Let Go or Be Dragged

A profound Zen proverb. My incredibly insightful friend Janine said this to me on the phone a few weeks ago. I was struggling. My father’s health continues to falter in what seems like a ceaseless spiral. My boyfriend, Roy, commenced his epic thru hike of the Appalachian Trail several weeks ago. A Rotary friend is suffering from ALS.  A close friend’s mother passed away. When we talk about Letting Go for  many, it is the letting go of the past. Or it is the letting go of regret, pain and rumination. I feel like I need to let go of control. I think back some 25 years ago when I had a leash on a 100-pound Labrador and a 45-pound Siberian Husky, and a dreaded cat showed up in our path. The dogs took off with me behind. I struggled. I tugged. I strained. But upon coming up to an enormous pond of water, I relinquished and let go. I was at the edge of being dragged, so I finally let go.

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Lest you be dragged, here are my thoughts on letting go:

  • Clairvoyant.  You and I are not Carnac the Magnificent or The Amazing Kreskin. I was catastrophizing my dad’s recent move to a higher care unit.  Oh, my goodness; he’ll be alone.  He’ll fall and be all by himself. He will think we all abandoned him. I was sure that Roy was going to fall and break something or freeze to death in his tent in the middle of the Smoky Mountains.  I decided that my son would never be able to fly back to the United States safely from Nicaragua. Thus far this is all unfounded.  It was all a waste of energy and caused me needless pain.  I cannot predict the future.  Neither can you.  Let it go or be dragged.

 

  • Path.  Stick to your own path and I’ll stick to mine.  On the Appalachian Trail this is called Hike Your Own Hike. Do you want to sleep under a tarp, in a shelter, in a hammock or a tent?  It’s your choice.  It’s your path.  Don’t worry about someone else’s path.  If Roy wants to hike through the rain or stop in a local town for a day or muscle through a fifteen-mile day, it’s his hike.  His path.  My willing him forward will not change the path he is on. There was one day last week where I could see a rain cloud sitting over the mountains where Roy was hiking.  I had the misguided belief that if I kept refreshing the radar, that the rain would move.  It didn’t.  Let go or be dragged.

 

  • Reframe. I have several pictures that my children drew or painted some ten plus years ago. They were nice but unframed. Pieces of paper with chalk and paint. Then I framed them all.  They were much improved. And all it took was a new frame. I thought about this when my father was in the middle of his move to the assisted living section.  I recalled how happy he was when he was hospitalized a few months earlier.  He enjoyed the food, no commitments and being cared for.  I put that frame around his move.  I figured he’ll actually be more comfortable and the tension on my parents’ relationship will ease.  Sure enough, that is what happened.  Look at your struggle in a different light.  Let go or be dragged.

 

  • Connect. I was initially ashamed of my suffering. This changed dramatically when I connected with others. This might be a therapist, a coach, family or a friend. It’s incredibly powerful to have someone reflect back on your pain or struggle. That someone to hold a safe space to “feel the feels.”  You are not alone.  There is someone out there who wants to listen, pick up the phone or send a text or make an appointment.  I am fortunate to have many people in my life including friends, family, and a coach.  It’s amazing to connect with many people.  My son, Benson doesn’t sugar coat, my daughter, Natalie holds a safe space, my friend, Janine is a gentle, virtual hug and Roy provides an invaluable perspective from a caregiver’s stance.  There are countless others.  Connect with your network, it’s bigger than you think.  Let go or be dragged.

 

  • Control. It is truly amazing what little control we have in life. Who knew I couldn’t control the weather over the Appalachians or my dad’s failing health? The only person I can control is myself. My response.  Heck I can’t even control my body to a great degree.  This is the Dichotomy of Control as written by the stoic Epictetus, “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” This feels like the precursor of the Serenity Prayer.  It takes me back to the dogs pulling me perilously toward that pond, I could not control them.  It was outside my power.  Let go or be dragged.

 

Frequently in being dragged  the scars on the inside are not apparent even with scrapped knees and soaked clothes.  Oh the weight of worry that we carry around.  The preoccupation with predicting the outcome. When we let go, we can notice that we are alright, right now.  What’s dragging you around?

The Woman at Gate B4 at Hartsfield International

My son, Benson, and I arrived at our connecting gate to Raleigh-Durham. We were about an hour and 15 minutes early for our connection and sat down next to each other pretty close to the gate for our final leg home after spending Thanksgiving in Seattle. Benson settled into his iPhone and I sat skimming Facebook. Then a woman in a wheelchair was placed next to my seat. The wheelchair agent looked at the woman and said, “Are you all set?” The woman in the wheelchair was silent. The wheelchair agent looked at me with an expression of Well, I guess that’s it and left.

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About 5 minutes later, the woman in the wheelchair started speaking in Spanish. I wasn’t sure who she was talking to but there was no one around responding. I spoke up and asked, “¿Hables ingles?” (Do you speak English?). She replied: “No” and asked where the wheelchair agent was. I responded in Spanish that she had left. The woman then explained that she could not see. So there I am, sitting at gate B4 next to a blind, Spanish-speaking woman in a wheelchair. I felt, at that moment, that I was the only one in the world responsible for this woman and that I needed to make sure she got where she intended to go.

Here are my lessons from that experience:

Language.  It’s been over a decade since I had to speak Spanish on a regular basis as the Human Resource Director for a Mission Foods tortilla manufacturing plant. My Spanish is rusty. It did not matter. I had enough to figure out that she didn’t speak English, she could not see and that she was headed to Raleigh-Durham. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the perfection of speaking another language, reminding yourself to use the correct tense and the proper form of “you” (tu is more familiar and usted is more formal). It didn’t matter. Language is language, and any form of communication was better than what the rest of the folks sitting at the gate could provide. I know if I was in Miami, I could have found someone to help me out. But messy and imperfect or not, we were able to communicate. Use the language you have right now and quit worrying about whether or not it’s perfect.

Information.  It was important to relay basic information like what time it was, what time the plane would leave, and where it was headed. I was glad that she was at least headed to Raleigh-Durham. I wasn’t sure what I would do if she was at the wrong gate. I kept updating her with the time and what was going on at the gate. As soon as the gate agent was there, I walked up to her to let her know that: A. This woman did not speak English and, B. She was blind. This was important information and the gate agent thanked me. She said that it was not indicated on her ticket at all which would have helped everyone to make sure she got where she wanted to go. Be sure to relay important information.

Connect.  The extent of my airport Spanish was exhausted in about 2 minutes. So, I decided to ask where she was from, where she was headed, and what it was for. Turns out, she was headed to Burlington, NC and lives in Veracruz, Mexico. She was headed to Raleigh-Durham to meet her brother, her niece and her sister. They were coming from various parts of the United States for a reunion. Her journey had taken her from Veracruz to Mexico City to Atlanta. Now she was hoping to make it to Raleigh-Durham to meet her family. I was astounded that she had traveled so far all by herself. I was glad that I connected to her story. If I had not spoken Spanish, I would have thought she was a crazy woman, because it’s not necessarily obvious when someone is blind. She didn’t acknowledge people because she couldn’t see them. Take the time to connect.

Responsible.  As soon as they started boarding the plane, the gate agent came over and took the woman in the wheelchair onto the plane. I was relieved that she was on the plane. I never saw her when I boarded later and never saw her get off. I saw several wheelchair agents by the airplane door with various names written on paper as I exited but I had never asked her name. I felt responsible for her. How would I know if she met up with her family or not? I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I got to baggage claim and I saw her surrounded by family as we all waited for our bags. It’s amazing how we can feel responsible for something completely out of our control. I wasn’t that woman’s daughter or sister. I was just another human who happened to speak Spanish.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that this had a happy ending. I’m sure she would have made it to Raleigh-Durham without my help but it felt so gratifying to be a part of the end result. It also made me appreciate that we don’t always know if someone is disabled or doesn’t speak the same language. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions and not investigate further. I’m glad I did.

Is It Time to Recharge Your Battery?

I heard a speaker at a conference recently say that we were more concerned with the battery charge on our cell phones than on our own personal battery. Truth! I have been battling the battery on my cell phone for the last month or so. My cell’s battery charge was evaporating at an alarming rate so that I ended up practically keeping my phone plugged in about 70% of the day for fear it would end up in the dreaded “red zone”. In my obsession of my phone’s battery, I rarely thought about my own battery. What was I doing to recharge my own personal battery? Turns out my cell phone was more important than my own personal battery.

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I didn’t end up in the hospital or fall off the wagon with my sobriety, thank goodness. I did end up getting emotionally scattered or as I said to my coach “splattered”. Splattered isn’t good. I started to feel pulled in a hundred directions, much like when twenty apps are open at the same time. Go ahead, check your phone right now. How many apps do you currently have open? If it’s more than two, you are likely splattered the same as I was. I discovered that I can reevaluate and reconnect my charger cable to get my battery charged again.

Here’s how to recharge your battery:

Ghost your phone

I recently read #DoNotDisturb How I Ghosted My Cell Phone to Take Back My Life by Jedediah Bila. She had some really good ideas. Some of them I had already incorporated into my life. I’ve taken off the notifications for social media and email. When you load a new app say no to notifications. I used to carry my phone everywhere. Meetings, cafeteria, bathroom, kitchen, living room, office; everywhere. I’ve started to rethink this. I’ve started leaving my phone in my purse even at home. I also have put my phone in a holder in my car so that it shows me directions but it’s not easy or practical to look up messages. I have to say, I am more relaxed when I’m not constantly checking for new email or social media connections. Start small. Maybe it’s turning off notifications, leaving your phone for one meeting on your desk or leaving it on the counter, starting at 7 PM at home.

Big Change

I recently read The Little Book of Big Change by Amy Johnson. She claims no matter what your bad habit is, you can overcome it through the rewiring of your brain. I found this enlightening. The urge in your head is not you. You need to step back and look at the urge for what it is. An urge is nothing but a neuropathway that can be restructured and rebuilt. It’s like the path to your mailbox that is worn from all the times you have walked there. The key is to start a new route. I’ve recently tried this. I used to have coffee first thing in the morning.  For the last month or so, I’ve been drinking a glass of water and putting off coffee for 30 minutes. Sounds simple, huh? It’s not. I need to recognize that my autopilot lizard brain (primitive brain) is so used to that coffee first thing in the morning that I need to acknowledge it, see that it’s just an urge, and that I’m trying to set up a new path towards a glass of water instead. The end result is that I feel better and I’m less likely to have a headache from being dehydrated from 9 plus hours of no water. Again, start small. I figured a glass of water was easier than quitting smoking (I did that many years ago but it was tough!). Start with the low hanging fruit and it will give you confidence that you can pull off something bigger.

 

Sleep

Sleeping is not glamorous. In fact, it sounds downright boring. A friend of mine recommended an app called Pillow. I have an iWatch and now I wear it in bed and it tracks my sleep. Granted this is another “app” and you need to make sure you have turned off your notifications on your iWatch so you aren’t getting derailed by notifications. In the beginning, I was getting low numbers like 66% on my quality of sleep. It measures how long it took to fall asleep and the percentage of time in light, deep and REM sleep. I don’t know how the watch does it but I am so excited to report I got over 8 and a half hours of sleep last night and 88% quality! I feel terrific and my battery is fully charged. I’ve always been a proponent for sleep but I never thought I could get over 8 hours of sleep; especially restful sleep. As the old adage goes, “What gets measured, gets done” seems to apply. Measuring my sleep has helped me keep it a priority. Recharge your battery through sleep.

Get moving

I walk from terminal to terminal when traveling at the airport. I take the stairs even when I am on the 21st floor of a hotel (Truth!). I do a strength workout three times a week. I absolutely feel it when I don’t get my exercise or at least get moving. My preference is to get outside if at all possible. I recently had two days of eight hour plus driving in a car. I felt my energy diminish. My battery was lagging. I needed to get moving again. Being cooped up in a car for an entire day had me dragging and needing to rehabilitate. I feel like I need to make sure I get a few miles in a walk either by stopping during the car trip or getting on a hotel treadmill first thing in the morning. Nothing recharges a battery better than getting your heart pumping.

Phone a friend

This is the greatest recharge of them all for me. Connecting with friends and family turns my battery to 100% in minutes. My daughter called me out of the blue yesterday. My parents called the day before. My boyfriend called from the middle of the Georgia mountains last night on his Appalachian Trail thru hike. You don’t need to be in the same room with someone to reconnect and recharge. There are many negatives to my obsession with my phone, but the upside is being able to actually use it as a phone and reconnect with the folks I love. If there is a way for me to be less splattered, it’s about connection. Phone a friend and recharge.

If you have been on a plane, you know they advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. No one else knows my battery level. It’s up to me. Is it time to recharge your battery?

Quit the Sorry Habit

I have been over apologizing for the last month or so. I’ve been apologizing so much that I think I might even apologize for the weather or the stock market at this point. I have had both my daughter, Natalie, and my boyfriend, Roy, admonish me for saying “sorry” wayyyyyy too much. I was on the phone with Natalie last week and she flat out said, “Stop saying sorry.” To which I responded, of course, “Sorry.” As I sit here and reflect on my sorry-a-thon over the last few weeks, I think it’s directly attributable to  my dad’s health being in decline and I’m coming to grips with it all. This has caused me to cry and, in turn, apologize for crying. I’ve been feeling the feels and it’s hard being in that space for me.

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The other cause for my sorry-paloza is my feeling of being overwhelmed or, perhaps, it really is feeling a lack of control. As I sit here writing, I am at the top of Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia, waiting for Roy to start his epic through-hike of the Appalachian Trail for five to six months (2190 miles…EPIC!). Anything that has not gone as planned has caused me to apologize. The coffee is cold, the hotel room is full of lady bugs, I can’t find a pen, I can’t find a signal for my GPS app — you name it, I’ve apologized for it. My best friend is headed out on the trail for the foreseeable future, my dad is declining faster than I want and, did I mention, my son is in Nicaragua. Perhaps all the apologizing is to make me feel like I’m in control or my life is not out of control. As if I am responsible, but I cannot be responsible for any of it. All my sorry-ing is about me believing I am in control, when I really just need to let go.

Here are some tips on how to let go of the Sorry Habit:

Acknowledge

First, you have to acknowledge you’ve got a problem with over-apologizing. I’m lucky that I have Natalie and Roy to point it out. There are plenty of people out there who would not bother to point out that you are over-apologizing. I grant you, it is annoying to be around an over-apologizer, but it also creates an illusion to the receiver of the apology that they are not responsible. “Hmmm, I wonder where Cathy is so that she can apologize for this report not being complete or the temperature of the room being too cold.” I think back to my last apologizing spree and it was all around the reconstruction of my home after Hurricane Matthew. There wasn’t a cabinet, paint color or plumbing delay that I didn’t apologize for. It’s like any habit. You have to notice it first or have someone point it out. Acknowledging is the first step. You can’t try and fix what you are not aware of.

Thank You

This is the fastest way to turn an apology into gratitude and let the receiver feel appreciated. In the case of crying to Natalie, I could say, “Thank you for listening,” instead of “I’m sorry I’m crying.” The thank you lands so much better than the apology. Instead of “I’m sorry for being late,” it’s “Thank you for waiting.” As Anisa Horton wrote for Fast Company, “The rationale between replacing ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you,’ is that by apologizing, she started the interaction in a negative tone, causing her to feel like she needed to spend the rest of the conversation ‘recovering from [her] faux pas.’” On the other hand, saying “Thank you” allowed her to recover from her blunder more quickly. Sorry leaves you in a negative space. A diminished space. Thank you creates a positive instead.

Solution

I’ve heard this advice for any problem you bring to your boss. If you bring a problem, bring a solution or two as well. Instead of, “I’m sorry the report isn’t complete,” instead say, “The report is incomplete, I can turn it in today incomplete or wait to have it to the committee with the West region’s numbers on Friday.” I apologized to Roy yesterday for not having a pen on me. I could have said, “I have a pen in my purse if you can wait until we are back in the hotel room.” No need for an apology; provide a solution instead.

Silence

Accept silence. Be with silence. You don’t need to fill the space in a conversation with an apology. Giving space for silence helps me remember to “not apologize.” Take a breath. As Horton wrote, “Sometimes, the best thing is not to say anything at all. A good example of this is in a negotiation–where those with the tendency to over-apologize might start an argument with, ‘Sorry, but – ,’ unintentionally diminishing their power. Training yourself to pause and allow some silence is a much more effective tool, even if it feels uncomfortable.” The rub for me is the feeling of discomfort. I think the space, the silence or the pause makes the difference between reacting and responding. My apologizing is a reaction, instead of a response. Embrace the silence.

My unapologizing is a work in progress. I am not perfect and never will be. The biggest insight for me is that my sorry-ing is related to my lack of control. The only thing I have control over is me and saying sorry is not creating any more control in my world. If anything, it is diminishing my sense of wellbeing. I feel weakened by my constant falling on the sword. Do you over-apologize?

Crying is good for you

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifle down the tears and keep a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned upon for either gender, although it seems boys are pressured to not cry more than girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying is a sign that you can’t control your emotions; that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without any side effects (except for puffy eyes).

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

Stress. It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure, crying can also reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is anecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

ThroughRichie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs, instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen. Maybe you need a good cry.

The R.A.I.N. Technique

If you want a great introduction to meditation, read Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier. If you want a book on how to incorporate meditation into your life, then read Harris’ book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. Both books talk about the R.A.I.N technique and its uses. I find this technique to be an easy way to overcome suffering and to separate from the outcome. It’s an easy acronym to remember when you come up with struggle during your day or when sitting down for meditation.

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Mindfulness is not just found when you are seated on a meditation cushion. Mindfulness is a practice that helps you detach from suffering. Your boss is yelling at you for being late with the report or that car cutting you off on the highway is not going to happen when you are seated on the cushion. It’s nice to have a handy acronym to help you remember to detach from the suffering.

Here is the R.A.I.N. Technique:

Recognize

I’m sure you have felt it. You suddenly start feeling heat rising up you neck when someone has angered you whether it be something with your partner running late, the TiVo not recording your favorite show or something more life altering like you parent in the hospital and you can’t affect an outcome. Your stomach drops. Your foot starts to shake from impatience. It shows up in all kinds of ways. The Recognize is the noticing of the emotion. As CRR Global calls it, “the emotional field” or the weather pattern in the room. My kids know when I am “hangry.” They recognize it instantly. “Mommy, when was the last time you ate something?” The key is to recognize that you are triggered. Pema Chodron refers to it as Shenpa or being caught. Something is grabbing you and your emotions. The first step is to recognize that you are feeling emotion.

Allow

I was guilty for the longest time of just ignoring my emotions or trying to numb out the pain associated with them. Allowing is about actually leaning into the pain. It’s being present with the pain and not running away from it. So, if you didn’t get the promotion, or your child isn’t going to grad school or the mediation didn’t work out, allow yourself to feel the pain. Don’t go running to the bar for a drink, to Amazon for a shopping bender, or eating your way through a half gallon of Rocky Road. This is just a form of escape, non-allowance. It’s all about stuffing down our emotions. Allowing is to be present with whatever perceived pain and emotions exists. This is no time for a stiff upper lip. You may need to duck into an office or bathroom or your car, but find a safe space to lean in and allow.

Investigate

My experience with investigation is understanding how your emotional state is affecting your body. Come up with labels for the pain. This is what rejection feels like – tightness in the middle of my chest. This is what anger feels like – tightness in my shoulders and throat. This is what abandonment feels like – swirling in the pit of my stomach. Investigating helps you fully feel and understand how it is impacting your body. This can be scary. To some degree, it’s like going on a roller coaster as it ticks up the steep incline of the hill before the big drop off. To let go and feel your stomach drop as you glide down the hill. Most of us, including me, will try and tighten up and try and ignore the pain of the stomach drop. This is about investigating and labeling the feeling. More like a scientist and less like the lab rat. The observer versus being observed. Investigate the feeling.

Non-identification

This is the crust of the whole thing. Part of why we don’t want to actually feel emotions is that we end up making value judgements. I was telling someone about the first time I was laid off from a job and how I was not going to let the guy who was laying me off see me cry. I can guarantee you that he would not remember if I cried but it’s the main thing I focused on; the wimpy, boohooing woman crying in front of a man I barely knew. Feeling the emotion doesn’t make you less of a person; it actually makes you more of one. Granted, I understand if you want to be in private when you feel the feels as they say. Just make sure that you are not judging yourself, as I did some 30 plus years ago. You are not your anger, your tears, your anxiety. Practice non-identification.

I cried a lot after my husband left, mostly in the privacy of my own home. I called trusted friends to work through my emotions. I have wept over my father being in the hospital yet again. I have felt the anger and anxiety of not getting a plum assignment. The important thing for me is to actually feel it, instead of stuffing the feeling. It’s made all the difference of being able to experience what is happening and not getting caught up in it. What do you need to feel and go through?

The Second Arrow (how to avoid it)

I recently finished Dan Harris’ book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, wherein the concept of the second arrow came up. This Buddhist parable is explained by Phillip Perry: “In the parable of the arrow, sometimes called the second arrow, you picture yourself walking through a forest. Suddenly, you’re hit by an arrow. This causes you great pain. But the archer isn’t done. Can you avoid the second one? That’s the arrow of emotional reaction. Dodge the second by consciously choosing contemplation. It will help you avoid a lot of suffering.” I’ve been struck by second arrows my whole life. Wow. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid all that suffering?

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Here are some ideas on how to avoid that second arrow:

Own it

The first is to realize that it is within you to control the second arrow. You never need to even release the bow. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of should-haves and could-haves. I think of my friend Angie who experienced a horrific car accident several months back. I can imagine that if it was me, I would have beat myself up for not leaving 5 minutes earlier, or working from home that day, or driving in the right lane instead of the left. Acceptance that something bad has happened and not trying to recreate history is the first step. I think of regrets about my now two ex-husbands, all the what if I had never married them? I would, of course, be living in Paris right now writing poetry and living next to the Seine. These day dreams are merely fantasy and have no reality. Getting caught up in the pain of regret is something you can control. Own it and accept it.

Blame Game

The second arrow shows up as self-recrimination for most of us. Our self-talk is far worse than anyone would ever say to your face. What are you telling yourself? I get on the scale and beat myself up for that brownie yesterday and only walking one mile. Can you imagine telling your child, your friend, your co-worker, heck even your enemy, the same thing? “Hey fatso, why did you have the brownie yesterday and only walk a mile?” I didn’t think so. Stop blaming yourself for everything that befalls you. This suffering is not helping you in anyway. It’s not going to change the trajectory you are on. Beating yourself up for losing your job, getting a divorce or losing money on bitcoin isn’t going to change a thing and it will engulf you in suffering. Get off of the blame game.

Contemplation

There are many ways to get to contemplation. I like the fact that Dan Harris espouses that even one minute of meditation can be helpful. Most people are so afraid they won’t achieve perfection with meditation, yoga, or prayer; that they give up before they even start. There is an expectation that you will be able to empty your mind and sit peacefully for hours without a care in the world. That is unreasonable. That is perfection. I’ve been meditating for years and my head has yet to be empty of thought. So why do it? Because I have been able to control my response. I can discern. When I endure pain of the first arrow, I can respond instead of reacting. Contemplation brings discernment.

Feel the feels

I have learned this in coaching. We need to feel the feeling. We must experience it. Essentially, we must feel the pain of that first arrow fully. Name it (such as rejection, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.). Experience it fully (such as tightness in my throat, tension in my shoulders, upset stomach, etc.). Don’t numb it out (such as online shopping, drinking, gaming, etc.) or hope it goes away. Phone or grab coffee with a friend. Reflect on the emotion with someone you trust. When you try to go around the feeling, that second arrow takes over. The suffering takes over as you try and escape from the pain of the first arrow. You must go through and feel the feels, instead of trying to go around.

Gratitude

I wrote about my father’s recent medical issues and how he feels so fortunate because he is not as bad off as others. He told me to be grateful that I am in good health. This is the same take away from my friend Angie and her car crash that could have (and was so drastic, it should have) killed her. She is focused on the other driver and grateful that she was not in ICU. Counting your blessings helps you be grateful for what you have instead of looking and comparing what you don’t have (the second arrow). I might want a new car with Bluetooth and defrosting rearview mirrors, but I am grateful for not having a car payment and that my car is running just fine. I don’t need to suffer from the comparison I make with my co-worker and their brand-new ride. Gratitude stops the second arrow from launching.

The second arrow is a choice. I don’t have to experience the second arrow. Realizing that helps diminish the worry and catastrophizing, as I would have done years ago. I’m not perfect and I have been guilty of jumping ahead towards suffering, but it has subsided over time. How can you avoid the second arrow?

The Amazing Grand Canyon

Pictures can never do it justice. There is nothing in life to compare to standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The shear size of it all. The depth of it all. The colors. The other worldliness of it all. It must be experienced. My boyfriend Roy and I were able to visit it recently, mostly because the weather permitted it. This was my fourth visit, but Roy’s first. It never disappoints but it’s almost too much to comprehend. I can imagine that the only way to truly take it all in is by looking down on it from outer space or standing at the bottom of it looking up. It can only be experienced in pieces. From overlooks. From different angles.

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It is sheer happenstance that I was in the middle of reading a book on the Grand Canyon at the time. A client had read The Emerald Mile, an incongruent name for a history of the Grand Canyon and a record-breaking boat trip down the Colorado River (the creator of the canyon). It gave context to this awe-inspiring spot.

Here is why the Grand Canyon is so amazing:

The Colorado River

According to most geologists, the river that carved the Grand Canyon over a billion years ago starts up in Wyoming, some 7 states away. The amazing thing is that Roy and I tried in vain to actually see the river from countless overlooks around the rim. The canyon is so deep that you cannot see the river because of all the erosion and the narrow river. We did glimpse the Little Colorado, however, from most vantage points, you cannot see the river. The river is what first brought humans to live around the canyon some 10,000 years ago, although they did not start living year-round in the area until about 4,000 years ago. The first European to see the canyon was Garcia Lopes de Cardenas in 1540, but they had to leave after three days because of lack of water. There is a river down there. It’s just completely out of reach when you’re above it.

One Mile Deep

The Grand Canyon is a giant hole in the ground. It is over 6,000 feet deep. This is why the floor of the canyon (including any rivers within it) are so difficult to see from the rim. There is so much that is visible, but it begs to be explored; to be experienced. We wanted to explore. I saw that the Bright Angel Trail could be hiked for a mile and a half into the canyon. When I asked about hiking it upon entering the park, the ranger said, “Yeah, you could but you will be on your hands and knees.” Sure enough, when we arrived at the overlook next to the trail head, all we could see was a snake of white snow and ice descending into the canyon. We were going to experience the rim, but not the canyon.

Long Canyon

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. That’s longer than the state of Delaware (90 miles) and bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Even though it’s up to 18 miles wide, it takes 5 hours to drive the 220 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim. The Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869, led by American naturalist John Wesley Powell, was a ten-month river exploration down the Green and Colorado Rivers, which became known as the first documented passage through the Grand Canyon. Powell left with nine men, four boats and food for 10 months. Two men from the expedition made it all the way to Mexico and the Sea of Cortez where the river finally ends. I am struck by the bravery of entering a long voyage with untold obstacles and unknowns.

Little Colorado River

The Little Colorado River Overlook is outside of the Grand Canyon National Park, but is a must see along Highway 64. It’s managed by the Navajo nation, but it has a fantastic view of the canyon. It feels like the “younger” section of the canyon since it’s much more narrow, and you can actually see the Little Colorado River at the bottom. It would be like letting the air out of the Grand Canyon and reducing it by 10 times. This view gives the depth and width of it all, after a short gravel pathway down to the overlook. There are no crowds or entrance fees here; it doesn’t make it unworthy of your time. It pairs down the Grand Canyon experience to a comprehensible view.

The trip has inspired me to want to return to take a deeper dive. I want to return to hike from rim to rim during the fall. The canyon begs you to enter it, whether it be by mule, hiking or river rafting. It begs to be experienced.

Ninety-Three Years and Counting

My father is ninety-three years old and counting. This is an amazing feat, considering he has had diabetes for over 60 years and survived both the Merchant Marines in WWII and Korea. My boyfriend Roy, my son Benson and my daughter Natalie had a reunion of sorts with my parents, my brother Rick and his girlfriend Sarina in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February. It was a great opportunity to reminisce, reconnect and compare various iterations of sopapillas.

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My mother, daughter and father.

This was Roy’s first time meeting my parents and it’s always enlightening to see other’s perceptions of folks that I have know all my life. It’s also fun to reflect on what comes up in the form of stories and songs when generations come together.

Here are my observations:

The Adventure

What an appropriate name for the sailboat my parents met on some sixty plus years ago. It had been many years since I had heard the telling of it, as only my mother can do it best. My father was crew on a tall ship called The Adventure. My mother had just graduated from college and was taking a cruise on the boat as a post-graduation vacation. She saw my father talking to a woman with a wedding ring on and, incorrectly, assumed that he was married. A man on shore had asked her on a date and she was on deck drying her hair in preparation for the date. My father pushed her overboard. When my mother climbed out of the water, she asked the captain why that man had pushed her and he said, “I guess he’s interested.” The rest is history.

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My mother and father on The Adventure.

Let the adventure begin. My father always looks quite unrepentant during the telling of the story. Sort of like, “Well, I pushed her and now look at all that I have,” as he admires his beloved wife, children and grandchildren. Thank goodness he pushed her.

The Lecturer

My father spent most of his career as a middle school history teacher. I have always admired him for teaching the least glamorous topic to the most incorrigible group of students (namely 8th graders). My father has always been a lecturer. You can imagine that if you taught 7 classes a day on the same topic, that everything from Gettysburg to the Kensington Stone is on auto-play. My dad has many life adventures on auto-play. His trip to Korea and visiting a village off-the-grid. His guiding 10 teenagers on a canoe trip in aluminum boats in northern Quebec during a lightening storm. Him surviving a hurricane on the schooner The Adventure, where the captain told him to lash himself to the mast. My siblings, my mom and my kids have all heard these stories many times. This past trip made me pay attention to the facts. I want to get it right. While I was a teenager, I would roll my eyes at what I dubbed “Lecture 223.” Now, I want every word. Every fact. Who knows when or if I will hear this lecture again?

The Stoic

Part of what prompted the cross-country trip were some recent set backs to my dad’s health. As I write this, my dad is back in the hospital trying to get his medications dialed in. I’m thankful that my brother Rick is a retired nurse and my mother, a retired medical technologist. I don’t understand most of what is going on but I do know that my dad has always been a stoic. Whether is was a triple bypass or pace maker, he’s always taken everything as it comes. I’ve never seen him panic or worry. Even as he sat in his recliner surrounded by loved ones, with a new scooter and oxygen tank, he said, “I don’t feel any pain.” Did I mention he’s had kidney stones for over 5 years? He was still looking forward to his next move with my mom to Washington State. I have always admired my father’s patience but I think what I really admire is his ability to not get caught up in a cycle of worry and rumination. My stomach dropped when my brother texted this morning that Dad was back in the hospital but I know that he is probably sharing a lecture on Napoleon or his trip to Russia with some unsuspecting nurse. If he’s not worried, why should I be?

The Ballast

Every family has a certain homeostasis. There is a balance that keeps the whole thing moving forward, regardless of the current and wind. I feel like my dad has been the ballast of the whole Noice family boat. He rarely gets angry. Nothing seems to exasperate him. I can still remember my seventy-year-old father carrying my two-year-old son and a tricycle during one of his tantrums with nary a frown. I see him now surrounded by new contraptions like an oxygen meter and he is unfazed. He’s just glad to be here. He is constantly comparing himself to other residents who have it far worse than he and he is thankful. His mantra is “I am so fortunate.” He’s writing his fifth volume (FIFTH) of his science fiction novel. He hopes someone reads it someday. This is not a man who is down for the count. He’s planning his next adventure for his novel’s main character Lors, for heaven’s sake. Eventually, my father will be gone, but in the meantime, he is the ballast.

There was a magical moment in our trip to Albuquerque when my parents broke into song. It was an old sea shanty. As my parents sang in unison and with strong voice, I was able to record it for prosperity. I was struck by their voice’s strength and clarity, as they both sang and helped each other with the words. It’s been decades since I heard them sing. A little piece of history from their Adventure. I was happy to experience it again and that I’ve been part of the Adventure.

You Are Enough

Have you been waiting to hear those words since say…kindergarten? I have. I generally have stayed uber-focused on my penmanship (horrible), my height (too tall) and my value as a human being (a work-in-progress). This happens to the distraction from my more valuable traits like writing, coaching and being present. I am more worried about the illusive atta-boy (-girl) from my sixth-grade math teacher or my parents finally being happy with the career I have chosen.

Unfortunately, if you go looking for someone to say: “Cathy, you are good enough,” you will be waiting a long time. Your value is not determined by those outside of yourself. It’s an inside job. It’s between your ears. You need to decide you are good enough. No one is going to do it for you. Decide today. You are worthy. You are good enough. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.

These might be the reasons holding you back from being enough:

The yardstick of perfection. Anne Lamott wrote brilliantly in Bird by Bird, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” It’s OK if my handwriting isn’t that legible. It’s OK if I am taller than the rest. It’s OK if I have honestly wasted half a Saturday getting over vertigo and not writing. I just spent part of the morning criticizing myself for not going to the gym first thing or writing a post. Really? Like the exercise and blog gods are sitting around judging me for recovering from half a day spent getting to the bottom of my vertigo? So what? As Lamott says, you will die anyway. Spending time trying to be perfect is empty and completely unrewarding. You are good enough right now.

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A gold medal won’t change a thing. Lamott famously quotes a 400 pound has-been coach, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.” Interesting. If you are not enough before you lose 30 pounds, you won’t be enough after. If you are not enough before the big promotion, you won’t be after. If you are not enough before the divorce, you won’t be after. Worthiness is not a line in the sand. It’s not a point in time. It’s not after the big achievement or disappointment. You are worthy right now. And now. And now. Sit in that. Let it sink in. A gold medal will not make a difference.

You are uniquely you. The mold is busted and there is only one of you and your individual view on life. As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Even you and your identical twin would have different shortcuts on your desktop. One of you was picked last or first on the soccer team. It has made all the difference. You now fight for the downtrodden or represent soccer player’s rights. Neither is better or worse. Just unique. Be you. Own it. Embody it. Be the unique you that you are.

Comparison is futile. Lamott said, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” You have no idea what your neighbor is going through or your coworker or your dog for that matter. You may be jealous of that new car but don’t realize they had to take over payments for their daughter. Your coworker is battling stage 4 colon cancer. Your dog has been barking at that neighbor dog for the last ten years and has yet to get the last word. We really have no idea what is going on for someone else and comparing it to your current situation is a recipe for disaster. Comparing does not make you feel worthy or enough. So stop comparing.

What other people think of me is none of my business. This is a Wayne Dyer quote that stops me cold. You have absolutely no control over what other people think of you. Let it go. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. We’ve spent so much time on worrying about what others think. I remember having 11 different pairs of colored corduroy Levis in high school. It did not increase the number of friends I had. AND I was probably the only one who noticed. If you cannot move the needle on it, don’t bother worrying about it. Besides, you are perfectly good enough right now.

I was the last pick a lot in elementary school. My mother was upset with how I held a pencil in my hand. I didn’t have a ton of friends in high school. It’s OK. Let the past go and move on. It has no impact on my worthiness right now. Let go of the judgments from the past and be enough. You are good enough. And so am I.