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Archive for November, 2009

This week as everyone prepares to give thanks for their family, or a meal or their favorite football team, I find myself wanting to thank the people who made me who I am today. Until recently re-building friendships on Facebook, I would not have been able to tell you how much people from my past…my way, way back in the past…are very much a part of who I have become. It is this group for whom I am grateful. Of course, the list also includes co-workers, family members and neighbors. Add the boss who fired me without justification; and the boyfriend who dumped me without provocation and the gratitude continues. If not for the miseries, the stronger more resilient human would not have emerged.

You see, I’m pretty happy with who I am at this very moment. I am not the perfect weight, height nor do I have perfect skin. I am not as influential or quite as far along the path as I would have imagined I would be by now, but I am happy. I am content and peaceful and appreciative of all the experiences, mistakes and lifetimes I’ve lived becoming me. I am also optimistic that my story continues to get better as life continues on.

I am the consummate survivor, but I am not without defect. I’ve had to learn “humble.” It doesn’t come all that naturally for my people. We’re small, but we think we’re huge. It is our survival technique. Without simple honesties from people who love me, there would be no humility, without the heartache there would not be joy, and without tragedy there would be no triumph! All of these make me grateful.

As I always say, it’s the little things that make the lifelong difference in the lives of people around us. The things we learn in life are the things we practice at work. There is no separation between the two. The more my home and work lives intersect, the more grateful I am for who I am becoming.

So, for the many teachers I have had the honor of learning from, whether they knew they were teaching me or not, thank you for everything you have taught me: courage, tenderness, trust, strength, change, compassion, determination, love, betrayal, laughter, inspiration, wit, death, dignity, honesty, equanimity, serenity, humility, sacrifice, perseverance, sorrow and forgiveness. These are the life lessons that make for a story worth reading about; these are the lessons I will strive to protect. These are the things that make me take pause and say thank you. I will do this more often.

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What’s your life’s story going to be?  I’m reading a book by Donald Miller entitled A Million Miles in A Thousand Years where Miller re-writes his own life, edits it actually, for adaptation to a screenplay.

Given the chance, would you perform a re-write?  I’m not finished with the book, but the question I am asking myself alongside Miller is why not go ahead and re-write it for the better now…why not move forward with a better ending?  Miller’s research shows that a quality storyline is one where the character overcomes adversity giving the audience something to cheer about.

If you could tell your story of life, what would you say?  Would your screenplay be worth watching?  What would the critics say?  It’s YOUR life; it’s your story, you can make it anything imaginable, right?

If your home or work life is riddled with mediocrity or unhappiness why not write a new ending to the next 90 days for starters? I’m not talking about a bucket list containing things like “one day I will skydive” or “travel to India,” I’m talking about an action plan of HOW you’re going to change your story. Life it seems is more easily measured by words and actions than thoughts or feelings (or bucket lists) anyway.

Putting a new story in motion might require creating a new character or a modification to the old one. I didn’t realize there was such a difference, but now I do. The difference is in putting the story in motion as opposed to fantasizing on paper; fantasy turns into longing which eventually turns into craving something you don’t have or have not yet done.

For instance, I spoke with a friend going through a bizarre separation and we resolved that “if your Holiday’s are going to suck this year, why not re-write what your Holiday looks like?”

Instead of dreading being alone or anticipating all the emotions that time of year can bring, moreover what this particular year will bring, volunteer at a soup kitchen or work part time at a Christmas tree lot.  Make new traditions, find even one thing to move you out of your normal patterns or traditions; start your re-write one paragraph at a time.

But where does one begin?  I learned the true meaning of a new word at my recent meditation retreat, equanimous (the word in its adjective form) or in its common form as a noun, equanimity.  Equanimity by Webster’s means evenness of mind especially under stress, right disposition, balance…all great concepts, but I learned a richer, more personal definition to mean the place BETWEEN craving and aversion; between longing and avoidance.  This is the only place you can begin to re-write your story.

In my friend’s case, it’s more appropriately described as a way of not only tolerating but accepting things as they are in this moment and not yearning for her story to read differently but making it read differently.  This is her time to write a story that begins from that particular place of balance; that place where longing and loathing make way for equanimity.

Re-writing may seem like avoidance but it’s more about creating a “now” that serves as a zone between the way things used to be and the way they will be in the future.  This is the place from which the character creates her fresh reality; her enhanced plot, her happily ever after…at least a happily ever after for today, tomorrow you can re-write from that point and the day after, yep, you can start again.  It’s your movie; take it out of the documentary drama category and remake it into action adventure.

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By the time you read this I will be experiencing day five of my 10-day Vipassana–my quest to see things as they really are; my vow of noble silence.  Noble silence means silence of body, speech and mind.  In total, I am five days into the absence of phone, TV, internet, blackberry, iPod, kindle and if you didn’t catch it the first time around…talking!

By now, I’ve quieted the voices in my head and there’s no telling what I’m hearing now.  Surely I’ve gotten some of what I came here to listen to.  For me, this is the ultimate gift I could give myself; the opportunity to stop everything and smell everything.  I thought it a nice time to reprint this post from August 9th with the intention of asking you to take time to breathe and smell the glorious roses that are possibly right there below your nose.  Enjoy Stop and Smell the Roses about taking time to be quiet and to rejuvenate from within:

Actually for me, it was chile…no roses, not this weekend—I didn’t needto smell the roses—I needed comfort food and family.  A dozen fresh cut New Dawn pale pink roses couldn’t lure me away from the smell of fresh roasting Hatch green chile outside a Whole Foods in Albuquerque.  I stood mesmerized as the tumbler full of bright green peppers danced their way to perfection. It was the ideal scent to transport me to another place and time—the entire purpose of my impromptu trip.

I’m 30 days out from my very first fair as the director of marketing.  My days have crept up from 8 to 10 to 12 hours already just getting prepared for the 10-day event.  By the time the fair is in full swing, I’m sure they will be 16 to 18 hours long.  I’m getting ready.  I’m preparing ME for the crazy ride.

I believe in the “flight attendant philosophy,” put your mask on first, and then attend to those around you.  Take care of yourself first!  Self-serving or smart?  Both, but I figure if I’m in a good frame of mind, it’s probably good on the people around me.  If I can “breathe,” chances are they can, too!  It’s a give-and-take kinda pay-it-forward way to survive.  It’s how I roll.  That’s why I took a long weekend to escape to some of the comforts of what I know: New Mexico, family, green chile, clean air, and a weekend class of meditation.  What an invaluable gift I gave myself; and one I can give to the people I will interact with over the next 30 days.  As much as I hate the cliché, it’s a win-win!

The deadlines will still be there when my plane lands at noon.  The stress regarding what’s yet to be done is still overwhelming.  The problems and personalities won’t have changed by the time I locate my car in short-term parking.  The task of finalizing the advertising campaign has not lessened in the 3 days away from home…BUT, the five foot one and three-quarter tall woman who has assumed the role feels ten feet tall and bullet proof today!  I am ready to assume responsibility for what lies ahead: the good, the bad and the ugly.  There WILL be ugly.  I’m still ready.  I am at peace with what I’ve created and how it’s developing.  I am at the point of surrender and smile.  I was not in this place a week ago.

In the midst of the everyday hustle and bustle, it’s important to stop and smell whatever it is that you need to smell.  For me, it was chile, but unless you really are in charge of the planet’s war and peace efforts, you might want to consider taking a break.  I don’t feel overwhelmed tonight, I feel equipped.  I don’t feel burdened by the responsibility, I feel empowered.  I don’t feel panicked to get home, I feel clear-headed.  Take that break you’ve been putting off.  Stop to put your oxygen mask on.  Take a deep breath and give yourself a chance to recover…you can’t afford not to.

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The Stones said it best when they advised, “You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometimes you just might find…you get what you need.”  That’s really what life is all about, right?  Getting our basic needs met; the rest of our time is spent trying on different masks, cloaked in various costumes being who we need to be to realize those primal goals.

Well, maybe that’s a bit over-simplistic, but at the core of survival is selfishness…as it should be.  And how we go about getting what we want is where we, as humans, have become extremely resourceful.  We don masks, we wear hats; we exude personae.

The word persona comes from the Greeks and literally means, “mask.”  Persona is a term given to describe the versions of self that all individuals possess.  When I read that definition, I sat back and tried to count the many masks of me…it’s enlightening to see who I have become and how I protected when that survival instinct kicked in.

I reflect on the many costumes I have worn in my life.  For Halloween at least I’ve been a doctor, a warrior and a clown at one time or another and as I think about it, they are all outward expressions of the fixer, fighter and fool within.  I can honestly say that every mask I wear in the workplace, whether it’s flattering or not is a part of who I am as well.  What mask are you wearing at work right now?  The negotiator or the bully?  The pacifist or the blow hard?  The counselor or the gossiper?

The amount of energy it takes to be a positive character over a negative one is the same, so why are there so many witches and grim reaper’s lingering around? Chances are it boils down to the basic needs of that person, their primal instinct. More than likely their insecurities run so deep that their only protection is to ward people off with their hexes and spells. When we can look at negative people from that perspective; you can almost have compassion for them where there once was none. But like the Rolling Stones sang, you can’t always get what you WANT, but you DO get what you need. In this case, it is survive, the need to get by.

So next time you run across one of those characters at the office, outfitted in an invisible mask of doom with matching cloak of gloom, take a moment to find out what their basic need might be.  Look behind their mask to what they’re avoiding and chances are you will find a frightened, self-doubting person who only owns one “survival” costume.

This caring persona will allow you to peer at them through the eyes of your new mask of kindness.

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