student learning

Surrounded by Teachers

Seeing the discord in the United States is very painful for me, as I am sure it is with others. In a recent article from the Center of Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr shared a practice of learning from others which really resonated with me at this time.

To me, attacking the wrongs of others, does not help. Debating the issues does not solve them. Voicing support for those marginalized does send some good vibes but does not seem to do enough. Blaming government or other institutions as the cause of this discord, resolves nothing.

If we want to make a difference in the world, the first and truly only thing we can change 100% is ourselves.

Instead of pointing at others, instead of feeling a powerless victim, instead of showing support but taking no action, look to yourself. Cultivate authentic solidarity as Richard Rohr recommends. Instead of speaking from a point of privilege, shift to understanding the world and experience of the other. Seek understanding and acceptance. Step out of the ego-role of being a savior, helper, warrior, or prosecutor, and instead be with the other.

Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

Try this today. Look at each person you meet – in person, online, in the news – and view them as your teacher. If they are inspirational, if they share knowledge you do not have, if they treat others as you aspire to, uncover what can you learn from them. How can you embrace their good qualities? Which ones are missing from your life that you can begin to adopt? The same goes for those acting in ways you do not condone. They are your teachers as well. Which of their negative characteristics do you have as well? Perhaps they do not appear in the same way, but how are you selfish, self-centered, dishonest, frightened, and judgmental? How can you change how you speak, act, and approach the world in a better way?

I used this same type of mentality when I was learning to be a theatrical director. By watching other directors – how they treated the cast, how they interpreted the text, how they worked with the creative team, how they handled pressure – I picked up clues about how to be a director. Honestly, I learned more from the less talented directors than I did from the good ones. It is like trying to learn how to play basketball from Michael Jordan. He made it look easy and magical. Instead, by watching someone who does not perform as well, it is easier to see what they are doing wrong or what they can improve. And then I look at making those improvements in myself.

Because my heart goes out to all those in pain and suffering right now, I find it much more productive and calming to focus on what I can change. I am learning of my own prejudice. I am learning how I assume I know how others should act and think I can make them act that way. I am learning how attachment to my expectation causes pain.

As you go about this week, instead of commenting on the actions or words of others, look to them as your teachers. What can you learn about yourself to help you be a better person?


Life is About Choice and Experience

As an Enneagram Type One, Type A Perfectionist, making choices can be difficult. I think I need to make the right choice, and I need to make it instantly. I feel pressure to make choices quickly, “I should be smart and knowledgeable enough to choose the right thing right now.” I worry about being imperfect by making the wrong choice. I am terrified that I will be stuck with a bad choice forever.

While I was writing From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I started to experience a new way of choosing. First of all, there is all the time in the world to make a decision – or at least there is more breathing room than I allow myself. The only person expecting me to decide immediately, is me. Second, there are no wrong answers because I can always choose again. Is what I chose not what I thought it would be? Do I see a better option now? No problem, I can choose again. Sometimes I need to make the “wrong” choice so I can be aware of what is the better choice for me.

As I have written, I believe life is about choosing, experiencing, learning, and choosing again. The goal is not to get every decision right or perfect. Nor do we only receive one choice and have to live with a poor decision forever. The whole goal of life is to experience – to experience the good, the bad, and the indifferent. And when we get tired of that experience, we can choose again. To me this is the whole concept behind having free will. Free will is not about seeing if we will choose good or bad, right or wrong. Free will is simply being free to choose.

Initially I understood the power of choosing only intellectually and applied it sparingly in my life. Lately I have been learning the deeper meaning of choice and experience, and how this is the core purpose of this lifetime. Life is about free will. Life is about the ability to choose. Life is not about the result. Life is not about perfection. Life is not about getting it right the first time, since there really is no “right.” Life is like a buffet. Put a little bit of this and a little bit of that on your plate. Try it all. Taste it all. Experience it all. If something doesn’t sit well with you, don’t have it again. You may learn that some things may make you happy, but a little goes a long way. Other things you may love intensely and want to get as much of them as you can. Every day you have the opportunity to choose what you want from the buffet of life, and the next day you can choose again.

Photo by Edvin Johansson on Unsplash

Focusing on life as experiencing our choices, has not only affected me directly but has also improved my relationships. It has helped me to release my false belief that I can and should save others. The concept that I should rescue others is wrong because it is my self-focused assumption that I know what is right for someone else. Second, if life is about experience, who am I to deny that person the experience they have chosen. Third, the truth is I cannot choose for someone else. Even if I voice my opinion, the other person has complete control over what they decide to think, act and feel. Someone else’s experience is completely up to them.

So today, I am focusing on my side of the street, my choices, my experience. I am not solely looking at choices and their result, but taking the time to fully experience the choice. Life is not results-driven but experience-driven. We are here to experience, feel, and connect. We are here to choose our own path, to experience the power of free will.

How would your day change if you looked less at the result and more at your experience? How much stress would you release, if you only focused on your choices and experience, and not those of others?

splash of water

Splashed in the Face with Gratitude

At this point, my husband and I have caught up on all our favorite Netflix shows and have watched all the movies we can find by our favorite directors or starring our favorite actors. We are now at the point of closing our eyes and choosing something, anything, and crossing our fingers that it has substance or a tad of entertainment. Sometimes there is a surprise-find like the memoir documentary, Cracked Up, which explores Darryl Hammond’s recovery from childhood trauma. And sometimes we do not do so well.

Whatever we choose we give it the five (5) minute rule. A mobster movie by Ben Affleck did not make it past five minutes. A quirky passion project by Noël Wells made it past the first five minutes and all the way to the end (although I don’t recommend it). Both were written and directed by the lead actor which, to me, is the sign of disaster. We all need someone else to call us on our bad choices. At times, we can use someone on the outside to see what we cannot see because we are in the picture. However, having a trusted friend or mentor giving us a reality check, is a concept for another post.

Why I bring these films up is because one of the running gags in Ms. Wells’ movie is throwing water in the face of someone who is spazzing out.  When a character is upset, mad, sad, angry, frustrated, or at the end of their rope, a glass of water is thrown in their face. At first, the soaked character is angry but then they soften into laughter. For me, gratitude is like a glass of water in the face. No matter what is going on, if I can take a few minutes and recite what I am grateful for, I find that my bad mood is miraculously lifted.

water splash
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

For many years, I tried to think myself out of pain. I would use logic. I would use cognitive behavior therapy tools. Yet my mind seemed to get trapped in resentments and fears. This is because the mind that created the problem, could not solve the problem. I had to get out of my mind. I find now that action more than thinking helps me break my funk. In Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, Richard Rohr states, “Humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living.” Living differently, acting differently gets me out of a funk more quickly than trying to think my way out of it.

The action I take may be to phone a friend to see how they are doing, to go for a walk, or to consciously do the dishes. These activities help me break the replaying of my mental angst. They are that glass of water. A gratitude list is also a powerful action. Ann Voskamp said, “No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. ANY amount of gratitude changes the present.”

After decades of researching, coaching, and self-reflection, I have finally realized that knowing why I am feeling bad is great knowledge, but knowledge does not give me peace. Changing others in the hopes that I feel better is impossible and if I does happen, their change does not help my thinking. Trying to convince my mind to think and believe differently takes a lot of reprogramming and does not solve everything. The solution lies not solely in the mind, but in the heart and in action.

Every morning I take a few moments to recount what I am grateful for and if I need to, which I usually do, I also focus on gratitude throughout my day. I find this keeps me away from focusing on lack. Gratitude helps me find joy, appreciate my relationships, and keeps me in the moment – not in the regret of the past or the worry of the future.

Here is a small example of how-to turnaround anxiety into gratitude. My neighbors’ have a lot of cars they park on the street which makes it hard for me to back into my driveway. This used to make me angry (mostly because it is tough for me to back-in even when there are not obstacles). When I notice my mind replaying negativity about my parking situation, I begin to recite my gratitude. I have a car. I have the ability to drive. I have a house with a driveway where it is kept. I have money for gas. I have the ability to buy groceries because I can drive to the store. I follow the gratitude story for as long as I need to in order to feel calm and centered again.

Take a moment now. What are you worried, anxious or upset about? Can you turn it into gratitude? Can you stop thinking and take action?

handling covid-19

Dealing with the Fear of Uncertainty

At an online work meeting the other day, management shared this graphic which was found on LinkedIn. The message is beautiful, but unfortunately the author of the graphic could not be found. The graphic is focused on the current pandemic, yet the message can be applied to our lives in general.

who do I choose to be during the Covid-19

Over the last month or so, if I am going to be absolutely honest, I have been wavering between the fear, learning and growth zones. Two weeks before our state announced official stay-at-home requirements, I fell into the fear zone. The unknown tends to send us into fear. In the States, fear transformed into lack of toilet paper – for whatever reason. Being in a hurricane zone, it was funny to watch how like myself, my neighbors prepared for the virus like we would a hurricane. We stockpiled water and food. I saw lines at the gas stations. Our fears from previous storms, made us act similar ways – even though surviving a tropical storm is very different than surviving a virus.

Isn’t it interesting how our fear – fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of others’ actions – makes us act in unhelpful ways? After leaving the hoarding phase, I noticed my tendency to use food (usually bad-for-me “comfort” food) and distraction (Candy Crush / Netflix) to make me feel better. If it did do anything to alleviate or dampen my fear, the affect was usually short-lived and often caused more issues than it solved. My unconscious mind thinks coffee, chocolate, and binge-watching are the easier, softer way to reduce my fear. All it really does is puts fear on a pause button, and then fear comes back with a vengeance once the pacifier is removed.

The seemingly easier, softer way is in the fear zone – sharing information (without fact checking), hoarding, blaming others, and drowning overthinking-brains in alcohol or carbs. Unfortunately, no matter what is going on, this does not work. What does work is when we can move into the learning or the growth zones.

These zones are full of acceptance, surrender, compassion, and conscious action. This is where we stop fighting reality and learn instead the power of accepting what is really going on. We surrender to the new reality and surrender our misguided belief that we can control the uncontrollable. We stop having pity-parties for ourselves and begin look to who we can help. Sometimes we are able to help in big ways as in the case of the front-line healthcare workers, sometimes it is an action like delivering food to shut-ins or those without work, and sometimes it just means picking up the phone and connecting with someone who needs to hear a friend’s voice.

The difference is that in the fear zone we are avoiding reality and believe we can control the uncontrollable. In the learning and growth zones, we accept reality and act on what is within our means to affect.

Take some time to review how you are handling this unprecedented situation. Which zone are you spending most of your time in? Don’t attack yourself for spending time in the fear zone; it happens as we are all human. Just use this review to consciously decide where you want to be and how you want to spend your time.

Hang in there. Share your success and struggles with us here.

couple greeting with a hug

You had me at hello

Mexico is just beginning its quarantine as cases here thankfully lag behind other parts of the world. This past week I ran to the utility companies to pay a few months in advance before practicing stay-at-home for the safety of all. It was so funny to see Mexicans who are used to greeting each other warmly and physically, having to keep social distance. I saw more than one couple recognize each other, begin to move in for the hug and single-cheek kiss, then back off awkwardly laughing. In these times, even greeting each other has shifted for all of us.

Lately, I am finding that I am taking that extra moment at the beginning of an email, phone call, or video chat to sincerely ask how someone is. Hopefully I had been doing that regularly with friends and family, but now I am finding that I am doing it with everyone with whom I interact. And I see others doing the same. One beautiful shift as a result of this pandemic is a return to humanity, concern, and compassion.

Photo by Chermiti Mohamed on Unsplash

Last fall my cousin who visits South Korean regularly, shared with me how they say hello. If you put 안녕하세요 (annyeong-haseyo) into a translator, it will translate this common South Korean greeting into “hello.” What my cousin explained to me is that the more accurate translation is, “are you at peace?” The literal translation sounds a bit like Yoda, “peace are you doing?” The common response is, “yes” or “yes, are you at peace?” Another common greeting translates to, “have you eaten?”. My cousin wondered if these phrases came about because of the hardships this community has experienced due to South Korea’s long history of war, invasion, and occupation, or perhaps they are the result of the Buddhist influence in the area.

These days I have noticed I have changed my common greeting to, “¿Cómo están tú y tu familia?” or “How are you and your family?” Before getting to business, before bringing up the reason for my call, I am checking in on that person’s mental and physical health and the well-being of their family. Seems like this should be a no-brainer and a common practice, but the fact that I notice I am doing it, means it was not a daily practice. I am also finding myself purposefully reaching out to people to remain connected and to provide support.

Unfortunately, this has made me realize the that although I have slowed down and become more considerate, being constantly and consistently focused on the well-being of those around me is still not innate or second nature for me. I am still challenged, as many of us are, to always focus on what is really important. Over the years, I have focused on titles, accomplishment, checklists, money, accumulation, and success, and each and every time I find that the connection to and health and well-being of friends and family are more important than everything else.

How is this time when most of the world is at rest, affecting what you perceive is important? How is it changing the quality of your connection and communication?

happy face

I’d like to be happy. How about you?

For much of my life I have battled depression. Some of the depression is due to a loss or a challenge. Much of my book and coaching centers around changing thoughts and behaviors to minimize the impact of “for cause” depression, sadness, anger, and anxiety. I have found the best approach for this type of issue is to reframe how we see that situation. Most of the time we are blowing things out of proportion, wanting to change what can’t be changed (lacking acceptance), or seeing things not as they are but as colored by our past experiences. Talking through the dishonest beliefs we have about difficult situations can often provide relief.

The depression I am trying to work through now, the one that has visited me throughout my life, is the depression which seems to appear out of nowhere and for no reason. Cognitive behavioral therapy, the basis of much of what I do, does not work with this type of depression because there is nothing to talk about. The depression is not based in a specific issue or life event. The depression is more chemical or emotional. It is not due to external circumstances. What I am learning is because this type of depression is not grounded in the mind, the cures are not either. 

What I have found best to deal with this type of depression is to get out of my mind through meditation, exercise, connection, and service. I use meditation to stop the mental-monkey-chatter and hamster-wheel-of-anxiety. I turn to exercise to get out of my mind and into my body. Depression thrives in isolation because being alone allows the mind to continuously play the negative tape without end. Reaching out and connecting with others is a powerful tool to keep depression from expanding. A branch of connection is actively trying to serve others. Providing compassionate assistance to others, helps me get out of myself and my self-pity.

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

In my search to find help for depression, I stumbled on a group that is focusing on happiness. Until the last fifteen or so years, much psychologic research was focus on illness and negative experience (anger, sadness, clinical diagnoses).* The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley (GGSC) is researching happiness; defining it, quantifying it, and providing scientifically-based tools to help us learn to be happier.

Although some of us may think that either we are born happy or not, happiness is a learned trait. Three factors affect our happiness: our genes (50%), our environment or circumstances (10%), and how we approach things (40%).* We may not be able to change our genetics, but we do have control over much of our circumstances and all of how we approach things. I agree with the GGSC that we all have the power to affect our level of happiness.

I signed up for the Science of Happiness course being offered through GGSC. In my upcoming posts, I am sure you will see some of what I learn. Due to more loneliness, the rise of narcissism, and the increase in inequality, depression is becoming more prevalent in the United States.* We can do something for ourselves and for those around us. I encourage you to learn more at GGSC’s website and if you want some help and support in your own life, please reach out. We all deserve to be happy and joyful.

*from GGSC