Coping with COVID-19

Perhaps the title should be how I am coping with COVID-19.  My current state is that I’m working mostly remotely but I can still go into my office, my boyfriend, Roy is still coming to stay with me on the weekends and most retail stores are open with limited hours.  Most importantly, no one I know is ill or quarantined with anyone who is ill.  We are all just working to flatten the curve and keep the surge down for all the health care workers out there.  I have my moments of catastrophizingas both my adult children are unemployed as I write this. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole whirlwind of “what ifs” but I’m trying to step back from the edge of the cliff and come back to the present moment.

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I think the main underlying theme I have felt over the last few weeks is that as we face all this uncertainty, we all just want some semblance of control.  To know that we are sovereign over the country of “me”.  There are so many directives coming at us rapid fire every day and ever iterating, it comes down to knowing that we can have control over something, sometimes ANYTHING, to bring us back to self-efficacy.

Here are some ideas on coping with Covid-19:

Breathe

It is amazing to come back to your own breath.  I had the occasion to remind a few co-workers and my daughter this week about breathing.  I could hear the angst in their voice.  The piling on of all the obligations and possibilities as something else came down from some known or unknown authority.  A new directive, order or policy.  I said, “Can we take a minute?” With relief, “YES’. I said calmly, “Let’s sit down, put your feet flat on the floor and close your eyes.  Pause. Now take a deep breath in.  Hold for three, one, two three. Now let it out.”  We took three deep breaths. I have to say that everyone I did this with in the last few weeks has thanked me.  For me, having control over my breath is one of the most empowering things I can do.  Give it a try.

Gratitude

The other thing that I can get wrapped around the axel for is focusing on everything that is wrong right now.  “My vacation is scrapped, my court date is moved indefinitely, I can’t visit my children, my mother is quarantined, and what happens if my favorite restaurant never reopens!” Easy to fall in that hole and it’s not very comforting.  So, what is the opposite of all this catastrophizing?  Gratitude.  After I breathed with my daughter and my co-workers, I asked them to name 5 things they were grateful for.  It wasn’t very hard to do and it brings about a whole new perspective.  I’m grateful for my home, my loving (somewhat neurotic) dog, my toilet paper bearing boyfriend Roy, my 86-year-old mother’s health and all the wonderful azaleas that are in bloom!  Gratitude points to everything that’s right with the world.

Outside

It’s so great to get outside.  This may or may not be possible depending on your current situation.  If you can get out and keep your social distance, do it.  There is nothing more grounding than to walk outside.  At this point, in Eastern North Carolina, there are hundreds of birds migrating, nesting and singing to each other.  The trees are leafing out and the thousands of flowers are starting to bloom.  Nature and being outdoors restores me.  I think that being able to walk and move unencumbered by the walls of an apartment or home is emboldening.  It makes me feel free to go where I please (even if I can’t).

Information

I try to be selective in turning on my hose of information.  I quit watching the news several years ago and I have never regretted it.  Even today as each new bulletin from this state or that county or some foreign land comes out, I am selective about reading the headlines or article.  I’ll focus on just my county or state’s latest mandate and try to tune everything else out.  It makes me feel helpless, when I am overwhelmed by all the news that is available. There is nothing that makes me feel more out of control than when I am being bombarded by information.  I’m not suggesting that you shut down.  I’m suggesting that you curate what information you are receiving, and then move forward as needed.

Best

It was Brene Brown who first posited that “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best.”  I’ve seen several disagreements and run ins with several folks the past few weeks.  I said to one coworker, “Do you think that maybe we are all pretty stressed about the current situation?  We all just want a little control in all this uncertainty?” She agreed.  She wasn’t as mad at her coworker.  I had one coworker say that they swept off their front porch and that gave him a sense of control.  It’s easy to blame others for our state of mind.  I try to take back control by doing one thing at a time and giving others the benefit of the doubt.  We are just doing our best.

Coping comes down to having a sense of control in the midst of all this uncertainty.  Wash the dishes, water the plants, play your clarinet, feed the dog, bake a cake or write a blog post.  Bring sovereignty back to your life. One small act at a time.  Be here now. Remain present.

Lost in the Woods

Before I headed out with my boyfriend Roy on our short, but steep, section hike on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), I had read a few books and listened to several YouTube videos about hiking the A.T. Between going off-trail to relieve yourself to heading down the wrong trail to just not paying attention, you can end up getting lost in all the information. So many options! I figured that the odds of getting lost on our journey were slim to none since Roy was a veteran, having hiked 531 miles of the A.T. before (yes, he is a badass). We were also only going to be on the trail for two days, so how lost could we possibly get?

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Being lost is relative. Being lost is not being sure of where you are in relation to either your hiking partner, your pack, or the trail you “thought” you were on. I can’t tell you I was ever actually lost on the trip, but I know I definitely felt lost several times. Perception is reality and there were many moments where I wasn’t sure where I was.

This is what I learned about being lost in the woods:

Plain sight

Water is essential for life. On day one of our hike, I was clambering across a slide of fallen trees, grabbing onto roots above for dear life, when one of my two water bottles fell out of my pack. It slid down about 10 feet off the trail into the slide area. Roy and I looked at it for a bit. Roy thought about taking off his pack and going after it. We weighed our options and, although it was in plain sight, the downside of retrieving it was too great. We had three bottles of water remaining between the two of us. Although it was in plain sight, it was lost.

Wrong trail

After we found the shelter we were going to camp at for the night, we hung our packs in the shelter and went off to look for water. Before arriving at the shelter, there were some double blue blazes indicating a trail to either water or another destination. There was a sign at the top that read: “Wesser Creek Trail.” The guide book had indicated that there was a water source within a tenth of a mile of the shelter. Somehow, I had confused “creek” and “water”. We headed down what seemed like a six-inch-wide trail. I was glad we didn’t have backpacks on, as the trail was precarious. There were several switchbacks and a few blue blazes, but no indication of water. I was exhausted and just wanted to get into my sleeping bag. I felt guilty for having lost a full bottle of water earlier. Roy soldiered on for a few more switchbacks, but by now, we had gone at least a half mile more and the shadows from the trees were lengthening. We gave up and started hiking back up to the shelter. As I contemplated not being able to find water and what that might mean, we ran into a young guy running (yes, jogging shorts, t-shirt and no pack) on the narrow trail. We asked about the water source and it was down the main trail (white blazes) about a tenth of a mile. We may have been on a trail, but it was the wrong trail. Creek and water are not the same.

Naked

No. I was never naked. Meaning, I was never without clothes. But when we went down the Wesser Creek Trail, I felt lost from my belongings. When I thought we were venturing off for 10 minutes to find water, I wasn’t concerned about being without the pack. As we went down our precarious detour, I started getting nervous about our packs hanging in the shelter. They were hanging so that mice would not get into them. There was a warning about bears in the area. I started to get anxious and concerned that when we arrived back at the shelter, that there would be a full-on party of bears and mice tearing our packs apart. Had I left anything uneaten in my pack that would attract bears? After carrying all my earthy things all day, I felt naked without the pack and nervous that we would be stuck in the woods overnight without our things. We arrived back to the shelter to find everything intact. I felt lost from my essentials.

Separation

As we descended down the mountain on the second day, we started to get warm as the sun came out. We stopped to take off some of our layers and Roy decided to change into shorts. About a quarter mile down the trail, Roy realized he didn’t know where his cell phone was. He headed back up the trail to see if he dropped it when he changed. I stood and waited. He returned. No phone. He realized that it might be in his sleeping bag located in the bottom of his pack. I decided to head down the trail while he unpacked. I knew his pace was much faster than mine and I didn’t want to slow us down. I soldiered on down the trail. Pretty soon, I couldn’t see any white blazes marking the trail. I started to panic. I turned around to walk back up the trail. I started yelling for Roy. I figured that he should have caught up by then. As he arrived down the trail, the white blaze appeared again. He confirmed that I should have turned back to make sure I was on the trail. For those five to ten minutes of separation, I felt lost. Without my hiking partner and white blaze to guide me, I felt lost.

The hike is a great metaphor for life. Things may be in plain sight, but you can still be lost. You may be temporarily lost, on a detour, down the wrong path, but you can still find your way home. You may feel lost from something you feel is essential, but you still have you. You may be separated and unsure of your next step; it just might require doubling back. The greatest gift from the experience is that regardless of where I thought I was or wasn’t, I could rely on myself to find my way out.

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.

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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.

How to Practice Tonglen

I’ve been listening to the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Pema is an American Tibetan Buddhist and has written and taught extensively. She speaks of Tonglen, a foreign concept to me as I listened to the book. I decided to investigate further. As defined by Dhaval Patel for Zenful spirit, “Tonglen is a Tibetan word that is contrived of two terms tong, which means to let go and len, which means to accept. So Tonglen means To Let Go and To Accept.

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As Pema writes in Lion’s Roar Magazine: “Pema Chödrön teaches us sending and taking an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion. With each in-breath, we take in others’ pain. With each out-breath, we send them relief.” I practice meditation every day and have used the Loving Kindness meditation frequently, but this awakening of compassion was a new concept to me and I found it very intriguing. It is one thing to wish others love and kindness; it is quite another to take on their suffering and send relief. It’s so easy to steer clear of pain and suffering to keep ourselves safe.

Here is what I learned about Tonglen:

Be imperfect

I was talking about meditation with my daughter a few weeks ago and she stated that she wasn’t any good at it because she kept thinking. I’ve been meditating for over seven years and I still continue to have thoughts. It’s easy to think: “Whelp…I had a thought so I guess this isn’t working.” My current mediation from the Art of Living is about of series of breathing techniques. While I think about my breath, I still have thoughts. I am not perfect. You won’t be perfect. Being perfect is not the point. My first attempts at Tonglen were imperfect. That’s OK. Embrace imperfection.

Be open and still

The first step to Tonglen is to be still and open. I envision coming out of my head and the whirlwind of thoughts going out and back into my body. Take a few deep breaths. Relax your shoulders and focus on your big toe or on opening your heart.

Close your eyes

Bring someone into mind who is suffering. Many suggest focusing on someone close who you know is suffering. If your dog is lame, or your daughter is being bullied, or your parent is hospitalized, these are assessable. I think of this as low hanging fruit and easier to identify with. In other words, don’t bring to mind a large event, like an earthquake, war, or refugees during your first few attempts. In addition, don’t focus on your arch enemy or ex-girlfriend on your first few attempts either. Bring to mind someone you can identify with and want the best for. As Dhaval wrote, “Imagine someone that you want to help. Perhaps it is a friend or a loved one. Focus intently on this person and on their struggle.”

Breathe in

As Pema writes, “Work with texture. Breathe in feelings of heat, darkness, and heaviness—a sense of claustrophobia.” I imagine colors of red and black. Pema says, “Breathe in completely, taking in negative energy through all the pores of your body.” This visually is very powerful for me. Taking the energy through the pores of your entire body illustrates complete openness and compassion for me. As Dhaval writes, “As you do focus on the heaviness of their negative energy and of the things that ail them, imagine yourself breathing in their condition or suffering. As you do this, picture that you are breathing in their pain so you remove it from their bodies, giving them room for comfort, healing and positivity.” I imagine it as taking someone’s burden so that they can be free. I visualized a friend who recently gave up alcohol. I imagined taking in the anxiety and burden of finding that next drink. I swallowed the poison so that she could be free. It’s a powerful experience to embrace the suffering instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.

Breathe out

As Dhaval writes, “As you breathe out, breathe happiness and peace out into the world. Think about what you believe would bring them comfort or joy. Focus on that and breathe it out into the world. Imagine that breath traveling to those you want to help and having it fill that empty space with what they need.” I find that the colors of blue and purple work best for me. I imagine filling up the hearts and minds of those suffering with a fog of blue and purple. I also imagine them being lifted up. Perhaps even held up with renewed strength and love. Pema espouses, “Breathe out feelings of coolness, brightness, and light—a sense of freshness.” Breathe out sunshine and unicorns. Breathe out hope and happiness. With my newly sober friend, I imagine freedom, lightness, and courage. This is the letting go.

Repeat and expand

I meditate for 20 minutes. That is lot of suffering and happiness. Dhaval wrote, “Continue this practice of breathing in pain and breathing out peace over and over again until your session is over. Remember, this doesn’t just apply to others either. If you are in pain, you can breathe in and out your own suffering.” When I focus on my own pain or suffering, I can incorporate others in similar pain. I have had some knee pain recently and I breathe in for others suffering physical pain. As Pema says, “Make it bigger than just that one person. You can do Tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others.” Start small and close and then expand out as you practice.

Pema wrote, “Tonglen can extend infinitely. As you do the practice, your compassion naturally expands over time, and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought, which is a glimpse of emptiness.” In practicing this over the last week, I feel a sense of oneness and belonging. I don’t have to tell someone that I took on their suffering last Friday morning. I just know that I feel like I relieved someone else’s suffering and gifted them happiness back. It feels powerfully unselfish and loving. Whose suffering could you let go and accept?

The Obstacles You Face Are Moving Your Story Forward

This is a repost from over two years ago:

I’ve been taking Patti Digh’s Project 137 for the last few months. Project 137 has activities each day to help live your life to the fullest. This is what came up the other day:

Where are you, right now, in your journey? Be fully there.

                     Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s.

                     Be fully where you are. The obstacles you face there are moving your story    

                     forward. Embrace them.

This was really enlightening. I have written about staying off someone else’s path before, but actually viewing obstacles as moving myself forward was completely new to me. It’s so easy to get discouraged by an obstacle and letting it demoralize you. Put your hands up in the air and throw in the towel.

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Here are some thoughts about how having obstacles can move you forward:

Re-frame the obstacle.  I received some life-altering bad news yesterday. I was angry. I felt deceived. I felt like I just could not catch a break. And then, as I do with many of my coachees, I re-framed it. This news was not a death sentence. It wasn’t even a health issue. It was just about money. I realized, by the time I went to bed, that it was just money. I didn’t lose a loved one, my health was fine and my career intact. So it’s just a challenge I need to get past and will be stronger for it. Put the obstacle under a new frame.

Take stock.  I write in a gratitude journal every day. This is incredibly helpful when life throws you a few challenges. I had a serious scare earlier this week with a loved one. I took stock in the fact that the loved one was just fine and how happy I was that they were fine. I’m happy my dog is safe when I return home from being on a business trip. I appreciate that a friend took time to speak to the class I was facilitating. I am grateful that my career is so successful. I write five things (sometimes more) that I am grateful for every day. It helps me realign the universe to having my best interest at heart. Take stock.

Take the turn.  Have you ever used the GPS to get through something like the Hampton Roads area of Virginia? I cannot make it through the Norfolk/Newport News area without taking the wrong exit, or being in the wrong lane while my exit is three lanes over. So I have a choice. I can get angry and beat myself up, or I can take the next turn and get back on track. Just because it didn’t go as planned, just adapt. Be flexible and don’t let your inner critic hijack your emotions. Just relax and take the next turn.

Stay positive.  As Patti writes in Project 137, “Don’t let your struggle become your identity.” When I went through a huge life pivot point some 6 months back, I defined my entire life by the pivot point. All my worthiness was wrapped up in a decision that someone else made. I was not moving forward. In fact, I was trying my hardest to move backwards. I was living in the space of constant struggle. It took a few months, but I finally figured out that forward positive motion was the only answer. I couldn’t live in self despair. I had to see what was possible instead of wallowing in grief. Staying positive lets you see what is possible.

Understand your story.  Brene Brown writes in Rising Strong: “In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. In fact, the need to make up a story, especially when we are hurt, is part of our most primitive survival wiring. Mean making is in our biology, and our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense, feels familiar, and offers us insight into how best to self-protect.” Knowing that you are filling in the blanks for data that is missing is important to recognize. It’s amazing how paranoid I can get when I am missing a few data points. When I acknowledge that I am “fabricating data” for the story in my head, it brings me back to reality and helps me redraft the story with more positive data. You are the author of the story in your head, and you are allowed – actually encouraged – to rewrite the story for the happy ending.

In an era of constant change and ambiguity, it can be overwhelming when a challenge arises. It’s important for all of us to remember, including myself, that it’s our response to the obstacle that is what’s most important, rather than the challenge itself. What obstacles are you facing?

Just Two Beats Longer

I just finished Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. It’s a thought-provoking book, but what I found most useful were the last few minutes (I listen to audiobooks rather than read books). Burchard recommended having things last two beats longer. It’s a captivating thought. Not a minute longer. Not a week longer. Not a century longer. Just two beats longer. Well that’s pretty doable…isn’t it? So, breath in for two beats longer. Gaze at your lover two beats longer. Pet your dog two beats longer.

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It’s such a simple concept. It doesn’t require a new notebook, new tennis shoes, or a new rain jacket. No equipment required. Just two beats longer. I’ve been paying attention to this and this is what I have found.

The benefits of two beats longer:

  • The greatest luxury. Burchard writes: “The greatest luxury of life is an unhurried mind.” Is this not completely and utterly true? When you are not hurried, it’s like a giant down comforter. Things soften. Life is richer. Moments extend. It’s like letting off the gas and just coasting. It’s such a relief not to be pounding forward. Taking two beats longer provides for a more luxurious life. An unhurried mind waiting and able to focus.

 

  • Multi-tasking is a lie. I used to think I was multi-tasking. You know, driving a car, listening to the news, putting on lipstick and drinking a Grande Frappuccino all at the same time. Instead I was skimming through and doing each thing less than 25%. Uni-task and focus on the moment. I was hiking the Balsam Trail on Mount Mitchell a few weeks back. As you hike along, there is this waft of balsam. The smell of Christmas. I stood there and closed my eyes. I took two beats (perhaps more) longer. I soaked it in. I won’t soon forget that moment. Don’t skim. Take it in two beats longer.

 

  • Linger in your relationships. Burchard writes, “What would happen to the quality of our life and relationships if we simply amplified our senses just a little longer?” Hold the kiss for two beats longer. The embrace. The touch of the hand. Gaze into your lover’s eyes. Be there now for two beats longer. What would such a minuscule change do to your relationships? It’s like turning up the volume with a slight touch. Bringing things into focus. Being present and available for those you love. Love just two beats longer.

 

  • Respond versus react. Most of the unsavory moments of my life were when I reacted instead of responded. Those moments when I came back with a snarky comment or rolled my eyes. If you take two beats between reacting and wait to respond, it can be the difference between keeping a job or losing a job. Between maintaining a friendship or becoming enemies. Between getting a client or repelling them. As I look at the difference between responding versus reacting, it’s all in the moments in between. Two beats longer gives you space to respond; not just react.

 

  • Savor the moment. Burchard writes, “Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.” I inhale food. I have to be one of the fastest eaters I know. I think I have been racing my older brother Rick since elementary school to eat all the Cap’n Crunch before it was all gone. I’m still racing and I can afford all the Cap’n Crunch I could want. Taste the moment. The food. Enjoy it. It’s not something to get through but to enjoy. Slow down for two beats.

 

  • Be present right now. That’s what this all comes down to after all. Be here right now. There is a really easy way to do that. Wait. Two. Beats. Longer. Eckard Tolle told us this in The Power of Now, “The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.” Waiting two beats longer gets you into the moment right now. Let go the worries of the future and regrets of the past and be in this moment right now. Two beats longer.

 

This is so simple. So elegant. It’s not that hard to do. It’s just a conscious effort to wait…two…beats…longer. Give it a try and see what a difference it makes.

It’s Not My Only Line in the Play

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

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I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’ s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s okay to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with my boyfriend, Roy. There was plenty of silence. I was okay with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myers-Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head. Go ahead. It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be okay with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

5 Surprising Impacts from Going Vegan

I started dating my boyfriend Roy almost two years ago. On his dating profile, he said he had been a vegan for about 9 months and found it boring. Being that I am quite the foodie, I assumed I could convert him from the “dark side” of boring bland veganism back to being an omnivore. Well here I am, 18 months later, and I am practically a vegan although I have succumbed to cheese pizza and my beloved cambozola cheese. There is also the about once-every-two-months bite or two of seafood, but that has occurred less frequently over time.

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Roy slowly indoctrinated me into going plant-based by first sharing a few documentaries, Forks Over Knives and What The Health. These are films not about animal cruelty, but focused on the health affects of eating meat and dairy. I come from a long background of seeking out and preparing culinary delights, regardless of if said culinary delight had a mother or not. Alligator, escargot, caribou, foie gras, yellow tail…I have tried it all and enjoyed it immensely. Vegetables and fruit were in my diet, but I was lucky to be having one or two servings a day. After the documentaries, Roy turned me on to NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. He sent me YouTube video after YouTube video on meat, chicken and pork. I asked him to not send me anything on dairy, as I was not ready to give up my beloved cheese. I finally acquiesced and he started sending me the YouTube videos on the evils of cheese. I am at this point of being 95% vegan, with only small amounts of dairy products in my diet (perhaps some cheese in a salad or a cheese pizza about once a week).

Here are the 5 surprising impacts of going vegan:

 

Cheap

I have saved a ton of money going vegan. I thought it would be more difficult to find ingredients, but every grocery store has apples, blueberries, grapes, mixed greens and a whole plethora of dried and canned beans. I have had a more difficult time finding vegan cheese at my local, rural Walmart, but as long as I stock up when I am at a specialty grocery or natural foods store, the rest of those items are incredibly cheap. I think I used to spend $10 per meal on flank steak, chicken tenders and lamb chops. Focusing on having meat for one, two or three meals (bacon and eggs for breakfast) is a lot pricier than two cans of beans, a bag of greens and several types of fruit. Outside of specialty items like vegan cheese or substitutes like beyond or impossible meat items, the rest of the items are very inexpensive.

Cholesterol

Two years ago, after I had lost 50 pounds from eliminating alcohol.  I had high cholesterol when I visited my doctor. I was on a low carb diet at the time. I had assumed with a dramatic weight loss that all of my “numbers” would have been terrific. Not so. My doctor threatened me with statin drugs if it didn’t improve in the next year. I assumed it would work itself out and that the cholesterol was just a fluke or age-related. I became a vegetarian about two months later and mostly vegan about five months later. When I returned to the doctor for my annual exam, all of my cholesterol numbers were in range. I have to say, I was shocked and assumed that when I returned to the doctor, I was going to walk out with a new prescription for statins.

Prescriptions

I have been on asthma and allergy medications for the last twenty years. I am allergic to dogs (yes, I own my beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci), cats, dust mites, trees and grasses. I read Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die, about a year ago. He addresses how being plant-based can eliminate many drugs from one’s diet. Well, I decided to drop one medication for about four weeks, and then another, and then another. So that now, I don’t take any medication related to my allergy-induced asthma. I went from 5 drugs daily down to zero. I have no scientific reason for it except that meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation (which is why it is tied to so many cancers). So here I am prescription-free, which is a huge cost saving and hassle-free.

Interesting

I love a challenge. I want to figure out how I can take an old tried and true recipe and make it vegan. It might mean finding a vegan cheese or meat substitute, or searching the internet for how to make cashew blue cheese. It’s all out there. I will say, the last gauntlet for me is trying to figure out how to use my sous vide for vegan recipes and I’m going to try it this week. I have some terrific cookbooks like Thug Kitchen and But I Could Never Go Vegan, which really helped in the first months I took this challenge on. There was a point where I just didn’t care about trying to replicate something I would have had as an omnivore. The impossible and beyond products are great but replicating meat isn’t my desire anymore. I prefer beans, tempeh and whole grains. It’s taught me to flex my culinary muscles and I can make a chili now that you would be hard pressed to even realize it’s vegan.

Easy

When I asked Roy about being a vegan, he said it was easier than he thought it would be. I think that initially I figured I’d be out there buying tofurkeys and chorizo substitutes. I did a little of that and bought crazy ingredients like EnerG Egg Replacer, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, White Miso and Nutritional Yeast Flakes on the Internet. It’s now mostly buying seasonal items, like butternut squash, figs and Cosmic Crisp apples (they are awesome). Going to a restaurant has gotten easier as well. There are more vegetarian menu options (they will frequently have cheese…usually too much cheese) or even at chains like Cracker Barrel or BBQ restaurants, you can order three or four vegetables as an entrée. Almost everyone has a salad on the menu – you just need to make sure there isn’t any bacon or feta cheese in it. I do carry a vegan protein bar in my purse, but it’s rare that I have to resort to that. Peanut butter on an apple or banana is a perfectly healthy vegan meal…it’s just not that hard.

I never thought I would be a vegan at this point, but as I have been culling out my kitchen over the last few months, I decided I needed to donate my electric knife, whose sole purpose over the last twenty years was to slice up turkey on Thanksgiving. I can’t see going back to being an omnivore at this point. There is no upside and I’ve lost my desire for bacon and foie gras. If you had asked this foodie ten years ago if I would be a vegan today? I’d have said you were crazy. Seeing all the positive impacts it’s had on my life, I can’t imagine going back. What stops you from being a vegan?

Appreciation. A Lesson From My Dad.

I posted this back in 2013 when my father was still alive. His memory continues to have an impact on my life even as he passed away last year. I love you, Daddy.

There isn’t a conference I attend or a book that I read that does not bring up the importance of appreciation. It’s critical to everything: employee engagement, child rearing, influencing others and business success. Appreciation is the root to success in all things. But where is it? Dig into your pockets and see if you have had your full load of appreciation today. It’s doubtful. Unfortunately, it can be less utilized. Showing appreciation is that disappearing path in the woods that is covered in brush and kudzu. Most just don’t bother.

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My father and me in the early 1960’s

 

When I was younger, my mother cooked for my family every night without fail. My father complimented her on her cooking prowess every night without fail. There we were, the five of us, sitting at the table as a family and with the first bite, my dad always said, “Hmm, honey, this is good.” This could be part of the reason she cooked every night. She knew she would be appreciated.

Dale Carnegie, Tom Rath, Marshall Goldsmith, Stephen Covey, Gary Chapman and  Patrick Lencioni (plus countless others) have all touted the benefits of appreciation. And the benefits are countless. So let me give you a few pointers on how to start down that road.

  1. Notice.  You are going to need to pay attention to the world around you. Awareness of what is going on, or not going as the case may be, is the first step. Did your son actually put all his clothes away without any hesitation? Did your partner mow the lawn or finally replace that light bulb in the bedroom? Has your assistant updated that monthly report you haven’t looked at in three months? If you aren’t paying attention, you will not have the opportunity to appreciate.
  2. Value.  It’s the little things that matter. The chore I hate the most in my life is emptying the garbage. It’s a little thing. It takes all of 3 minutes to haul the garbage bag out to the trashcan, but I loathe doing it. So when I run across an emptied garbage can, it is a gift. If the implementation team worked extra hours over the weekend to make the new software seamless first thing on Monday morning, it is a gift. If I value it as a gift, then I know I will appreciate it. My dad valued a hot, home cooked meal and he showed his appreciation.
  3. Spontaneous.  Appreciation is not very effective if you drag your feet before you give appreciation. OK, so for a wedding gift, I think the etiquette books give you up to a year—not true with the receptionist’s new haircut. If you wait on complimenting her for, well, a year, it turns out to be kind of pointless. If you love that color blouse on someone, tell them. If you just realized that the dishwasher was emptied by the dishwasher elf (…the only person in my house that would do that is my dear sweet lovable boyfriend), make sure you thank them.
  4. Gossip.  There is nothing better than to hear that someone else spoke highly of you. This happened to me this week and, frankly, prompted me to write this post. A colleague of mine met, by happenstance, a Rotary friend of mine. The colleague told me how my Rotary friend had been singing my praises as a Rotarian. Wow. If that isn’t the best appreciation to get…through a little gossip.
  5. Park it.  Your ego, that is. If you are worried about getting a compliment in return, this will not work. If you come strutting in to the office with your new Jimmy Choo wedges, and start working your way down cubicle row complimenting everyone’s shoes; it will be obvious that it is more about you than them. The appreciation faucet works best if it’s running in one direction…and that is towards others with no expectation of anything in return. If you don’t park your ego, it could appear as if you are not sincere.
  6. Bask in it.  This is going to feel good. Being an appreciator is like being a ray of sunshine. You never know who you are going to run into that you get to shine that light on but it is really gratifying. Paying it forward with one compliment at time.

So go out there and take a few steps down the road of appreciation. See how many steps you can take each day. As Ellen always says, “Be kind to one another…”

4 Keys to Amor Fati

Definition of amor fati : love of fate : the welcoming of all life’s experiences as good

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche describes Amor Fati: “That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…. but love it.” Appalachian Trail thru-hikers (an epic, several-month-long trek over 2,000 miles) would express this as “Embrace the Suck.” Bryon Katie wrote a whole book on the topic called Loving What Is. I’ve spent decades trying to recreate history and control the path of my future, my kid’s future and my family’s future. I imagine I have a giant eraser to take back a failed marriage and wallow in regret, or project forward that my father will miraculously cheat death as he slowly succumbs to congestive heart failure. I have learned over the last few years that I am powerless to rewrite history and to meaningfully alter the future. Amor Fati.

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Here are the 4 keys to Amor Fati:

Quit Complaining

As Will Bowen says, “Complaining is like bad breath – you notice it when it comes out of someone else’s mouth, but not when it comes out of your own.” Bowen is the creator of A Complaint Free World  and challenges folks to go complaint free for 21 days. I remember taking this challenge some 7 years ago and I have to say, it’s pretty tough. I mean there is the weather, the traffic, my son still hasn’t responded to my text, the soup is cold, the package is late, my assistant hasn’t responded…but I digress into complaining. It’s so easy to deny what is. It’s like the negativity bias that saved your ancestors from saber-toothed tigers. It is constantly scanning the environment to track everything that is wrong. Try it for today. Just today. Be focused on what’s right with the world. With your world. I have a roof, a loving dog, a warm house and potable water. Welcome the rain, the red light, the screaming infant. Amor Fati.

Jump Forward

When I was going through my Brain Based Coaching training some eight years ago, I remember a tool we used called 10:10:10. This is a concept developed by Suzy Welch for decision making. “Here’s how it works. Every time I find myself in a situation where there appears to be no solution that will make everyone happy, I ask myself three questions: What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? And in 10 years?” So, if staying late to complete a project for your boss means missing your child’s play at school using the 10:10:10 process there may be a happy boss and perhaps a more resilient child. As Ryan Holiday wrote, “The loss of a loved one, a breakup, some public embarrassment… In five years, are you still going to be mortified, or are you still going to be wracked with grief? Probably not. That’s not saying that you won’t feel bad, but you’re not going to feel as terrible as you do now. So, why are you punishing yourself?” I’ve been thinking about selling my house for the last year or so. I remember selling my house some 18 years ago in California. I thought, at the time, I will never live like this again. It was true, not because my current situation is worse, it’s just different and I never would have imagined how terrific things are right now. Maybe the future is so much better than you think. Amor Fati.

Embrace the Challenge

When my ex-husband left me hanging after my home was flooded by Hurricane Matthew, I was devastated. And then? I decided that this was a challenge. I was going to get the home repaired, fix my devastated finances and create a space of tranquility and comfort. I had an endless punch list and day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, I took it on and conquered it all. I would not succumb regardless of my lack of knowledge of plumbing, HVAC or foreclosure. In retrospect, the challenge of overcoming all the obstacles was the best part. I didn’t want to go through it, but now that I have, I am so glad I did. As Holiday wrote, “It’s like in a game, right? Let’s say I throw you into a football game. If you stop and spend all your time arguing over the rules, you’re never going play. Maybe it doesn’t make sense that the overtime rules are this way or that quarterbacks get special protection, or this or that, right? There are all these different rules that make no sense that are arbitrarily how the game has developed since its inception. The Stoics are asking you in some ways to accept the arbitrary rules. Then they’re saying you play the game with everything you’ve got.” Play the game and embrace the challenge. Amor Fati.

Grateful

Amor means love. It’s not just about accepting the suffering or fate; it’s about loving it. I think about this a lot as I sort through the aftermath of my divorce. I am grateful for the process, for each and every decision, good or bad, for the pain and the release, for the deception and the triumph. I would not be where I am now without the journey, without the emotional bruises, without the struggle. I am so grateful to be the woman I have become. Sober, independent, present and courageous. I do a loving kindness meditation every morning. I wish happiness, peace, health and living with ease to everyone in my family, my boyfriend, my sick cousin, my enemies and, lastly, my ex-husband. I imagine embracing each one. I love them all for what they have brought to my life and love the hand I have been dealt. I am most grateful for my ex-husband leaving me to live my life to the fullest. Amor Fati.

It’s all about reframing the journey. Instead of dreading the court date, looking forward to and loving what fate has in store for me. I think a lot about, “Hmm, I wonder what exciting twist will occur?” or “What does the universe have planned for me now?” I’m not sure where I will be in 5 or 10 years but I know the journey will be exciting. Amor Fati.