Limbo

I was having wine with a couple of my besties last night, just talking about life. We all had news since we last visited, life goes on and on and on. After updating us on all the developments in her extended family life, one friend stated, “we’re just in limbo right now.” I thought about my life and all the events and developments that have accumulated since last I shared with my friends, I’m in limbo, too. Aren’t we all, though? Aren’t we always? Always waiting for the next step; to grow up, the party, Christmas, the right person, summer vacation, the house, the proposal, the raise, the baby to arrive, the end of the school year, the settlement, the promotion, vacation, the kids to go to school, the crisis to end, graduation, the divorce to be final, the economy to recover, the equity in the house to grow, the diagnosis, the kids to go to college, retirement, the cure, death. Life is constant transition, always in waiting, always in limbo. The only certain resolution to being in a state of limbo is death. As long as we are alive, we are in limbo in some respect or another. Perhaps several.

Interestingly, if you look up limbo in Wikipedia, the first result is the theological reference, based on the Latin word “limbus”, meaning the edge or boundary. Of hell. Often, in life, finding ourselves in a state of limbo equates to a hellish experience, does it not?

Transitioning from one phase in life to another, from one circumstance to the next, from a situation to another situation, from one problem to a resolution and on to the next problem, this is really what life is made of. And to live happily along the way, not hellishly. Like walking, one foot in front of the other, repeat, repeat, repeat and if we stop, we are no longer walking. Are we walking towards hell or are we walking happily?

I used to love to go to the roller skating rink on the weekends. There was nothing I didn’t love; free skate, races, couples skate, reverse skate, the red light/green light game. My very favorite, though, was the limbo game. I was good at it, I could bend way down low and glide right under the bamboo stick even at the lowest setting. There was a trick to winning limbo on roller skates; you needed good forward motion, you had to be flexible, have a good sense of balance, and a certain amount of strength, and courage. You had to have the courage to try again and again as the bamboo pole was lowered, inch by inch, turn by turn.  All of this was accomplished with lots and lots of practice, week after week.

Is limbo, in life, really any different than limbo at the roller skating rink? I don’t think so. And since we are in a constant state of limbo, in life, doesn’t it make sense to approach it happily, like a game, instead of like the verge of hell?

To win at limbo at the roller rink, first of all, you need to be skating. Forward. You need to be in motion, to have momentum. So, too, in life. To make progress in one phase and move onto the next, you need to be in motion, to be moving forward, with momentum. With intention. With deliberation. Nothing ever gets better that stays the same. Motion is critical, in life, in limbo.

Skating under a bamboo pole, set at increasingly lower intervals, is tricky. In addition to actually moving forward, you need to be flexible enough to crouch under the pole. So, too, in life, when we’re in limbo, we need to have significant flexibility. To change, to evolve, to progress, to move, from one set of circumstances on to the desired set of circumstances almost always requires some sort of compromise, some sort of change of plans. The more flexible we are, the more adaptable we are, the more creative we are, the easier it is to find a workable solution to anything we encounter. Rigidity, inflexibility and stubbornness usually result in a lack of progress, stalemate, delay, anger, and frustration. Openness, a willingness to consider a number of possible solutions will often get us through limbo more successfully.

Strength and balance, both, are crucial to successfully skating beneath that bamboo pole. As well in life. We need to have the strength to see things through, no matter how difficult. We must have balance, the ability to focus on the right things, at the right time, to make the desired progress.  Those who fell as they tried to skate beneath the pole lacked either strength, or balance, or both. Those who falter in life often lack the strength and balance to progress as desired.

Life, like limbo, requires courage. Life is not for the meek, the timid or the weak at heart. Without courage, life is merely an existence. To face and overcome obstacles, challenges, and problems, to achieve goals and realize our dreams, to evolve into the people we deserve to be, requires a great deal of courage. Daily, we must face our fears and press on, lest we remain in limbo, never realizing anything close to our potential, always existing on the edge, the verge, the boundary.

And none of this is possible without practice. No one ever gets everything right, in fact, we almost always get it wrong a few times before we do get it right. The first time you roller skate towards the limbo pole, you’re probably going to fall, or knock the pole off the stand, how sad to give up then and there. Play the next round and the next and the next until you develop the skill to skate beneath the pole. With each and every obstacle in life that puts us in limbo, we need to approach it, and if needed, approach it again and again, until we figure out how to get past it. With each success will come a new challenge, and with practice, each challenge will become easier to skate under! With practice, we develop the right motion, the balance, the strength and the courage to succeed, in the game and in life.

So lace up your skates and enjoy your day at the rink and when you hear the limbo song begin, get ready to play!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selife

I am a believer in “selfies”, I’ve talked about this before. Selfies, of course, being self-portraits, usually taken with one’s smartphone or webcam, or a camera with a timer. Selfies can be taken alone, or with others to add some variety and fun. How does taking pictures of ourselves help us realize our potential and approach fulfillment and true happiness? Self-confidence is the largest contributor to our success, our happiness, our fulfillment, our ability to evolve into the person we hope to be, the person we choose to be, the person we deserve to be. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to? By taking pictures of ourselves, selfies, we become more comfortable with who we are, what we look like, we learn to enhance our smile, our look, the angle that the camera favors most. Basically, we learn to find a way to like the way we look, which makes us feel more confident about our appearance, we feel better about ourselves, and this, in turn, being the truth in beauty and handsomeness, just makes us look even better. It’s self-perpetuating.

I am often with people who resist having their picture taken, they don’t like the way they look. In other words, they are walking around the planet, on a daily basis, going out into public, working, shopping, visiting, unhappy with their appearance. Ashamed for one reason or another. Can you imagine how this must drain one’s self-confidence? How can we be confident if we are ashamed of our appearance, or simply unsure or uncertain of our beauty? True, none of us are truly immune. Many very beautiful people underestimate their looks. The truth of the matter is that beauty truly does come from within. Beauty is a beacon of confidence. Can you think of a star, a model, or some personality that is deemed beautiful in spite of the fact, when really looked at, feature by feature, are somewhat less than classic beauty? There are surely as many less than beautiful beautiful people as there are truly beautiful beautiful people. Start really looking at what Hollywood, the fashion world and the media consider beautiful. So much of what we consider beauty, on the exterior, is make up, airbrushing, artificial enhancements, professional photography and superior lighting. And we all use these images as a measure for our own appearance, and, if we fall a degree short, we become ashamed of our appearance and our confidence suffers.

Building self-confidence and developing a strong sense of self, a strong self-image is one of the first and most important steps on the path to fulfillment and happiness. A strong self-image and the resulting self-confidence is what we will rely on in our effort to evolve. Whether today is the first day of your journey to a happier and more fulfilled version of you, or if you’ve been on the path to ever increasing happiness, success and enlightenment for years, our self-confidence is always a work in progress. We don’t just achieve self-confidence and we’re done, like nourishing our bodies with regular meals, our self-confidence requires regular care and nourishment. If we simply stop eating we waste away and become malnourished, hungry, and eventually starve. If we eat poorly, our bodies and our overall health suffer. Our self-confidence is no different. We will need to feed it and we will need to nourish it with high quality ingredients to keep it from starving, to keep it healthy and vibrant.

We must make a daily practice of thinking and behaving in ways that bolster, rather than undermine, our self-confidence. This can begin with the practice of meditation, affirmations, expressing gratitude, eating clean, vigorous exercise, healthy relationships and friendships, reading nourishing books, blogs and articles, acquiring a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity, healthy self-speak, and, yes, even a daily selfie.

We love to see progress and by keeping an album, either in print or digitally, of our selfies, we can see the self-confidence illuminate, by degree, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. The more comfortable we become with our image, the comfortable we become with ourselves and the more confidence we gain.

To demonstrate the power of self-confidence, try this little social experiment; dress in your homeliest clothes, don’t do your hair, your makeup, or anything. Now go somewhere very public like a shopping center, a mall, or a tourist attraction. Walk around and think to yourself, over and over, as you walk, “I look terrible. I look awful. I feel ugly.” And I’ll bet you do. You are probably somewhat slouched in posture, you are looking down or away from people. There is nothing about you that says “confident”. I’ll bet people pass by you without really looking at you, you blend in and your negative self-speak makes you somewhat invisible. Now go home, take a nice shower, have a nourishing meal, say your affirmations, get dressed up, do your hair and makeup, if applicable, and go back to the same spot. This time, think very positive, uplifting thoughts about yourself, “I look great, I am beautiful/handsome, I like the way I look, I feel awesome, I’m amazing.” My guess is, you are looking up, looking at the faces of those you pass, making eye contact, smiling, and getting smiles in return. You are a beacon of confidence and you get noticed, favorably, as a result. And, getting noticed favorably further boosts your confidence. Several years ago, I had my Girl Scouts perform a similar experiment at a local festival to demonstrate PMA, positive mental attitude. They had fun with the experiment and learned the power that lies within to change, not only how you feel about yourself, but also, how others perceive you. It’s pretty powerful. All we need to do now is adopt the second experiment as our daily modus operandi.

When I was younger, I loved to take pictures, and more, I loved to be in pictures. If there was a camera around, I was likely close by, hoping to be included in the photo. With friends, I was usually the one, and still am, that insisted a group photo be taken. I usually had a camera handy, with a timer, and would facilitate such a photo. There was also a phase in my life where my self-confidence and self-image were poor. And in that period of time there are very few pictures of me. The pictures I saw of myself, I loathed. I took many pictures of my kids, their friends, family, sights and scenery, but I rarely allowed the camera to be turned towards me. When I undertook the project of empowering myself with self-confidence once again, after reading books and listening to audiobooks, I learned of many ways to bolster and rebuild the confidence that once carried me happily through life. One book I read suggested the “selfie”. I practiced this, taking dozens of pictures to keep the one I could almost stand to look at. With daily practice and diligence, I amassed a collection of “selfies” I was happy with, that I actually quite enjoyed looking at. And with each click of the shutter, each photo added to my album, my confidence grew and my happiness, fulfillment and success grew in response.

Though a small part of regaining self-confidence through a healthier self-image is just a small piece of the puzzle, it is demonstrative of how the whole puzzle goes together. We may take dozens of pictures to find one we’re satisfied with, at first, as we become more and more comfortable with ourselves. In our journey, we may try many, many, many different ways to make strides in regaining our self-confidence, some we will be pleased with, others we will likely discard. Like getting the perfect shot, the perfect selfie, finding the perfect steps, practices or means to rebuilding our self-image and our self-confidence, we may make many, many, many attempts before we are satisfied, before we find something that works. We simply need to stick with it, we simply need to continue to make the effort. Life itself becomes a selfie, the picture you make it.

As an avid hiker, I am rather notorious for always wanting to see what’s around the next bend on the trail. This is true, as well, in driving through new cities, or walking through an urban center I’ve not visited before. I am curious and have an insatiable appetite for wanting to see just a bit more. This is how our journey towards happiness, fulfillment and reward should be. We should always be striving to see what lies ahead, what’s around the next bend in the trail, the next intersection in the road, the next block in the city. Never be satisfied, there is always more, there is always room to evolve further. Self-confidence, like exploring a trail through the woods, is never truly complete, there is always more to explore, another adjoining path, a trail up the hill to the left, down into the valley on the right. Never stop.

We, alone, have the power to become exactly the person we desire to be. We, alone, have the power to evolve into a happy, successful, enlightened and fulfilled person. But, we, alone, must decide to do so, we must take the initiative, make the commitment and fuel the evolution. Getting comfortable with who we are, inside and out, is going to be one of the keys to unlocking our potential. Silly though it may sound, and silly it may seem, especially as you begin the practice, a daily selfie is going to assist you in your effort. I swear it. So, get that camera, practice your most winning smile and shine on! You beacon of confidence!

 

 

On the Contrary

I beg to differ. I disagree. You’re wrong. Nuh huh. Yah, but …

How many times a day do we disagree with someone we’re speaking with? Our parents, our friends, our co-workers, our children, complete strangers, our significant others; everything seems like a debate class topic we must win in order to pass the course. Am I right? (Yes.)

Why is it so important for us to be right all the time, or most of the time? Why are we so dang contrary?

The answer is, it isn’t us, we aren’t actually all that contrary. It’s that ego of ours. The ego being that voice in our head, which really isn’t us. You and your ego are separate and learning to identify the difference and separating yourself from that voice in your head is actually one of the biggest steps you can take towards happiness and success. There are lots of books on the matter, I enjoy Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and “Make Every Man Want You” by Marie Forleo. Both highly, highly recommended.

Why does our ego want to be right all the time? For validation. We, our true selves, are far more peaceful than that. We can take in all the information and agree or disagree without making a federal case about it. Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone shut their ego up for a while! Ah-mazing! Don’t you think?

I was married to a man for many years who felt very strongly (gross understatement) about certain political points of view. If I told you that twenty-five years ago, our clock radio went off each morning to the voice of Rush Limbaugh before anyone knew who Rush Limbaugh was, yes, while he was still only on a local Sacramento station, you may have an idea of his beliefs. My (former) husband’s twin brother was as opinionated, but at the other end of the spectrum. The twins were extremely vocal, extremely opinionated and extremely loud, because the louder you were, the “righter” you were. Phone calls between them were long and insufferable, only hearing one side. It was far worse when they were together, in person. Family gatherings were always a nightmare. The women folk would always beg for a “no politics” family get-together, but that seldom lasted more than five minutes and any objection or enforcement on our part was drowned out in the din. Neither of them were completely right, neither of them were completely wrong in their opinions. There is no right or wrong, only opinion. I have mine. We’ll leave it at that.

Like “the twins”, the nation is divided, politically, about 50/50. What does arguing, bickering, and slandering get us? Annoyed and upset. And that’s it. You, no doubt, land on one side of the fence or the other, if not completely, then, at least on some of the key points of debate (e.g. gun control, healthcare reform, abortion, the budget for defense, education, Medicare). Tell me that anything anyone could possibly say would convince you to “switch sides”. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few areas we are pretty committed to as individuals.

Politics. And religion. Again, lots of heated discussion and debate here. I have admitted before, I hate bumper stickers. But, there is one bumper sticker, these days, as I have mellowed with wisdom in my advanced years, that I actually smile inwardly at (no, I will not put it on my car); the “Coexist” bumper sticker. I’m sorry, but are all the stories really similar enough that they could just be different interpretations of the same story? Who cares who is right and who is wrong? I’m a believer!!! I believe that if you live a good life, do service for those less fortunate than you, work hard and stay out of prison, you’re alright. Call me enlightened or call me a fool, but you’re not changing my mind by arguing with me. And if arguing is “saving” or “witnessing”, um, bye bye. I’ve got work to do and service to perform. See you in the “after life”, I’ll have time to chat about your righteousness then. Do you really think your god and my god are duking it out somewhere over which of them is right? Hint; pretty sure our “god” is all the same dude, just in a different storybook. Blaspheme.

We’ve covered a couple of taboo topics; politics and religion. Shall I venture into another? Sports. How is it that fans have become so rabid they are willing to kill for the sake of “their” team? Right? Meth-fueled, pit-bull walking, bumper sticker covered egos on steroids. Just my opinion. And what about the parents of future (or not) athletes; soccer moms and dads, Little League parents, hockey moms; they make Raider fans look tame! But it’s all in the name of good sportsmanship. Bang. Bang.

What is wrong with us? Let’s put down the energy drinks and the triple shot espressos for a minute and listen to ourselves! In the end, does any of this matter? At all? Um, no. In the end, no matter who you cheered for in Little League or in the Major Leagues, no matter which church you prayed in, which “god” you trust, and no matter who you voted for in whichever election year, we are all going to die, decay and turn to dust. And, at that point in time, we will be completely equal and, for the first time for most of us, at peace.

I prefer to pursue a little peace, now. So, whether you agree with me, or not, I really don’t care. My ego may care, but I don’t, and my ego is on a short leash these days and is not likely to engage in debate with you. I just want some peace and quiet so I can go about my day; work real hard, spend time with people I love and cherish, serve those less fortunate than I am, do something active and enjoyable, take in a new experience, improve my physical and emotional health, eat clean, maybe read a little, maybe write a little and get a good night’s sleep. Those are the things that are truly important to me, not how you vote, who you cheer for or who you worship. I have my philosophies, I have my beliefs, and I have my values. I have educated myself on them all, I have thought about them carefully, and yes, they are subject to change, but only I will illicit that change, if I choose.

Am I trying to change the way you think, or what you believe in? On the contrary. I only want you to consider thinking – for yourself. I only want you to consider believing – in yourself. The rest, is up to you, you’ll hear no argument from me.

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Visited my dad’s gravesite today. In the end, we all die, decay and turn to dust, no matter how loudly we express our opinions. No one is right, no one is wrong, in the end.

 

One Thing

As I continue to read and remember about the egoic mind and the essence, I challenge myself to overcome that inner voice, my egoic voice. It is difficult, of course, we are so accustomed to the constant inner conversation, it’s almost like breaking up with a lover or close friend. Most of us have taken what our inner voice has been telling us, for our whole life, as truth, as fact. Sadly, this is not the case, our inner voice has been lying, cheating and misleading us for, well, forever. Now that we recognize this, we seek to separate ourself from this unsavory companion.

One thing our egoic selves do is compare ourselves to others in an effort to elevate that ego of ours. The ego always wants to be right, to be superior and in the criticism of others, this is ensured. You know it’s true. For example, you see someone in a public place and you “size them up”‘ am I right? Women often inwardly critique every passerby’s fashion choices, hair, body, expression, shoot, shoes, handbag, companion(s), etc., nothing and no one is immune. Men, often, literally size other men up. This boosts our ego and sends out a very negative energy that makes us less attractive, less friendly, insincere, and disingenuous, probably not the type of person we’re trying to evolve into. We tear everyone around us down, in some way or another, to boost that ego of ours. Well, our ego does it all with our implied permission. It is high time to revoke that permission! Take charge. Take control.

In an effort to evolve, in an effort to become less egoic, live more in the essence, promoting living in the present and fostering genuine happiness, I have issued myself a challenge; to say, in my mind, or out loud, if the opportunity presents itself, at least one nice thing about everyone I encounter. Whether in conversation, in association or simply passing on the street, I aim to make at least one nice remark about absolutely everyone I take notice of.

I am putting this to the test, in a really ambitious way. Today, in Napa, it is hot. For some reason ninety degrees in Napa feels like one hundred six in Sacramento, which is indeed what the temperature is in Sacramento today. I accomplished another great challenge today; I got up, ate breakfast and went running. I know, I go running almost every Saturday. The difference, today, I ran all by myself. I have never just laced up my shoes and headed out the door for a run on my own. Running is always part of an organized group event. This was a big step, actually, about six miles worth of small, fast steps, but, I did it. It’s sets a new precedent for me, I can now run, by myself, anywhere, anytime. Remember that full marathon I have coming up, how else am I going to be ready if I’m not running more than one day per week?

To say I was quite hot and sweaty after six miles on the blacktop would be an understatement. Mom’s house is not air conditioned, so it is a bit warm inside, too. To combat the heat, she shuts all the curtains and turns on about a dozen oscillating fans. Though hot, it is a beautiful day out and I simply cannot bear being holed up in a dark, windy, still too warm cave all day and night, listening to the television spewing out the news at a decibel level I’m certain is unsafe. So, after my lovely post-run shower, here I am. My favorite public market place, The Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. Full of food and wine venues and free wifi,and hordes of tourists on this busy, summer Saturday, it is cool and comfortable. And I have no shortage of folks to try out my experiment with the practice of “one thing”. You could say I’m in a “target rich environment”, especially considering the heat and the amount of bare skin/skimpy clothes. It’s all good. I’m doing quite well.

It is pretty tough to make note of one good, positive thing about everyone that passes my table which is nestled dangerously close to and right between “Three Twins Organic Ice Cream” and the “Wine Merchant” wine and cheese bar. That ego of mine is quite hasty in making judgements while my essence, out of practice, is a little slow in taking it all in and making a positive note. We really have to be quick to dismiss the horrible and allow the enlightened. If you haven’t tried this, I recommend it. It is a little alarming just how quickly we pass judgement on people. Or, perhaps, that’s just me. I hope not. i suspect not, since i read about it in two different books in a ond day span. Whether its just me, or not, I’m making the effort to change. I’m making an effort to shut my egoic voice down. I’m making the effort to evolve! By the way, you look very nice today! And I mean that!

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Shut up!

For as much excellent advice as I have, I do have my own struggles. That’s why my blog is called “an effort to evolve”. I am making an effort, I am figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, for me. I’m sharing what I think, what I figure out, what I find helpful with all of you that you can try it out in your own effort to evolve.

I read, a lot. Sometimes I have more time to read than others, and sometimes, I just have a hard time fitting reading into the whole work, work out, prepare healthy food, attend to important relationships and get enough sleep, routine. But, reading really should have as much a place in my daily routine as waking up in the morning. I find it THAT helpful.

I will admit, I have had some struggles on almost every level lately. Yes, good ideas have still been coming to me, and I have made some progress in my evolution, but there have been some struggles that have been retarding my efforts to evolve. Despite my belief that happiness is something from within, that self confidence is the catalyst for the happiness you find within, and that you, solely, are responsible for your attitude, your actions, your behavior and your evolution, my attitude has been, well, sort of sucky lately. And, on several levels. Ok, on every level.

On the home front, in many of my relationships, with work, with fitness and with my healthful eating habits. I have found myself more prone to negativity and cynicism in conversation with those close to me, and in my thoughts, more prone to anger and frustration while traveling and driving and, well, just getting through the day. This slump has touched every part of my life. So, what gives? I need to shut up.

Shutting up is the key, and I misplaced the key, there, somehow, for a while. Maybe it got lost when I made the move into my mom’s house. Perhaps I mislaid it during the holiday season. Or maybe it got lost in the shuffle in all of my travels for work and my vacations. But, I mislaid this very important key. Shut up.

I found the key yesterday. Right where I left it. Right where I found it in the first place. And since finding the key yesterday, I have discovered it in a few more places. Now, that key is everywhere, like I was meant to find it again. Now, I vow, no matter how busy life gets, no matter if there are moves, or travel, or challenges, that key will be safely in my grasp.

The key is to shut up. Just shut yourself up. Well, no, to clarify, shut your ego up.

To explain. A couple of years ago, I read an excellent and life altering book by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now”, that’s where I first found the key. After reading his book and employing as much of his teachings as possible, life got really, really good. I had incredible optimism, I had incredible energy, I accomplished tremendous things, I grew outrageously as a person, I achieved highly at work, my relationships were all aglow. I rocked everything in my universe. Then, somehow, somewhere, I forgot about the most important lesson in the book, the key to the whole thing. To shut up.

Yesterday, sitting in one airport after another, one delayed flight after the next, frustrated as hell, I pulled out my Kindle and was accosted with an ad for Audible, an audiobook subscription service through Amazon. I’ve had Audible before and never used it though I paid the monthly fee month after month after month after month and finally ended the service. The “free trial” book they were featuring in the ad on my Kindle yesterday, though, was by Eckhart Tolle, “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”. The title alone made me feel good. And he is absolutely brilliant. I clicked the banner, signed up for my “free month” and my “free trial”. I downloaded the book and started to listen. His voice is as magical as what he writes. In the first chapter he recapped the relationship between us, and our ego. The ego, in a very simple, condensed version, is all the chatter that goes on in your head. All the “think speak” you hear in your mind, the voice you think is you. It isn’t, this is your ego. You are separate from that voice in your head that you listen to 24/7. Once you learn to separate yourself from your ego, all that noise, you learn to just shut up. Think about the constant dialogue in your mind, is it not mostly focused on the past or on the future? Pay attention. It is. Or it’s going on about everything that makes you mad, sad, frustrated, upset, etc. Either way, not much good is going on in that singular dialogue. Cynicism, bitterness, self-criticism. Your inner dialogue batters you, constantly, with self criticism; I’m not smart enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m unhealthy, I can’t, etc., etc., etc. So, basically, you spend every waking moment focusing on the past you can’t change, the future you can’t reach and self-talk that is self-destructive, and, coming from a “reliable” and believable source, you. So just shut up.

Interestingly enough, after listening to a few chapters and picking up that lost key, I instantly felt better. I felt in control. I felt much more positive. Happy. Even though I was still sitting in the deepest, darkest, recesses of San Francisco International Airport, at a gate in a terminal I didn’t even know existed, waiting for a delayed plane. I picked up my Kindle, again started surfing for some books on relationships and found one that piqued my interest. I downloaded it and started reading it after boarding the tiny plane bound for Sacramento. I had plenty of time to read because there was a mechanical issue that required a mountain of paperwork to be completed before we could depart. We were aboard the plane for nearly an hour before we finally took off for the nineteen-minute flight. But, I was happy. Reading. And in the relationship book, everything I’d just heard in Eckhart Tolle’s new audiobook was being echoed, almost eerily, by the author, Marie Forelo (whom I admire and follow). I hadn’t realized she authored the book until I’d read the first chapter or two. But, again, the key, which she outlined foremost in her book, is to shut up. Shut that voice off in your head, or acknowledge it as separate from you and dismiss it. This is the single, most important, vital step to creating your own happiness. By shutting up that egoic voice that focuses on the past and on the future, you can be present in the only time that you can control, influence and live. Now. The present.

This concept was the main thesis of Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”, the book that had such a positive impact on my life a couple of years ago. To find myself haphazardly revisiting this concept in not one, but two, unrelated sources on the one day I probably needed it the most seemed more than just coincidence. A blessing, to say the least.

I am shutting up again. I am acknowledging that egoic drivel in my mind and dismissing it. I am, again, regaining control of my thoughts, working on actually living in the present, not just preaching it, and living in the present, now, with a little more clarity, with the key in hand. I am certain that in very little time, with only minimal effort, I will be back on track in every area of my life. Right where I want to be.

What I hope you’ll take away from this; explore separating yourself from that voice in your head. Learn that you are separate from all that noise. If you are interested in learning more, look up the books I referenced above and devote some time to their well-worded lessons. And, above all else, just shut up.

 

There is beauty and magic in every moment we live in the present. Shut up! And let it happen.
There is beauty and magic in every moment we live in the present. Shut up! And let it happen.

Knock, Knock

It is said that opportunity knocks but once. Really? And, frankly, I don’t often answer my door, unless I’m expecting someone. I screen calls, too, so leave a message. I think this is the modern approach, those rare times when we are home, we prefer to be selective about interruptions. Am I right?

Lets’ talk about the front door a bit more. When you knock on someone’s front door, how long do you hang around waiting for them to answer? Does it depend on whether they are expecting you, or not? And if they are expecting you, how long do you stand there before you grab your cell phone and text or call them, “Hey, I’m at the door.” Like opportunity, we don’t tend to hang around on the porch for very long, we most certainly don’t set up a tent and wait for the occupant to let the cat out. We knock, we wait, tap, tap, tap the toes, and we leave. Opportunity is less patient than we are. If opportunity even comes to the door. I think that is a rarity.

I’m not speaking literally, here, either. If you are sitting home waiting for opportunity to actually knock on your door, you are far beyond disillusionment. By “knock on the door” it is generally meant, make known, present itself, be available. I apologize for the explanation, but I was married to a man, several years unemployed, who never left the house, ever, in search of work. He would send out a couple of emails once a month or so, maybe place a call here or there, and troll websites, alt + tab style, when I walked into the room. I tried explaining many times that no one was just magically going to show up one day with a job offer for something palatable for $120k per year. Or even $12 per hour. Or at all. So I walked out the door, and opportunity, indeed, was not on the porch waiting for him. I kept walking.

Opportunities go well beyond just employment. And, again, won’t often, if ever, actually walk up on your porch, let alone rap on the door.

So, if opportunity figuratively knocks but once, and we aren’t answering the door, are we missing opportunities? In my opinion, we’d be remiss in waiting for opportunity to knock on our door. I actively seek opportunities in every action, every interaction, every association, everyday, every time I make any kind of contact with anyone, at all. I am all public relations all the time.

Tell me the last opportunity you took advantage of. What was the last opportunity that presented itself to you? What do you consider an opportunity?

op·por·tu·ni·ty

/ˌäpərˈt(y)o͞onitē/

Noun

A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

Synonyms

chance – occasion – opening – possibility – time

We must seek out opportunity, but first, we must recognize opportunity. To me, an opportunity presents itself anytime I have a conversation with someone, whether in person, via email, text or other means, I believe that interaction equals opportunity. By nature, people are always looking for associations, people are always looking for commonality, a lot of folks are seeking ways to advance their needs, their agenda, their interests. People love to talk about themselves and there is no one, anywhere, that we don’t have at least one thing in common with. “You inhale? Hey, so do I!” You see, common ground.

I see opportunity in very general terms. A conversation, a meeting, an acquaintance, it may not end up with a higher paying job, a real estate offer, or some other fortune, but I have, first, increased my circle of acquaintances and second, honed my people skills. With every meeting, every conversation, heck, with every smile, I improve myself and my ability to interact with others in some way, however small, imperceptible, insignificant, I have added another straw to the thatch roof of my self-confidence.

If I am seeking a specific opportunity, I am a bit more assertive and a lot more focused. I go find doors, lots and lots of doors, specific doors, and I knock, I ring the bell, I text and call and say, “Hey! I’m at the door!” I think of seeking opportunity a lot like a game show. There may be several doors, or curtains, or whatever, and there could be good things, or better things, behind any one of them. I aim to keep playing, keep answering those questions correctly, until I see everything behind every door. I play until I have multiple options to choose from.

Beware of some of those prizes behind those game show doors, though. Not all are prizes, not all are opportunities. Sometimes, especially when we are in search of something very specific, what may seem an opportunity is actually a scheme. For example, if we are trying to lose weight, we may be tempted by ads for quick fixes, pills, Franken-foods and other gimmicky things that promise us quick results with minimum effort. Nope. Not going to happen, and if it does, it won’t be lasting. Trust me on that one. Similarly, if we are looking to start a home-based business, often we will be approached with listing services and other “resources” that require us to pay money up front for some (negligible) benefit.

I spent Saturday with my son, we attended a high school graduation party for the son of long-time family friends, friends I’ve known since any of our now grown children were born. Of course, any time you visit with friends, opportunities abound. My friend has recently taken up paddle boarding, a sport I am very excited to try, we chatted about it during our visit and we will be going paddle boarding in the not too distant future! Knock, knock!

After the graduation party and a charitable grocery trip for my starving college student, and a pit stop at the gas station to top off his tank, I took him out to dinner to celebrate excellent grades for the semester, a B in calculus, a B in chemistry and an A in English. On his recommendation, we went to “Burgers and Brew” on R Street “on the grid” in Sacramento. I do love that town. We had a fantastic meal and a nice chat. He wanted me to see a bar a couple of doors down, “The Shady Lady Saloon”. We popped in, and to continue our celebration I bought my kid a scotch on the rocks. Correction, I ordered him a scotch on the rocks, and a club soda for me (after my beer with dinner and a long drive to Napa ahead). My son headed to the men’s room as our drinks were being poured. When the bartender placed our drinks in front of me at the crowded bar and I reached for my credit card, the nice looking man (with his wife) said, “I’ll take care of it.” I thanked him, a little embarrassed, not really knowing why a strange man, with his wife, would be buying me and my kid a drink, but, hey, opportunity knocks but once! Knock, knock. Conversation ensued, naturally, and I told him we were out celebrating my son’s good grades. We discussed schools and majors and career interests. My son returned and I told him to thank the gentleman next to him for the drink.  The conversation continued. My son is a mechanical engineering major and is interested in automotive design. This man is in aviation and offered my son a tour of their facility. Fortuitous. Opportunity. Everywhere. Even in saloons. Knock, knock.

Yes, in saloons. In bars. I met the man of my dreams drinking stout beer and eating beer flavored ice cream, alone, in a bar. Opportunity. Everywhere. Knock, knock. Do you hear the knocking, now? If I were afraid to go places by myself, if I were not a little bit outgoing and willing to speak with strangers, what opportunities might I have missed? When a stranger speaks to you, even if they seem to be “hitting” on you, a little conversation never hurt. You can learn a lot about people with a little conversation and a little observation. It never has to go any further than that. But, opportunity is buried within many of those conversations, if you can only listen for the knocking. Knock, knock.

I have had unbelievable conversations on airplanes. On trains. In shared ride vans and airport shuttles. People, at the very least, are fascinating. And, with each conversation, the opportunity to become more comfortable, more confident talking to people, advancing your ideas, your product, your passion. Sometimes these chance conversations will bear real fruit with a sale, a valuable contact, a critical piece of information, a good restaurant recommendation, or an introduction to an associate that can be of benefit. If you give people a chance, for the most part, they really do want to help out other people, to share, to connect, to be a hero, to provide an opportunity. Knock, knock.

I’m in Provo, Utah this week. I just returned from dinner with a colleague and on our drive back to the hotel I noticed an illustrative example of a missed opportunity. There were, not one, but two huge billboards, close together, one just after the other “Wanted! Storage Containers”. Between the two billboards was a property, a dirt lot, and in the middle of the dirt lot was a storage container with a sign on it, “For Sale”. Are you looking for an opportunity that’s within sight, within a stone’s throw? Look around, they may be more obvious than you know. Ask around, people may see the billboards you don’t. Or the storage containers. Either way. Knock, knock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary

Ex.traor.di.nar.y

Very unusual or remarkable, unusually great

Ex.tra

To a greater extent than usual.

Or.di.nar.y

What is commonplace or standard.

An evening stroll along Inner Harbor - Baltimore, MD
An evening stroll along Inner Harbor – Baltimore, MD

Life can be extra ordinary or life can be extraordinary. You choose.

Some folks desire an extra ordinary life; it is predictable, safe, known, routine. Others of us desire an extraordinary life; exciting, unpredictable, risky, varied. Personally, I cannot even begin to imagine wanting an ordinary life, let alone an extra ordinary life.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day when this thought occurred to me. Despite our differences, my mom and I get along quite well. We do have some very fundamental differences, our desire for an extraordinary life, and an extra ordinary life, being a prime example.

My mom has always ever wanted to have a “normal” life, ordinary, extra ordinary, even. To her, this meant two incomes, a tract home in a homogenous neighborhood, purchased brand new, of course. A pristine lawn in the front and back, traditional furnishings in all of the rooms, two very ordinary, though newer and exceedingly practical cars in the driveway, a cat, a dog, and the same, basic meal rotation week in and week out. If company comes, then, a standing rib roast, baked potatoes, green salad, green beans and the type of super delicious sourdough bread you can only buy in the San Francisco Bay Area. To me, the sourdough is the only extraordinary thing about her chosen life. My mom’s ordinary life also dictates that you work, for as long as possible with the same employer and you work full-time until you are eligible for social security. Then you retire and watch the news on television. And clean house.

I have rebelled against most of this for as long as I can remember. I have always lusted for an extraordinary life, and while I have my full-time job in a well-established career and my newish, practical car, the rest is definitely not very ordinary. I don’t watch the news. I keep a clean house, I don’t clean the house, and if I must, I hire a housekeeper. True, some of my extraordinary tendencies in life have wound me up in all kinds of predicaments, I have always learned so much, and have grown, extraordinarily, from those experiences. I have lived on the edge of a canyon overlooking a wild, river valley, at the end of a dirt road. I have lived in an urban center with populated sidewalks and a constant flow of cars speeding past day and night. I have visited small, mountain towns without electricity, having a population that could be counted on your fingers. I have visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City, where the mere thought of the magnitude of humanity and the amount of electricity required for even a minute is mind-boggling. I have spent nights in luxury, resort hotels with marble floors, exquisite linens and mahogany furniture. I have slept under the stars on a thin mat, on the dirt, in the middle of the wilderness, so remote that seeing another person in any number of days was almost shocking. I have been in cities where arming yourself with a weapon is illegal. I have been in rural areas where it is expected that you will arm yourself and know what to do if you need to protect yourself. I have visited the famed jewelry stores in New York City; Tiffany’s, Cartier, Harry Winston, full of gold and diamonds. I have owned old, abandoned gold mines with tunnels, great caverns and ore cart tracks. I have been to the Grand Canyon, hiked and down into it; it was seventy degrees at the top, a hundred and twenty degrees six miles down. I like to eat a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery in Central Park on a regular basis. None of these experiences, alone, are unique or extraordinary. The sum of them, though, has made my life unique and extraordinary.

My mom’s ideal life is like a La-Z-Boy recliner, mine is like a high-speed roller coaster. My mom’s ups and downs in life encompass about two feet of travel and a fairly consistent view, mine, a climb, free-fall, twists, turns, tunnels, inversion, spirals, loops. My mom has lived in the same house for forty-six years. I’ve moved five times in five years. She can’t understand what I’m after, I can’t understand what she’s after. But that’s okay, to each their own.

What am I after? Besides an extraordinary life. Experiences. I believe experiences will provide me with the wisdom, the knowledge, the perspective to have an extraordinary life.

I believe in building your life around your values, your goals and your desire to have an extraordinary life, or, if you choose, and extra ordinary life. I have spent the past few years carefully reflecting and identifying my values, my goals and my desires for life experiences. No doubt, I want the more extraordinary life than the extra ordinary life. I don’t mind change, I don’t mind upheaval, I don’t mind uncertainty, I don’t mine spontaneity, in fact, I crave it.

So, how does one build the life they desire? I think I know. Very carefully and very deliberately.

I have been accused by both my mother and my boyfriend of being “too driven”. I don’t sit still for long, and when I do, I put my time to good use, working towards my goals, in support of my values. Like, now, for example. I worked all day, went sightseeing, went out to dinner, took a walk along Inner Harbor in Baltimore and now, because I want to write, I am writing. There are two televisions in my hotel room and neither of them is on. When I am finished writing, I will read something fortifying and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning, I will go explore Washington D.C. before catching my flight home. I could sleep in, as I am desperately short on sleep, but I have never seen Washington D.C, it is twenty five miles away, I have a “free” rental car with unlimited mileage and five hours to kill in the morning, if I leave here by 5:00 AM. So, maybe I am a little driven, but it ‘s just these types of experiences that help make my life more extraordinary. What’s extraordinary about sleeping in? I can do that next week, maybe, when I’m on vacation. Maybe. Probably not. I’ll be in Alaska.

My point is, building an extraordinary life isn’t going to come from doing the same thing you’ve always done. You have to identify what it is you want to see, want to do, want to experience, then seize it. You have to find the stones and place them one after the other to build the life you desire, whether it be extra ordinary or extraordinary. I think of the stones I use to build my extraordinary life more like paving stones on a garden pathway; I place one in the soil, identify the next, and place it in the soil just after the first. And so on, soon my path leads me in the direction I have chosen. I have chosen a meandering path. And I like it.

The building blocks of an extra ordinary life require, I think, even more, concerted and difficult labor. Stability and consistency require an incredibly strong foundation. A stable foundation, a sturdy, consistent, dependable lifestyle is going to require some very solid planning and construction; education, dedication of purpose to career, to financial planning and management of risks. Building an extra ordinary life, I would say, is much more like building a structure, vertical and tall. Some very solid, very strong stones are placed at the corners; values, goals, purpose, intent. On those cornerstones, more stones are carefully stacked on top, with a strong mortar in between to prevent them from tumbling down if things get momentarily unsteady, or shift gradually with the passage of time. With great deliberation, careful attention to detail, a sound blueprint and hard labor, your structure reaches the heights you desire. A sturdy building, a monument, is always an architectural feat, requiring a great deal of technical skill and expertise, it is drawn, it is engineered, blueprinted, a materials list is made. The materials are selected carefully and stockpiled, and only then is ground broken for the laying of the foundation. Then, for however long it takes, methodically, one stone then another, then another.

I have been traveling to New York City a few times a year for the past several years. Every time I approach Manhattan from the airport, I notice the progress of the buildings in place of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Every few months, visible progress has been made. I have photographs spanning all the years I have visited the city, documenting, clearly, the rise of this monument. The progress seems painstakingly slow, and breathtakingly rapid all at the same time. This is how an extra ordinary life is built.

An extraordinary life requires as much purpose, as much work, but follows a different plan. One paving stone is laid, and then another. The ground slopes, there are roots and rocks, trees and flowers growing in the path that must be built around. The path takes shape, following a spontaneous, haphazard plan, one that is adjusted after the placement of each stone. The ultimate destination may be planned, but the course of the path leading there may vary tremendously as progress to the ultimate point is made. With each stone laid, a new, fantastic wonder may be discovered that is worth observing, worth savoring, and worth altering the path around, rather than paving over.

No matter which type of extra ordinary/extraordinary life you strive to build, there has to be the overall goal; how many stories tall, what style or architecture or the destination to which the meandering garden path will lead. This is the goal that is identified and worked towards over the long term. This is the sum of the efforts, the sum of the plan, the finished product. Once built, of course, an addition may be in order, a new structure, a new path. That is the way of a fulfilling life.

To make progress towards the ultimate goal, architectural feat of your desire, some kind of progress needs to be made daily. The World Trade Center building is worked on day and night, day after day, year after year, and still, it is not complete. How long did it take to construct the pyramids? The Taj Mahal? Any great, architectural wonder? They did not rise from the ground in a day, it took a continual, sustained effort. How long did it take early explorers to create a navigable trail from the east to the west, one that families could follow towards a life on the new frontier? How long did it take to build the Transcontinental Railroad? The modern interstate highway system? So, too, must your days be, no matter which you choose, the structure or the pathway, daily toil must be made, a daily effort, a daily investment, some measurable progress needs to happen or the goal fails to take shape, falters, crumbles and is lost in ruins.

I lived in a suburban area, once, where a home was being constructed on an empty lot. Great progress was made, to a point, then all progress ceased. For years, the shell of the house stood empty and forgotten on the lot. Nature began to reclaim the site and, years later, when work finally resumed, there was far more work in rehabilitating what had been abandoned than there would have been had the effort just been seen to completion. A continual, sustained effort is far more effortless than an effort that is halted and restarted, this we call inertia, momentum, simple movement itself carries us forward, momentum is the impetus gained by a moving object. Once inertia or momentum is halted, it takes a great deal of effort to resume movement again. This explains, quite simply, why you get better mileage on the highway than you do in the city where you are continually stopping at stop lights, losing momentum, completely, only to have to expend considerable energy to move forward again. And, so is anything we strive to accomplish in life.

So whether you choose to lay the foundation for your great structure, your extra ordinary life, or you choose to begin to cut the path to lay the first paver in your meandering, garden walkway, you must begin with your ultimate vision in mind. What will the structure look like, make the sketch, design the plan, secure the materials, lay the cornerstones, the foundation, and one solid brick after the next. Take your pick and ready the dirt for the first paver, but know where, ultimately the path will end up and let the journey take shape around the wonders you discover in the process. Identify your goals, know your values and begin gathering the experiences you’ll require for your desired life, be it extra ordinary or extraordinary. It is yours to build, one stone at a time.

Rinse Lather Repeat

On habits.

hab·it
/ˈhabit/
Noun
A settled or regular tendency or practice, esp. one that is hard to give up.

There are good habits and bad habits, beneficial habits and destructive habits. I think it is quite natural for people to fall easily into habits, we are, after all, creatures of habit.

The world around us is one of habits, if you think about it, giving the world we live in a certain, habitual rhythm. The sun habitually rises and sets, providing us with a steady, march of day followed by night, followed by day, followed by night. Winter habitually gives way to spring, some years, more stubbornly than others, spring gives way to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter. The dates are without variation, the weather falls into it’s habitual pattern soon before or after the metronome of dates.

There are rhythms within us, inhalation and exhalation, the thrumming of our pulse, both exceedingly good habits to maintain. But with all that is rhythmical, seemingly habitual in our world and in our lives, there are those rhythmic behaviors that we fall prey to that are not so “mandated” as the seasons of the year or the habitual, beating of our hearts. There are habits we adopt that we are, even against our verdant beliefs, in control of.

Boulevard - San Francisco - a $45 filet mignon
Boulevard – San Francisco – a $45 filet mignon

As I write, I am fully absorbed in two of my most cherished, wonderful, blissful and potentially self-destructive habits; wine and chocolate. And this after an $85 meal consisting of a glass of sparkling wine, a seven ounce filet mignon and one ice cream bon bon. This week finds me in San Francisco for work, I mean, how else could one person spend $85 on a single, modest meal? I am not really hungry, nor am I thirsty, but here I sit with my square of exotic dark chocolate and my tumbler of red wine. It is a habit and one I fully embrace and nurture. Now, if it were a bottle of wine and a whole bar of chocolate, it would be a very bad habit, maintaining moderation is the only reason I allow myself these two habits. I have had to have little pep talks with myself, on occasion, when I find the whole bar of chocolate gone in one sitting, or that one glass of wine becomes one bottomless glass of wine that ends up draining a 750 ml bottle. My little pep talk is no more than a warning to myself that if I don’t maintain moderation, than abstinence is the only other alternative. That usually does the trick. Some habits are so dangerous that giving them up entirely is the only, solution, like cigarettes, or IV drugs. Others are only bad habits when done in excess, like chocolate and wine.

Red wine and dark chocolate - a habit I'm quite fond of.
Red wine and dark chocolate – a habit I’m quite fond of.

I have always been sort of an “all or nothing” type of person. For example, I love Oreos, but once the package of Oreos is opened, I will just plough through them, three at a time, until the whole package is gone. Knowing this about myself, once I finally decided I needed to do something about my long-term health, has been very instrumental in modifying my behavior. I just don’t buy Oreos. They’re pretty icky once you know what the ingredients all translate to.

My Oreo habit came about from watching my dad and his Oreo habit. Every morning, at 5:00 am, he would wake up, go downstairs and make a pot of Folgers coffee. While the coffee was brewing, he’d have precisely three Oreos, which my mother “hid” in a copper chafing dish on the back counter, that I could reach only by dragging, noisily, a chair over to stand up on. I always got caught. When the coffee was finished percolating in the Farberware percolator my mother still uses to this day, he’d pour his into the same old ceramic mug, place it on the same old, coffee stained, tray that had some illegible, comedic saying on it, then he’d pour coffee into the other same, old mug and place it on the other same, old, coffee stained tray. He’d carry both trays upstairs, splashing a little coffee out, to further stain and make even more illegible, the same old trays. He and my mom would prop themselves up on their pillows, drink their coffee and listen to the news on the radio. I remember, as a toddler, creeping into their room and being allowed to drink the last, bitter drops from the bottom of their same old mugs, my mom took hers black, my dad with a couple of spoons full of sugar, I remember the distinctive sound of him stirring the same old spoon against the ceramic of that same, old mug. I think that’s what woke me up in the first place. Clink, clink, clink. Then I remember the chafing dish full of Oreos and the unwritten rule, leave at least three for Dad for the next morning, or else. That is how I came to have an Oreo habit. And a black coffee habit. I’ve replaced the Oreos with a single square of organic, dark chocolate a day. I still enjoy a cup of black coffee every morning, and life without it is unthinkable.

I used to drink no less than three regular, twelve-ounce cans of Coca Cola a day, from the time I was a teenager until I was almost forty years old. Can you imagine? I made a concerted effort, at some point, to switch to Diet Coke, but then there were no limits because there were no calories. I knew in the depths of my soul that Diet Coke was probably far worse than regular Coke, really, just a chemical cocktail. And that was a correct assumption. Thankfully, I came to my senses and have replaced that bad habit with drinking good, old water. I can have as much as I want, too!

I used to eat no less than a pound of pretzels a day, fooling myself into thinking this was a “healthier” habit than potato chips or French fries. True, there may be less fat, but certainly no fewer calories, salt, or simple carbohydrates. I think back on that in utter disbelief. Don’t get me wrong, I still love pretzels, but I know no moderation with them, so, like Oreos, I just don’t buy them. Besides, my life absent enriched flour has been so enriching, I am convinced that enriched flour is of Satan.

A habit, in our mind, translates to a behavior that we justify in some way, a behavior that we feel powerless to change, or that we think we enjoy too much to really want to change. Many habits are very destructive to our health, at a minimum, or to a productive, meaningful lifestyle, at worst. Think about morbid obesity; that is fueled by sheer habit, justified under the guise of genetic tendencies and pre-disposition, which can be overridden with a concerted effort and, honest, personal commitment. Really. Not easily, but they can. Drug addiction is a result of nothing more than habit. There, again, hereditary tendencies can be the scapegoat but, again, they can be overcome with deliberate, conscious effort. I have a hard time thinking of a destructive behavior that doesn’t have a “simple” bad habit at it’s root, and genetics or hereditary as it’s justification.

I come from a “genetic” tendency to overeat. I come from a “hereditary” likelihood to have addictive behaviors, like alcoholism. I have seen myself headed for a life of destructive behavior and the resulting health problems. I chose otherwise, quite deliberately. I’ve read book after book after book on health and diet and fitness, decade after decade, without impact. For years I shunned the advice, thinking I could, somehow, get away with maintaining my preferred dietary and exercise methods, or lack thereof, and keep my good health. I saw my father suffer for years from heart disease; a five way bypass, angioplasties, a life of strategic administration of prescription drugs to keep congestive heart failure and kidney failure in a strange, harmonic balance, extending his life for years beyond what should have been, but with mitigated quality. I was on the expressway to a similar fate for my own golden years. At some point, I just stopped. Something clicked and I chose to jump off that train and on to the train headed in the opposite direction.

I decided, one day, to exchange my bad habits for good ones. Just like that. The books I read that said I could learn to eat food absent refined sugar became plausible. The books that led credence to the fact that enriched flour and high fructose corn syrup were poisons to our bodies became my source of inspiration and strength. Books suggesting that exercise and clean eating were a way of life that was enjoyable, pleasurable, and fulfilling became my creed. The once absurd suggestion that plain yogurt could be something, once I became accustomed to it, much more delicious than sweetened yogurt became a reality. The idea that a carrot, or three, could be a “sweet” afternoon snack instead of cookies became truth. This, of course, did not happen overnight, it took time and it took a long-term commitment. And courage. And determination. And sheer desire. And ridicule from friends and family who simply did not understand, or, more likely, chose not to understand.

It is said, to create a habit, you must repeat an action twenty-one consecutive times. Rinse, lather, repeat. I don’t know if there is any scientific merit behind that, I could Google it and find out, I’m sure, but, hey, so could you! I tend to think there is some credence to it, based on my own experience. So, if there is a good habit we want to adopt, like going to the gym, or walking or running every day, or eating carrots instead of cookies when we crave something sweet, all we have to do is MAKE ourselves do it for twenty-one days and it will be a habit, something we don’t think we can live without. Rinse, lather, repeat. I swear it’s true. Once I decided I was going to the gym to do cardio several times a week, and I did so for a few weeks, a missed day was like a day without Coca Cola a few years ago. Excruciating! For me and everyone around me! Have you ever crossed a cola drinker who hasn’t had their daily requirement of caffeine and refined sugar? Pretty ugly, right? I’m that way without cardio. The love of my life can tell, within about the first two sentences of a conversation, whether I’ve been to the gym or not. Believe it. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Am I so brazen as to suggest that deep-seated, supposedly genetic or hereditary behaviors, aka habits, can be changed by no more than sheer will? Yes. I am that brazen. I am of the “no excuses” ilk. If you want something badly enough, you’ll do whatever it takes. If you don’t really want it, in your heart, in your soul, if you don’t want it like breath, you won’t do whatever it takes. You have to decide to want to rid yourself of destructive habits before you can even attempt to change them. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time, your money, and all the wishing in the world. Wishing you were thin, wishing you could give up smoking, wishing you could walk up a flight of stairs will never, ever, make it happen. You have to want it from the depths of your being, with every cell, every fiber, every molecule.

I found that for someone who has a tendency towards addictive behavior, like me, once the decision to change has finally been made, replacing a bad habit with a good habit made it more palatable. Carrots for cookies. I am a very mechanical person, I am also very visual. For me, to get started, it helped to write the bad habit down, draw a circle around it, then a slash through it. I would do this every morning, in my journal. Next to the crossed out “bad” habit, I’d write down the “good” habit I wanted to replace it with and decorate it somehow; draw a sunshine around it, a rainbow over it, circle it in a ring of stars. I would set up a reward system, of some sort. I’m all about “making deals”. When I was first starting out on my journey to a healthier lifestyle, I’d tell myself that if I worked out and ate clean all day, I could watch an episode of “Friends”. Otherwise, no “Friends”. I’ve watched the entire series of “Friends” several times over, and lost fifty pounds, and run a half marathon since then. The point is, we figure out how we are wired, individually, we figure out what will work, we make a decision, a plan, implement it and rinse, lather, repeat, until the undesired habit is replaced with a desirable habit.

We are creatures of habit, we are natural beings, we have rhythms, like nature; the days, the seasons. To change bad habits into good habits we need to keep the rhythm, just replace the habit. I’m not saying it’s easy, little that is worthwhile is. But it is so worthwhile. Replacing bad habits with good, one at a time, by following a method you find that works for you (so, maybe you don’t like “Friends” that much, find your own reward) is very empowering, habit-forming, even! It takes a little time, some tenacity, a lot of will power and is worth every bit of it. For every bad habit replaced with good, we are further empowered, stronger, and eager for the next challenge. It becomes easier, and before long, replacing bad habits with good is, itself, a habit. We embrace change, seek change, we crave change, we are addicted to change. We evolve. Twenty-one days, they say. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Vessel

ves·sel
/ˈvesəl/

Noun
1. A hollow container, especially one used to hold liquid, such as a bowl or cask.
2. A ship or large boat.

We are very much like a vessel. At birth, we know nothing but how to breathe, and even that we sometimes have to be “encouraged” to do with a little tap on the back by the doctor, in the first moments of life. From that point on, for the rest of our lives, we are filled up with things. We learn to cry for food, for items and actions necessary for our comfort. Eventually, we are filled with knowledge necessary to speak, then read and write and perform arithmetic. This process continues until we become adults. Some of us learn just what we need to know to hold a job, others of us seek new knowledge as a lifelong pursuit. Always, we are available to be filled with new knowledge and information, like a pitcher or vase, glass or cask. We begin as a hollow container, we become filled throughout life.

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Much of what we hold, as vessels, are beliefs, opinions and information. Some of these are destined to change as we learn more or obtain new, more relevant information. Like a pitcher or vase, glass or cask, we can pour out what we no longer consider useful and be filled with knowledge or information that we prefer or can benefit better from. The beauty and utility of vessels are they are reusable many times over, they can always be filled with what we want to enjoy at each moment in time. Consider the coffee carafe, we fill it with fresh, hot coffee and fill our cup, and can even offer some to our guests. When the coffee in the carafe becomes too cold to enjoy, we can pour it out and refill the vessel. We are really no different.

Ideally, at some point in our lives, in our careers or as parents, or perhaps as volunteers, we can share some of the knowledge and information we have with others. We can share, we can teach or mentor. It is a fact that the best way to truly learn a topic or skill is to teach it to someone else. Like a vessel, a pitcher or vase, a glass or cask, we can pour out some of our contents for others.

Consider, now, the other use of the word “vessel”; a large ship or boat. This, too, is a container that is used to hold things. The area in which things are stored is, actually, called the “hold”. Of course a ship can hold far more than a pitcher or vase, glass or cask. And with a ship, it also moves forward, often great distances, bringing its contents to many others. A ship’s contents benefit many people far and wide. If we are all like vessels, which type of vessel would you rather be? One that holds a small amount of knowledge or information and makes it available to a few intimates? Or a great, large ship, moving about the world bringing large amounts of good things to many, many people? I think I’d like to be more like the second type of vessel.

We are limitless, as humans, in our ability to hold knowledge and information. I can remember lyrics to almost any song I enjoyed at any time during my life. It is amazing. I am always impressed by the amount of knowledge sports fans can recall about their teams and even individual players, including statistics and very specific dates. Incredible. And yet, if you ask me anything about math or science classes I took in high school or college, or to cite tax regulations, I would be of no use. Yet, I know people who can do these things. When we are passionate about something, when we believe in something very strongly, we are like the largest vessel on the ocean in our ability to share our gifts.

In our effort to evolve, I think it is important to consider what we know, and more importantly, what we need to know. Whether we are trying to become healthier, or develop better relationships with people in our lives, have a successful intimate relationship, dissolve self-imposed limitations, take on new challenges, overcome fear, or overcome victimization, there is knowledge and information we need to obtain. There may also be some deep-seated beliefs we need to “pour out” and “refresh” in order to evolve, make progress and achieve our desired results.

Over the past few years, I feel as though I have dumped out most of the contents of my vessel and have refilled it, now, with that which has carried me through many personal trials and eventual triumphs. I am hoping to be able to share some of my experiences, knowledge and resources with other people who may find them useful, informative or beneficial. Whether I am a pitcher or an ocean going vessel, I have plenty that I’d like to offer to as many people as possible. And in this manner, I will continue to learn and grow, to fill my own vessel, the contents of which I can continue to share. As you evolve and change and grow, as you follow your own personal path to fulfillment, I encourage you to share what you learn along the way. Don’t be afraid to pour out what you know and believe, for the benefit of others, or to refill yourself with more useful knowledge and information. You are the vessel and you get to choose your own contents. There is no shortage, you have no limits, and no one can take that from you!