Treadmills

I’m not one to succumb to fear, to even admit fear. I do have fears, plenty, but I seek to overcome them, to meet them, as a challenge, and annihilate them. I am far more afraid of dying in a recliner, clutching a remote, watching other people live fascinating lives on television than I am of ‘most anything else. I’m a doer, not a viewer.

An Effort to Evolve

Last year, I did admit to a fear; treadmills. Not treadmills themselves, but the act of running on a treadmill. I have completely obliterated that fear and can run quite effectively on treadmills now. And do, when I must. I will always prefer running outdoors, through the countryside, the suburbs, or bustling urban streets.

An Effort to Evolve

Then a video compilation of “treadmill fails” circulated around Facebook last week and I took pause, and reconsidered my former fear of treadmills. I shall remain steadfast in saying “I am not afraid of running on treadmills”, I do, however, have a healthy respect for them and I will exercise (no pun intended) due caution. In other words, you are not likely to see me on a treadmill a) in high heels b) on a pogo stick c) on a bicycle d) on a unicycle e) while roller blading f) on a skateboard g) on a stabilization ball, stabilization balls have no place on an unstable surface, that’s oxy-moronic (moronic being the key word there) and, finally, h) while someone else is monkeying with the speed setting.

An Effort to Evolve

Fair enough?

A fear of mine, though? Not making progress.

While reconsidering fear, and treadmills, my mind naturally wandered to how this applies to life. That’s just how I think. One of my “concerns”, or, fears, if you choose, is “the treadmill of progress”. Have you ever felt like you’ve done everything right? Set measurable goals, based on your roles in life and your core values? Made a daily, concerted effort towards that goal, day after day, week after week, month after month, and made no progress? No forward movement? The treadmill of progress; running, panting, sweating, still in the same place!

Have you ever noticed people at the gym who dutifully hop on the treadmill, poke a few buttons and stroll along for ten minutes, then head for the shower, and claim to have “worked out”? Versus those of us who ramp up the incline, the speed, and the duration, with every passing workout. You can hear me breathing across the gym when I’m on the treadmill. I kind of make a scene. Let’s not get started on a discussion about the step mill! I’m so sweaty I look like I’ve been swimming when I’m done! Though I am going nowhere, I am making progress.

An Effort to Evolve

But, again, when we’ve done everything right and we seem to be making no progress, we are expecting to be moving forward, but the scenery isn’t changing and we’re staying in one place, what’s gone wrong? We’re stuck on the treadmill of progress. What to do?

An Effort to Evolve

For consideration:

  1. Are we present? Are we remaining present in our work towards our goal, or are we anxiously focused on the future? Live in the present, in the moment and be grateful for what minute progress you made today. Don’t look at the whole fence when you’re painting, observe the stroke you make now and admire it. The fence will be finished soon enough.
  2. Are we grateful. We must express gratitude for what accomplishment we’ve made, for the attempt that’s been made, for the effort put forth. If we are ungrateful of our efforts, our progress will be lost in the bitterness. Praise yourself and your toils.
  3. Are we breaking the goal down into small enough steps? Have we sharpened our axe? As Abe Lincoln once (supposedly) said, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s a good quote, whether Abe said it, or not. There is some debate. Anyhow, we should be breaking each goal down to the level of what can be accomplished in a month, a week, today, and, finally, to “what could I do this very moment to further this goal?” We often bite off way more than we can chew. Take smaller bites.
  4. My n’er do well friend, Jardin, wrote an article earlier this week about making excuses, and making adjustments. Sometimes we need to look at the whole picture and figure out what we may be doing, or allowing, that is undermining our progress.
  5. Reconsider the goal. Is it still meaningful, is it still valuable to us? Or have we grown past the goal? Maybe the goal is no longer something we consider worthy, or necessary, and we’ve just been plugging away at it for so long, it has become a habit. A meaningless habit and a waste of precious time that could be better spent elsewhere. Not every goal we set is meant to be met, accomplished and kept. We should be reevaluating and reprioritizing our goals regularly. More frequently, if necessary!

An Effort to Evolve

So, by all means, keep running on the treadmill. But make sure you’re making progress, adjust the settings as necessary, exercise care, and, for heavens sake, don’t fall flat on your face!

Stuck

How many times have I suggested we all face our fears? How many times have I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt on fear? You’d probably think I’m some completely fearless, super brave, incredibly courageous soul. I’m not. I’m quite ordinary, in most respects, and fears are no different. I have a healthy amount of fear, and I do strive to face them head on. I used to be afraid to fly. Some time between childhood and motherhood, I became afraid to fly. I didn’t like being out of control, unable to take over, if necessary. I fly all the time now, without a fearful thought, or nary a concern or worry. I’m a bit afraid of heights, yet I rock climb, I cross streams, backpacking, on narrow log bridges, I’ve been skydiving, and love it.

I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.
I used to be afraid of flying. I have evolved. I understand the Bernoulli principle, but still marvel that we are aloft.

I’m afraid of elevators. I mean, I ride them. All the time. I have to. Well, I don’t HAVE to, but I often work in very tall buildings in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. When I go to the gym and work out on the step mill, I briskly walk up 72 flights of stairs, at a steady cadence, without stopping. It takes me fifteen minutes. Then I proceed with forty-five more minutes of cardio, followed by weights or an hour and a half of yoga. But I’m really, really sweaty, after just the step mill. So, yes, I could walk to the top of the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center, but I’d be too gross and sweaty to make a good impression on my clients! So, I opt for the elevator.

I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.
I am normal. I have fears. I fear elevators. I fear elevators that stop elevating.

Why do I fear elevators? Well, actually, I think they’re fun. I like the roller coaster dropping tummy feeling on a high-speed elevator, and, yes, if alone, I will jump when the elevator first moves. It’s not the elevator moving, it’s the potential for the elevator to stop moving. With me in it. Between floors. I’m afraid of being stuck in an elevator.

An Effort to Evolve

Upon entering an elevator, whether I’m at a hotel and only have three floors to travel and opted for the elevator only because I have two full suitcases, or because I’m all dressed up for work and have thirty floors to go in an office building, I always look at the inspection tag to see if the elevator has had its regular, required inspection. If it hasn’t, I fret. Just a little.

This past week, I stayed in a hotel with a lurchy, creaky, elevator, minus the required posted inspection tags altogether. I used it only twice; suitcases up day one and suitcases down for check out. I took the stairs the rest of the time. Three floors, no big. The office building I worked in this week had five floors, there are four elevators, complete with inspection tags, all in good order. I have worked in this office building a dozen times, weeks at a time, year after year. Up, down, up, down, up, down. The elevators lurch and creak and moan and smell kind of like hot lubricant of some sort, but the tags are up to date and everyone seems to rely on them. Except for Chuck. He takes the stairs. But that’s kind of just Chuck.

The other day, my last day with this client, this month, we were on our way to lunch. We had a very full afternoon ahead of us and were intent on getting back to work within an hour. A group of us waited for the elevator. I was headed to lunch with a manager and several of my students were headed to lunch together. So, there were probably six or seven of us in the elevator, in all. We lurched down a few floors, from the fifth to the second. Who takes an elevator DOWN one flight? The biggest, fattest, hairiest, sweatiest, most loud, obnoxious, boorish, attorney I’ve ever witnessed, that’s who. At the second floor, the doors part and here stands this rotund man in a suit, with a briefcase. The elevator was full. Full with just us, six or seven accountants. Well, auditors, actually. The good kind, not I.R.S. auditors. I scoot back and welcome the portly man in, saying something about “the more the merrier”. I’d just been teaching my class about risk assessment, so I cracked a joke, an “audit” joke, something about “what’s the risk?” At about that time, the doors clenched shut and the elevator did nothing. It didn’t lurch or groan or moan or smell, it just sat there. I could feel my eyes grow about six times their usual size. I’d jinxed the elevator. My mind was racing, so I’m not sure if the voice I heard was the voice of terror in my mind, or if one of my students said, “you jinxed it!”

The fat dude in the suit was way in my personal space, not that anyone had much personal space, but he was definitely way too close to me, with his back turned to me. All I could do was stare at the stubbly, gray hair growing down the nape of his neck and into the collar of his shirt. You know, the hair that most suit wearing men with short hair have shaved neatly? And I marveled, too, at the sheer amount of fabric that made up his suit. I was closest to the buttons, me and Goliath. We both took turns pressing all of them. We finally thought to use the phone in the little compartment of the elevator, beneath the button panel. I could open the little door, but I couldn’t reach the phone without bending over, which I couldn’t do because there was a man wall in my way, so the man wall clutched at the phone with his pudgy fist. Whoever answered that phone got an earful of belligerence and threats and cuss words. The building superintendent and a technician would be sent immediately, we were told.

An Effort to Evolve

Since the elevator hadn’t moved, we were still right at the second floor. We, the auditors, stood passively, quietly, shifting from foot to foot. The massive attorney fumed and shifted and swore. When we could hear voices on the other side of the door, the super and the tech, we assumed, the lawyer yelled obscenities at them and threatened them. I’m thinking; a) great, piss them off and we’ll never get out of here b) there is no fan running and no fresh air source, how much oxygen is this gas bag wasting being an ass hat? c) oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I’m a bit claustrophobic and I was starting to feel pretty panicky. I could just see me totally losing it. No, actually, I couldn’t envision that at all. I’m very stoic, I’d freak out on the inside, but look totally normal on the outside. I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never been stuck in an elevator before. I decide to practice my deep breathing, like when I meditate, to calm myself, to focus. I focus on my breath, quietly. It wasn’t like I was in the corner doing an ujjayi breath, or Lamaze panting, or anything like that. I just breathed real slow, real quiet and real deep and focused on that for a bit.

Minutes passed. Everyone was fixated on their respective phones, scrolling, texting, playing “Words with Friends”. I’d taken a picture and posted it to several social media sites. Just feet, I took a picture of a whole bunch of dress shoes atop a worn elevator carpet and captioned it “stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors”. I got no comments, ever. One of my students endeavored to find “elevator music” on his phone and settled for Miles Davis, which I was quite enjoying. But, with each passing minute, the zombie apocalypse version of Rush Limbaugh that stood in front of me would launch into another tirade of curse words, empty threats and large clouds of carbon dioxide.

Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.
Stuck in an elevator with a bunch of auditors. And rabid Shrek.

More time passed. I was still focusing on my breathing and had begun to prioritize the afternoon agenda, deciding which topics could be omitted and not cause any of these up and coming auditors to neglect detecting fraud in some high profile audit. I began to panic again. So much responsibility, teaching auditors to audit. The future of the stock market, of capitalism itself, in my hands. One undetected fraudulent act, one missed material misstatement, because of a glossed over agenda item in an auditing CPE class and western civilization and the barely recovering economy, lost. Breathe in. Breathe out. Calm. Sanity restored. Perspective regained.

The Incredible Hulk started yelling again. The building super and the tech hadn’t made any progress. They’ve called the “repair guy”, who is “on his way”. We know not from where. Hulk roars; more obscenities, more threats, less oxygen for us all. I’ve taken my winter coat off. I managed to slide my very heavy handbag down to the floor, careful that the gold tassel I so covet doesn’t get trod on by the Clydesdale man beast.

More minutes pass. It’s getting uncomfortably stuffy and hot. I began to worry about a) enough fresh air to sustain us all b) long term, if we are to be stuck in the elevator for weeks, let’s say, who’s going Donner party on whom? c) my hair is going to start frizzing out of control. We heard another voice join the chorus “on the other side”. The repairman. King Kong goes ape shit and actually says, first thing, without any information or indication, without any provocation, “are you fucking Union?” Great. We’re in here for life. One of my mild mannered students, a sweet Kosher kid, finally snaps and says, politely, articulately, “I really don’t think that’s helping.” I’m waiting for punches to be thrown, when, suddenly, the elevator doors begin to part. A hand from outside appears between them, then another, and then the doors are pulled apart. And we walked out, filed down the stairs one floor, out into the cool, fresh Long Island air, and over to Bobby’s Burger Palace for a quick lunch. We left rabid Shrek behind, yelling and cursing and threatening our saviors.

Bobby Flay's L.A. Burger at Bobby's Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)
Bobby Flay’s L.A. Burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace (Garden City, Long Island)

Have you ever been overwhelmingly, hopelessly stuck in the elevator of life? Have you ever felt like your life isn’t moving in the direction you thought it would, isn’t moving at all? Do you ever panic or worry or fret, curse, yell or threaten, when things just aren’t progressing? Have you ever felt angry or stressed or sad, depressed, bitter, discouraged, at being stuck where you are? Just like being stuck in the elevator, being stuck in life is temporary, everything, after all, is temporary. Everything will pass, guaranteed. Just breathe deeply, be calm, regain your focus, get some clarity, persevere, and things will work out. If your goal is to go up, or down, in an elevator and the elevator breaks, you still, eventually, get where you intend to go. Or you die. Either way, the being stuck part ends. So, too, in life.

In that elevator, stuck at the second floor, when I felt my irrational panic begin to rise, I recalled lessons in meditation I’ve been practicing. I learned, again, in practicality, that I can control how I react, even if I can’t control the situation. This is something I knew, already, and practice, and preach. But to have it presented to me in a situation I have always feared, always dreaded, reinforced the lesson in such a tangible, tactile fashion, I shall never forget it.

After lunch, when we returned to the classroom, our tale was shared with those who took another elevator, or the stairs. One of the managers told a tale, of her husband, who’d been stuck in an elevator, in Rockefeller Center, when there was a power outage in New York City. They were between floors, in that elevator car, for over five hours. The rescue crew had to break through the wall to the elevator car to then pry the doors open. I listened, in awe, in horror, and my immediate thought was “I’d never survive!” Of course I would survive. Of course I would. I’d come out of it wiser and better able to cope. Or in a straight jacket. Nah.

When I think of the “unsurvivable” things I’ve not only lived through, but from which I’ve ended up growing, evolving, and drawing a great deal of strength from; the death of friends, of family members, the parting of ways of once best friends, divorce, foreclosure, losing the dream ranch, re-homing pets, re-homing rescued horses, low self-esteem, an unhealthy lifestyle. And no regrets, ever, without those “tragedies” and experiences, I wouldn’t be half the person I am now. I was stuck in those situations, in those patterns, in that lifestyle. And now I’m not. They were temporary. I breathed my way through, got clarity and focus and persevered. I’m sure you’ve been stuck in your own elevators in life, and you’ve made it through. What have you learned? That you’ll make it through, at the least. But, did you learn from it, too? Do you carry those lessons with you, to draw from in whatever temporary situation you’re in now, that you’ll face later?

Perhaps you’re stuck right now! Whether you’re stuck in an elevator, in line at Target, in traffic, or in a dead end job, a damaging relationship, an unfulfilling career, an unhealthy lifestyle, in indecision, in a state of depression, or in a world of self loathing and poor self esteem, know that all things are temporary, and with meditation, focus, clarity, time and perseverance, we will get unstuck. Keeping rational, and breathing through it, though, will allow us not just to triumph, but to also glean a life lesson we can remember and draw from, again, if, or more accurately, when, we get stuck next. Going up?

 

 

 

 

Still? Still. Still?

Let’s talk about the word “still”. Five letters assembled together into a single syllable word that has a few different uses, a few different meanings, both good and not so good. Still.

An Effort to Evolve

Still; a bad thing. It takes motion and activity to accomplish things, from getting out of bed in the morning, to acquiring knowledge, to running a marathon. Being still, when we should be moving, then, is a bad thing. We cannot accomplish goals, learn, grow, be healthy, prosper, if we are still. Stillness suggests inaction, or, perhaps, complacency. Sure, we may move, physically, during the course of our day, but are we in motion towards anything greater than we currently are? That is the question. We were meant to learn, grow, achieve, by design, to which stillness is the enemy.

We were meant to learn, to grow, to achieve
We were meant to learn, to grow, to achieve

Further, we were designed, by nature, to move, physically. We are hunters, we are gatherers, by nature, our bodies, our minds and our souls require frequent, vigorous physical activity to thrive, to survive. Consider, then, stillness, the killer. Stillness robs us of our youth and our quality of life.

We were designed to hunt, to gather, stillness is a slow, silent killer, a robber of our quality of life.
We were designed to hunt, to gather, stillness is a slow, silent killer, a robber of our quality of life.

Are you still? Are you too still?

How do we know how to move, what direction to go, what to seek, to chase, to learn, to achieve?

Through stillness!

Still; a good thing. To connect to ourselves, in order to, perhaps, decide what it is we are meant to do, or be, or accomplish, we must be still, in body and in mind. This, though, for only a portion of our day. To learn to sit and quiet ourselves so that only our breath and the immediate moment surround us. In quieting and clearing our mind, in connecting our body and mind to our soul through breath and presence, we become aware of the current moment, the present, and we are more clear on who we are and in our purpose. There are many ways to practice stillness; meditation, peaceful, solitary activities such as walking or hiking, yoga, cycling, running or paddling. We simply need time set aside to allow the mind to quiet and the constant noise of our thoughts to cease. We need time to be present and focus only on our breath as it comes and goes, daily. In this stillness we have the opportunity to become ourselves, to connect our spirit to our being, and to be present.

Is your mind cluttered?
Is your mind cluttered?
Find stillness of thought in nature, walking or hiking.
Find stillness of thought in nature, walking or hiking.

How do we accomplish our goals, our purpose, or even just stillness?

Still; a good thing. Still is also a word used to imply consistency. Much of what we wish to do with our lives, in this world, relies on consistency, constancy, and perseverance. Whether achieving and maintaining our health, our fitness, a skill, some knowledge, or the ability to sit in stillness and connect to our breath, it all will require practice, consistent, regular practice. Still. A lifetime, sometimes.

Consistency, practice, perseverance to learn new things, acquire new skills
Consistency, practice, perseverance to learn new things, acquire new skills

Are you still? Are you still? Are you still?

Scarlett’s Letter May 19, 2014 – Pop Some Tags

Pop Some Tags

I’ve had it! I feel like Jackie Chan in the Hanes “tagless” t-shirt ad jumping around trying to rid myself of the annoyance of tags in clothing. They are so annoying! Some itch, some scratch, some hurt. And for some fashionistas, myself included, the brand name means a lot to us, and there I stand, scissors in hand, deliberating, “pop some tags and have anonymous clothing or keep the highly sought after branding and be miserable?” If it’s Target brand, then, who cares? Snip.

Here I sit in my comfy sweats, my highly coveted “Ed Hardy’s” and the tag inside, in the back, is right at the top of my butt crack and it’s all scratchy. Do I cut the tag out? Or leave it and keep fiddling with it, which makes it look like I’m picking my seat an awful lot?

An Effort to Evolve

Have you noticed? There seem to be so many more tags than their used to be. There are labels for fabric content, in seventeen languages, and laundering instructions, in seventeen languages and weird hieroglyphics for the illiterate, I suppose. I don’t understand the pictures, so good luck with that. Then there is the size tag and the brand tag. I could probably buy a full size smaller in not for all the tags stuffed inside my clothing!

Cut it out. That’s what I do, if it bothers me, I cut it out. Poppin’ tags.

An Effort to Evolve

Do we really need labels? In clothing? On mattresses, couches, pillows, lamps. How about the sticky labels adhered to items you don’t want sticky stuff adhered to? Can’t “pop” those too well.

Labels are bad.

Labels are bad in another respect; the sticky, gummy, labels we apply to ourselves and the annoying, scratchy, itchy, labels we apply to others.

Many folks I know carefully classify people, with labels, like a scientist might a new species; genus, class, species, etc. They begin any account with the race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, socio-economic status, any and all diagnoses, height, weight, sexual orientation and/or marital status, of any person involved in the story. She was a large, poor, white woman, German, I think, about five feet tall and five feet wide. I think she’s Christian, probably voted for Bush, divorced.

We label the ones we love, repeatedly, and expect them to somehow overcome their shortcomings; my nephew is ADHD, on Ritalin, can’t focus, doesn’t do well in school.

We label ourselves; I’m overweight, Gluten intolerant, pre-diabetic.

We even classify ourselves by the prescriptions we take, there’s a weird kinship in pharmaceutical similarities.

When I’m speaking with a chronic labeler, telling a story, and I introduce a person to the story, I use their name, if I know it, or simply their gender. The listener is nearly aghast at the fact I’ve left out so many critical details. Often, they’ll ask me to further classify, or label, the person. I will often say, “Human, you know, a hominid”.  I try to set a good example, there’s probably a label for that.

Enough! Enough. Don’t you see? Labels are limits. Labels are excuses. Labels stand between you and your goals, your happiness, your self-confidence. Labels inhibit, you, and those you label. Cut it out. Break free. Be free. Pop some tags!

 

 

 

That’s Life

You’re a baby and you see toddlers walking and riding trikes and playing; you want to be a toddler.

You’re a toddler and you see the preschoolers going to preschool, they have friends and play games and have fun; you want to be a preschooler.

You’re a preschooler and you see the kindergartners going to “real school” and they’re so big and get to learn so many things and play on a bigger playground; you want to be a kindergartner.

You’re a kindergartner and you see the grade school kids go into classrooms and learn to read and do math and stay at school with their friends all day; you want to be a grade schooler.

You’re a grade schooler and you see the middle school kids. They’re so cool and fashionable and worldly; you can’t wait to be a middle school kid.

Middle school is sheer hell; you can’t wait to get to high school.

High school is much harder than it looked and you have to deal with adult emotions and relationships and responsibility before you’re really emotionally ready for it. You just want to grow up enough to deal with all this. College will be better.

That's life.
That’s life.

College is stressful, you feel a little unprepared and overwhelmed, it isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, and you still don’t feel emotionally ready to deal with adulthood plus the workload of college, and now there’s money to worry about, too. Graduation and a career job will be so much better.

Finding a job is really hard. Finding a job in your field of study is even harder. The student loans are due, friendships are harder to maintain now that everyone is grown up and working full time, trying to pay off student loans and make their way. Some friends are married already, some have pets they treat like children, some have children they treat like pets. How are we ready for all this? Your relationship is serious, but is it real? Is it right? Is this the one? How do you know?

You’re sick to death of your job, all you want is a new boss, new responsibilities, something interesting, some growth, some challenge. Your relationship has endured and even taken on a life of its own. It isn’t joyful but it seems to work, like the path of least resistance, it isn’t “bad”, so don’t try to fix it, or break it. If only you didn’t have so many personal and financial responsibilities, you’d quit all of it and go backpacking across Europe for a year. Or two. Friends have done that, they survived, why can’t you just do something crazy like that?

Seems like marriage is the next logical step. The career is going well, mind numbingly well. There seems to be only enough time to work, eat dinner, maybe fall asleep in front of TV and go to bed for a brief spell before starting all over again tomorrow morning. It’ll all pay off if you work harder, it’s all about making progress.

Married now. Got that to pay off, too. Career continues to grow, oh so slowly, like watching grass grow, but in super slow-mo. You thought you’d be so much further ahead, you thought this was what you were working for all this time, but everything is only partially paid for. We want kids, now, while we’re young enough.

Baby is here, so blessed! It’ll be cool when baby is a toddler and can do more than giggle, coo, eat and poo. Blessed, though, so blessed. Going to work is hard. You’re really, really tired. Blessed, but tired.

Another baby. The first is now a toddler, thought we’d better have another before the first was so old. Makes sense to get the diaper and drooling thing over, once and for all, as quickly as possible. Can you imagine how terrific life will be when they’re both put of diapers? Still feel blessed. More exhausted now. Work is just there, you’ll get the career back on track once your regain consciousness, again.

One in preschool one in school, two time schedules, two drops offs, two pickups. You wonder how you accomplish work, commute, drop off, pick up, dinner, TV, and sleep all in a 24-hour recurring nightmare. You live for weekends, except they end up being an endless parade of Costco trips, themed birthday parties and yard work. You miss college. You miss your friends, you miss the person you married, you miss you and the only friends you ever see are parents of other kids at cheesy themed birthday parties. You don’t ever want to eat store bought birthday cake frosting again. Or cake, for that matter. It’ll be better when both kids are grade schoolers.

Soccer and T-ball and karate and cheerleading and softball and swim lessons and math tutors. Your childhood was so simple by comparison, you’d really like to go back! You drive a big, unstylish car and it’s full of Goldfish and Cheerios and empty, sticky Capri Sun pouches, which, by the way, you’re out of, time to go to Costco again. Is it Sunday already? How did that happen? It’ll be easier when the kids are in high school and can drive themselves.

How do you parent teenagers? They’re so difficult to deal with, moody, angry, sullen, always right, always questioning authority. You love them, of course, but they’re really so much needier than you ever remember being, so much needier than they realize they are, so vulnerable, really. You thought it was hard when you were a teenager, this is a whole different world. Life was simple then, God, you wish you could go back.

College applications, SAT scores and unlikely scholarships. How did that happen? You groomed those kids in every sport, knowing a full ride, athletic scholarship was the only way college for two would be anywhere near affordable. There is the meager college savings, but even that pales compared to what’s necessary. It all came so fast. It seems like you “just” paid off your student loans, and now there will be a whole new batch of student loans. How can an education possibly cost so much, and is it really worth it? How far have you gotten with your college education, not as far as you hoped. But once the nest is empty you can focus on your career again, make some real headway in the decade or so before retirement.

The nest is empty. This is weird. You don’t even know your spouse, it’s like living with a stranger, like starting all over, in an arranged marriage. You miss the kids, you wish they were little again, those were the good days. Your old friends are going through the same thing, the ones that are still alive, God, and some are so ill, and others are alone, divorced, addicted. Life is so precious, it’s hard, so hard, but fleeting and precious. You feel incredibly mortal. Incredibly vulnerable, more helpless at times than when you were an infant. It’ll get better when retirement comes, the just reward for the hard-working, prudent average American.

Skydiving! You felt alive for ten minutes. You can’t believe you just squandered three hundred bucks.

The resort vacations are disappointing; paying all that money to just sit around and drink, in a slightly nicer climate. You can sit and drink at home and get better TV. What a waste of time and money, but it’s what all your friends are doing. You still wonder about backpacking across Europe. Do people your age do that? Do you care? You wish you had the guts.

The gold watch, no pension, an anemic portfolio, and a retirement account that doesn’t even cover the debt amassed from the kids’ college. Volatility of real estate values and skyrocketing healthcare keeps you awake at night, there’s a pill for that. The copays on your prescriptions alone are staggering. You worry about the kids, they are struggling getting their careers off the ground, it is so competitive out there, and with a young family, how do they find the time, money and energy for all that. It was so much simpler when you were raising your family. The worry is suffocating, day and night. There’s a pill for that, too. It’ll be better when the grandkids are older.

The grandkids are headed for college. How do the kids afford all that? The house, the car, the bills, spousal support, therapy, and their lifestyle? You don’t understand their fast-paced, fractured, fragmented and technology dependent lives. All of their friendships and business dealing seem to be contained in a small device permanently clutched in their hand, persistently distracting them from conversation, from the moment at hand. You look into their eyes and catch a glimpse of sheer terror, theirs? Or was it a reflection of your own expression? You feel more mortal than ever, but you wonder how they’ll get by without you. You long for simpler times, you think about the past, when you aren’t worrying about the future. You wish you were a child again. Life was so simple. Where did your life go?

Or did life ever even happen? You were waiting for it to begin for half your life, and mourning its passage the second half. Ah, but, is that life? Or is it not? There is still time, though you never know how much. Grab that backpack and a Eurailpass, quick, before you talk yourself out of it! Life begins with the next breath! You only need to learn that, and breathe.

Life is in each moment, each precious, each unique. Every moment is a new beginning, if you only wish it to be. The moment you decide to live, to embrace that moment, you shall. Live your life. Now.

 

 

Upside Down Pineapple – The Encore

Happy National Pineapple Upside Down Day!

There is a day, a national day of recognition, for upside down pineapples.
There is a day, a national day of recognition, for upside down pineapples.

You depraved souls! You know who you are!

I have written nearly three hundred articles over the past year and a half. Some have been funny, some have been serious, some have been touching, some have been a bit caustic. Some articles have been popular with my public, my readers, others have been completely ignored. But one article stands out from all the rest, combined. There is one article, over a year old, now, that is searched on, read, re-read, perhaps and, statistically is off the charts over all the rest.

Upside Down Pineapple.

I don’t think it was my best article, not my funniest, but it is, by miles, the most popular. How do I know? Like most bloggers, I pour over my stats. Regularly. I can see how many people, from which countries, are reading my stuff. I can see what tags are most fruitful and I can see what search terms people are using to find my blog. I pour over my stats about as much as some of you scour the internet for information on what an upside down pineapple in your grocery cart may mean to those in the know. “Upside down pineapple” has been my most fruitful post, ever, pardon the pun!

What does it mean? What does it mean if it's upside down in your grocery cart?
What does it mean? What does it mean if it’s upside down in your grocery cart?

People love to party, that’s all I’ve got to say! Oh, I know! I was shopping yesterday, with the rest of the country. I’d kind of forgotten the mania surrounding Easter. My kids are grown, they’ve moved far away. We don’t dye eggs and hide them in the yard after bedtime, or before sunrise, pretending to be some deranged, confused, and highly dexterous rabbit. I was giving more though to what time we should plan to be at the restaurant for brunch on Easter Sunday in order to avoid the “after church crowd”, at my elderly mother’s request. Apparently, she wants to celebrate Easter, but avoid the Christians. And now, I have to factor in the “after shopping with a pineapple upside down in the cart” crowd! Yikes!

We beat the Christians!
We beat the Christians!

Another thing I didn’t consider was my safety, shopping, yesterday. The parking lots were jammed, the stores all had crazy, long lines, except for the Verizon wireless store. And Ulta. Miracles do happen! No waiting at the Verizon wireless store, on a Saturday afternoon, after many have received their income tax refunds. I haven’t, I won’t be getting a refund this year, but I was still parting with dollars yesterday. After the Verizon wireless store, I went to Ulta because I was out of my favorite fragrance. Last time I ventured into Ulta on a Saturday, the line for the cash registers had forty people backed up past the fake eyelash display with the cardboard cutout of Katy Perry and deep into the mascara aisle, like the newest Disney themed ride attraction! Or a Harry Potter film on opening night! Yesterday, I was the only soul at Ulta.

So, where was everyone from the jammed parking lot? The egg aisle of Target. And there were no eggs to be had. Employees in red shirts were frantically searching the back catacombs of the store for a, hopefully, large, forgotten supply. Even outdated eggs would have sufficed, I’m guessing. Do people really eat all those eggs they hard boil and dye? For the sake of the ozone and the excessive emission of greenhouse gases, let’s hope not! “Honey, drive the Prius down to Target and get a few dozen eggs so we can hard boil them, dye them unnatural colors, hide them in the yard, find them again and then eat them all and fart a hole in the sky.” Maybe not. It must have been mayhem when only a carton or two of eggs remained in the cold case because there were a couple of cartons upended and broken on the floor. The two Target employees not manning the bank of cash registers in the front of the store or looking for more eggs in the back, were trying to mop up the messy egg goo from the floor. Somehow a large bag of flour was involved. All they needed was some shortening, sugar, and a pineapple …

After this scene, I dared not venture in to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, which are normally chaotic on Saturdays! Even though Whole Foods had their scheduled wine tasting, I could not be tempted into the doors do that store on this day. I feared not only the egg shoppers, but also the pineapple shoppers, scampering around the store, pineapple upside down in their cart, peering, hopefully, into the carts of all the other shoppers, practicing for the national holiday only a day away. National Pineapple Upside Down Day! I went home and scrounged for lunch fixings from my very empty fridge. And drank wine I had on hand. No eggs, no pineapple.

The other reason I didn’t grocery shop yesterday? I left my reusable, cloth, grocery bags at home, again. You just don’t go to Whole Foods, load up your cart and then choose between “paper or plastic”. Once in a great while, maybe, you make a small purchase sans environmentally friendly bagging options, but not a whole cartload! And not today, of all days, the eve of these two food centric nationally recognized holidays!

Happy Easter, too, by the way.
Happy Easter, too, by the way.

All I know, on this Spring day when most folks of the Christian faith will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, some of you, based on my stats, an alarming number of you, will be wandering, hopefully, through some grocery store, up one aisle, down the next, with a pineapple, upside down, in your cart, in “need” of something far more than milk and a loaf of bread, “celebrating” this national calendar day that probably has more to do with a style of cake than a style of life! But have at it! And I’ll go so far as to say, I’ll bet there are a few who will celebrate both occasions! I only hope you can find a grocery store open today!

Me, I’m skipping church, a tradition of mine for the past several years. I’ll pray at home. Then I’m headed to brunch. And maybe the grocery store, if I can find one open. I have a strange hankering to bake an unusual treat; pineapple upside down cake.

Delicious breakfast with Mom, and not many Christians, this morning at Napa Valley Biscuits.
Delicious breakfast with Mom, and not many Christians, this morning at Napa Valley Biscuits. Best chicken and waffles I’ve ever had, and I’ve had LOTS!

I’m Religious

Religion – a definition:

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

“Religious”, then, being the practice or adoption of a religion. Most church-going folk, then, are considered “religious” if only because of the fact they devote some portion of their time, usually on a weekend, to attend a church service. Whether church-going folk are actually practicing their religion is a whole other story. They could be, many do. Some don’t, and the only religion they practice is the exercise of going to church to be in the midst of those more technically religious than they are. Like the holiness, righteousness and salvation of the god-fearing will rub off on the non-god-fearing church attenders. There is a difference between being religious, then, and being virtuous and faithful to one’s chosen god. My point. But I digress a bit.

So, by the same standard, then, there are folks who don’t attend some church building on a routine basis who are religious in the god-fearing, worshipping, virtuous and faithful way. The act of routinely visiting some building with hundreds of other “believers” does not, then, make one saved. The non-church-going god worshippers are also religious in their belief and practices surrounding their chosen methods of worship of the god they have faith in.

In common, everyday, language, some people refer to a set of secular practices, performed regularly and with a certain amount of devotion as being “religious”. Even godless, non-church-going folk may do some activity “religiously”.  Pagans.

So, then, I contend that someone can be “religious” whether they go to church, or not, and whether they actually believe in and worship some god, or not. When we say we do something “religiously”, we mean that we believe in and practice in some way, something we feel strongly about. We are devoted. I know folks who are religious about watching certain television shows. I am acquainted with people who are religious about swearing and using profanity. I have friends who are religious about adopting stray cats. And, not unlike the god-worshipping devotees, the religious, though some of them may beg to differ, we are imperfect, always, in our practice. Whether god-fearing, church going, or not, we are all sinners, however “religious” we may be.

I am religious.

Non-secularly; I am a believer in and worshipper of some higher power. So I have a belief and a practice. Of sorts. I like to think I live a fairly virtuous life, and may even “qualify” by some standards for an “after-life” or “eternal salvation”. I won’t get into details beyond that. But, aside from worship, godly powers and eternal salvation, I am religious. I have many secular, pagan, beliefs and practices that I follow regularly, that I am devoted and faithful to.

I eat clean. I buy organic, sustainably grown, locally grown, fairly traded and humanely treated food. I buy food as close to its natural state as possible. I not only read ingredients, I try to figure out just how many processes an item of food has undergone before I put it in my basket. The fewer the better. I avoid additives and unnecessary processes, I avoid unnecessary packaging and other practices I feel are detrimental to the environment, my health, or the purity of the product. About this, I am religious. It is a belief and a practice that I embrace, daily, that I am devoted to and follow faithfully. But, I do sin. I am imperfect. Occasionally, I eat crap, a Double-Double at In-N-Out, just because, or I eat M&M’s on a long drive to keep awake and alive. In my travels, I often have to eat in restaurants where I can only hope the food is a fraction as wholesome, unprocessed and pure as I’d like. My sin, my imperfection, however, does not in any way negate my belief and my practice. I don’t just stop believing and practicing eating clean because I sin now and then, by choice or out of necessity.

I exercise. I believe in, and practice, vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Daily would be my preference. I run, I do cardio at the gym, I do strength training, I practice yoga, I attend spin class, and I lead an active lifestyle beyond just my exercise regime. I am religious about exercise. But I am imperfect. I am slender, but still carry extra weight in a few “trouble spots”. I lack the desired muscle tone in other places. And I sin. It is humanly impossible to work out absolutely everyday. And there are those days, too, where I just don’t wanna. My sin and imperfection as a religious exerciser does not mean I am any less a believer in the virtues of exercise in my life. That I sometimes just don’t want to exercise some day or another does not mean I have abandoned the practice. I am still religious about it.

I meditate. I am religious about it. I believe and practice meditation. Not nearly as much, or as regularly, as I’d like. It is a newer belief and practice and I am still trying to integrate it into my “daily routine”. Like clean eating and regular, vigorous, exercise, I believe that meditation offers many benefits for health and wellness and general happiness.

On another note, I’m pretty religious about craft beer, red wine, and ice cream, perhaps a little more religious in my practice than I should be. Hallelujah! Praise the lord! Amen! Pass the offering plate!

I read. I write. I pray. I work really, really, really, hard. I post lots of food pictures to Facebook. All things I am fanatically religious about. All that, and my “daily routine”. I am religious about my “daily routine”. I make lists to help me accomplish all that I hope to in my “daily routine”, but, without fail, the routine is never completed, on any, one, day. Ever. I am imperfect, a sinner. Do I give up on my “daily routine”? No. I believe in it and practice it and it will never be complete or perfect. But it is still good, and I still try. What I don’t accomplish one day, I may the next, and I am better for it, just like clean eating, regular, vigorous exercise and meditating.

My lunch. See?
My lunch. See?

My point. Whatever your religion, whatever you believe in and practice, you cannot, will not, no matter what, ever be perfect and sin-free. Don’t ever abandon your belief and practice of something you find worthwhile because you stray. Be religious and you shall find salvation!

Hallelujah! Amen!

 

 

 

Success! At Last!

Success!

At last!

What defines “success”? Personal success? Is it a certain income, a certain job title, marriage or some achievement? We often consider people around us “successful” by some measure, does that same measure apply, then, to us? Do those we call “successful” consider themselves successful? Or do we all measure success, of ourselves, and others, differently? With a different yardstick? In different increments or units?

Success is personal. What personal success is to one does not mean personal success to another. Only you can define what personal success is, for you. Whether you believe personal success is just being happy or that success is measured in wealth and material conquests, personal success takes commitment and a great deal of effort, devotion and even sacrifice.

But, really, what is success?

What defines success?
What defines success?

From anyone else’s perspective, under scrutiny, I may not look like much of a success. It took me eleven years to get my Bachelor’s Degree. I change jobs every five years. My marriage ended. I no longer own any real estate. I live in the house I grew up in, with my mom. Yet, as I see it, I’m a success! I have a rewarding career. I am healthy, thin, fit, and active. I have an exciting new business. I have many great friends. I’m in an exciting, loving, supportive and fulfilling relationship. I have freedom. I am happy.

What is happy? What does it mean when someone says “I am happy”? Like success, happiness is a word that means different things to different people. Sadly, I think many people use the word “happy” incorrectly. Happy, to some, means what success means; the big house, the important job title, the fancy car, the gobs of money, the trophy spouse, the smart kids. And yet, even with the acquisition, the achievement of all those things, most are still unhappy, most still strive for more success, they are empty and sad, even for all their perceived success.

For other, more enlightened people, true happiness is living in the present moment, mindfully, with gratitude, love, grace, and the ability to forgive. That’s all. And the beauty of true happiness is that anyone can achieve it, with commitment and a great deal of effort, devotion and even sacrifice.

What defines happiness?
What defines happiness?

Happiness is personal, it comes from within, it does not happen to us from the outside, it is not dependent on other people or on other things. Only you can create your happiness, only you can maintain your happiness. True happiness is a lot like yoga, it’s a practice, a daily practice. And like yoga, some days your practice will be better than others, but you keep on practicing, day after day, and there is always growth and improvement over the long term.

Personal success, then, is true happiness, and nothing more. Success, like personal happiness, is not something that happens to us, it isn’t something that can be bought, earned or married, it’s internal and grows from within through happiness, that grows with the diligent practice of mindfulness, presence, gratitude, love, and forgiveness.

Happiness is success. Success is happiness. I define mine, you define yours and whether we achieve either, truly depends on our understanding of the words and our practice of the concepts or principles we believe will bring us what we desire.

Success, at last!

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

A recurring theme in much of the reading I’ve been doing lately has been living in the present moment, and, related to that, mindfulness. Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, even Arianna Huffington, all modern teachers of living in the present and mindfulness

I have seen quoted, time and again, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and everywhere, ” if you’re depressed, you’re living in the past, if you’re anxious, you’re living in the future.” The only time in which we actually live, the only time we can actually make a difference and have any impact, is the present. Have you tried to live and think only in the present moment? Even for thirty seconds? Not so easy, is it?

And, so, enters “mindfulness”, the practice of noticing and acknowledging thoughts as they enter your mind, and then, filtering out those that are based in the past, or in the future. More than that, mindfulness also allows us to identify, acknowledge, and hopefully, derail thoughts that are not beneficial; judgmental thoughts, limiting thoughts, comparisons, and self-critical thoughts, among others.

A practice that helps us hone our mindfulness skills is meditation, and one that all the authors above practice, preach, and promote. I’ve been practicing meditation, off and on, for a few years. Lately, though, in an effort to evolve, I’ve been making a daily practice of meditation. Like yoga, meditation is not something that is ever perfected, it is something, always, that is practiced. Even well practiced meditators, Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama himself, have days where their meditative practice is more or less fruitful than others.

I remember the first time I ever really tried meditating; first feeling very self-conscious sitting there with my eyes closed, legs crossed, on the floor. Even though I was alone in my room. I didn’t quite know what to do with my hands, I tried them this way, then that way, then another, flopping them around in my lap like a couple of recently landed fish on the shore. I remember trying to empty my mind of thoughts, I remember not being able to empty my mind of thoughts for more than a split second. I remember getting kind of discouraged and not really trying to meditate again for quite a while. Months later, still reading of its benefits, I attempted meditation again. Again, dissatisfaction with my ability.

When I migrated my yoga practice from my living room a la DVD to the gym, a guided meditation became part of my routine with each class. Still, I struggled with the mindfulness part, but, out of peer pressure, at least I remained still and in good meditative form for the duration. Like yoga, with practice, I improved at meditation during class, and even with mindfulness. On one occasion, I became so mindful I almost dozed off.

In my daily practice, at home, or wherever I happen to be, I feel as though I am gaining ground. Of course, I’ve really committed myself to the practice this time around. And, by “committed” I mean I’ve committed in the best way I know how; I’ve spent money. I’ve bought a dozen Kindle books, I’ve downloaded several guided meditation MP3s from iTunes and Amazon, and I even have a whole folder of iPhone apps with different guided meditations and soothing noises. I even went so far as to order myself a “tuffet” and a “dog bed”, though I think the proper terminology for these items is “zafu” and “zabuton”. Now that I’m heavily invested, I am compelled to practice, regularly, or be consumed with guilt every time I trip over my tuffet and matching dog bed on the floor of my room.

By the way, this is an oft-employed strategy of mine for remembering all sorts of things; put something on the floor in the tripping zone as a reminder. If I don’t want to forget something when I run errands or leave on a trip, I make sure it’s on the floor where I can’t help but trip on it. I even taught my son, Dogwood, this trick, and he employs it often. So this isn’t something just for the middle aged and forgetful. Dogwood will remember something he needs to do in the morning, after he’s gone to bed, so he just takes one of the pillows on his bed and throws it in the middle of the floor. The next morning, he sees the pillow and remembers what he’s supposed to do. At my age, though, if I just see a random pillow on the floor, I just get confused. My tripping objects need to be specifically related to what it is I am trying to remember. Just a strategy, in case you’re so mindful and in the present moment, you forget everything else!

Still, with all the equipage, props and practice, I struggle. More than I should, I think. But I’m committed and I just keep trying. A few things I’ve learned, I thought I’d share, in case you’re in the same boat as me.

First of all, “bed-itation” does not work. In “Zen and the Art of Running”, a great book I read earlier this year, the author, Larry Shapiro, PhD, warns of “sleeping hazards” when meditating. For me, that’s just about anything that isn’t rock hard, cold or incredibly noisy. The Dalai Lama, in “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” while speaking at a large event, warns attendees, all 1,500 of them, that they are likely to fall asleep during a group meditation he leads. “In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness,” he recommends, daily, for eight weeks, a forty-five minute guided “body scan” meditation, lying on your back in “a quiet, warm place where you won’t be interrupted by anyone, or by the phone”. I don’t even have to be lying down to fall asleep in a quiet, warm place where I won’t be interrupted! The body scan begins with becoming aware of the breath, then moves to the left, big toe, then up the body to the top of the head. I can usually remain awake for the left big toe. I regain consciousness again at the top of the head. Sometimes. Other times, I don’t regain consciousness until the audio has moved to another track, like rap music. And, yes, I’ve tried the body scan guided meditation in bed. I fell asleep on the second deep breath. Bedi-tation, a sleeping hazard. Hardwood floor offers some success. Be advised.

Another problem I’ve experienced in effective meditation practice; the medi-libation. I usually practice meditation first thing in the morning (bedi-tation), mid- day for a brief spell, if I can, and before bed. Well, sometime between my mid-day meditation, the end of my workday, and dinner, I like to have a beer. After dinner, I like to have a glass, or two, or three, of red wine. Needless to say, my late night meditation is very relaxed. I do not recommend libations any time before or in conjunction with meditation, I did order my zafu and zabuton in wine color, just in case. Now, for insomnia? Medi-libation, in moderation, may be just the thing!

So now that I have a tuffet and a dog bed, I practice my meditation seated, and (reasonably) sober. I am having more success remaining awake. I am still struggling, and probably always will, with mindfulness. I am improving, but I have to be very mindful about being mindful. And, as I mentioned above, I’m in good company, even the monks themselves still practice this for hours and hours each and every day!

So, mindfulness; focusing on the present and being alert and aware of thoughts that enter the mind, then letting them pass like water in a stream. Piece of cake! No, really, among a bazillion other random thoughts, I am likely to picture a piece of cake, then a zebra, then, perhaps, a Tesla Model S P85. I’m likely to think of what to have for dinner, that cute shop in New York City where I saw all those Christian Louboutin shoes, learning to fishing, my next business trip or Disneyland. I also write articles. Every great idea I want to write about begins as an article, drafted in my head, during meditation. I can’t help it. But, I’ve devised a plan.

Every time I catch my mind wandering, I just tell myself “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

WAIT! What Am I Thinking. It’s an acronym, get it? When my mind wanders and I am trying to be still, I tell myself to “wait”, I take notice of what I’m thinking and then let it pass. Mindfulness. Yes.

Tuffet and dog bed
Tuffet and dog bed

WAIT! When Am I Thinking. If I catch myself focusing on any time but the present, I remind myself to “wait”. I can even think about the past, in the future; I plan how I’m going to recount events and circumstances from the past, in a future conversation. And I bet you do too! How “not in the present” is that? Wait! Presence.

Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dogbed)
Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dog bed)

WAIT! Who Am I Thinking. When I catch myself thinking about people, especially if I am thinking judgmentally or am making comparisons, I just have to remind myself to wait.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!
Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

WAIT! Where Am I Thinking. My mind wanders! It’s normal, I know, but as a reminder, when I want to be more focused, I just remind myself to “wait”.

I tell myself to “wait, wait, wait, wait” when I get off track during my meditation practice AND when I catch myself dwelling on past events, future scenarios, limiting, or undesirable thoughts or when I just need to focus and my mind has wandered. It works great! I swear by it! But, be warned, people will look at you a bit askance if you’re shopping for shoes or filling your car up with gas and you suddenly look startled and yell, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! then smile and go peacefully back to what you were doing. This from experience.

So, I guess to sum up my very mindful thoughts, today, I’d have to say, just stop, wait, and listen. Namaste.

 

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!