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Monday, February 23, 2015

WHY IT'S FINE

I love words.  Funny thing for a writer not so much, I realize.  I was practically born with a book in my hand, torturing my parents for “one more story” from the day I could talk, and I consider reading a good book as much of an experience as virtually any “real” experience I have ever had.  Some people think and imagine in pictures; I think and imagine in words.  Nothing suits me more than a clever turn-of-phrase, and the artistry of a well written sentence is as beautiful as any picture in the Louvre, by my reckoning.  All of this to impress upon you—language is my thing.  So you know when I now concede that words are often inadequate, I am not coming from a place of defensiveness about my inability to use them.   Words are so malleable; one man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure as the saying goes, and using the “wrong” word at the “wrong” time can set off a minefield.  And last but not least in the lexicon of the insufficiency of words—it’s just words.  Sticks and stones being more efficacious according to childhood legend, right?

My parents believed actions speak louder than words and frequently used the expression “vote with your feet” to impress upon us the importance of acting in accordance with our beliefs.  It is all well and good to speak your mind, but as it says in the bible “Faith without works is dead”.  Your “works” need not be flashy; sometimes a well-timed hug can be game-changer.   I believe as a modern society we have been trained into a sort of backwards equation… "Works without faith”, which are also dead, IMHO.  Do you ever find yourself conducting your day to day business with the same sort of pulse-pounding, adrenaline racing intensity of a contestant in “The Hunger Games”?  Like the action itself is our value, like the fate of the free world rests on our shoulders, like there’s plenty of time for sleeping when we’re dead, to paraphrase Ben Franklin?  What do we accomplish in this state, besides exhaustion?  I don’t know about you, but my most impactful work is done when I am present, calm and rested.  When I am most able to be myself, and not a wind-up toy that is teetering along the edge of a precipice.
After my Dad had a stroke, many words were lost to him.  He was always the family peacemaker and counselor, so this was a blow to all of us.  His pithy wisdom, the infrequency with which he got worked up over ANYTHING, his ability to use humor to diffuse tension…I don’t know if any of these things would come in handy with your family, but with mine they sure do.  So as we were adjusting to “the new normal”, there was a lot of anxiety, I think, about having to cooperate as caregivers to the man who had always taken care of all of us.  Needless anxiety, it turned out, as my Dad was able to use his very limited vocabulary to develop his new catch phrase:  “It’s fine”.  Or its companion, “You’re fine.”  Okay, so I’ll admit, there was a time when I didn’t quite understand the wisdom of these twin expressions, which became Dad’s go-to for nearly every situation laid at his feet.  Mainly because I think most of us have co-opted “fine” as a pejorative term, equal to acceptable-but-mediocre.  But that is not what Dad was telling us, not in the least.

The inadequacy of words again.  If I describe something as “fine art”, you will know this is the real deal, very high end and impeccable.  If I tell you that your outfit looks fine, however, you will want to instantly go and change it.  We don’t consider things being “fine” a very good state of affairs, generally speaking.  But consider the alternative…if someone asks you how you are and you can easily say “fine”?  I’d say life is going your way, frankly.  To be “fine” most of the time is a lucky, happy life.  Most especially on those days when things don’t appear too lucky or happy if you can still say “I am fine”?  You have discovered the secret to life.  That is what Dad was telling us.  You are fine, you’re going to be fine, things are going to be fine.  A mantra for tough days if ever there was one.  Another expression my Dad cobbled together after he lost agility with language was “Every day is a good day”.  This he could not say as clearly, and perhaps that is what made it so impactful.  He lost so much to the stroke, but he could still tell us, able-bodied whiners that we were, that every day is a good one.  And it was fine that we were able-bodied whiners at that. 
I have often detailed my love of the film “Meatballs”, but anything worth saying is worth repeating.  Another great quote from this summertime classic is Morty (“Hi, Mickey!”) trying to calm a belligerent child about taking a ride on a dilapidated bus by describing it as “A fine, old bus”.  To which the child replies, “It is NOT a fine, old bus.  It is a PIECE of JUNK!”  Hahaha, my sister and I love that one.  And it is a perfect illustration of a head game we play with ourselves every day.  We shout down the reassurances that we are fine, that it is going to be fine with vitriol equal to that child’s.  We don’t want to hear that we are good enough, that our effort is good enough, we want to impress upon anyone who will listen that we are “a PIECE of JUNK!”  Do you want to know another definition of fine?  Free from impurity.  “You are fine”, my Dad would tell us, over and over again.   You are fine.  You don’t need to hurry, you don’t need to be fixed, you don’t need to prove anything.  You are free from impurity in the most meaningful way.  You are fine; you are yourself, and you are fine just the way you are.  I am grateful to my Dad for telling me this.   I wish I had understood sooner, but I’m glad I figured it out.  Hope you have figured it out about yourself, too.

Monday, February 9, 2015

WHY I DON'T FEEL BAD

I’ve decided I don’t want to feel bad anymore.  If you are curious about why I was feeling bad to begin with, I thank you for your interest but I’ve also decided not to share that.  Because I just spent a whole week feeling bad and it sucked, and every time I thought about the “bad thing” that made me feel bad, my stomach tied up in knots and I had the urge to cry or puke or maybe both.  Feeling bad about the thing I was feeling bad about was also a slippery slope, as it made me anxious and my mind naturally went to other places of anxiety for me and before long I felt like I was having a full blown “nervous breakdown”, like people used to have in the old days before we invented medications to prevent such a thing.  But I knew I wasn’t actually having a nervous breakdown because I was still able to function in a way that appeared normal from the outside and also I knew intellectually that most of the stuff I was feeling so bad about was complete and utter bullshit.

Our attention is a powerful thing.  Whenever we focus on a situation or emotion or person, we are literally becoming one with whatever our attention is on, at least for a little while.  Quantum physics explains to us that we are all pure energy fields, vibrating at such a high rate of speed that we appear to be solid beings when in fact we are not.  We are fluid, transformative and capable of changing our world just by putting a little attention on it. We have all encountered people who can bring the energy of a room full of others either up or down, depending on their attention.  Every time you walk into a room, the option is open to you to be that person.  Are you the life of the party or Debbie Downer?  It is up to you and the magical powers of your attention.  What we focus on we see more of, good and bad.  This is why feeling bad is a really bad idea.
This is also why the expression “the rich get richer” and others like it are so steadfastly true.  Whatever we have our attention on we get more of, and the rich have their attention on…well, their riches.  Whereas most of us have our attention on our bills, our escalating health care costs, our wobbly job security…that is what we are looking at and that is what we are seeing.  Unfortunately, (also:  fortunately) that is how it works for all of us.  Ever notice you have the same fight with your spouse over and over?  Or you keep running into that same vexing person at the grocery store?  Or you keep recreating the same dynamics in new jobs, new relationships, and new neighborhoods?  It has to do with your attention and your expectations.  My father was EXTREMELY fond of saying, “The good news is life is a do-it-to-yourself project.  The bad news is there may be an idiot in charge.”  Thanks for that, Dad.  But he was so very right.  About a lot of other things, too.

 It is easy to get overwhelmed by input, both desirable and undesirable, and just throw your hands up in surrender to the inevitability of it all.  But you do actually have control and you do have choices.  For example, have you ever met someone and had the (unkind?  uncharitable?) thought, “This person is homely (ugly)?”  Then you get to know them and suddenly they are not so homely anymore?  Suddenly, they are quirkily attractive?  That is because your attention on them has shifted.  When you didn’t know anything about them, all the information you had was physical appearance.  But when you learned more, you realized they were intelligent, or funny, or charming, or kind or all or some of the above and magically, how they look shifted.  When you start focusing on what is desirable about the person, you see more of what is desirable about the person.  And the rich get richer.
This works for other things as well.  If you focus on what you hate about your job, you get a lot more of what you hate about your job.  But if you focus on what you like about your job, you get more of that and ***BONUS*** the stuff you hate get less “ugly”.  Here’s an experiment:  if there is someone peripheral to you that drives you nuts…a neighbor, the mailperson, that lady from the PTO…next time you see them, pay them a compliment.  It can be anything, nice sweater, whatever.  Then start doing it every time you see them.  See how they shift, both in your perception and in their behavior.  Seriously, I have worked miracles with this and I dare you to try it.  Focus on something positive, no matter how insignificant, and see if it doesn’t become significant over time.  And hey, try that one on yourself as well.  I don’t care how bad your hair looks or how big that zit is, you can find something kind to say to yourself every day.  Several times a day would be even better.

I want you to be rich.  In life, in love and yes, in money.  So look at what you have and bless it.  Notice it.  When your attention gets drawn away to the bad stuff, what is going wrong, who is letting you down, drown out those thoughts, shout them down.  Clap your cymbals like Jehoshaphat and insist on noticing what is good.  The more and more you do this, the more and more your attention will be drawn to the good.  My grandmother used to say, “Don’t go borrowing trouble” and I have shared this wisdom many times with people as they invented catastrophic scenarios that had not yet occurred and were really unlikely to occur in their lifetime.   I would like to amend this to, “Don’t go looking at trouble.”  Because the more you look for it, the more you will find it.  So seek the treasure you actually want.  Put your attention there and see if it doesn’t find you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

WHY IT'S LIKE RIDING A BICYCLE

Over the holidays I had a nice phone chat with my elderly neighbor.  That is to say, the neighbor I lived next door to when I was 4-11 years old.  36 years ago.  I have seen her perhaps 6 times in those 36 years but I will tell you—no time has passed when we talk.  It is yesterday that she was making me cookies and complaining about our dog pooping in her yard.  We have kept in touch mainly through the lost art of “letter writing”…does that ring a bell?  No?  Anyhoo, it got me thinking about the nature of true connection, what makes some people “stick” while others fade away.  We all have those people in our lives…it doesn’t matter if you have been apart for 100 years; you can always pick right up where you left off.   The expression “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is in this case far less accurate than the idiom “It’s like riding a bicycle”.  True connection is like riding a bicycle.  Once you have it, you can never lose it

Moving around quite a bit in my life, I have discovered this as the ultimate truth:  what is real is forever.  It is just waiting for you to put your attention on it again.  We have all heard the silly Sting song “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”.  We have, right?  Sting may be silly (oh, come on, he IS!!!!) but this is actually profound common sense…chase it, and it flees.  Accept it without attachment and it is yours, almost definitely.  As a Cancer (crab) and a clinger, it goes against my inborn nature not to be grasping after all that I love.  But I have learned the hard way that without a doubt “letting go” is the quickest path to stability, as counterintuitive as that may seem.  I have experienced the joy of many relationships spanning multiple decades and I am always astounded and relieved to realize that no real “work” is necessary.  Just being present for whatever occurs when it does is the “trick”.  But it is a trick fewer people can accomplish in this day and age.
I hate to beat a dead horse here…oh, let’s be honest, I am a dead-horse-beater from way-back-when and I always will be.  HA.  Today’s dead horse is technology.  There is truly no sight that I regularly encounter that I despise more than the vision of an adult human walking along hunched up over his or her phone or other portable electronic device.  Stupid thumbs stupidly texting away; it is like going to visit “The Zoo of Idiots” for a laugh, only to discover the idiots have all escaped their cages.  Life is short.  Wake the hell up and put down your phone.  Look around, smell the coffee, meet the eyes of the person you are talking to and try not to salivate when your phone BINGS!  Slave to it, you know you are, while actual experiences fade from relevance.  And stop defending yourself in your head, you know I am right.  I’m not even going to mention the “while driving” thing.

Alright, now that I have gotten that out of my system…well, no, actually, I have more to say.  Did you know that there is technology available to let you know when someone has read your text (or e-mail)?  Meaning you are essentially STALKING the people you communicate with electronically and are not allowing them the privacy to respond in their own time.  Did you know there is technology that allows you to see what the other person is typing to you BEFORE they hit send?  That gives me chills, seriously.  This strikes me as the pinnacle of desperation and fear based logic.  Clinging, grasping, looking for reasons to be upset, searching for reasons to be offended.  I am also not a fan of Facebook as a tool in personal relationships, although it is nifty for small businesses and the like.  The sheer number of stories I have had to endure about a party that so-and-so wasn’t invited to or a snotty comment that was “liked” by a supposed ally are legion.  So I remain blissfully, ignorantly Facebook-free; I won’t even know you had a party if you don’t invite me to it, so there.
I am not going to convince anybody to give up Facebook--believe me, I have tried!!!--but I am going to issue a challenge—in this electronic age, it is so easy to find virtually anyone.  So why don't you call (don't text!) an old friend you haven’t seen in person for ages and plan a meeting.  You can talk and eat and gossip and laugh, just like old times, wouldn’t that be great and fun?  Just do me one favor, will you please?   Leave your phone in the car; unplug for a second and enjoy being human again. Let’s stop dogging each other electronically, what do you say?  What is real is forever.  You don’t have to hover over it, breath down its neck or micromanage it.  What is, IS.  The magic of technology has allowed me to be in more constant contact with beloveds who are scattered across the land, but it hasn’t changed the nature of the connection.  When you are face-to-face with the truth, it is undeniable, palpable and unchanging.  Put down your phone and look into another person’s eyes.  If you see something there, it will always be there, waiting for you to put your attention on it again.