot. It’s all in how you use the information.

The Upside Down Quality of Life and Art

November 14, 2013

When life starts to signal to me that things are about to take a turn for the worse, that’s when I have an irresistible urge to buy art; it’s a well established pattern with me and I have a burgeoning collection as proof. Years ago, when things were at a particularly bumpy juncture in my life, a friend’s husband hilariously observed, “Well, it looks like it’s about time for Chrisanna to buy another piece of art.” And so, it was.


Recently, I purchased my first piece of abstract sculpture by an artist whose name (I kid you not) is Jimmy Miracle. On the day I discovered Jimmy’s work at a show opening, I had received some news that felt like another nail in my coffin, so I was primed to act out. Ordinarily, I shy away from teeny tiny galleries, agonizingly mindful that my knowledge and appreciation of modern art doesn’t measure up—expecting the typical denizens of such places to stare at me with a slightly furrowed brow or their nose wrinkled in mild distaste, wondering how on earth I wandered in? As cliques of intellectual art snobs mingled, there the sculpture hung in all its abstract glory—speaking to me in a way most other compositions do not. Defiant of my inauspicious life circumstances, I decided to seize the moment and bought Jimmy’s miracle piece. I’m ornery enough about myself and my talents and abilities that sometimes I refuse to live as common sense might recommend. So there.


A few weeks later, when I drove down to the tony Georgetown gallery to pick up my purchase, the solicitous and trendy assistant slid it into the backseat of my old Honda. Before returning to the gallery, she carefully explained that, “the top of the piece is where the hook is installed.” These instructions made me roar with laughter—which, no doubt, disturbed her greatly. In fact, I appreciated the trouble she went to in instructing me in the art of displaying my purchase because I am confidant previous clients have made similar errors.


Driving home, the assistant’s impulse to provide guidelines for how I should hang the sculpture got me thinking both about how much I appreciate art which can be enjoyed from different perspectives and how this philosophy might be applied to our lives. So what if I’m hanging it upside down? As long as the pieces don’t fall out and I like what I see, does it matter? Many experts might disagree with my approach, arguing that I’m interfering with the artist’s vision, blah, blah, blah. It ain’t his vision now; it’s mine. So, too, with the order in which you structure your life: maybe getting married is the last thing you’ll do as an adult, instead of one of the first, if you choose to do it at all. The expected order of things has always bothered me—in fact, one of the most significant, ongoing struggles of my life has been the tension between wanting to be like everyone else and my resistance to following the crowd. I have never thought of myself as a rebel, but this is something I’ve fought tooth and nail my entire life; I wish I knew why.


What about you? Has there been a point in your life where you utterly resisted doing what was expected? What element of your life have you displayed upside down? What is it you do that makes those close to you scratch their heads?


The thing about my art collection is that it reminds me I believe in myself. The pieces I’ve picked are pieces I love. I bought them at times that defied common sense, but I did it as a reward to me just for being me. They serve as a kick in the butt to keep me going. Now that I think about it, it all hangs together.

Renewed Appreciation of a Painful Past

November 12, 2013

With Thanksgiving edging ever closer, there is much talk about giving thanks and practicing gratitude for all the blessings in our life. But today, instead of focusing on the regular roster of munificence, I direct your attention to those life events that can be seen with a new eye, with renewed appreciation for what they’ve added to your life experience. What has been an occasion or relationship in your life that was painful or troubling at the time, but which, with hindsight, you are deeply grateful for the wisdom it provided? If you’re anything like me, you probably have multiple examples from which to draw.

While on more than one occasion, I have reflected upon some of these difficult experiences with gratitude, one fantasy question I have been unable to answer is, given all that this relationship or experience has taught me, would I subject myself to that difficulty again? For me, as much as I value the insight gained, the cost involved was so high, I don’t know if I’d repeat the experience. How about you? Knowing what you learned from whatever it was, would you willingly pay that price again?

Of course, we can’t relive the past, but we can use it to guide our present and our future. As a result of my former troubles, I now know way more about the significant downside of being naïve, and a whole lot more about human nature, personal and professional politics in the workplace, and how the excesses of ambition and insecurity can blind people in various ways. But, there were also several upsides: I discovered the value of self-discipline, that many people are more than willing to forgive or overlook others’ failings or personal shortcomings—they may not even perceive what happened as a failure (this came as a huge shocker to me), and that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Has someone else’s compassion towards you made you more compassionate towards others? Have you ever wondered just how they came by this compassion? What happened to them so that they developed this quality?

A huge part of being a successful re-booter stems from the fact that we now understand that no single bad choice, personal failure, or unkind action defines us or anyone else. Alas, this isn’t the sort of knowledge that can be acquired in any place other than the School of Hard Knocks. The difference between re-booters and the rest of humanity is that not only do we learn this lesson, but we overcome the bitterness or hurt that accompanied it and, in due time, can find a measure of consoling grace in the experience.

The Latin verb humiliare is the basis for both “to humble” and “to be humble.” And yet, it amazes me what powerful, disparate impacts the verb and the adjective have. The only way to achieve the adjective is to, first, have been on the receiving end of the verb. (If I were a more adept etymologist, I might be able to provide a more academic explanation, but you get what you pay for with this blog.) And the converse is that our tormentors, whoever they may be–those who presented us with our “opportunities for growth” through humiliation–have set themselves up to be on the receiving end of Life’s Spanking Machine. I’m not talking about revenge; I’m referring to the Laws of Universal Justice, Karma, You’ve Got It Coming, etc which is sure to happen, given sufficient time.

So, remind me again, what is the purpose of this particular post? In these weeks before Thanksgiving, I suggest you re-visit some painful episode in your life and see if you might be able to draw from it some valuable, positive life lesson. See if gold lies somewhere amidst the unpleasant dross of your past. Not only might this exercise serve as a vehicle for you making peace with what happened, it may also operate as a comforting reminder during your future struggles. Re-booters understand that there is more to be learned from our past if we take the time to consider it with an appreciative eye.

Fitting in with Google Demographics

November 7, 2013

In a world where there are no secrets anymore and the NSA listens in on all our communications, it’s reassuring to know that “they” still don’t have a total grasp on their subjects. Recently, Google demographic experts proclaimed that I am approximately 20 years older than my biological age, which makes me chuckle. Does this reflect well upon me or poorly? Am I wise beyond my years or a fussbudget whose Internet browsing tastes and deficit of social media knowledge skew towards the horse n buggy crowd? Google’s probably not all wrong in their assessment; I think I’ve always related to an older group—maybe that’s because I’ve never quite fit in with my chronological peers or I simply have tastes and preferences that slot me into another category. Who knows why they made this determination? Google has teams of experts pouring over the trail left behind by my electronic habits. They must have their reasons, right?


In a way, learning that I come across as a generation older than I am has provided me with a certain amount of comfort. Those teenage years where “everyone” liked to hang out in groups at the mall or were mortified to be seen with their parents—that wasn’t me. I was this strange creature who liked her parents’ company, listened to classical music, and found the mall scene to be vaguely disturbing as a teenage rite of passage. As the years progressed, I still seemed to steer clear of the normal activities for my peer group—no going to night clubs or pulling all nighters, no group house rentals for spring or summer vacations, no concert t-shirts of indie bands. None of the ordinary signs that I was in lock step with my peers. I didn’t do this on purpose, as some sort of rebellion, it was just who I was. Often times, though, it left me feeling somewhat lonely because I just didn’t fit in. I looked at all my peers, doing the things they were “supposed” to be doing, having fun, hanging out, you name it–and then, there was me.


When have you felt like you didn’t fit in with your natural group?


Of course, everyone has experiences of outsider status. The nerdy kid, the fatty, the one whose last name is hard to pronounce, the one who never gets the in-jokes, the kid who talks too much or tries too hard. No matter who we are, what our story is, whether the captain of the team or sometimes-member of the Energy Club, we all know what it’s like to feel lonely.


Fortunately, as we grow and mature, we develop coping skills and a sense of humor to get through such moments. We learn to appreciate solitude or find ways to manage outsized expectations about how much we will enjoy certain social interactions. We find ways to cobble together a network of people who resonate with our little quirks. But, what happens when some of these friendships change such that Google would put the participants in different demographic groups? What do we do when what fit us before has been outgrown?


Shifting interests and priorities happen to all of us, of course. We all know stories of spouses or friends who grow apart, or the sad instances where they may stay together, technically, but the isolation is as lonely as it can be for a shut-in. Finding a place in life where we feel we “belong” is an interesting challenge because it is so universal. For some folks, it’s something to be feared and avoided at all costs, but re-booters come prepared. We know this is a key part of our life’s evolution and we believe in the possibility that we can create for ourselves a reality where we do fit—no matter how deviant from Google’s models we may be. They don’t know everything at Google, no matter what they say. A re-booter has sufficient faith in him or herself to recognize that whenever a so-called expert decrees, “this is the norm,” and we don’t fit it, they haven’t taken in enough data points to account for us and our re-booting brethren. Hey, when you think about it like this, maybe we’re not so alone, after all…

Redoping Our Personal Leaks

November 5, 2013

At what point does something useful morph into a toxin of sorts? We’re all familiar with the admonitory phrase, “Too much of a good thing,” and can think of examples of people who embody such tales. Whether its food, emotions, medication, or utilities, the key to channeling any of these beneficial substances lies in their implementation. If used incorrectly, they can switch from helpful to hurtful.


During a recent visit to her parents’ home, a friend was alarmed by the odor of gas throughout the basement—a smell nobody else noticed, they were so accustomed to it. The leaking gas line required immediate repair, a technique often referred to as “redoping.” Fortunately, nobody was injured, but the scenario captured my imagination as a way to consider what sorts of messages “leak” out of us. Every single one of us has blind spots in our lives, from which we transmit information about who we are or how we perceive the world, and we don’t even realize we’re doing it.


It’s way easier to recognize the steady, low hiss of others’ transmissions than it is to detect our own. What makes this so unsettling is that element of surprise, in the sense that we don’t realize we’re doing this, that we’re communicating this message. It’s hard to know how to address a problem when you don’t recognize that certain behaviors or attitudes are the equivalent of highway billboards. Examples of invisible leaks I’ve witnessed range from personal insecurity that manifests through name dropping, bullying tactics, and pricey wardrobes; deliberate blindness to seriously dysfunctional family dynamics; or those who seep a defensive mien cloaked under aggressive behavior. That perpetual trickle of disappointment or martyrdom is not so minor as to go unnoticed. We reassure ourselves that our secret beliefs are hidden from the world, when they’re not; what’s unnoticed by us is patently obvious to everyone else. The thing about my case study of the actual leaking gas line is that although nobody in the house noticed the rank smell, it remained immediately apparent to “outsiders”!


It’s normal for us to have hang ups—no human being escapes such baggage, and of course it’s always easier to diagnose the problems of others than to address our own, but much of the time what people do is simply pretend it isn’t there. Hear no evil, see no evil, ignore all signs of evil. Instead of tackling the serious leak, many folks opt for the sloppy, psychological version of redoping–whipping out some duct tape and hoping the problem goes away. We put our hands over our ears and sing loudly or threaten to grow furious should anyone raise the issue. Yeah, that’ll show them.


So, my fellow re-booters, where are your leaks? How might those close to you answer this?


I know you’re squirming right now…


What re-booters understand is that tackling this challenge is part of our lifetime journey. We are all here to “get over” something, so the fact that each of us has such challenges is an important part of what we have in common! Our personal gas leaks may vary in number and quality, but the important part isn’t the leak, it’s how we go about repairing it. How we assist others tackling their own redoping projects. It’s why we’re here.


Compassion and a willingness to assist another is a key characteristic of any re-booter. Much of the time, the only person who can replace the faulty line is the person him or herself, but we are on hand to assist if we can be helpful.  What I love and admire most about re-booting in general is that it includes the ability to notice a leak, offer assistance, and not take personal offense if the homeowner freaks out and simply throws some duct tape at it. It’s not our gas line, it’s not our leak. But we didn’t remain silent and we made ourselves available to them.


Such qualities are a world away from those who would rather perish in an explosion than acknowledge the scope of the problem or those who might titter and gossip about the leaks at another’s home. I know this analogy is getting rather heavy handed, but I find that I can comprehend some of these more abstruse topics by utilizing concrete, mundane images. My friend’s gas line was repaired, no problem, and all is safe. Good news, indeed.

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