On Point

I grew up in a typical, suburban, curb and gutters neighborhood, in a cookie cutter house, with manicured lawn, in a small Northern California town. A couple of years ago, I moved back home. Same bedroom, same house, same street, same neighborhood, same town. Though much has changed. There are only a very small handful of “original neighbors”, those people who moved here when the houses were first built nearly fifty years ago. My mom is an original neighbor, now, so am I.

Scarlette Begonia

I took ballet lessons, like most young girls in my neighborhood, from the lady around the corner. An original neighbor, still in the original house. She was a bit strict, but she was passionate about ballet. Her strictness intimidated me some, but I respected her. I needed that strictness, I needed the structure and the discipline of ballet. I was chaos in pink tights and a black leotard, otherwise. She would pick us up from school in her big station wagon. I thought it was so cool to have a station wagon, she had five children, and a flat tummy, strong slender arms, and long, thin, legs. She wore her hair long, tied back in a ponytail, or up in a bun. She looked the part. I was an only child, so the dreamy thought of being part of her family, with so many brothers and sisters, was almost more than I could bear. And they all danced. In the station wagon, after school, every seat was filled with a tiny, young, dancer. After ballet lessons, she’d drive us all home, one by one, around the block, all the neighborhood children. There were other children who attended her ballet school, many other children. They came from other neighborhoods and went to different schools. Ballet school was one of the few places where I made friends with children from other schools and neighborhoods; ballet, Sunday school, honor band, and, in later years, at the stables where I kept my horse.

Scarlette Begonia

I have always been motivated, when interested, and a little bit competitive. I really wanted to move quickly from beginning ballet class, which was held in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the old, repurposed white and pink Victorian house, to the next level. Eventually, I’d be promoted to “the living room”, downstairs, where the real ballet dancers, the “big kids”, practiced, all I wanted in life was to go up “on toe” or “on point”. Being ready to wear toe shoes, that meant you were a “real” ballerina. You attended a different class and got to learn the things the ballerinas who danced in the Nutcracker performed. Once you were up “on point” you got to wear “toe shoes”, which required all kinds of special care and had ribbons that laced up your legs. Once you made it up “on point”, the next thing to aspire for, was to be chosen to be part of the “troupe”. Each summer the ballet troupe got to travel to a faraway place, like Japan, and perform.

Scarlette Begonia

That was all I wanted. No, it wasn’t. There was one thing I wanted slightly more; a horse. A horse of my own. When my eleventh birthday rolled around, I was, I felt confidently, close to going up “on point”. But, as I’d been begging for a horse for as long as I can remember, it may have, in fact, been the first phrase I constructed, “I want a horse”, when I was given the chance to empty my savings account and buy a horse, I jumped at the chance. The only caveat was, since I was purchasing the beast, but lived in a curb and gutters, cookie cutter, suburban, neighborhood, the horse would require boarding. Mom and Dad were going to pay for that. Which, as I was told, meant I could not also have ballet lessons. It was dance, or a horse. I traded in my ballet slippers for cowboy boots. And while I won’t say I ever regretted the decision, I did regret the situation, being made to choose.

In college, after selling my horse, I enrolled, again, in ballet, as a P.E. class, for college credit. It was fun, but I remember nothing about my instructor. He, or she, (I meant it, I don’t remember anything about the instructor) just kind of was there, fulfilling some sort of job description. I don’t remember any passion, or taking away any life lessons. Perhaps I was just beyond my impressionable stage.

To this day, I love dance, and I wish I were better at it. I will often seek out and participate in the new barre fitness classes, they are rooted in the concepts of ballet, but are more contemporary, so, it’s like ballet moves to Zumba loud music, and with instructors I doubt ever trained in ballet, classically speaking. Still a good workout, but no chance to go up “on point” or to perform in Japan.

The youngest of my ballet teacher’s five children was a couple of years younger than me. The next oldest child was in my class in school, from kindergarten clear through high school. Grown up and married and with two sons of her own, she ended up settling, teaching school, and raising her boys, not far from where I raised my family. We connected from time to time when our kids were very young, and met up at class reunions thereafter. Once Facebook became the platform for staying in touch, while she doesn’t have a profile, her husband, also a local boy, does. News is shared.

Scarlette Begonia

The next oldest child is only a year older than me. She, too, is on Facebook. The other two, a bit older, and, in fact, the next oldest, the second oldest of the five, was my first, beginning ballet teacher in the bedroom, upstairs in the repurposed, pink and white Victorian house, downtown.

Scarlette Begonia

I remember being very young, probably even before kindergarten, and the three youngest children would come over to play. While I don’t specifically remember, my mom often tells a tale of the youngest of the five, still in diapers, requiring some attendance with said diaper. We go back that far. He, too, is on Facebook.

Down the street from my ballet teacher lived a family with three kids, one boy a year older than me, a girl, a year behind me in school, and another boy, a couple of years younger than me. Grown now, of course, the youngest is on Facebook, and is, and has always been, best friends with my ballet teacher’s youngest son.

I have been, somewhat purposely, not paying Facebook all that much attention. I go on daily, dole out birthday wishes, quickly scroll through the New Feed, and, truthfully, kind of fed up with the same old, same old, I close out and turn my attention to other more interesting and entertaining social media platforms.

Scarlette Begonia

I recently noticed a few posts about the ballet school, still in the repurposed, white and pink, Victorian house, downtown; they have their own Facebook page, with I began following not too long ago. I often see posts from the two friends, my ballet teacher’s youngest son and the youngest boy from the family a bit further down the block, now, if not fifty years old, darned close. And, they remain close, living not far from one another, sharing activities, and Facebook posts. I enjoy their contributions to the social media platform, more than many. I also saw, fairly recently, a picture of my ballet teacher, her husband, and their two small dogs. All smiles and the picture of familiar vibrancy and joy, my ballet teacher, apparently, was in the hospital and the dogs were “snuck in” for a visit. She looked bright, happy, and, really, quite healthy, so I assumed it was something minor, nothing serious. I did, however, in the weeks that followed, notice old family photos being posted, and photos of her as a performer. Still, I thought little of it. She was several years younger than my own mother, only in her early eighties. The ballet school celebrated its fiftieth year this year, I related the photos to that, and perhaps that was their purpose.

Scarlette Begonia

After a week of self-absorption, with work, and my birthday, and sneaking away for an adventure in celebration of my own dance towards old age, I returned home, and to Facebook, and, partially out of boredom, caught up after checking all the likes and comments on my own, self-indulgent posts of my, recent, “me-centered” life, I scrolled through the News Feed, a little further than I have been, as of late. I was shocked, but not totally surprised, when I saw a post from the best friend, to the youngest son of my ballet teacher. It was lengthy. Lengthy posts are usually a rant, a tirade, or something like that, or, they are really important, meaningful, worthy. As it was authored by someone with a history of worthy posts, I deemed it important enough to stop scrolling and actually read.

She died.

The Facebook post was a lovely, heartfelt tribute to this woman who touched and shaped this man’s life, from the earliest of memory. I immediately clicked through to her youngest son’s profile and Timeline. There were many such posts, and more photos of my ballet teacher, throughout the years; dancing, performing, teaching, some more recently, at the ballet school, in celebration of the fifty years, with family, pictures spanning decades. A woman with five children she gave birth to, and a whole community of children, for generations, that she taught, helped raise.

Scarlette Begonia

I quickly drafted a tribute of my own, then wrote a second one to her daughter’s Timeline. In writing, I reflected and discovered, perhaps for the first time, that I too, was really shaped by the lessons offered by this teacher. That’s what teachers, good teachers, do; they offer lessons. As students, it is entirely up to us to accept them or reject them. A truly good teacher finds a way to deliver lessons in a more acceptable manner. That way, the only way, is through passion.

Scarlette Begonia

In my tributes, both, I told of how I only allowed a handful of people, in my young life, to actually teach me. The rest, I tolerated, and performed at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding the expectation, only for a few did I excel, only for a few did I feel like it mattered. Passion made that difference, perhaps flavored with kindness, sincerity, generosity, and compassion. I can count, on my fingers, the teachers that made that kind of impression, that kind of difference for me, throughout my life, to date. On one hand, I can count the teachers, from my youth, who I still quote often, their voices I hear as clearly as if still speaking, those who offered the lessons I allowed to shape me, to define me, to make me the person I am, and the person I still strive to become. The teachers in whose steps I sought to follow, still seek to follow; my first grade teacher, my third grade teacher, my Girl Scout leader, one of my 4-H leaders, and my ballet teacher. It is in their footsteps, whether in practical loafers, pretty pumps, hiking boots, cowboy boots, or point shoes, I aimed to follow, in raising my own family, in being a youth leader, that I still try to follow, in writing, and in sharing my little stories.

The unspoken lesson these great teachers taught me, I now recognize; it is about passion. A fulfilling and joyful life is based on finding our passion, living our passion, working our passion, and sharing our passion. Without passion as our purpose, we are merely performing at some level of competency, near, but not exceeding expectation. We are going through motions, but we aren’t dancing.

I faithfully follow a YouTube artist and vlogger, I am totally inspired by his talent, but more by his passion, and the example he sets in following his passion. He exudes it. He tells stories, and one in particular, of the person in his life he most admires; his nana. She was a dancer in New York City. She danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall during World War II, and she was absolutely passionate about dance. Her father died of cancer a month before her first Rockettes recital, this shaped her life, her purpose, and her passion. When she married and raised her family, she began to teach tap dancing lessons in the attic of her house. She had seventy students and taught six days a week. Every year, she would hold a recital and the proceeds were all donated to cancer research in honor of her father, in hopes that a cure will be found and there will be no more missed, first, recitals. Out of passion, she taught tap dance, in her attic, six days a week, for 45 years, until she was 92 years old. She taught until the day before she died. That is passion, “on point”.

Scarlette Begonia

The point, I think, is to listen to your heart, to find your passion, that which moves you, causes you to feel like dancing, and then to just keep dancing. In living your passion, you inspire others to seek out and live their passion, that one by one, example by example, we may all someday learn to be “on point”.

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!

 

 

My Favorite Person

I read a story about Marilyn Monroe the other day. In the height of her fame, she was in New York City and rode the subway without anyone recognizing her. She was not disguised in any way, but was able to stand at Grand Central Station waiting for the train, then ride for several stops without being noticed. She had a photographer and a magazine editor with her and her point was, she could be glamorous and famous or ordinary and unnoticed, at will. She had charisma, which is derived from self-esteem and self-awareness. And she was in control of how she projected that charisma. When she exited the train, with the flick of a switch, like a light bulb, Marilyn became Marilyn again, deliberately, and was instantly mobbed by fans.

Today is a day I’d like to ride the train unnoticed. Not that I have any number of fans who may otherwise mob me. But I feel like lying low. I, truthfully, just want to spend some quality time with my favorite person. Me. I need some me time. Is there something wrong with what I said? Should we not consider ourselves one of our favorite people? Certainly, when trying to improve our self-esteem, our self-confidence and our self-awareness we must acknowledge that we are pretty cool people, right? Isn’t that part of the point, to develop self-respect, self-acceptance and a healthy self-image?

During the course of any one day, we are frequently picked away at by little, petty nigglings and naggings by the people in our lives, the people we love and who love us in return, our mob of fans. It is common, natural and normal, for people to try to influence our behavior to a manner that suits their liking a bit more. It is common, natural and normal for people close to us to offer constructive criticism, well meaning, of course. It is common, natural and normal to become the sounding board for every ache, pain, indiscretion, injustice or fleeting thought for those close to us. And it is common, natural and normal to want, need and to seek respite from all of that, on occasion. Today is that day.

In respite, I want to nurture myself with quiet thought and reflection on all the input from the past days, weeks, months. In respite, I want to consider, or reconsider, the path I am on, the goals I’ve committed to, the actions I’ve taken and those I’ve planned, to assure myself that I am still on track, that my goals are still true. In respite I want to remind myself that I don’t require anyone or anything external to “make me” happy, fulfilled, or complete. I don’t need wealth, I don’t need material possessions, expensive cars, big houses, vacation homes, extravagant gifts, presents, jewelry, greeting cards, frequent text messages, birthday parties, phone calls, flowers, plans on my calendar, the DVD box set of Friends, or even shoes, to make me feel better or better about myself. Everything I need, everything I require, for genuine happiness and fulfillment exists within me and at this precise moment in time. Now. I only need to acknowledge that fact to unleash it and let it be true.

I know this, I have known this for a very long time. I have practiced this, but in the din of daily life, I occasionally fall out of practice and look outward, from inside, in search of something to satiate me. And nothing does. Nothing can. Everything, if that were even possible, couldn’t. Not that I will turn away from family, friends, loved ones, my career, or my desires, no, but I need only remind myself that my true, genuine happiness does not come from those people or those things, they are just the gravy on the potatoes. The potatoes being, simply, myself. And in acknowledgement of these facts, and with practice of that acknowledgement, on a regular basis, all those other things will likely manifest. It is true.

It is my belief that much of the pain, unhappiness and discontent in the world around us is from lacking. From lacking of the importance of self. From lacking self-esteem. This being the  same pain, unhappiness and discontent, the same feeling of lacking, that sends millions upon millions of people to the doctor with the name of that new pharmaceutical miracle pill they saw on television last night. The pill that leads one to believe that life is a sunshiny, slow motion, graceful run through fields of wild flowers once said pill has been ingested. Like diet pills and miracle cures, happy pills won’t provide what only oneself can. The sooner we all just stop, look and listen, the sooner we will find what it is we long for. It is all inside and the only intervention required is the time and reflection necessary to acknowledge this and practice it. Are you on the inside, looking out for what you think you need to fill you up? Or are you looking inward to find exactly everything you’ll ever need, want or require?

Sadly, even Marilyn Monroe did not understand this fact. And though she had charisma, which comes from self-esteem, and a strong self-awareness, as evidenced by her subway ride, throughout her life, she was looking outward for fulfillment and satiation, which despite having fame and fortune and seemingly “everything”, she failed to ever find. And it destroyed her.

And so my day of going unnoticed on the train was fruitful. I feel revived and rejuvenated, relaxed and in charge, happier and more fulfilled, returning home long after dark, a long day with my favorite person. Me.

Ok, so I bought shoes.

Shoe don't necessarily make me feel better, but they make my feet happy!
Shoe don’t necessarily make me feel better, but they make my feet happy!

Scarlett’s Letter July 21, 2013

I’m not sure at what point in my life I decided I “needed” to go skydiving. I really had no inclination to do so, ever, until the past few years. It may have begun as a joke with my kids. We decided when my daughter turned eighteen the three of us, my daughter, my son and myself, would go get tattoos, go skydiving and go to a hookah bar, together, all on the same day. For several reasons, it didn’t happen.  Now my daughter lives in New York and my son is headed to Hawaii, so I am left here, with nothing better to do than to go skydiving by myself.

So I did.

I did it in celebration of my fiftieth birthday, actually. I figured, having made it through a half a century, I needed to do something drastic to kick off the next half century. Sort of like a rebirth, or an affirmation of life.

I did a tandem jump, meaning I was firmly strapped to a man who knew what he was doing. How brave is it, really, to strap yourself to someone, pay big bucks to have them fall out of an airplane and guide you safely to earth? Based on the feedback on Facebook, I’d say some consider it brave, some consider it insane, and some do it nearly every day and welcome you to the club. Brave or not, it provides you with the experience of losing control and then regaining control. It gives you enough of an experience to consider being able to do this on your own.

Once someone else does that for you one time, and you are “imprinted” with that experience of loss of control and regaining control, you can more readily take the next step of doing it on your own, perhaps. I am fairly certain I would not have been able to exit the plane on my own. I don’t think they even allow that now. I’m pretty sure you have to do a tandem jump, then take a bazillion classes, and then solo jump. I don’t know, I haven’t’ really checked into it. Yet. The tandem jump worked out very well. He jumped out of the plane and I really, at that point, had very little to say about the whole thing. Having experienced free fall and the feeling of the chute opening, and drifting to the ground while taking in the scenery across three counties, I am quite comfortable with the whole ordeal, I think I could easily do it on my own once I took the required lessons.

Many years ago, before I was ever in the picture, the man I married attempted to sky dive. His twin brother was an avid skydiver, so my husband decided he needed to try. He paid to be taken up in the plane and when it came time to jump, he could not let go of the plane. His fingers were wrapped around some sturdy piece of airplane and could not even be pried loose. He landed with the plane and never made another attempt. And that sums up much about him; unable to let go of the plane. Years later, he took private pilot lessons, at considerable expense. He finally got to the point where he had enough experience to solo, and he kept opting for “just one more lesson”. He never did his solo flight, never got his private pilot license and his training is all expired by this point, I’m sure. More recently, and the catalyst for the death of the already unhappy marriage, was his decision to “day trade”, in his own fashion. After observing the “behavior” of stocks over a very long period of time, he devised a plan where he could make very short trades, purchase and sell again within minutes. I did an independent study of his plan, and a financial model of the potential results. It looked good, it looked like there was considerable potential, so I consented to let him try. He hasn’t worked since. Nor has he made any money since. Every morning, for the next couple of years, he sat in his chair at the kitchen table, disheveled, unshowered, over-caffeinated, and wide-eyed with fear, and he watched the potential trades come and go. He couldn’t let go of the plane. He just couldn’t make the trades, and when he did, he second-guessed himself and bought and sold too early or too late and either made very little, broke even or lost. But he certainly did not replace his income and the empire we’d spent a lifetime building, fell. All because he couldn’t let go of the plane.

Skydiving is interesting. That may seem like an understatement. It is and understatement, and it isn’t. Skydiving is amazing, the adrenaline rush is awesome! But skydiving is also interesting in the way things become interesting when you overanalyze them, like I do pretty much everything.

Upon exiting the plane, free falling is what much of life feels like; you’re out of control and just plummeting. When the ripcord is pulled and the chute deploys, you regain control, you grab the handles and steer yourself to safety. In skydiving, as in life, we are in command, even if we feel like we are in free fall and completely out of control. All we ever have to do is pull that ripcord, grab the handles and steer ourselves safely back to the ground. When do we feel like we’re in free fall? After high school graduation, before beginning college. After college graduation before landing that first job. Any time we leave a comfortable job in quest for new, better, more enriching experiences. Selling a house to buy another. Moving from one city to another. Ending a long-term relationship. Retiring from a long, rewarding career. Receiving a dreaded diagnosis. We are almost always in free fall in some realm of life, or are approaching it. Yet, we usually land on our feet and continue to live.

This applies to just about anything. Change is scary, we are fearful of much in life, and we allow those fears limit us, limit our potential, limit our possibility for growth, fulfillment, happiness and possibly even being able to contribute in a very meaningful way to the world in which we live. Do you think, possibly, there is a scientist out there, somewhere, who has the potential to develop a cure for cancer or AIDS, but is, perhaps, limited by their fear? Perhaps there exists somewhere a gifted leader and politician, someone who is honest and has integrity and could help our divided nation overcome its partisan differences, but because they are limited by their fear, they don’t pursue their gift. What gifts do you have that your fear of change, uncertainty or failure prevent you from sharing?

Whether you decide to skydive in order to fully understand the analogy of free-fall and then regaining control, or whether you just rely on my description of it, do consider finding a way to overcome fears that limit you. My favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt has helped me many times over; “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Just let go of the plane.

Tumbling out of an airplane 13,000 feet in the air, strapped to a man who, hopefully, knows what he's doing.
Tumbling out of an airplane 13,000 feet in the air, strapped to a man who, hopefully, knows what he’s doing.
Free-fall in skydiving feels a lot like those things in life that scare us, but the view is better.
Free-fall in skydiving feels a lot like those things in life that scare us, but the view is better.
I am obviously having a terrible time.
I am obviously having a terrible time.
The ripcord is pulled, the chute deploys and control is regained. We drift back to the ground safely and enjoy the view across three counties along the way.
The ripcord is pulled, the chute deploys and control is regained. We drift back to the ground safely and enjoy the view across three counties along the way.
We are always in much better control than we think.
We are always in much better control than we think.
The planned landing method, had I known, I wouldn't have worn my MissMe jeans with all the rhinestones on my ass. I don't think I left any glitter behind from my glittery behind!
The planned landing method, had I known, I wouldn’t have worn my MissMe jeans with all the rhinestones on my ass. I don’t think I left any glitter behind from my glittery behind!
No matter how scary life can be, after the free fall, and we pull the ripcord and regain control, we land safely on the ground and are able to walk away. Then we really want to do it again!
No matter how scary life can be, after the free fall, and we pull the ripcord and regain control, we land safely on the ground and are able to walk away. Then we really want to do it again!

Scarlett’s Letter July 15, 2013

Day one back in my world. Ugh. Too early. Not enough sleep. Too long of a day that went an hour longer than it should have. For the sake of customer service. It’s what I do.

I didn’t even go outside except to toss my empty beer bottles into the recycle bin.

I did share my pictures and videos from my last four weeks with my mom, and I realize what a crazy, magical, wild, full and unusual life I have crafted for myself. For that I am grateful, and for that I also wish for change.

I have a good life. I am so grateful for my job, my home, my family, my friends, and not particularly in that order. Vacation gives us the opportunity to vacate our daily lives, to, hopefully, gain a different perspective on the world, to rest, to relax and to rejuvenate. My vacation provided me with all of that, and more.

I’m in a phase right now. I believe our lives go through phases, this seems logical, there is the phase, of course, for growing up, then different phases for each of us as our lives progress, for me, the college phase, the career phase, the marriage and family phase, the “I have teenagers” phase, the empty nest phase and, now, the “what’s the next phase?” phase. Never content to sit back and just ride anything out, I am chasing down the bull I need to take by the horns. With many little efforts, many tiny attempts to move things in a vague direction, I have only managed to see the bull I want to conquer run off, yonder, over the next hill. I never lose sight of him, he just keeps eluding my attempts to grab him by the horns and wrestle him to the ground. Do you ever feel like that? You have some specific goals in mind, and have made some cursory efforts in moving toward them, yet they seem elusive. Ever distant. Ever “some day”. I’m not satisfied by that. I know exactly what I want for several different areas of my life and I’m just sitting on the fence watching that damn bull graze in the distance.

Well, now, I’ve pulled my boots on, my chaps are strapped tight, my hat straightened, I’m wearing my best Clint Eastwood squint and I am taking the first bold, determined strides towards the bull. As the bull seeks to elude me, or perhaps turns to charge at me, I will adjust my path as necessary. But I know what I want and I am not going to keep saying “some day”. Nor should you.

Your life is just that, your life. It is up to you to decide what it should be and then make a plan to make it happen. No one else should, or will, do that for you. If you have a dream for your life, you deserve to live that dream, not to just wish for it. Are you just treading water, keeping your head afloat, while your dreams pass by with every wave? Get on that board and ride those waves. Life is meant to be fulfilling, not just wishful, and eventually regretful.

Is it that we are fearful of our dreams, whether they will be all in reality that they are in our dreams? They will likely be different, they may be better than we ever imagined, or not, but by moving towards them we will, at the very least, not be stuck where we are now. Treading water. We will have learned something, gained some experiences, and possibly everything in our wildest dreams, or maybe some new dreams. Dreams, in life, are related to the phases in life we pass through, they, too are subject to change. The dreams we had for our lives as a child are likely very different than the dreams we have at whatever phase of adulthood we’re in now. And, the dreams I had in early adulthood, some even having been realized and cherished, are now, very different. I have new dreams, different dreams, and, a couple of the same dreams, though refined. Just because one dream doesn’t amount to all we expected it to be at some point in life doesn’t mean we should abandon all of our other dreams. Or worse yet, give up dreaming. As the phases of our lives change, as our dreams change shape and direction, so too must our energy, our focus, our goals and our efforts in realizing those dreams.

I don’t know if you need this pep talk right now, but I do. Time to be bold because time waits for no one. Here, bull! Here, bull!

I once dreamed of owning my own ranch out in the country, and I realized that dream. That phase has passed, I have different dreams, now.
I once dreamed of owning my own ranch out in the country, and I realized that dream. That phase has passed, I have different dreams, now.
Some dreams we work very hard to obtain and even harder to maintain. And sometimes, they don't last, but you don't give up dreaming.
Some dreams we work very hard to obtain and even harder to maintain. And sometimes, they don’t last, but you don’t give up dreaming.
A dream dreamt and a dream realized is always a blessing, even when the dream has passed, we are always the better for having dreamt it, for having had the guts to pursue it and lived it.
A dream dreamt and a dream realized is always a blessing, even when the dream has passed, we are always the better for having dreamt it, for having had the guts to pursue it and for having lived it.

Scarlett’s Letter July 1, 2013

I wrote an article on Slowing Down earlier today. I did a fair job, I mean, there was no agenda, no “to do” list. Well, actually, there was, but it was very general, things that needed to get done, at some point, sooner rather than later. I helped out with this list, a little (I mean a very little) manual labor. And it felt good.

We ran into town to get my fishing license and I had to sign an scan an HR document to send in to work so all the I’s were dotted and the t’s crossed for the rest of my vacation. We stopped at a fishing hole on the way home and since we happened to have a couple of poles in the car, we thought we’d try my new license out. There I was in my brand new purple floral print jeans I bought at UNIQLO on Fifth Avenue last week in New York and my adorable high-low blouse with the diamond shaped copper studs on the collar. The mosquitoes were thick as flies, so I did the unthinkable, I mixed DEET with Vera Wang’s Princess. An interesting fragrance combination. In fifteen minutes I learned the basics of fly-fishing and even managed to catch a grayling, which we released. Meanwhile, my man was after a pike he spotted on the edge of the river in the tall grass. We’ve been after that pike, or a similar pike, in the same location, for a few visits now. This time, after switching out lures, he got him and I guess we’re having pike for appetizers before our moose steak tonight. I’m excited! I guess my license worked. Or the outfit. Or my new fragrance combination. Whichever.

This brings up an excellent point; I am considering launching a whole new product line including shampoos, conditioners, body wash, lotions, fragrances, deodorant, makeup, even laundry detergent and dryer sheets, laced with DEET. I’m also going to develop the same line with organic, toxic free citronella, for the Whole Foods crowd. They’ll invest heavily in my organic line, and eventually, reinvest in my DEET line because, we all know, it will actually work. I’m pretty confident this will be my million dollar idea. Stay tuned!

Slowing down is valuable in our life, as I wrote about, on an occasional basis, to let the mind quiet, to absorb our surroundings and to acknowledge the essence, the quiet voice from within, once we can calm the superficial voice.

We can also learn to slow down on a daily basis, as part of our routine. We need to build some “slow” into our hectic and chaotic days. Amidst the agendas and to do lists, the work, the chores, the obligations, the meetings, the phone calls, we need to find a way to slow certain aspects down.

We can practice deliberate periods of slowness with mediation, rhythmic breathing or yoga. Some people are even capable of clearing their minds of the superficial noise by walking or running. The practice of slowing down, though never completely mastered, adds a deeper dimension to our thought processes. We become more capable of problem solving, of managing stress and of quieting ourselves in an otherwise hectic world.

Slowing down while eating is another fantastic practice. In our rushed and hurried lives we tend to just wolf down our meals, snacks and munchies mindlessly. And we end up eating far more than we require for good health and nutrition. To slow down and acknowledge each bite, appreciate the flavor, the texture, chew slowly, set our utensils down between bites we’ll find we enjoy our meals more and consume less. This is a little known weight loss and maintenance secret.

We should also slow down enough, a little bit every day, to refuel our knowledge; read, write, sing, speak, learn. Finding a way to incorporate this into our routine will benefit us whether just trying to keep our minds nimble, further our studies, or enhance our knowledge for career advancement.

So, when considering what to do to make life a little more relaxed, a little more fulfilling, just remember the lyrics to the Simon and Garfunkel song “Feeling Groovy”, “slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last. Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.”

 

 

 

 

Toxic

As I smeared deodorant/antiperspirant all over my armpits this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder; is this going to be what kills me? Everything we do, everything we use, everything we eat, drink, breathe or absorb into our skin contains some level of “toxins” that alter the way our bodies function, believed to contribute to disease and chronic health conditions. We wonder why diabetes and cancer and other horrible, life-threatening diseases seem to be on the rise; the answer is all around us. On us. In us.

I try to buy and use “non-toxic”, “natural”, “organic” products whenever I can, but, quite frankly, they don’t all work as well as the more chemically based products on the market. Deodorant being one. I have tried several “natural” varieties and they, quite literally, stink. Going without has not worked well, either. I value my friendships.

In reading and re-reading and re-reading again (and again) Jillian Michaels “Master Your Metabolism …”, I am convinced that the more pure food and products we use, the more pure our environment (home and yard) can be, the better. True, we can’t be in control of every aspect, for example, this week, my mother’s gardener put highly toxic chemicals all over the lawns. I can smell them from inside the house, days later. I can also smell something coming from the dishwasher, a steam tainted with a quasi-lemon-“flavored” chemical substance. I use organic products to wash my dishes, but I have a hard time avoiding the toxic steam coming from the kitchen. But, again, I can’t help but think, the more I do, the more I will benefit.

Cleaning products, personal care products, air pollution, impure and over treated water supplies, genetically modified foods, chemical ingredients in food, pest-control products in our homes and on our pets and even on our skin, lawn and garden products, everything. There really, truly is no escape. So, the best we can do is to try to limit our use and ingestion of “toxic” products. Not that it’s a lost cause if we can’t eliminate them all, really, any measures we can take will be beneficial. Just remember, all we can do is all we can do, but something is better than nothing. Dabbling is always better than wallowing.

There are toxins in our homes, toxins in our environment. But that’s not all. “Toxins” exist in other aspects of our lives, too. There are toxins in our mind in the manner of toxic thoughts. Any thought that does not serve to promote our goals, to enhance our self-esteem, our growth as an individual, our happiness is toxic and should be avoided, removed and an alternative used in it’s place.

The “egoic” voice, as my yoga instructor calls it, our “superficial” voice, that voice in our head that talks and talks and talks all day, and sometimes, all night, very often is toxic. Listen to that voice. Actually, don’t. Identify it, and disregard it. Today, I caught my superficial voice tell myself, twice, that I’m fat. I’m not at all fat, I’m a size six. I caught that voice tell myself that my nose is crooked. So what, whose isn’t? The plastic surgeon’s wife, and that’s about it. And who cares. It adds character. Today, I caught my superficial voice tell myself I’m stupid. Wrong, again. Our superficial voice tries to make us irritable, grumpy, impatient, intolerant, judgmental, overindulgent, critical, controlling, and so much more. Have you noticed? Do. Treat that superficial voice, your egoic voice, as though it were toxic. Quickly neutralize it and replace it with something more wholesome and pure, your inner voice, your true voice. Find that inner voice, deep inside you, fueled by your true desires, your goals, your values and replace the toxic, superficial voice with what your true voice has to say. The true voice is “organic”, but it is polite and quiet, like all truly great leaders. Give your true voice a chance to lead, neutralize the toxic voice and you’ll find a level of happiness develop within your life you only ever imagined possible. Think of your true voice like Gandhi, Buddha, or the Dalai Lama and your superficial voice as Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Kim Jung Il. That should give you some perspective. The best resource I have found here is a book by Richard Carlson PhD “You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective”, and, for the record, any book he recommends is equally as valuable. I’ve read them all.

What other toxins poison our lives? Toxins within us that pollute our relationships, whether friendships, family relationships, working relationships, marriages or other long-term committed relationships. What are these toxins? Jealousy, deceit, dishonesty, control, and probably the worst enemy of just about everything, complacency. True, it is nearly impossible to completely eradicate these toxins from our natural disposition. With the help of our organic, inner voice, though, we can gain an upper hand on most of these relationship toxins once we’ve identified them. We can turn the tide on almost any relationship, as long as it isn’t abusive, by replacing toxic behavior with wholesome behavior. This. Takes. Practice. The behaviors that will benefit a relationship, any type of relationship are integrity, honesty, compassion, understanding, the act of genuine and active listening, tolerance, acceptance, interest and attentiveness. Just like replacing the toxic cleansers we use in our home with natural-based products, we can replace toxic behavior with behaviors that will grow our relationship, which will bolster it, that will deepen it, that will improve it. The best resource I can recommend for additional information is a book by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn, “The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships”.

While we’re talking about people in our lives, are there people with toxicity causing disease and dysfunction in our lives? It is a harsh assessment, but, sadly, necessary. In discussing relationships, above, I mentioned that any relationship was salvageable, as long as it wasn’t abusive. If you are in an abusive relationship, of any type, GET OUT and GET HELP!  If you are the abuser, GET HELP! An abusive relationship is most certainly toxic, and, again, can be any kind of relationship; friends, coworkers, family, significant others. It matters not the who of an abusive relationship, what matters is that you remove yourself from it. Fast. And find some support. Now.

If you are in a relationship that isn’t abusive, but is toxic, then you need to weigh some alternatives and make a move. Something has to change. Just like all toxins in our lives, toxic relationships have no place and we either need to neutralize them, or get rid of them. Harsh, I know, but true. You cannot begin to be who you deserve to be if someone, through their toxicity, is undermining your self-esteem, your self-confidence, your motivation, your energy and your enthusiasm.

Toxic relationships often have certain, easily identifiable elements; usually the toxic party is negative, most of the time. They may think in very black and white terms, all good or bad, they always need to be right, it’s their way or the highway. Most often, they are takers, but not givers. Their own lives tend to be extremely chaotic and that’s all they’re willing to talk about. Toxic people are usually needy and seek to become instant friends or lovers or partners and they will often idealize you, at first. Toxic people are usually passive/aggressive and can be manipulative, even exploitive. They are extremely judgmental. Toxic people are seldom satisfied, they always seek more and whatever you give is never quite enough, is denied or completely dismissed. Toxic people are needy and require constant attention, reassurance and validation, they are self-involved, self-absorbed, and not only are they only focused on their own needs, insecurities and emotions, but insist that your attentions also be so focused. Does this sound like anyone you know? Yes? So, what to do?

When we have toxic people around us, and especially when those toxic people are folks we simply can’t just “unfriend”, like on Facebook, we have to figure out how to deal. Distance is good, unless “the toxin” is close enough to you (as in, perhaps, spouse or family) that you can suggest they seek some professional guidance. I’m sure, if you’re like me, you have no limit of toxic people in your life. Usually, “unfriending” or “divorcing” these people, either literally or figuratively, while a solution, winds us up with a certain amount of regret. If we aren’t in a position to suggest they seek help, then distance and infrequency is, perhaps, a workable solution. Unless a relationship is seriously toxic, perhaps limited exposure is better than “unfriending”. Just like any toxin, if you must be exposed, limited exposure is best. I suppose we have to determine the level of toxicity, our ability to distance ourselves, or “limit” our exposure, and then execute a plan from there. It isn’t an easy topic. Identifying toxic people is FAR easier than knowing what to do about them.

In an effort to evolve into more healthy, happy, productive and fulfilled people, we need to care for ourselves on several levels; physical, environmental, mental, interpersonal, and emotional. One of the key things we can do to this end is identify things that will impede our progress or undermine our efforts. Toxins are high on that list, in every realm. Look around you. What’s toxic? Look within you, What’s toxic? Let’s do everything we can to remove toxins from our lives!