Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | May 5, 2014

Mitigated Bliss

I’m in California for a couple days for life coach training. The resort where the training is being held is spectacular, located between the beach and the mountains.

Between the end of the training and my flight taking me home again was about 4 hours, which I naturally wanted to spend at the beach. Sitting there in the sun, listening to the waves and watching people enjoy the heck out of themselves themselves playing in the water, I was sad that I hadn’t thought to bring a bathing suit.

It didn’t take very long for the idea of plunging into the ocean in my underwear to occur to me. And it didn’t take very much longer for me to decide to actually do it.

Now, I am not the kind of girl who naturally runs around in nicely matching underwear. The panties I was wearing have the Grinch on them (and a caption that says “define naughty”…appropos for what I was about to do in them, but not exactly seasonal for May. Or likely to help them pass for a bikini bottom.) My beige bra neither matched my panties nor looked much like a bikini top.

In addition to looking like something off the People of Walmart website, as soon as I went into the water my makeshift bikini filled completely up with rough, gritty sand. My hair did the same thing. Now, this was entirely predictable, right? In fact, you almost certainly saw this coming as soon as you figured out where I was going with my little story.

In my head, however, I was going to get wet and cold but not necessarily gritty all over. Any sand that did stick to me was going to dry and brush off long before I hit the airport. I was going to be the brave, bold, bodacious girl who went into the ocean in her underwear because she prioritized bliss over social convention.

And I am all of those things. I am also the girl who is going to spend the next 14 or 16 hours on various airplanes with sand in my pants. (Yes, I had dry underwear to change into. I didn’t really have access to a shower, however, and sand is pretty sticky stuff.) I’m going to smell a little funny on these various airplanes, and there may be some sunburn to deal with as well. And the people who notice that I smell funny aren’t necessarily going to think “wow, what a brave, bodacious girl she is.” They are likely to go off with some entirely different story about me in their heads. And there’s nothing I can do about that, like it or not. (Not really, as it turns out.)

And all of this is just the way the world works. Because bliss isn’t always unmitigated. I like to think that it is…but telling myself that story actually limits the amount I can really enjoy the world as it is.

The thing is, it’s worth it. A little sand in my pants isn’t going to kill me. If anything, it’ll remind me all the way home that I took the plunge, literally, and immersed myself in the cool, crisp ocean on a hot spring day. And any negative impressions about me that pop up for the people who cross my path are, quite frankly, none of my business. Any discomfort I experience because I decided to follow what felt right to me is just part of the journey, and that’s okay. Because the people on this journey with and around me confirm that some of the moments along the way aren’t entirely blissful. Doing the right thing can hurt or be annoying or inconvenient. And it’s worth it anyway. Feel the fear and do it anyway, they say. In this case, I’m sure I’ll feel the sand in my pants all the way home. And I’m still glad I did it anyway.

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | November 19, 2013

Making Space

At the recent Systems Thinking in Action conference, I participated in a session on making space for reflection and thoughtful career planning. The group was talking specifically about the lives of women in this panel, but I think the key insights we synthesized apply equally to all genders.

  1. It all starts with your own self-acceptance. Other people can’t accept you if you don’t accept yourself.
  2. Our tendency to pathologize uncertainty is a problem. Not knowing is a necessary and valuable step on the way to knowing, quit hassling yourself for being at that stage.
  3. Your body can help you identify and carve out the mental and emotional space you need to align your life. Make a point of listening to what it has to tell you.
  4. Not “having all your shit together” is okay. The recognition that you don’t have it all figured out puts you in the right space to learn and grow, and that’s all to the good.
  5. Life is full of polarities. Both the yin and the yang are important to an integrated whole. Avoid the thinking error that says one side is wrong.

 

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | September 12, 2012

Burning

Even after all this time
The sun has never said to the Earth
You owe me.
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights up the whole sky.
-Hafiz

The problem with a love like that, of course, is that the sun is totally engulfed. Burning all the way through. Saving nothing back for itself. Giving everything of itself to shed light for others near and far. And, in the end, it will collapse or explode, destroying the Earth and the other celestial bodies that have gathered in its gravity field and come to depend on its largess for their direction and energy.

I loved that poem when I first saw it. Carried it with me for ages. Years later, I finally thought to wonder if it really represents a model to which I ought to aspire after all.

For me, love isn’t something I do as part of an expected quid pro quo. I don’t expect anyone I love to “owe me”. But I do find that there are some people who are naturally grateful for the love, support, and attention that they receive. Those people, according to both happiness research and my personal observation, tend to be happier and ore at peace with the world around them. Funnily enough that joy tends to make it easier and more fun to lavish more love and attention on them.

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | June 12, 2012

Picking Your Mirrors

“Use us as a mirror…” a friend said to me…

It was, strangely, an idea I’ve been carefully and specifically rejecting for 6 years, ever since I located this amazing group I think of as “my people.” Be careful, I tell myself. Don’t think approval in this strange and wonderful subculture means anything. Don’t think that people who know you liking you and seeming to approve of you means anything inthe real world. Above all, I tell myself, don’t ever let yourself trust that it’s actually enough.

And yet, the more I get to know the sub-culture (which I generally refer to as “the geeks” in conversation, but which are often fundamentally misrepresented by generalizations such as this one), the more their opinions mean to me. And the less I care about what the “mundanes” think-of me, or of anything else for that matter.

Now, as a business owner, and a professional, and a neighbor, and a member of society, there are some rules I don’t have any desire to break. But at the end of the day, I realize more and more that I don’t flippin’ care if I match Cosmo magazine’s standards of beauty, or Fortune magazine’s standard’s of success, or some 21-year-old’s standards of energy, or some minister’s standards of morality. For the record, I don’t… But every one of those standards are designed by people I don’t know, whose values and world view I don’t share.

Because I’m figuring out that what I care about is what the people who know me think of me. For so long, I’ve discounted the opinions of my nearest and dearest exactly because they know me. Somehow I believed that it was only the opinions of strangers that mattered. That only strangers could judge me “objectively” (read: harshly enough to satisfy my worst inner critics.) That the less I lived up to a given standard, the more significant that standard was.

Perhaps it’s part of that terrible process of growing up – realizing that I not only can but have the obligation to pick my own mirrors. Not that there aren’t others who will be happy to do it for me – the aforementioned media and magazines and various political or commercial or religious institutions. But at the end of the day, any mirror selected by someone else is likely to reflect what they value, and not necessarily what I value, and that’s really not very helpful in helping me see what is important to me.

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | April 21, 2012

Enough…

“That’s enough.”

As a kid, it’s never a good thing when an adult says that. As a kid, typically we’re pretty sure it’s not really enough…not enough ice cream, not enough running around, not enough staying up late to watch tv.

When we become that elusive grown-up, we find that we’re still waiting for someone to tell us when we’ve done enough. Enough work hours in a week. Enough exercise. Enough volunteer activity. Enough good works for others. Only, as an adult, there’s nobody there to tell us when we’ve reached that magic point.

Instead, we typically hear exactly the opposite. Harder, faster, longer. “The extra mile isn’t extra any longer,” tweeted one ambitious millennial I know. “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I’ll show you a failure.”, said Thomas Edison.

Indeed, declaring for ourselves that we’ve found the point of enough and we are going to be satisfied with it is not only personally challenging, it’s countercultural. Heck, it’s downright revolutionary! And the dirty little secret is, it’s not as dangerous to success as people would have you believe.  For example, napping (the very definition of the lazy, according to some) has actually been shown to increase performers by those slackers at NASA.

The secret to success isn’t doing more. It’s actually doing less. Focusing on a few things that you enjoy and do well is the secret, and to do that, you have to get really good at saying “enough” to a lot of things that don’t add value to your life. And you have to say it for yourself, because nobody else is going to say it for you. In fact, they’re going to get really cranky when you say it to them. But that’s all right, because you can always smile at them and tell them “I have enough on my plate already, thanks.”

 

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | March 31, 2012

The hardest pose…

Lying in Savasana at the end of yoga class this morning, my mind began to wander, as it often does. People I know…problems I’m facing…my upcoming weekend…sometimes it feels like Savasana is the only quiet thinking time I allow myself in a day.

But I’ve been practicing long enough to know better. It’s not so much that I know I’m supposed to have a still mind during Savasana…I’m enough of a rebel to not care so much about rules like that. With me, it’s more that I’ve had really good, quiet minded savasanas, and they’re worth working for.

So I started working on it. Actively shifting my attention into my body, feeling my feet, my legs…oops, there goes my mind again. Off on another tangent. Back to my body, mind. Feel what I’m feeling. Ahhh…there it is…I can almost start to feel the buzz come into the edges of my consciousness. I know, though, that I don’t dare change my focus to think about the buzz, because that’s thinking, and I have to keep feeling here or I’ll have to start all over.

Slowly, slowly, I find that state of consciousness I’m looking for. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve done during the course of the entire class…and this is Amy Thomas advanced hot vinyasa class. Headstand? Sure, but I’ve been doing that for years. It took awhile to build the strength in my arms, but it came in time, and with practice.

Savasana is the same way, requiring strength and practice. Somehow, though, strength of mind seems harder to build and easier to atrophy.

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | February 3, 2012

Learning to Ask…

I spent a lot of time over the last six months intending abundance during the “intentions” part of my yoga classes…and recently, I realized that it was time to admit that I needed some serious help dealing with all this abundance, so I changed my intention to be more about asking for help.

This has had very mixed levels of success. Let’s take the first three people I brought on to help me with a work project. Person number 1 I’ve known for more than 10 years, I considered her a friend in an addition to a colleague. She stood me up for our initial meeting to discuss the project, but I (unwisely) let that go because of our long-standing relationship. She signed the letter of agreement, attended the project kick-off, assured me she had time to complete her first deliverable several days later…and then instead of sending me that deliverable sent me an e-mail saying that because she got another project, she would be unable to commit to the project. Silly me, I thought she’d done that already. Ok, fine.

Person number 2 did not have the level of skill I thought she did, and I own my part in this misunderstanding. For example, the work I need help with is largely writing. We did discuss that she had a computer with MS Word on it, that would be available to her for this project. I apparently forgot to ask her if she knew how to use it for basic tasks like typing in tables and proofreading documents. OK, my bad. You live and you learn…but as it turned out her skills were not at a level that was useful to me on the project.

Person number 3 was so fabulous I actually rethought my entire business strategy to move away from contracting and consider bringing on an employee for the first time. And she did, indeed take a job. With a much bigger and more established company.

Three for three. Okay. Time to start over. With a deadline the size of Mount Doom hanging over my head.

The upshot is, the results of my first attempt were…suboptimal.

So I was pondering this during yoga class the other night. When I’m not supposed to be pondering anything, actually. But be that as it may, I found myself coming to the conclusion that perhaps the universe didn’t want me asking for help.

Even in my stressed out and overwrought state, I managed to reject that idea fairly quickly. First of all, well, just shenanigans. Second of all, there’s no way I can meet my client’s expectations by myself – there aren’t enough hours in the year. Third of all, frankly, even I can tell that’s a cop out.

The next thought that came to me was more of a memory. I had a clear vision of myself walking up Meridian street about 15 years ago, shortly after I took the first real vacation of my adult life.

The vacation went well enough. The trip was to Florida, and there were some high points and some low points. The weather was bad, but I saw some wild dolphins for the first time. But going back to work afterward was a real challenge. I hadn’t planned very well to be out of work, and my e-mail and my desk was a complete mess when I returned. I remember going through a thought process very similar to the one that struck me around the asking for help challenge. First I thought, well, perhaps I just shouldn’t take vacations. Then I realized, shenanigans. And that I’d just have to learn how to take vacations. And so I did. I’m really good at it now. I know how to prepare so things go smoothly when I’m gone, and the technology makes it easy to stay in touch just enough so that I don’t worry or have too much to catch up on when I get back.

So I’ll just have to go through the same process with asking for help. I need learn to get clear about what it is I actually need, and learn to prepare so people can understand what they can do to help me. I need to remember to stay in touch enough to answer questions as they come up. I need to make sure that I stay down out of the weeds enough to keep an eye on the whole project. I need to realize and get comfortable with the realization that the work required to understand what I need is just as important – often even more so – than the work required to move toward getting the need met, and the diving right in and trying to start without a plan is not the most efficient way to attach problems past a certain size.

And I’ll have to go through the paradigm shift of recognizing that I do not need to do everything myself. That I have a unique role to play, and trying to do everything can actually take away from my ability to do the things that only I can do.

It’s a new way of thinking, just like preparing for a vacation was a new way of thinking for me 15 years ago. But I managed that paradim shift, and I’ll manage this one. The universe certainly does seem bent on making sure I do…

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | January 15, 2012

Exit Strategies

If you’ve ever met me, you might have picked up on the fact that I’m terrible at asking for help. A girl can’t be good at everything, and this simply isn’t one of my strengths. Yes, there are deep baggag-ey reasons for this, but there is also no point is focusing on the baggage around it. The fact of the matter is I don’t like asking, or admitting that I can’t do things all by myself.

As it so often the case when I find myself needing to learn something I’m bad at, my angels have decided to help me learn this particular skill. Kind of them. I’ll refrain from commenting on what kind… As Carolyn Myss points out, our angels are here to make sure we learn our lessons, by putting them in front of us until we do…not by helping us avoid them.

And so I find myself in a situation where I have tremendous opportunities in front of me but opportunities that I can’t possibly take advantage of without some help. Realizing this, I went out and recruited some help. I found 3 people to help me. Person #1 bailed on me less than a week after committing to help me. Person #2 is likely to leave within a few weeks, chasing a better offer. Person #3 turns out to be poorly qualified to help, at least in a “hit the ground running” kind of way. Terrible luck.

Except it isn’t, really, when I take a step back and look at it. When I think back to my recruiting process, I realize that person #1 actually stood me up for our “interview.” I thought at the time that I’d decline to extend her an offer to help, but ended up doing so anyway, for no particularly good reason. Person #2 signed on with the explicit understanding that she was looking for something else and would be leaving within a matter of weeks, so the excellent interview she had right away wasn’t actually a surprise. And I never bothered to ask Person #3 the right questions during the interview – I realize now that my “gut level” reaction that I should hire her was most likely a pattern triggered by the discovery that she matched the pattern of being someone I could rescue – something I’ve consistently tried to do since I was a kid (as my therapist pointed out, that’s why they call them patterns).

So I am back nearly to square one very quickly – the chance to start over. And I find myself thinking of something one of my favorite yoga teachers talks about in class – “exit strategies”. She suggests that when we find ourselves in a difficult pose, we tend to pick that moment to reach for the water bottle, or head for the restroom, or break the pose for some other reason. And I realize with hindsight that this is exactly what I’ve done to myself. My baggage tells me that I don’t really want help – because it scares me to rely on other people, because if I accept help it means I can’t do it all by myself and that means I’m inadequate, because I’m a silly girl. So I set myself up with some lovely exit strategies.

Clever of me, but…unhelpful.

Luckily, as my angels are wont to do, I’ve been given an opportunity to try again. This time I’m trying to look at the situation differently. This time, I’m trying to look at it as less a need for help and more an opportunity to fully play my specific role in the universe’s plan by finding the right resources to fill out the projects. Like I try and do in difficult yoga poses, this time I’m trying to look my exit strategy in the face and take one more breath, to see if something shifts and allows me to stay in the pose a little longer.

If it does, great. And if it doesn’t, I’m sure my angels will give me yet another opportunity to try again. That does seem to be their strategy.

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | April 22, 2011

My Favorite Time of Year

The Entertainment Weekly Summer Movie Preview showed up the other day. Of course, I devoured it. I love summer movies. I’d say they’re a guilty pleasure, but I don’t really feel all the guilty about it. Hey, I’m supporting the economy. Besides, it’s fun.

The reason this is my favorite time of year is because none of the movies have disappointed me yet. Right now, a couple of weeks before the first would-be summer blockbusters come out, everything has the potential to be Iron Man. The first one.

I know that many of the movies will eventually disappoint. But hope is fun. More fun than cynicism, at least. Pessimists may be right more often, but optimists are happier. And I’m happy just being that way.

Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | October 27, 2010

Changes…and maybe even blessings

The thing about being sick – or, I suppose, any change in one’s physical capacity, is that it doesn’t just change that physical capacity. It also changes how you see yourself. I am used to thinking of myself as the capable one – the one who can power through and get it done no matter what. Lack of sleep, computer crashes, personal crises…whatever. I am a deadline meeter. Friend in need? I am care taker – I want to be the one to make it all right, or at least to provide the shoulder to cry on when I can’t. And at the same time, I am independent. I don’t need anybody – and when I do to rely on someone and they let me down, I tell everybody (myself included) that it’s no problem.

You notice how I’m using present tense there. Yeah. So this new way of seeing myself hasn’t exactly caught on yet. (You may also notice that I’m sounding pretty good up there. The funny thing is, I am not entirely convinced I actually MEET all those standards – it’s more that I expect myself to meet them.)

And while I’m not entirely sure I want it to, I’m not entirely sure I don’t, either. I mean, sure, I always want to be the person you can rely on to meet my commitments. But maybe it’s a good thing to have to be a little more careful about making those commitments in the first place. I always want to be a good friend. But maybe there’s a line past which I’m more of an enabler than an actual friend. I always want to be able to take care of myself. But independence is a pretty hollow goal. How about I try for interdependence with a group of people instead.

I am certainly not there yet. But maybe, if I can get there, this THING will turn out to be more of a blessing than it looked like at first.

Perhaps I’ve heard that idea somewhere before…

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