Will and Grace

I don’t watch much television and what I do watch is a decade or so old via Netflix or something. One of my favorite old series I’ve been cycling through recently is “Will and Grace”. Yesterday, two “Will and Grace” DVDs showed up in my mailbox, so I spent a rather self-indulgent evening enjoying a “Will and Grace” watch-a-thon.

I find inspiration everywhere I look, even the splash screen of a decade old TV series on DVD.

On will. And grace.

We all have things we’d like to improve in our lives. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t. Some folks are able to improve some things in their lives, and not other things. Other folks have a hard time even knowing where to begin with one wish or desire. Whether it’s weight loss or fitness, education, job skills, magic tricks, or career gains, debt, spending, saving and investing, or self-confidence, happiness or spirituality, we all have a wish list.

How are some folks better at making desired improvements and others aren’t? Will and grace.

Most kids, at some point in time, desire to learn to ride a bicycle. There are usually training wheels to assist while the new cyclist learns to balance, then, one day, the training wheels are gone and some family member is customarily tasked with running down the sidewalk, hunched awkwardly over the tiny cycle, gripping some portion of the bike, the child, or both, while the new rider wobbles and pedals furiously, trying to take flight like a fledgling leaving the nest. For most of us, we eventually get it and a whole new sense of freedom and independence opens up for us. By sheer will, we learn to balance, pedal and steer, simultaneously. Those first few rides begin a little shaky as we try to pedal fast enough and prevent seesawing the handlebars back and forth frantically until that magical moment when everything is in synchronization. Within a week, we look as though we’ve been cycling for years. Grace.

Have you ever noticed that children run everywhere? From the family room to the kitchen, from the front door to the car, from the classroom to the playground at recess. At some point in life, we just stop, it becomes “uncool” to run from point to point and we begin a long life of ambling. For most of us, as adults, we don’t run. Period. Don’t run. Ever. Unless zombies attack, and then, as out of practice as we are, we become zombie chow. There are adults who run, voluntarily, without a zombie breathing down their neck. They run for fitness and, yes, for pleasure. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to move from the ranks of probable zombie chow to “runner”. Have you seen the movie “Zombieland”? Rule number one, of thirty-two, is cardio. To survive in Zombieland you have to be able to outrun the zombies. No, I don’t believe in zombies, but I decided to “learn” to run, as an adult. For fitness and to prove to myself I could. Now I run for pleasure.

My first day of running as an adult, and we’re talking way adult, I’m not twenty-two, or thirty-two, or forty-two. My first day of running as an adult was sort of an “audition” run, if you will. I’d joined a running club on the advice of my friend Miles. I’d expressed an interest in running, he recommended this club. I signed up online and showed up to run. My first run would be a mile and it would be used to identify which “pace group” I would train with. I’d been doing cardio, religiously, at the gym, so I was in pretty good shape. I just didn’t run. Knowing that my performance would determine how far and how fast I’d have to run for the next several months, I was a little concerned. I may have held back a little. When I stepped out onto the paved bike path and was told to begin running, I felt sort of like the tin man from Wizard of Oz, before being adequately oiled. Creaky, kind of spastic and jerky, lurching along, propelling myself forward with a complete lack of rhythm or form. It was my will to run. Two years later, I run a full three minutes per mile faster than that first mile and I’ve finished a full marathon. I have some form and a little bit or rhythm. Grace? Well, yes, comparatively speaking.

I took a job nearly six years ago that required significant travel and having to speak, out loud, for eight hours at a time, standing up in front of really smart people. Neither of these requirements were really okay with me. Like running, I did not fly comfortably and I most certainly did not speak in front of a group of people, voluntarily. Except for Cub Scouts. And Brownies. But never in front of grown ups. But, I needed the job and so I had to do what had to be done. Will.

Six years later, I fly all over the country on all manner of aircraft without a second thought. I’m like George Clooney in “Up in the Air”, but not really. I’m a road warrior, though, but I check my bags, George was all carry-on. I can stand up in front of a group of really smart people and talk and talk and talk. I teach them what they need to know, I tell stories and joke and quite enjoy myself. Grace.

So, what’s on our list? Do we want to get fit? Eat less processed food? Improve our self-esteem? Practice yoga? Learn a foreign language? Learn to master our smartphone? Whatever it is we desire, we can accomplish. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” to quote Napoleon Hill from his book, “Think and Grow Rich.” We just need the will.

Let’s look at the word “will.” It is used in many ways, both as a verb and as a noun.

will
wil/Submit

verb

1. Expressing the future tense.

2. Expressing inevitable events.

3. To decide on; choose.

4. To yearn for; desire.

5. To decree, dictate, or order.

6. To resolve with a forceful will; determine.

7. To induce or try to induce by sheer force of will.

8. To grant in a legal will; bequeath.

noun

1. The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action

2.  a. Diligent purposefulness; determination.

b. Self-control; self-discipline.

3. A desire, purpose, or determination, especially of one in authority.

4. Deliberate intention or wish.

5. Free discretion.

6. Bearing or attitude toward others; disposition.

7.  a. A legal declaration of how a person wishes his or her possessions to be disposed of after death.

b. A legally executed document containing this declaration.

For the purpose of our discussion, I am particularly fond of the following selections from above:

As a verb, “diligent purposefulness; determination, self-control; self-discipline, deliberate intention or wish.” That is the secret ingredient to accomplishing any desire or goal we have. We’re all familiar with the common saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” Sadly, most of us don’t live that truth. We are truly limitless. The only limitations we have are the ones we’ve made ourselves believe. If we set to any one of our desires with “diligent purposefulness, determination, self-control, self-discipline”, if what we desire is a “deliberate intention or wish”, we can achieve it, at which point, “will” becomes a noun; “expressing inevitable events.” With “will”, it “will” happen.

It may be hard, it may take time, and it will likely take commitment and even some set backs to accomplish any one thing on our list, but it can be done. It will be done. With will. And then, we achieve grace.

grace noun \ˈgrās\

1. a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward

2. a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving

3. ease and suppleness of movement or bearing

I grew up around the corner from a friend who’s mother taught ballet. She had a ballet school in an old, white Victorian house, with pink trim, that smelled of old wood floors and resin. I was enchanted and wanted nothing more than to take ballet lessons, that is, if I couldn’t have a pony. A pony would totally trump ballet lessons, but I wasn’t making much headway on that “will” at the age of eight. I was eventually enrolled in ballet, along with most of my Girl Scout troop, which was handy, since ballet was shortly after Girl Scouts. We could car pool. I think it worked out well for my mom, too. I walked to school in the morning, stayed after school for Girl Scouts, hitched a ride to ballet and showed up at home, completely exhausted, just in time for dinner. I probably went right to bed after dinner. I was a very busy child with lots of activities. I think I now know why. It was my mom’s will.

Most of the rooms in the old white and pink Victorian were converted into ballet studios. Upstairs, the bedrooms were reserved for the beginners. Once you were “good enough”, you got “promoted” to the big kids class in the living room, downstairs. It had a bay window at the front, barres along one wall and mirrors on every wall. I started lessons after some of my classmates and I remember my despair at still being upstairs when they were all downstairs. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want(ed) to go to there.” I remember trying so, so, so hard to plié perfectly, to jeté just right and to arabesque absolutely divinely, that I might get to practice in the studio downstairs, with my friends. Ballet is not easy, it takes a great deal of strength and practice. That the dancers make it look easy is the magic. The simplest looking move is really a symphony of coordination, strength, balance and, well, grace. Grace does not come easily or naturally for many, for most, it is only achieved when the coordination, strength and balance have been very well developed. Will.

And that is no different than anything else we have to will to achieve. Grace will only come after much practice and after looking like a goof for a while.

I went to yoga tonight. One of my favorite instructors was teaching. Her class is very rejuvenating. The other yoga instructor I like does a lot of power poses and I am left trembling with muscle fatigue afterwards. Tonight’s instructor teaches more flexibility and relaxation. I am left like putty afterwards, sort of like having a glass of wine and a bubble bath after a massage. Same difference. The class is designed for “all levels”, moves are easily modified for the less, or more experienced yogi. Because it is still January and there are still a few resolutionists around the gym, I arrived early. In fact, I was the first to arrive. There was a picture on Facebook of a yoga class at my gym over the weekend with forty people in it! The “energy” studio has room for about twenty, comfortably. So, I arrived early to be sure to secure my spot. I guess Tuesday night and Saturday mid-morning are a bit different. I set my mat front and center, right where I like it. About twenty minutes after I arrived another fellow showed up. I’ve seen him before, he is a show off. No, not really. He has definitely been practicing yoga for a long time, though. He has grace. He set his mat up next to mine and started practicing some flows. I was trying to meditate and his ankles kept popping and cracking. All decorum was lost and we both started laughing, I told him it sounded like firecrackers, he thought they sounded like snapping twigs. Right. Twigs being stepped on by a really, really large animal. Anyway. Soon, others began to assemble in the classroom. I think there were about ten of us, a good number. After a while, the door opened and an older lady, in yoga pants, wandered in one door. She looked around at all of us pretty much just sitting on our mats waiting for the instructor. We were just chilling. She walked through the classroom and exited out the other door. I observed her and wondered why she didn’t just stay in the hallway to get from one point to the other. A moment later, another lady, in yoga pants, peeked into the room. The first lady kind of peeked around behind her and exclaimed, “This is too advanced for me!” We were sitting on our mats, doing nothing, even “snap, crackle and pop” was sitting still. She totally lacked the will, she wouldn’t even try. Her friend advanced cautiously into the studio and asked the instructor a few questions. She was given gentle reassurance and was advised how to modify the moves for her comfort as a beginner and she stayed for the whole class. She seemed to enjoy it and even said she’d come again. She had the will! And, if she comes back, she will soon have the grace, too!  That’s how it goes. Will and grace.

Will and Grace, Jack and Karen.
Will and Grace, Jack and Karen. Actually, Jack, Grace, Will and Karen.

Whatever it is you desire, whatever it is you wish to accomplish or achieve, whatever it is you wish to improve, just remember Jack and Karen, Will and Grace. Especially, Will and Grace.

God I Missed You

I had a revelation last night.

I’m reading a book about happiness. I read lots of books about happiness, it makes me happy. I am, generally, a very positive and mostly happy person. True, like anyone, I have my moments, but, for the most part, I attribute my relative success in life, through good times and bad, to my general, overall happiness. But I still read every book I can find on the topic. I’ve decided happiness is my passion. And my mission. I want to know as much about happiness as possible, and my hope is to be able to help others find their happiness. I have faith that I can.

The book I’m working on presently is “Happy This Year – The Secret to Getting Happy Once and For All” by Will Bowen. It is a great read, one I recommend. I stayed up until nearly 1:00 AM this morning and am nearly half way through the book, on my first venture beyond the title page.

Having read much on the topic of happiness, and having practiced my own happiness for quite some time, now, I’ll admit, I don’t know everything. I do know quite a bit, and, as I read this book I nodded in agreement, “I do that, I do this, I agree with that, I love this, I practice that,” and so on. Then I reached the chapter on spirituality.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

Spirituality has been sort of a tough one for me the past several years. I do still consider myself “Christian”, but my views have evolved into a far more broad, progressive definition. I still find churches and the practice of going to church centering, though I no longer attend churches other than for weddings and funerals. I appreciate the teachings, though, in my more progressive view, I think all religions exist for the same purpose and tell, basically, the same story, hoping to instill, basically, the same values and virtues. I think “church” itself, is just a community you choose to belong to in order to hear the stories in a frame of reference perhaps more convenient, comfortable, familiar or palatable than another. My “problem” with religion, modern, organized religion, is not so much the message or story, the virtues, the values, but, perhaps, the method of delivery, and, for certain, the constituents.

My ventures into bastions of organized religion over the past decade or so have been disappointing, after moving away from the very comfortable, forgiving, tolerant church where I converted to Catholicism nearly twenty years ago. And with that particular priest being reassigned, even that bastion of organized religion has evolved into something somewhat less. When I attend a church, now, I am appalled at the behavior of many of the members as they try flaunt their piety like a Rolex watch. Cliquey and judgmental. Constantly comparing themselves to their brethren, judging their relative level of salvation. Thou art more righteous than I, yes, because thou knoweth the words to the songs, as evidenced by the loud singing and over-annunciation of the words. I am humbled. Not. There seems to be a clamoring for salvation, like tickets to the Super Bowl, just not enough room in heaven for all of us, and he, or she, who can outwardly demonstrate their over the top righteousness, piety and faith wins.  And this amongst “the saved”. I thought “witnessing” was for the benefit of those who were not yet “converted”, “born again”, or “saved”. Whatever that all means. Live a good life, get into the game. As I see it. Righteousness is in how you live your life, not in how you flaunt your relative level of devotion with other Christians, like some sort of baton-twirling competition.

To me, religion, the practice of faith, of worship, of spirituality is a personal journey and not something to be flaunted, measured or compared. Maybe that’s just me.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

So, I’m reading this book and I get to the chapter about spirituality. The author, Will, has some great and very refreshing interpretations of passages from the Bible I quite agree with. I’m nodding my affirmation as I read on. The book suggests we should be spiritual to foster happiness. Okay. I like to think I’m spiritual even if I don’t attend church and sing all the right words to all the songs, loudly, even if I don’t serve on twelve congregation committees, even if the ushers don’t know me by name and make small talk with me as I enter the chapel. I meditate. I am reverent. I live a good life. I have good values. I consider myself fairly virtuous.

The plot thickens. The author suggests we should pray. Well, I sort of do. I state my affirmations and I list out all the things I am grateful for, daily, is that not praying? No. Apparently not. The author suggests our prayer be to the attention of someone, like God, or, insert your deity here. To whom it may concern. After our proper salutation, rather than rattling of a laundry list of “I wants”, we should state our affirmations, positively, in present tense, and with power. Then, in conclusion, we should say “thanks” and sign off. I’m fidgeting now. I haven’t prayed, in that manner, for some time and I’m not sure I’m ready to.

My issues with prayer; I used to pray, well, religiously. For most of my life. I’ve always believed in the power of prayer. I still do. In fact, I have to say, it works, perhaps a little too well. I prayed for so many things in my life, and, usually got just what I asked for, and always ended up with a whole lot more than I bargained for. I’ve envisioned God up there, chuckling, listening to my daily prayer, saying, “well, okay,” and shaking his head. Or maybe Bruce Almighty was in charge and just granted me everything I prayed for by pressing the “Yes to All” button. Perhaps I was trying to micro-manage God through prayer and He got tired of it and just gave me everything I asked for to see how I’d handle it. I got it, I got it all, and everything that came along with it. And when the house of cards all fell down, I looked heavenward and thought, “I know you’re there, though I’m not sure of your form. I know you love me, though you have a funny way of showing it, and I don’t think I know how to pray. Obviously.”  So, I stopped. And since then, my thoughts on religion have evolved, as have I, into something far more open-minded, tolerant and accepting than modern Christianity seems willing to bear. And my “prayers” have evolved into just the affirmations and the gratitude. I’ve omitted the salutation. I just throw it out into the universe and am comfortable with that. It’s all an “energy” thing, right? The positive energy of affirmations will certainly be returned in the same, positive form, and my affirmations will manifest. I am oh, so careful how I word things, lest they be taken, by the “universe” too literally, or misinterpreted. I’m mincing words.

Well, up until the prayer part of the spirituality chapter of this book, I’ve been in complete agreement with every word. Maybe there is something to the prayer part I should consider. Or reconsider. I decided to give it a try.

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

My first dilemma was to whom I should address my prayer. The book left me some wiggle room here, it could be God, Father, Lord, Creator, or Universe, or whatever deity or power you wished. Just insert the name of some responsible party here. Long gone are the days of envisioning God as some floating form in white robes and a long white beard, shrouded in sunlight. Nor do I see any other holy figure others may pray to. It’s a mystery. To all of us. No one can know, no one will know, until we are in the great beyond, and so, beyond the ability to share the truth with those of us still here in life. I believe in creation, creatively, as sort of a morph between science and the whole seven days and Garden of Eden thing. I believe both are true, and that the stories we have collected into the Bible and other accounts are just that, stories to explain the creation that obviously occurred. And, the creation, however it was sparked, ignited or made to happen, was the result of a great amount of energy. From somewhere. So, that was my choice. I decided to pray to Mr. E, which, if you know me well, you’ll see, is a play on words; Mr. E for Mr. Energy (though I think the Mr. is open to interpretation) and, if you say it fast enough it sounds like “mystery”. Ah, you see how my mind works?

So, I started, “Dear Mr. E”. Long pause. Rather than go through ALL of my positive and powerful affirmations, they fill a whole page written out, stated in the present tense, per direction, I decided to just go with a couple of the biggies, at the top of the list. I selected a couple and as I said them, even in the safe, secure silence of my head, I was suddenly overcome with great emotion. My eyes welled up, threatening to spill over and wash away that new, million-dollar eye cream I’d just applied. I was completely awash in a feeling of immense relief and an overwhelming spiritual connection. All from adding the simple, silly, cheeky, salutation to my “prayer”. It was an epiphany, a revelation. It was humbling and faith affirming. And I felt happy. And I thought, “God, I missed you.”

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

My beliefs have not changed. I’m not going to go door-to-door handing out religious reading materials. I’m not going to shave my head, don robes, and chant and grasp hands with strangers at the park. I’m not going to give Jesus the wheel. I’m not going to join twelve congregational committees and sing loudly at church every Sunday. I am, however, going to pray again, in my own, unique way. I am going to try to grow more spiritually. I am seeking that blissful, mysterious, spiritual connection I felt last night. God, I missed you.

Don’t Doubt It

Buddha said, “There is nothing more terrible than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that ruins friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts. It is a sword that kills.”

Doubts are fears and live within all of us. It’s what we allow those doubts to do that differs. Do we allow them to rule and destroy our life? Or do we acknowledge them for what they are, limiting fears, part of our spastic and irrational mind, and let them go?

Practitioners of Zen know that doubts live within the “untrained” mind, they are the seeds of discord and unhappiness. In mindfulness, a Zen practice, doubts are sloughed away with other negative thoughts like dead skin cells with a refreshing, cleansing shower. Don’t doubt it.

Mom and Dad – a story:

My mom and dad married later in life, both having suffered through a previous marriage that ended in betrayal, dishonesty and pain. That they found one another and developed a relationship of their own, after their experiences, I consider quite remarkable. Both are very practical people, and I think the thought of growing older alone was ultimately a more frightening prospect than taking another chance. On the day of their wedding, a casual affair at a wedding chapel in Tahoe, as the moment approached, my mom took refuge in the car. Doubts filled her mind and she nearly did not go through with the ceremony, which, likely, would have ended the relationship between her and my dad. A dear friend finally coaxed her from the car and into the chapel. The rest is history, and I was a result of that union a year and a half later.

Mom and Dad had a good marriage. It was not perfect. There is no such thing. They had their differences, their grievances, their doubts and their annoyances. But, in overcoming that initial doubt and marrying, they worked in union for the next fifty years to create a home, raise a child, run a business, share dinners every night, take vacations, retire and care and comfort one another through old age until my dad passed almost two years ago to the day.

Had my mom acted on her doubt, the years of happiness and comfort would not have happened.

A man destroyed – a story:

The man I married was a man consumed by doubt and fear. For years he managed it to a degree that he was able to build a business, we were able to raise two wonderful children and acquire a house, then a home, and, eventually, the ranch we always dreamed of owning. As life progressed and the responsibilities mounted, his doubts and fears grew exponentially. He no longer fretted only over the things most families fret over; bills, retirement, career. His business faltered and died of neglect and he scrambled, in middle age, to build a new career, to follow a passion he’d dreamed of his entire adult life. It too faltered because his attention was consumed by his doubts and not by his passion. His doubts and fears grew to include things so external to us, as a family, and to him, as a man, that he felt completely out of control and unable to act or affect the world around him; issues in politics, policies and beliefs of elected officials. He abandoned his business, he never even applied an effort to the career he dreamed of for most of his youth, he squandered the opportunity at that passion because of his consumption by doubt. He abandoned his children and he abandoned me, not in a literal sense, he did not pack his bags and move out, he just left us. He quit contributing to the family financially, and we resorted to living off savings, equity, then the retirement nest egg we’d built, just to keep a roof over our head. The resources eventually were depleted and we lost all we owned; the ranch, the home, even the pets and animals we adored. In the end, he lost his family. Unemployed and unemployable, still, he spends his time, each and every day, engulfed in his doubts and fears of things far greater than he.

Doubts all around me.

As I talk to friends and people very close to me, I frequently hear of their doubts, often over the person they are with, the person they love. “Are they the right one? I have doubts. I’m not sure it ‘feels right’, I don’t want this to end up like my previous relationships.” Buddha did say, “doubt separates people. It is a poison that ruins friendships and breaks up pleasant relations.” The way I see it, there are two choices when faced with such doubts, we succumb to them and face a life of loneliness and disappointment or we acknowledge those doubts for what they are, the weak and negative chatter of a mind unable to discern the truth and the good from the dismay and deception of doubts.

Doubts are no more than fear and no one ever gained success or true bliss by letting fear limit them. Eleanor Roosevelt is my hero and she has much to say about overcoming fear.

A few of the Eleanor quotes I try to live by:

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”

 

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

 

“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

 

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

 

“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.”

Fear and doubt are the same. Both are destroyers. And they are everywhere, within us and around us. Don’t doubt it.

Think of doubt like a cup of poison; if someone put a cup of poison in front of you, certainly you wouldn’t drink it. Perhaps you could not tell it was poison in the cup, certainly if you drank it and it tasted bad or made you feel terrible, you would not drink more. So it is with doubt, why partake of something poisonous that tastes terrible and leaves you feeling terrible? To someone mindful, someone who has practiced identifying doubt and other negative, poisonous and limiting thoughts they have, they learn to dismiss, remove and replace those thoughts with thoughts that are more positive and constructive. They not only resist drinking the poison, the get up and leave the table where the cup was placed grab a glass of clear, cool water and quench their thirst with what they know to be good.

Doubt is not truth. Doubt is irrational thought. Doubt is fear and fear destroys. Don’t doubt it.

I have as many doubts as the next guy. It is human. The key is to learn, through diligent practice, to identify, isolate, and dismiss those doubts, pull them out of our mind like a noxious weed. As we learn to identify and dismiss them, we can soon learn to replace doubts with positive and nurturing thoughts, plant them like seeds for a lovely garden. With practice, we are all capable of this. Don’t doubt it.

Scarlett’s Letter January 20, 2014

A Lesson on Shortcuts.

There are none.

Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.
Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.

Do you remember, as a kid, having to walk places? To school, to a friend’s house, to a playground? No matter how near or far, we always looked for a shortcut. More often than not, that shortcut was more trouble than it was worth.

There was a ravine in my backyard and a ranch behind it. I lived in a curb and gutter, cookie cutter house neighborhood. Still do, as a matter of fact. Many of my friends lived in the same neighborhood, some on the same creek. Other friends lived in other neighborhoods on the other side of the creek, beyond the ranch. There were many times we used the creek as a “shortcut” from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another and even to the elementary school. It was a “shortcut”. Not.

When we walked the creek one of several things were likely to happen, if not all of those several things; we ‘d get caught for trespassing and get yelled at, and, if we were caught on the rancher’s property, we might get shot at with rock salt from his pellet gun. We might get poison oak. Correction, other kids might get poison oak, I GOT poison oak. We might get scared by a snake, or by something else. I remember one time, finding a dead animal that had had its fur burned off. My friend told me “the devil” did that kind of stuff. I was terrified to go anywhere near there for years. It was possible we’d lose our footing on the steep banks and end up falling into the large masses of thorny blackberry bushes. By the time we were all about eleven years old, we figured out the sidewalk was a much better, far less risky and way more direct route to almost anywhere we wanted to go.

Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.
Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.

But, the lesson wasn’t complete.

As an adult, as a driver, I prefer to keep moving. I live in California, keeping moving is sometimes a tremendous challenge. I have been known to “shortcut” on surface streets to avoid traffic on the highway. I get to keep moving, but rarely, rarely, rarely, do I get to my destination any quicker than I would had I stuck it out on the highway. When I drive home from Sacramento to Napa, I take Highway 12 between Interstate 80 and Highway 29. Unless the traffic gods are smiling down on me in an unusual manner, I’m going to be moving much slower than I’d like on Highway 12 through “the canyon”. Wine country tourist traffic and lots of road construction lately just exacerbates the situation. A half-mile before the intersection of Highways 12 and 29 is a “shortcut”, North Kelly Rd. It sneaks around behind the business park and pops out onto Highway 29 a mile up. I always, always, always take this “shortcut”, thinking, as a “local”, no one knows about it. I’ve done this for over thirty years with the same result. I’m usually one of about five cars that sneak off to the right down this route. Nine times out of ten, I pop out onto Highway 29 a mile or so up, immediately behind the car I’d been behind through “the canyon” on Highway 12. But, still, I take my “shortcut.” My sanity may be questioned at this point.

There are other shortcuts we all favor. There are shortcuts for tasks at work, for losing weight, for cooking, for cleaning, for gaining wealth, and knowledge. Remember Cliff Notes? They never served me well. Ever. When will it occur to us all that shortcuts are never shortcuts, and usually result in taking more time and effort later on? Am I right?

Today I was working on a project for a client. It is a tedious, tiresome task and for some reason, I told my client I’d just “finish it up” for them rather than sending the project to them to complete at the end of our eight hour consulting session like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would take me an hour or two to finish, and, based on the number of emails and phone calls I’d had from them before the consulting session with questions that numbered far greater than any of my other clients, heck, more than all of my other clients, combined. I rationalized that it would ultimately take me less time to “just do it” than it would to have to walk them through it over the course of two weeks via hundreds of emails and conference calls.

I opened up the task at hand on my computer this morning knowing exactly what had to be done. I cringed at the tedium and tried to mastermind a “better way”. A shortcut. While I procrastinated, I mean, made my coffee, I had a fantastic idea! A shortcut! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I ran upstairs to my office, coffee sloshing in my travel coffee press slash mug I got for Christmas from my mom. I sat down at my desk and began my new, improved, better way, the shortcut to the long, tedious task before me. You know, the one I said would only take an hour or two. Two hours later, I wasn’t even a quarter of the way done. Fortunately, I was wise enough to only employ the “better way” on the first of four sections of the project.

On the second section, I reverted to the “old way”, the long route, and an hour later I was done with the second section. I procrastinated at the half way point, I mean, I went for a run over my lunch break, then ate lunch because I was ravenous, then took a shower because I smelled beastly, and dried and curled my hair, and carefully applied makeup, because I might go somewhere this afternoon if I ever get my work done, and finally, I sat down at my desk to finish up the task. Two hours later, I’d completed the last two sections. The shortcut in the morning ended up costing me over an hour of time I could have put to so much better use. The shortcut wasn’t a shortcut at all. This morning’s shortcut cost me in other ways. Because the first section, the one I “shortcut” took so awfully long, I ended up taking a break, needing a break, at the half way point. Perhaps if I’d just done it the way I knew would work, the way that has always worked, the way we teach other people to do the task, I’d have finished the whole project before lunch and could’ve used my afternoon for other, more important work. That more important work just got sloughed off onto tomorrow’s to-do list.

We just gotta realize that a shortcut, though it usually seems like a great idea, no matter what the task at hand may be, will almost always result in more time, more effort, and often, abandonment of the task, especially when we’re talking about fitness, wealth, weight loss, and health. You’re not likely to get poison oak, see a snake or fall into blackberry bushes, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to end up spending more time and more effort than you bargained for by trying to shortcut that which just takes time. Just keep to the highway.

Scarlett’s Letter January 19, 2014

Game Over

I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a sad day in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Niners aren’t going to the Super Bowl. Game Over.

But what a game! It was so close and until the last eighteen seconds, no one, not the loudest 12th man, not the most faithful of the faithful, no one, no one knew who would be playing the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Not being really much of a football fan, it looked like a perfectly executed game, by both teams. Really, I know every armchair quarterback would’ve played one play or another differently, but I think it was the best match I’ve seen in a very long time. Keep in mind, all I learned about football I learned as a cheerleader in high school. I know when to cheer for defense, when to cheer for offense and what the quarterback and the receivers do. Oh, I played powder-puff football, and made a game saving tackle. I don’t remember the technical name of my position, but I got the flag in the nick of time, so I guess I was on defense. In spite of my lack of knowledge, today’s game was amazing.

I was at a friend’s house for the match; two couples, each with two kids, one boy, one girl, all similar in age, and me. The ninth wheel. But I had fun and the company was great, it takes a great deal for me to feel awkward, and even more for me to show it if I do. The men were both born and raised in San Francisco, need I say more, it was nearly 12th man loud. After the game, the television remained on for the post game analysis of the incredible match. For hours, players were interviewed, plays were analyzed and second-guessed, discussed and dissected. I watched most of the interview of Kapernick and was impressed with his response to nearly every question, “it was a good match, one that I looked for.” He knew exactly what he was doing and really, in my opinion, made very few, very minor errors, and there is nothing he could have done differently to change the outcome of the game. He played a stellar game. But, his team lost, and the look on his face was so sad it made me sad.

I thought about this for a while, and I decided it was one of the most perfectly executed games I’ve ever witnessed, again, keeping in mind I probably watch five football games a year, from about the playoffs on and only if there is a team I’m half interested in. What dawned on me, though, after some reflection, was that life is not much different than a football game. We are going to win, we are going to lose, no matter how perfectly we play.

So, the game is over. The Niners lost. What are they going to do? They are going to train and practice and play harder than ever and next year, they’re going to show up and play some more football. They may make it to the playoffs, they may not. They make it to the Superbowl, they may not, but, by golly, they will keep training, practicing and playing football.

What do you do when you lose? What do you do when you throw a perfect spiral and the receiver can’t quite reach it? What do you do when you get sacked? Do you keep on training, practicing and playing harder, over and over again? Or do you throw in the towel. Is it game over? Or is it time to revise the playbook and try a little harder next season? Game over, or game on?

Game on.

Happily Ever After

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

Isn’t that what we all want? Our “happily ever after”?

I had a wonderful, fun, over-indulgent, sunshiny, friend-filled, food and wine overdose week this past week while my Sweetie visited from far, far away. His plane just landed back home, seconds ago, three thousand miles away. As I lay in my lonely little bed earlier this morning, a little thought crept into my mind as I tried to meditate, it proclaimed, “all I want is my happily ever after.” Then, for emphasis, the pathetic little voice added, “now.”

Like all little thoughts that creep into my mind while I’m attempting to meditate, I dismissed it, but not without acknowledging it, so I could address it later. I am here to address that stray little thought. Now.

Just the other night at dinner with my friends and my Sweetie, we reminisced about afternoon syndicated television shows we all adored during our childhood. We all talked about TV after school, with Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched. The Friday night line up, of course, Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and, then, Sunday, having to endure Lawrence Welk with the older family members in order to enjoy Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and, finally, the Disney movie. The Disney movie was like the whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top of the ice cream sundae, making ordinary vanilla ice cream that “once a week” treat.

My kids were “raised on Disney”, too. We had a pile a mile high of all the Disney classics, and added to the pile every time the newest movie came to video. We watched them all, over and over and over and over again. What is it with Disney movies? Simple, it’s the “happily ever after.”

Moore's Landing - Public Fishing Pier - Cutting's Wharf
Moore’s Landing – Public Fishing Pier – Cutting’s Wharf

In every story, there is some sort of sadness or strife or discord and then, there is the “happily ever after” and the credits roll. Most of these stories are based on tales of yore, books and stories generations, if not centuries old, though the newer ones follow the same pattern, promising them success in the box office with the kids, and the adults, alike. We want to see that “happily ever after”, ever after. And even in our favorite childhood TV shows, the usually happy characters had some sort of chaos that made us laugh, and in the last moments of the episode, order was restored and things were just the way they were supposed to be, “happily ever after.”

“The happily ever after” is usually a kiss from a prince, a castle, a sunset in the Disney version. In our favorite weekly series, the characters were all together, right where they belonged, with a laugh, smiles, and hugs. The sadness and strife ended and there was bliss, the “happily ever after,” we all assume, begins. And that’s what we all want. And that’s what we all chase. And we are all missing the point.

There are no guarantees in life, except one; no one and no thing can ever bring you your “happily ever after.”

From the lighthouse - Point Reyes National Seashore
From the lighthouse – Point Reyes National Seashore

The real sadness and strife in life is that so many of us spend so much thought, time and energy trying to produce this “happily ever after”, others of us just sit and wait for it to arrive at the doorstep without putting any effort into it. We treat “happily ever after” like it’s going to be some cataclysmic event, like rounding a corner or clicking on a light switch, and BAM! From that point on, happy, ever after. We are under the sad impression that “happily ever after” happens to us and is external; a person, a thing, and worse, we think that person or thing will make us happy, ever after.

I have to think of my hero, here; Gilligan. In all those years, Gilligan and his pals never actually got their problem solved, their “strife and sadness” being the fact that they were stranded on some uncharted island in the middle of the ocean. The television show only existed as long as their “strife and sadness” continued. Their rescue, their “happily ever after”, would mean the series would end and the kids of the seventies would have to watch something else after school. Or invent video games to fill that time instead.

In spite of the fact that Gilligan and Skipper, the Howells, Ginger, the Professor, may he rest in peace, and Mary Ann, didn’t find their “happily ever after” at the end of each episode was okay. They were happy. They were happy for what they had, they were grateful. They used the resources they had and made a pretty sweet looking existence. I wanted to live in a grass hut, sleep in a hammock, cook over a fire, have daily adventures, go to the beach, fish and always have my friends around. That looked frickin’ awesome to me, on the other side of the TV screen. And just like Gilligan, our “happily ever after” is right where we are. We need only look around and be grateful for what we have.

Our “happily ever after” will never come as a result of meeting a terrific person, falling in love, getting the job, gaining career success, making millions of dollars, traveling around the world, driving a sports car, or buying the big house, it isn’t a pill the doctor prescribes or an intoxicating beverage from a bottle. Our “happily ever after” isn’t as a result of a thing, or a person. It can’t be bought or visited, it isn’t even tangible. Our “happily ever after” is something we are in possession of and is something we have power over. It is in our midst and in our grasp at all times, immediately and forever.

Our “happily ever after” comes from within, and, only we can make it happen. Disney movies follow the same storyline movie after movie, show after show, there are certain components and factors that make their success measurable at the box office and those same components and factors are applied to each story to thrill the audiences and give them a glimpse at a “happily ever after”. Our own, personal, real life, living color “happily ever after” also follows a familiar storyline and has consistent components and factors. And, just as with a full-featured, animated blockbuster success, producing our own, personal, “happily ever after” isn’t quite as easy as rounding a corner or flicking on a light switch. There’s a reason why Disney is more successful with their productions than others, they know the formula and the repeat it consistently.

So, what’s the formula? What’s the prescription for our own, personal, “happily ever after”?

  • Gratitude. Take time every day to remind yourself, in some way, of all you have and of what you are grateful for.
  • Now. Live in the present. The past and the future steal the only thing we really have in life, the present moment.
  • Self-esteem. Like yourself. You have to like yourself enough to make positive changes. You have to truly believe you deserve better before anything positive from within can happen.
  • Meditation. Quiet that noisy, whiny, needful voice in your head, separate yourself from it, and, in the process, discover your true self inside.
  • Cleansing. Get rid of all the clutter, the things that hold you back, drag you down and imprison you.  Too many possessions, too many commitments and too many toxic people. Clean house.
  • Purpose. Do something meaningful, every day. We have to have a reason to arise in the morning and something to feel satisfied about as we slip into sleep.
  • Passion. Do only what you love, for work and for play. There simply isn’t enough time for all the rest.

No, “happily ever after” isn’t easy, I never said it was, that’s why we all look to something external like the prince on the majestic steed to just whisk us away. Our “happily ever after” is more subtle, a little elusive and it takes practice, a lifetime of practice, in fact, we must practice forever after. But, every moment can be happier than the last with effort and practice, diligence and discernment.

And we can begin immediately. We don’t have to wait until the prince on the horse gallops up, we don’t have to wait until we find our way back to Earth again, we don’t have to wait until we figure out how to get rescued from the uncharted island. Like Gilligan, our daily happiness is all around us, we just need to identify the resources, like building a hut from grass and a hammock from old fishing nets and making cups from coconut halves. We have what it takes.

So, though I’m sad that Gilligan’s Island isn’t still on TV, I’m okay, I have the series on DVD. And, though my Sweetie isn’t here, now, I’m okay, because while I’m happy and oh, so grateful that he is part of my life, he isn’t what creates my “happily ever after”. I do.

An Effort to Evolve

A few resources for finding your “Happily Ever After”

http://vimeo.com/22100389

http://www.eckharttolle.com/

http://www.missminimalist.com/

Francine Jay, “The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life”

Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now”

Jillian Michaels, “Unlimited, How to Live an Exceptional Life”

Resolution Shmesolution

I’ll let you in on a little secret; New Years is my least favorite holiday of the whole year. There may be some level of posttraumatic stress syndrome involved here, for me. It seems that New Years has been a time of loss, loneliness, turmoil, upheaval, drama and distress at many points in my past. In fact, my personal history has proven that any major upheaval or difficulty is usually proximate to New Years. I know not why. I’m a super positive person most of the time, and I certainly don’t dwell on the past, but as New Years approaches each year, I anticipate it with a certain amount of trepidation and solemnity.

I also hold time at a very high value. Time is more valuable than money, and while we can save and accumulate, invest and bank money, we cannot save, accumulate, invest or bank time. The celebration of the passage of time is one I don’t understand. I get that some see New Years as a time of renewal. I see every second as an opportunity for renewal. To party at the passage of another year confounds me. But I’d still like to be invited to the party, just so you know, I’m very social no matter what the date on the calendar is.

My New Years Eve; moose roast a nice wine with Mom.
My New Years Eve; moose roast a nice wine with Mom.

Okay, so I didn’t get to kiss my Sweetie at the stroke of twelve last night and I may be pouting a little about that, too.

My New Years Eve; a couple of oldies, what I call my fashion magazine fantasy double feature, and a bit of Prosecco.
My New Years Eve; a couple of oldies, what I call my fashion magazine fantasy double feature, and a bit of Prosecco.

There is yet another aspect of New Years that detracts from my general joie de vie; “the resolutionists”. Bless their pea-picking hearts. This being the time of year when the gym is overcrowded with people with big ideas and short attention spans. There are lines at all the cardio machines and the classes are all full to capacity. True, it is a short-lived problem and things are back to normal within a month, still, it is not a good month at the gym for those of us who go there regularly and consistently. Resolutions, shmesolutions.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I know, you’d think I would. I don’t. At all.

How can this be? I believe in setting goals and making an effort to evolve into the people we deserve to be, into the people we are capable of becoming, into something much more than we are presently, which is, perhaps, much more than we were in the past. True. But none of this growth and evolution came from the setting of a resolution.

Let’s explore the word “resolution”; it means to resolve. Let’s look closely at the word resolve; re + solve. So, we are then going to re-solve all of the same old problems because we didn’t completely solve them before, or our solving of them was only temporary. So, each and every January 1st, we just spend some time, a day, a week, maybe even a month, re-solving the same things we re-solved the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that. Resolutions, then, really, in application, mean a temporary solution to an ongoing desire, issue or problem.

I can’t help but think that in our resolute attempt to solve these desires, issues and problems, year after year after year, they must have some level of importance to us, and, for whatever reason, or reasons, we fail to solve the desire, issue or problem completely or permanently. I think that by reframing these desires, issues or problems as goals, and then managing them appropriately, we can have successful, lasting and complete solutions. And, so, I believe in solutions, not resolutions.

Solutions. How to solve stuff, once and for all.

Be specific and thorough. Don’t be vague. If you want to be healthier, great! But what, exactly, does healthier mean? What does it mean to you, personally? Does “being healthier” incorporate weight loss, or better cardio endurance, or eating more wholesome food, or wearing a certain size of jeans, or being able to accomplish some task or feat, or gaining control over a disease or physical ailment? Being “healthier” can be any of these, some of these, all of these, or none of these. It is up to you to determine what it means, to you, exactly.  Define it, in every dimension, in every detail. For me, “being healthier” ended up encompassing several unique goals, each of which were managed separately, beginning at separate points and then managed on their own individual timeline. I managed exercise separately from eating clean, and once I mastered those, I added physical endurance. Separate from physical endurance was core strength and balance. Now, I’d like to add flexibility and muscular strength, two more completely separate, unique goals. You may have to take your all-encompassing goal and break it into several blocks and then decide how to organize them.

Once you’ve defined your goal or goals, and have broken them into their unique blocks, prioritize them. It is very likely you won’t be able to tackle them all simultaneously, so decide which is first and what’s to follow. One reason our resolutions fail is that we are taking a huge, vague idea and trying to install it immediately into our lives, we usually become overwhelmed by the magnitude and impossibility of it all and abandon the entire idea, only to try to tackle it, again, the following New Year’s. Rome was not built in a day, a week, a month or even a year.

Once our goals are defined in detail and are prioritized, we need to decide how we can measure our progress. Progress is what will motivate us to keep going. Progress can be difficult to recognize if we have no ruler by which to compare it to. To make a goal measurable, we need to define, first of all, what “success” or “completion” of the goal is, in other words, what is the definition of “done”. For weight loss, this may be pounds or inches, dress, jeans or shirt size. For endurance, the ability to complete a race or competition, perhaps, for strength, the ability to lift or manage a certain amount of weight. You get the idea. We need to know the definition of done. Having determined the end, we need to consider setting intermediate markers or milestones. To go from couch potato to 100-mile endurance run is a very long process and inserting some intermediate measures to note progress is going to be helpful and extremely motivating. In this example, perhaps a 5k, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, a full-marathon and then a fifty-miler. Likewise, with jean size, going from a size 22 to a size 4 is, and should be, a fairly long timeline. Perhaps set a preliminary goal of size 18, then size 14, then size 10, and so forth. Having, personally, gone from a size 16 to a size 6, it was a huge accomplishment every time I HAD to go buy jeans! I resupplied at size 12, 8 and finally 6, and each time I did, I was so happy with my accomplishment I never despaired at the overall length of time it took to achieve my ultimate goal.

Our goals also need to be realistic. We are all capable of accomplishing nearly anything we set our minds to, true, but pay attention to the word “nearly”. We can’t go back in time and we cannot change other people, for example. Our goals need to be personal and cannot involve progress, change or evolution of other people in our lives. For me, getting to a size 0, making someone love me, and running an average 6-minute mile for a full-marathon are not reasonable or realistic goals. Getting to a size four, being lovable and running a full-marathon in less than four hours, however, with time, a great deal of diligence and effort, are realistic goals.

So, as the first day of the New Year draws to a close, and your resolutions loom large in your mind as the holidays fade into the rear view and the reality of daily life lies ahead when the alarm goes off in the morning, consider reframing those resolutions as well-defined, prioritized, measurable and realistic goals. As solutions. Organize them, manage them and find a lasting solution, rather than a recurring resolution. Party on.

As the night evolves into a new year.
As the night evolves into a new year.