Scarlette Letter – September 3, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for the very special people in my life and for the cherished time I get to spend with them

Affirmation – I am kind

Attitude – My life sparkles

Activity – Window shopping

Nurture – Steam pedicure

Enrichment – “Friendship is gained by listening instead of talking”

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Scarlette Begonia

And a lovely dinner with my man, his family and their family friend; a treat so delicious and rare, I did not think it appropriate to snap a picture; use your imagination!

Giving – I let several cars in front of me in traffic and pitched in on a lovely steam pedicure for a friend who is having surgery tomorrow

Connection – A great day with my love, his friends, and his family

Simplifying – I didn’t buy anything while window shopping, knowing my wallet is emptier than my closet

Sunday Sauce

We wait all week for the weekend, whether our days off are the traditional Saturday and Sunday, or other days during the week. Sometimes the only thing that gets us through the week is the promise of those days off.

As our weekend arrives, there is great anticipation, a celebratory feeling as the final day of work draws to a close. Our weekend begins, sometimes, about half way through the final day of our week; productivity decreases, distraction increases, and we count down the hours, then the minutes until we are free.

By Sunday, we begin to gear up for another week of work ahead. Sometimes, a sense of finality, of, dare I say, dread, develops, no matter how much we love our jobs. The fun and frolicking and freedom give way to task and chore and preparation. The joy of the day off is, sometimes, seemingly mitigated by the fact that an alarm must be set for morning, adequate amounts of sleep planned for, and, often, chores completed for the week ahead; laundry, ironing, meals planned, shopping done, meals prepared ahead. Such as Sunday Sauce, a traditional Italian family custom (no, I’m not Italian, but I love the idea). The week’s meat scraps and leftovers are combined into a sauce pot with tomatoes and other sumptuous ingredients, and are simmered together to make a sauce that is used throughout the busy week ahead. Sunday Sauce is spooned over pasta, meat, and vegetables and makes meal preparation throughout the week faster and easier, but no less homemade or delicious. But, the making of Sunday Sauce is one of those tasks we do with the foreboding of the long week ahead drawing nearer and nearer.

Recently, I seem to be experiencing this phenomenon twice per week. I work a traditional work week, with Saturday and Sunday off. I often have some flexibility during the week and can shuffle some of my projects around to allow me some time to spend off with my guy, who works a non-traditional work week and usually has a couple of weekdays off. So, Sunday is my Sunday and, well, today is his Sunday, and feels a lot like my Sunday, too.

As our day elapsed into evening, the pallor of solemnity seemed to increase. As shirts were ironed and the NetFlix movie drew to a close, as morning alarms were set, I was sent home with a quick goodbye kiss. My weekend, and a long, holiday weekend, at that, technically, begins tomorrow afternoon as soon as I conclude with my client. But, my weekend is sort of “on my own”, as my sweetie works. Oh, I’ll fill every minute and I will enjoy it. But come time for his next, and only day off next week, I’m scheduled to work with a number clients, all day long.

Do you see what is happening here? I am living in the future. I’m thinking about tomorrow, I’m thinking about two and three days from now, I’m thinking about the middle of next week, and all rather negatively. This is our tendency, and really, our doom. The daily doom and gloom that we let seep into our lives revolves around living in the past, dwelling on the past, living in the future, focusing on the future.

It is now. It is a beautiful evening and I’m with one of my favorite people. Life is meant to be enjoyed, like a present. In the present.

Scarlett’s Letter Halloween 2013

Trick or treat?

I just returned, late last night, from four fun-filled days in Phoenix at my company’s “User Conference”. This was my fourth User Conference. I’ve been with the company for five years and some months. I remember feeling so left out and overlooked that first year, not being selected to go to User Conference. All the veterans just rolled their eyes and said, “ugh, consider yourself lucky.” After my first User Conference, the very next year, I totally understood. From about 7:00 AM every morning until about 11:00 PM every night, being “on” and “customer facing”. Towing the company line. Exhausting. Trick.

I am exhausted, though, I will admit, this was, by far, the best (for me) User Conference. Ever. I am still exhausted. Today was a day of adjustment; one of making my own decisions as to when to be where to do exactly what, well, sort of what, I wanted to do, rather than following a tightly scripted schedule, which, by the way, was to be worn around my neck along with a lime green lanyard, with my name tag and a large, garish button that said “How Can I Help You?” Kill me. Yes, today, I still had work to do; emails to answer, expense reports to complete (or so an email marked “URGENT !!!! said), and travel to arrange, then rearrange. Trick.

My goals for the day included 1) sleeping until I awoke, without the aid of an alarm, 2) running six miles, preferably with energy and enthusiasm, 3) attending to two personal matters that HAD to be dealt with today, one involving online research and a phone call, the second involving a trip to the courthouse, and 4) attending a wine club “members only” Halloween Party for free wine tasting, fun and debauchery. Treat.

On point number 1; the street out front appears to be done. The City of Napa has been replacing sidewalks and gutters where the tree roots of the nearly fifty-year-old Chinese Pistachio trees have leavened them like an angel food cake. For whatever reason, the tractors and jack hammers and dump trucks and loud men all begin work, in front of my house, where the work appears to be “done”, in a residential area, at some time before 7:00 AM. And, my luck, it’s fucking Thursday, and today is the only day, for months to come, that I have any hope of sleeping in past 7:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time. Thursday is “garbage day”, which actually means the garbage trucks, an entire fleet of them, arrive at 6:00 AM, or so, and start groaning and slamming through the streets, dumping everyone’s discards into their cavernous guts with an alarming racket. Cross point number one off my list as pointless and futile. Happy Halloween, I AM the walking dead. Trick.

Number 2; run six miles. I slip out of bed like “The Ooze”, rummage through my perpetually packed suitcase for my beloved slippers and somehow navigate downstairs and manage to fix a fairly nutritious and almost delicious breakfast in spite of the fact I haven’t grocery shopped in weeks and wont’, because I’m on the road, again, next week. And the next. And the next. And the next. Until nearly Christmas. Mom joins me and we begin her favorite game; devils advocate. Happy Halloween! The devil is here, ready to respond to everything I say with some sort of point, counterpoint or possible argument. I’m tired. I don’t want to play. I can debate with anyone, I can defend my strongly held convictions and deeply rooted beliefs with anyone, almost anytime. Just not today. I feel challenged and defensive and exhausted I just want to … go upstairs and answer mind-numbing work emails on topics like Microsoft Word headers not functioning correctly in our workpaper manager software. Kill me. But I do this for an hour, until the URGENT !!! email comes in that says we HAVE TO HAVE our October expenses in by EOB (end of business) today. Well. Okay. I will take the two hours to complete a tedious and uncooperative online form, attaching images of receipts for every expense, no matter the triviality of the expense, so my company can reimburse me for all the credit card charges I’ve incurred and must, personally, pay, for my extensive travel. Twist my arm. It’s the tedium of the process that almost makes me say “f” it, I’ll just cover it out of pocket. But I don’t’. And by now it’s 1:00 PM. And I’m still in my pajamas, drinking cold, weak, bitter, black coffee. I’m in sweats, actually, that’s what I sleep in when I’m not with my Sweetie. I could, by today’s standards, go to the grocery store, the bank, a college campus, a restaurant, shopping, I could take an airline flight, in what I’m wearing; grotesquely baggy sweatpants, slippers and my boyfriend’s thermal t-shirt advertising a brewery in Fairbanks, Alaska. But I’m old school. I usually shower and get dressed before leaving the house. Hell, I usually shower and dress even if I don’t leave the house. I have some self-respect. Normally. Trick? Treat? Trick, I guess.

Finally, because I can’t stand myself anymore, I go and put my running tights and jersey on, lace up my shoes, pull my hair into a tight pony tail which I pull through the hole in the back of my running hat. I fill my bladder bag and strap on my Garmin watch. I answer another email, finish another expense report and decide I’d better have lunch before running. I’m out of fuel. Breakfast was hours ago. I find a frozen stuffed pepper in my freezer, reheat it, eat it, brush my teeth and head for the car. I run my “usual” six-mile loop and it’s like I haven’t run in years! All I can think about is the next walk break. I run for five minutes and walk for one, at a pace ranging from eleven minutes per mile to twelve minutes per mile. I’m old. I’m tired. That’s what I do. Right now, with about four weeks to go until my first full marathon, I just want to pile on miles and not hurt myself. I could care less about speed right now. I just want to finish. And live. But I don’t feel like I can finish six miles, alive, today. I guess you could say that today, I finished my first “zombie run”, except it wasn’t a race with energetic participants in gory costumes, it was me, lurching along like Frankenstein, for six, long, miles. Treat, actually. The sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile.

I make it home, stinky, sweaty and even more tired, and it’s after 3:00 PM. I’ve taken care of the one point of personal business, on the phone, but I still have to go to the courthouse. And they close at 4:00. I wouldn’t be caught dead at the courthouse in my baggy sweats and my boyfriend’s shirt, but I’ll go sweaty and stinky in Lycra running pants! It was my only choice, there was no time for unpacking all my shower stuff and makeup stuff and hairdryers and straightening irons and curling irons and then showering and then employing all said items in order to look human. It’s Halloween! This is my costume! Living Dead in Lycra! Scary! Right? Treat, I guess; it’s a glass half full perspective.

I get my business done, fairly quickly. I only had to wait in line behind one person, a tiny and very young lady, who was attempting to complete papers to file for divorce from her husband, Stephen, the father of her child. How do I know it’s “Stephen” with a “ph” and not “Steven” with a “v”? Am I that assumptive? No, she has “Stephen”, with a “ph” tattooed, painfully, I’m sure, on the top of her foot. And socks are so not in fashion with skinny jeans and flats! I didn’t want to tap her on the shoulder and say, “honey, it’s almost November, boots are cool, if you want to cover up that “Stephen” of yours.” Um, trick?

Home. And, damn, I’m hungry again. I fix dinner and tell Mom about my plans for my costume for the wine club, free wine-tasting, costume party. A gypsy. I can wear my favorite super comfy skirt, a little more makeup than usual, a few scarves tied around my waist like a sash, all the jewelry I own, and offer to read people’s palms! She suggests I wear her clown outfit with the red, curly wig and the nose. She suggests I wear her witch costume with a tall, stiff hat and a hot, rubber mask. She suggests I wear my dad’s chambray shirt, jeans and a blonde wig that he wore to be something she couldn’t quite remember at an RV club party twenty years ago. I’m not getting any of this. And, geez, no wonder my shit is still in boxes in the middle of the floor in my room! Apparently the dresser drawers and closets are full of frumpy costumes from the past five decades. For two.  Trick.

I’m tired. I don’t want to wear my dad’s chambray shirt and a blonde wig. I decide not to go. It’s just easier, and I’m tired. I finish dinner, and dishes and think about trick or treating. It would be a real trick to find enough energy to get dressed up and ready and go to a Halloween party, alone, and be engaging and energetic and charismatic. A real trick. I decide on treat, and take a nice, hot bubble bath. I listen to an audiobook I’m half way through and am totally enjoying. I set my plastic Vino Volo glass full of cab sav on the edge of the tub. Might I mention that this bathtub and I do not get along. This tub is nearly fifty years old, though it looks brand new, because no one ever used it, and for good reason. Unlike new tubs, it has actual real estate on two corners, ample enough acreage for a bargain size bottle of Paul Mitchell shampoo, and a bargain size bottle of Paul Mitchell conditioner, face wash, body wash, a loofah, a razor and a glass of wine, or coffee, depending on the time of the shower. But, like many other pieces of real estate I’ve owned in my life, it’s too steep to be useful. True, it looks fine, until you try to actually use it, then the bottles all slide and tumble into the tub, one after the other. I’ve taken to setting the bottles on the floor, next to the tub, when I shower, and retrieving them and replacing them, one by one, in the order used. I don’t’ often take bubble baths, I don’t’ normally like to sit that still for that long. Who, beside me, takes a three-minute bubble bath? I take shorter bubble baths than showers! You can ask my Sweetie, it’s true! But, tonight, for whatever reason, I was able to just sit in the warm water and soak. I bet I was in the tub for a full ten, maybe even fifteen minutes. And, just how long do you think it took for my plastic Vino Volo glass of cab sav to slide along that stupid, generously sized but overly sloped tub edge and into the tub? Right! About ten seconds! I’ve heard that wine, in your bath, is very good for your skin. We’ll see. If I look younger and more radiant tomorrow, we’ll know! I managed to save a third of the wine, because I’m fast like that, and I clung, tightly, to my glass, while enjoying my audio book and being in a place where no one, on the phone or in person, was going to play devil’s advocate with me. Bliss. Treat.

My lesson for today; feeling a wee bit grumpy, tired, a little out of sorts, with some thought and self reflection, I decided it’s because I have been working very slowly, but very diligently, towards a number of goals, simultaneously. Career goals, relationship goals, financial goals, spiritual goals, fitness goals, nutrition goals. So many goals. For weeks, months, years, even, I have been just plinking away at these goals. They require a cannonball and I’ve been firing at them, monotonously, for years, with a child-sized, pellet gun. But, it seems, I am making progress. This week, for the first time in a long time, I could actually feel that I’ve made some significant progress. Every fall, for whatever reason, I sort of gird my loins and fight a little harder towards my long-term goals, and, this week, I actually felt like I was on the brink of some measurable progress. But, I am not there yet. I am so close, but not there. I have tossed all the knives into the air, I am standing, looking up, squinting and shielding myself as the knives all finish their arc up, pause, and begin their fall towards, well, me. Now, I’ve got to catch them all! Or, at the very least, dodge them. The “future” is frustratingly close, uncertain and a little scary. Boo! And, as a result, I keep catching myself “future focused”, rather than being present. This causes anxiety.

The real reason I didn’t go to the Halloween bash dressed, comfortably and fashionably, as a gypsy, was because I have that pain in my neck, again. Every fall, about the time I start girding my loins and fighting a little harder towards my long-term goals, I get a pinched nerve in my upper back that is excruciating. It takes weekly massages and chiropractic care, for months, to unknot them. This is all anxiety driven, I am sure. So, today, I caught myself, and reflected back on a handful of books I consider constant and vital resources in my life library. “The Power of Now”, of course, by Eckhart Tolle and “The Soulmate Experience” by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple, both of which I have read multiple times and have recently purchased on Audible and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to driving to and from the airport. Another, and one I’m about half way through for the first time, “The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane. And last, but not least, Jillian Michael’s “Slim for Life”.

In “The Charisma Myth”, Olivia Fox Cabane provides a valuable pointer for staying present, one of the three necessary qualities for being charismatic, she says you should wiggle your toes when you are listening to others speak. By wiggling your toes, you are in the moment, you are present, and you appear, to the speaker, to be actively listening and engaged, which all charismatic people are.

Jillian. Jillian, Jillian, Jillian. Her books have changed my life, the others that followed have added, immeasurably, but I would never have begun my journey, my effort, towards personal improvement, had it not been for Jillian Michaels. To some, at first, she seems hard to take seriously. But, seriously; plain, matter of fact, backed with facts, passionate, clear advice. After her first book, in my household, WWJD, which a few years earlier stood for “what would Jesus do?” became WWJD, “what would Jillian do?” In Jillian’s latest book, “Slim for Life,” she talks a bit about the importance of core strength and posture. We all slouch. I slouch. I’ve seen pictures. Recently.

So, I’ve taken the very practical and important advice from “The Charisma Myth” about doing something physical to stay “present”, rooted in the moment, in the now, and I’ve combined it with Jillian’s advice on core strength and posture. So, to remind myself to remain present, while I may be wiggling my toes, unless I’m wearing flip flops, in which case, I may appear a bit weird, I tighten my core and stand very straight and erect, I flex every core muscle I can discern, and this keeps me focused, a bit more, on the present moment, where I should be, where there are no regrets of the past or anxieties of the future.

The point, here, is to live only in the present. The present is the only point in time in which we have any power. We cannot make any changes to anything that has happened in the past. No amount of regret or remorse will ever change anything that has happened. Make your peace with that, apologize, if need, forgive where necessary, and leave it in the past. Likewise, no amount of worry or thought about the future, now, will have any positive affect, other than to deprive you of the only time you do have to make an impact, now. Remaining so focused on the future not only deprives us of the present, now, and, ultimately, our life, it creates unnecessary anxiety. No amount of worry ever had any positive affect on the future. To the contrary, actually, if you are at all aware or familiar with the concept of the power of thought and manifestation. What you believe, you can conceive, to quote Brian Tracy. If we believe only anxiety driven worries and fears about the future, the energy and focus and though we believe is more likely to manifest than the opposite, or the actual, desired, outcome.  There is energy in thought, and energy will attract energy. So, negative, anxious thoughts about some undesired outcome is much more likely to attract that negative outcome than positive, affirming thoughts. This may sound all “new world, touchy-feely, spirituality”, but, hey, what have we got to lose? Anxiety? Pain? Discomfort? Unrest? It is so worth the try. And, from my standpoint, I swear by it. Standing straight, core muscles flexed, wiggling my toes, focusing on the moment, the present and thinking positive. Treat.

 

Scarlett’s Letter October 9, 2013

Today would’ve been my dad’s 93rd birthday. Like him, I have a fantastic memory for dates, like birthdates. I can remember birthdates, month and day, but please, please, please, don’t ever expect me to be able to tell you what year something or other happened. I know when my kids were born. I know when I graduated from high school. Everything else just happened somewhere along the line.

Dad still has a Facebook page, so, in case I forgot about his birthday today, I received a reminder along with a suggestion to buy him a Starbuck’s gift card. I considered it, but decided against it. I’ve left his page up, as I’ve noticed with friends who have passed before me, their Facebook pages are left and people stop by to pay tribute on birthdays, holidays and other important dates. It only seemed creepy for a bit, but I actually rather appreciate it, now, to be able to “publicly” pay respect to someone, to see others pay the same tribute. I have yet to take a look at Dad’s page to see if anyone has stopped by to pay homage. I’ll do so after a glass of wine, later this evening.

I ran seven fantastic miles this morning, according to plan. It feels like October in the Napa Valley. I know, it is, but it feels like it. This is the very best time of year in California, and here, especially. It’s cool enough in the morning to want to stay under the covers a moment longer, just long enough to hear the furnace kick on. As a child, I’d have gone over and sat on the floor, over the vent, with my nightgown billowing out around me, trapping the warm air within. My kids did this, too, when they visited their grandparents. I decided against sitting on the heater vent this morning. I’ll indulge at some point, even if just for the sake of posterity. And I can almost bet Mom will pop in to check up on me at precisely that moment and question my actions and intentions, my reasoning, and, perhaps, my sanity.

Once up, I donned my running gear, had breakfast and did a little work, while my running socks tumbled in the dryer. Then I headed to the “dog park”, where I park my car and ran my favorite loop, which ends in the vineyards of the Oak Knoll District. This, my favorite time of year, the sun is bright, there is rarely rain, and, if any, just enough to be novel, enough to wash the dust off everything, making the world look crisp and clean. There is rarely any fog, maybe just a few fluffy clouds here and there, drifting on the breeze as the valley breathes, inhaling in the morning, exhaling in the afternoon and evening, drawing a cool breath from the bay to the south, warming the air in the sunny valley, and blowing it slowly back out towards the water in the afternoon.

This is the time of year that I remember so fondly from my school years. School has started, there are football games every weekend, and the weather is finally just about right to be able to wear all your new school clothes for fall; sweaters, jeans, boots, all the cute things you found shopping for school, but as summer lingers here for so long, they were all much too warm to wear. For the first month or so of school, it was still shorts, tank tops and sandals or flats. Finally, fall school clothes can be worn without danger of heat stroke!

There is a change in the slant of the sunlight, too, that is indicative of the season. You begin to notice the subtle distance of the sun, it is bright, but the light is more diffused and just a little less warm. The light catches the changing colors of the leaves on the trees and on the vines and adopts a golden hue. When the sun sets, it is cool enough for a sweater, but warm enough for an evening walk. As night settles in, someone, somewhere, will light a fire in their fireplace and the smell of smoke will drift subtly on the cool air, like magic, unless it’s a “spare the air” day and there is a “burn ban.” I know, romance = brutally murdered.

The street I grew up on is lined with Chinese pistachio trees, planted by the city. They turn from green to fiery red and orange this time of year. The “City” is tearing up our sidewalk, street and gutters around the neighborhood where the tree roots have lifted the pavement. Our tree, I’m certain, is the biggest culprit. A few of the neighbors’ trees have actually been removed. Mom fears, like death, that “they’ll” remove our tree. They may, they probably should, but haven’t, thus far. Every day this week there have been dusty yellow pieces of equipment trundling up and down the street raising both dust and a racket. Trucks line the street and men in orange shirts mill about. Today, the jackhammering began. I gathered a few critical items for survival and headed for the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company to regain some quiet, solitude and, hopefully, my sanity. I’ll work here until my computer dies, then look for an outlet here, or elsewhere. For now, with my iced decaf and enough serenity to be able to construct sentences, I am both at peace and in peace. Bliss.

Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Life at 1027 SB Drive.
Life at 1027 SB Drive.

This is living in the present. This is living in the moment. This is what we’re supposed to do, always. I am working, I am writing, and I am content. Thoughts of tomorrow, next week, next month, next year are as distant as those times are in the future. Thoughts of yesterday, last week, last month and last year are equally as distant. Removed. Removed from me by the time that has passed, the time that has not yet arrived, and, in the same manner, removed from my mind. This is where happiness and productivity thrive, in the present. This is a place free of stress, free of sorrow. There is nothing, right now, I need, that I don’t have. To extrapolate this feeling, this practice, across one’s life would create a happiness and contentment so complete that, if everyone knew about this secret, there would likely be no sadness, no depression, no anxiety, no fear, the world over. There could very well be no war, there would be most definitely, less disease. In fact, I am quite certain, as I’ve learned from Eckhart Tolle, this is the key to life, the key to everything. The present, a present, just waiting to be discovered.

I’m enjoying my present. How about you?

Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!

Piles

Today is the day I make piles, in earnest. The piles sort of started forming yesterday, if you can call three items a pile. I’m actually feeling a little behind schedule in my making of piles. You see, before any trip, whether for work or for pleasure, I put things in piles so I won’t forget to pack them. I pile first and pack last minute. I’ll usually have a pile of electronics and related stuff, a pile of clothes, a pile of shoes, and a pile of other flotsam and jetsam.

Before checking out of a hotel, usually the night before, I gather up all of my things, which I keep hyper-organized in strategic locations within my hotel room, and move those hyper-organized piles closer to my suitcase. I centralize the smaller piles into sort of a cluster of piles. By morning, as I’m getting ready before checking out, those piles just get placed into my suitcase/s, computer bag, purse and I’m off. I have only ever left one thing behind accidentally; a razor in the shower.

This system, piles, works well for me. Even in preparation for an early morning run, I will make a pile of everything I need to remember to take with me the night before; my watch, my hydration pack, my food, my “running wallet” (smaller than my daily wallet), and a reminder to grab the chocolate milk out of the fridge.

You would think with as much as I travel as I do, packing would be no big deal. And, during my busy work travel season, that is very much the case. I really don’t even unpack. I come home, often in very late at night or even in the wee hours of morning, take my clothes out of my suitcase, launder them, hang them to dry and pack them back into the suitcase later in the morning. I sometimes have a less than twenty-four hour turnaround at home. I have duplicates of cosmetics and personal care products and will just refill any travel-sized containers I have when I shower. Even when work trips are a little further apart, like now, I keep many things in my suitcase; ugly shoes accountants would wear, trouser socks that are only ever worn with ugly shoes accountants would wear, my bag of duplicate cosmetics and personal care items, about a thousand Target bags to pack shoes and stinky gym clothes in, and my traveling kitchen which includes a stemless wine glass, a jar of spices, Via coffee packets, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, snack bags of Ezekiel cereal, a paring knife, a set of cocktail service with a little knife, fork and spoon, a couple of little plastic bowls, those sheet plastic cutting boards.

When I was backpacking regularly, I had the same approach; I’d hike, come home, launder, repack and a) be ready to go and b) have a handy place to store all my backpacking stuff. In the backpack.

I’m sure it is fairly common practice to make piles in preparation for doing laundry, right? A pile of dark clothes that can be washed on the “regular cycle”, which for me, is about two items. Then there’s the pile of dark clothes for the delicate cycle and another for lighter clothes for the delicate cycle, and, finally, white things, delicate cycle, of course. How else would you do this? Do people do laundry without making piles first

I muse at how this all started. Was it because my mom always had me lay my clothes out for school the night before? For all the good that did, I always changed my mind eight or ten times between the time I got up and the time when I was at the front door ready to go. Sure, it may have worked when I was seven years old and was only supplied with three mix and match outfits for the school year, options were very limited. But, by the time I was seventeen and began my lifelong career of making up for a childhood of having only three mix and match, color coordinated outfits for school, by stuffing my closet full of clothes I picked out and purchased myself, selecting what I planned to wear to school the night before was a futile exercise. This may explain a lot about me and my clandestine shopping tendencies, even as an adult. At last. Now you know.

But, there may be more to the origins of my preference for piling things up than an evening chore my mother tried to instill in me as a child. I am surrounded by piles. Her piles. Mom piles things up and always has. I don’t understand the logic of her piles, but, piles are very personal. That’s for her to know. I’m sure she doesn’t understand my piles, though I think mine are far more evident. Perhaps not. Whatever (link to article). Mom has piles, mostly of paper; newspapers, ad inserts from newspapers, magazines, catalogs, important mail, unimportant mail that may end up being important, and unimportant mail that isn’t clearly understood so may seem more important than it is.

A pile on one chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on one chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.

I am not really frustrated with Mom’s piles, except they take up seating space and if company is coming I’m the one that has to quickly relocate her piles to the “office”, which was supposed to be the laundry nook, with folding doors, downstairs off the family room. Mom had the laundry hookups placed in the garage and my dad used the laundry closet as his office. Actually, his antique roll top desk is in there, but I don’t actually ever remember him sitting there to do any work until he retired. Like me, Dad despised television. The television is in the family room, adjacent to the “office”. So, he did his nightly bookkeeping from his bike shop upstairs at the kitchen table in relative peace. Mom dominated the family room with news, news, news, sitcom, sitcom, sitcom and the news, again, as a nightcap. When Dad retired, he learned to enjoy television, too, and set his computer up in the office. Now that he has passed, the office provides more flat surface space for Mom’s piles. I have relocated Dad’s computer to my office, the third bedroom upstairs. His computer is piled up with my other laptop, my MacBook, when not in use, my iPad and Kindle. So, for my upcoming trip, I need only grab and pack that whole pile of electronic wonderment! Easy peasy! See?

Mom, however, is frustrated with my piles. I have piles of boxes in the garage. When I relocated here, it was from a full size, single family dwelling appropriately full of my things; furniture, décor, dishes, small and necessary household items, most of which I wished for, worked for and acquired with some effort; Cuisinart food processor, Dyson vacuum, Pampered Chef baking stones, the entire collection, an entire set of crystal from my wedding, my grandmother’s china, which Mom thinks is ugly. I think you get the idea. These, among other things, are my treasures. I downsized a great deal over the past five years, with five moves occurring in that time frame, but these are my treasures. That they fill one third of the garage, okay, the third that would be the floor, is not my fault. That the shelves are full of Christmas decorations that only saw one year of use and are packed in boxes labeled with said year, is not my fault. That there are two ten foot long clothes racks hanging from the ceiling full of clothes from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties that don’t fit my mom, is not my issue. My issue is, I have no other place for my things. The dresser drawers that were mine as a child, in my bedroom, are now full of piles of things that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, and, so, my clothes remain in piles of boxes in my room and in the garage. Yet, as it was expressed earlier this week, “your piles of boxes in the garage are stressing me out.” Okay. Let’s see Mom try to live out of those boxes for months on end and reexamine stress levels.

My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I'd prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I’d prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.

And this seems to be perpetuating, generationally, too. When my daughter moved to the east coast, when she married her high school sweetheart who is, now, in the Navy, I was left with her treasures and her trash. In piles. I spent several weeks sorting through it all, throwing away the true trash, donating the unwanted treasures and re-boxing the true treasures. All of which are now piled in the corner of a storage unit three counties away. At my expense. In my to-do pile is the plan to re-sort and relocate that pile, here, space permitting.

My son moved to Hawaii last week. He did a fair job downsizing, but, again, in a storage unit three counties away are his treasures, piled in another corner. There is a pile in the garage of the house he vacated which I am to, at my convenience, retrieve and find a place to pile. And, in my office, upstairs, is a pile of books that I am to box up in flat rate boxes, periodically, and send to him, except he has not yet found a place to pile them, he is still looking for housing. Until then, the books are piled on the floor of my office. And, ironically, these are a pile of very nice books, Automobile Quarterly, that my dad subscribed to and accumulated over many years. My dad was downsizing his piles and wanted to “get rid” of these books. As they were lovely publications, and my son has the “gear head gene” that seems to run in the family, my mom, who, I think we’ve established, really resists getting rid of stuff, suggested that my son may enjoy the books. So, the entire collection was loaded into my car and piled into my son’s room. Until now. Now they’re back in the house of origin, in my room.

My Dad's books that became my son's books that are now in my office, back in my parents' house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.
My Dad’s books that became my son’s books that are now in my office, back in my parents’ house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.

So, today is a day of piles. Two-fold. I am piling things up for my trip and Mom and I are each taking a pile of things, two cars full, to donate to Community Projects. If I have to prioritize, though, the top of my pile is going to be packing for my trip. The trip to Community Projects can be left in a pile for later, if need be.

Packing for a trip gets a little more complicated, when I’m not traveling for work quite so often, like now, and a pleasure trip comes up. I need to empty my suitcase of unnecessary items, because suitcases become excellent storage facilities when not in use, and fill it with more appropriate stuff. I have a week in Alaska fast approaching. I depart Friday morning. And like a good Boy Scout, yes, I am a registered Boy Scout, I am always prepared. We have several ideas of what we’re going to with our week, but nothing absolutely set in stone. I need to be prepared for just about anything. I know, at the very minimum, I need jeans, something to wear with my jeans, a bunch of shoes and a case of wine. That’s the easy part. Now I need to think of all those things I might need. For example, last trip I ended up layering my pretty, black work cardigan under a flannel and a hoodie to keep my warm while beheading and gutting salmon into the wee hours of the morning along the Copper River in Chitina. I’ve replaced that pretty black cardigan with five new cardigans, a pile of new cardigans, one in black, one in burgundy, red, navy and navy with hand-painted white polka dots. A trip or two ago, again, I ended up layering almost everything I packed for an overnight pilot car adventure up to Prudhoe Bay where it was forty below and blowing. I once had to buy boots for a snowmobiling excursion, not that I ever mind buying footwear, but this is not nearly as enjoyable when supervised, especially by your sweetie. There is a process to buying shoes that most men will never understand. I did manage to score cute AND inexpensive boots that garner compliments when worn, so we were both satisfied. I am the master at shoe shopping.

Piles. What else piles up on us in life besides mail, clothes and books?

Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.
Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.

Do you ever feel like you have a pile of troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that you need to deal with? Fret about? Lose sleep over? This is a common complaint I hear and I don’t think anyone is truly immune. How we deal with those piles, though, is the difference. How we deal with those piles of negative things; troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, is the difference between managing them and letting them manage us.

In letting problems and such pile up to the point where we worry, fret and lose sleep is really not much different that letting piles of newspapers and junk mail accumulate on the back counter in the kitchen. We are constantly reminded of these troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, because they are ever present and amassing. Stephen Covey, author of, among other great books, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggested that we should only ever touch a piece of paper one time. If we go out to get the mail, for example, before we set it down, anywhere, it is classified and dealt with; junk mail immediately in the trash, important mail dealt with and mail for others distributed appropriately. Done. No pile. Could our troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues not be dealt with in a similar manner? Sort, classify and deal.

Why let a problem or worry linger and fester? I know there aren’t always immediate solutions to dilemmas in life, but, if the solution is not immediate, what purpose does fretting, worrying and losing sleep over it now, serve? Address the problem immediately, if possible, and as immediately as possible, and, until it can be resolved, focus on more positive things. Focus on the now. If a problem can’t be resolved, it lives in the future. We live now. If we focus on the future, and the problems in the future, we lose the now, the present. We can only ever impact the present, now, the immediate. Fretting over what lies ahead, in the future, steals our ability to deal with what we can effectively deal with now, the present. Worry manifests in this manner, by depriving of us effectiveness and efficiency, now, and because of the negative focus of worry, into the future, makes us dread what lies ahead.

If we are to pile anything up, at all, it should be an arsenal of useful tools and useful habits to arm us with positive thoughts and actions that will propel us through any troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that may arise throughout life. By practicing a positive mental attitude and focusing on living only in the present, by expressing our gratitude for all that we have, all that we are grateful for, by recognizing our strengths, our value and our power as individuals, by setting clear and decisive goals, based on our purpose, our guiding principles and our values, we are driven through life, and all its trivial and petty little dilemmas, with a positive, confident, powerful force that comes from within. We can make molehills out of mountains, tiny piles out of insurmountable ones. I am not saying it is easy, this takes, first, making a decision, second, making a decisive change contrary to human nature, a course of education oneself, and a great deal of diligent effort. But, the reward is piles better than the alternative. Worth the effort.

So I begin my day of piles. Laundry, emails, work, boxes to go to charity, and, best of all, things to go in my suitcase for vacation. And, at the end of the day, the piles will have all been dealt with and I will sleep peacefully, because I don’t let anything I can’t deal with immediately accumulate. That’s my present for living in the present.

 

 

One Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shut up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Disappointment

Disappointment

dis·ap·point·ment

/ˌdisəˈpointmənt/

Noun

The feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

Synonyms

letdown – frustration – chagrin – disillusionment

Ever feel that way? Ever not feel that way?

Disappointment, I’m afraid, is just part of life. I just had a phone conversation with my son who is trying to secure additional student loan funding for a summer course and a planned transfer to another school. Unfortunately, due to many prior disappointments in life, the funding was denied and he is extremely disappointed. His “Plan A” is just not going to be possible. We talked for a while about alternate plans, other possible scenarios for summer and fall and for completing his college education. And we talked about disappointment.

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to believe that our natural state is one of happiness. How are we to be happy all the time if we constantly face disappointment? Disappointment is, really, nearly a daily occurrence, in one way or another. And the very definition of disappointment is “a feeling of sadness”, in direct contradiction with happiness, our supposed natural state. It’s all rather disappointing, isn’t it?

We need to separate disappointment, the feeling of sadness, from happiness, our natural state. Though seemingly related, as feelings or emotions, and in direct opposition, truly, one does not negate the possibility of the other. If you are, generally, very happy, it is perfectly natural, ordinary and commonplace to have some disappointment. If we are disappointed for one reason or another, it does not in any way prevent us from experiencing happiness overall.

Disappointment, again, by definition, is caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. Disappointment is not defined as the removal of happiness from your life. If your hopes or expectations are not fulfilled you just need to regroup and focus on a different hope or expectation, if not a different method to attain the original. Nonfulfillment of a hope or an expectation is rarely permanent.  Disappointment is temporary. Disappointment doesn’t erase your hope or your expectation; it just means you’ll have to find another way to fulfill it. Disappointment, if you get creative with it, is a catalyst for, well, creativity. So, if “plan A” doesn’t work and you are disappointed, use that energy to draft another couple of plans that may move you in the same general direction as the original plan.

As to happiness, our natural state; happiness is permanent, it is organic, and it is easily accessible to anyone. Happiness is nothing more than living in the present. Now. Period. If it is so simple to have permanent, lasting happiness, why does the world seem filled with misery? Because no one lives in the present. Now. Period. Don’t dwell on the past, don’t fret over the future, live each and every moment focusing on the present. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have hopes and expectations, but that you should not be so focused on the future that you are missing the opportunities, in the present, to take action and move forward towards the future, towards your hopes and expectations.

We must have goals. We must have goals that align with our values. Goals that align with our values provide us with guiding principles. Guiding principles are what we use, in the present, to move us towards our goals without being totally myopic about the future. Simple.

So, when disappointment strikes, how do we cope? Again, keep in mind that disappointment, the nonfulfillment of hopes and expectations, is related to the course of action, or plan, that failed. The hopes and expectations are still there. Using your goals, aligned with your values, following your guiding principles, take one step in the direction of your hope or expectation, right now. If that one step is creating a new plan, a new timeline, a new budget, identifying a new resource, it is an action, taken in the present, that may advance you towards the eventual fulfillment of your hopes or expectations. Make sense?

As to the timeline we apply to our hopes and expectations; has anyone, ever, been able to control time? Never. We only ever hope to learn to manage it. As a general guide, a timeline is nice, but in a world of infinite variables, a hard and fast timeline for every goal is never practical and has us doing what? Focusing on points in the future, with stress and anxiety, rather than focusing on the present with peace and clarity.

There is a bit of a trick, though, when your hopes or expectations involve others. Disappointment due to the actions or inactions of other people are completely out of our control. And this comes down to your goals, your values, your guiding principles and living in the present. If your hope or expectation is to have a lasting, loving relationship with a specific person, you are attaching your hopes and expectations to a person you have no way of controlling. And, to make matters worse, seeking to control that person is more likely to cause the relationship to fail than not. This is true for just about anything where your hopes or expectations rely on the performance of another person or people. Adjust for it. Instead of stating your goal “I want so and so to love me forever, to be faithful and true, passionate and caring, for as long as we live” you might just state your goal as “I am lovable, I am loved, I am loving”. The specifics will follow in a more natural and fulfilling manner once you achieve the very general. You cannot control the “who”, you cannot always control the “when” or the “how” but you can control the “what”, and it should all be based on the appropriate “why”.

Have you ever heard someone say “be careful what you pray for?” Sometimes in praying or asking for very specific things, with energy and intent, we get them, and all their hidden or undesired consequences. For my whole life, I wanted a ranch. When a rare but risky opportunity presented itself, I prayed and prayed and prayed to somehow, some way, be able to “get the ranch”. Not “a ranch”, but “that ranch”. Through miracles and very creative mortgage financing, my hopes and expectations came true. With a change in the economy and the deterioration of my husband’s already lacking work ethic and motivation, the dream ranch became impossible to sustain on only my income. It became a nightmare, not the dream. And eventually, it was lost. The pain and the lesson all reinforced in my mind the fact that you need to be very careful in what you pray for. General is better than specific. Take steps towards it in the present and make sure it aligns with your goals, values and guiding principles. Creative mortgage financing, in hindsight, was not in alignment with my goals, values and guiding principles.

For my son, the hope or expectation that he was going to obtain financing, today, requiring a willing and qualified co-signer, in order to attend a specific summer course in his field of study, at a specific time, so he can then move before the fall term to another state, to advance his studies in order to affect a transfer to yet another school that would provide him leverage on admission to the graduate program of his dreams, all may have been a little to specific. The goal is to attend the graduate program of his dreams and that hasn’t changed. The timeline, the budget and the path have. The nonfulfillment is temporary, the goal has permanence.

The means to an end. Is it the means that matter, or the end? Are there not a million ways to reach the end? More than one mean? Of course. With the happiness of living in the present as our energy, fueled by meaningful goals, aligned with our values, creating our guiding principles, we can venture down as many paths as are necessary to fulfill our hopes or expectations. Furthermore, each path we venture down will also broaden our experiences, an added benefit.

So my son and I talked about disappointment today. I said, “if everyone got their “plan A”, we’d all be ….” and I struggled for the right words to express my thought. My son completed my thought perfectly, he said “we’d be weak.” In disappointment, we have the opportunity to find the strength and the means, and often, the very strength and means required to fulfill our hopes and expectations.

Goals. Values. Guiding principles. Now. Period.

 

 

No Regrets

re·gret
/riˈgret/

Noun
A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

Got regret?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have no regrets? I regret having three big, greasy pieces of pizza for lunch, six pieces of nigiri and a beer as an appetizer that I intended to be dinner, but found wasn’t enough, so then spicy Indian food for dinner half an hour later. But, as with everything in life, there’s definitely a lesson to be learned there!

I only ate three.
I only ate three.
I thought this was dinner.
I thought this was dinner.
Now THIS is dinner!
Now THIS is dinner!

Life is really a collection of mistakes and bad decisions, when you think about it. You’ve got a fifty/fifty chance of making every decision right. Or wrong. And, really, what was the wrong decision when you made it, might be the right decision if made at another moment in time, or by another person. There is really no way to know for certain which decisions will turn out to be regrettable. Okay, stepping out in front of a speeding Greyhound bus is almost always a bad decision, granted. But I’d doubt you’d regret it, simply because you would no longer be capable of regret.

Most people, when asked if they would do it all over again, go back and relive their lives and make different choices, roll their eyes, shake their heads and say, “no way, it was too exhausting the first time.” An interesting question; do you have so many regrets that you’d do it all over again, the right way? If you were able to go back, or just rewind, and change some key decisions, do you really think you’d be in a better position than you are now? I kind of don’t think so, I don’t know for certain, but I’ll hazard a guess. But I’m no Marty McFly.

I honestly think that every decision we make, and the resulting consequence, is by design and has led us to the exact point in life we need to be. Now. Without mistakes, without regrettable decisions, we would have learned far less about ourselves and about our world. If life was all perfection and rainbows and chocolate bon bons, we would all be numb, stupid twits. Guaranteed.

They key is to live each day, make decisions, right and wrong, deal with the consequences, good or bad, learn something, and carry on. Without regrets. Life is meant to be lived without regret. Mistakes and bad decisions are just part of the deal, so deal with them, learn from them and move on.

I don’t regret the bad decisions, the mistakes I made, as a teen. I don’t regret allowing myself to succumb to peer pressure. I don’t regret drinking. I don’t regret being dishonest and staying out all night with my friends. I don’t regret the times we snuck off to San Francisco or Sacramento. I don’t regret the pranks we pulled. I don’t regret getting caught. These were all decisions I made, I deserved the consequences and I learned many valuable lessons that have been applicable many times over in my adulthood. At the very least, I knew exactly what my kids were up to! Of course, those teen-aged decisions of mine were all “wrong”, but I don’t regret them. I wouldn’t be who I am now had I not made those exact choices, had I not lived that exact life. I like who I am. And boy, do my friends and I have stories to tell!

I don’t regret the poor decisions I made in my twenties. I don’t regret giving up on a good relationship that didn’t seem to be progressing quickly enough. I don’t regret falling into a less than perfect relationship thereafter. I don’t regret the mistakes I made in college, the classes I didn’t work hard in, the grades I neglected, the eleven years it took me to earn a Bachelor’s degree. I don’t regret marrying a man who didn’t love me the way I wanted him to. I don’t regret staying in a marriage for far longer than I should have because I thought it would be easier on our kids to grow up in a home where there were two parents who didn’t love each other than in a single parent home in the war zone of a bitter custody battle I’m certain would have ensued. I wouldn’t know my strength, my tenacity, I wouldn’t have such a keen appreciation for true love now had I not had those experiences then.

I don’t regret compromising my career and working only part time in order to raise my kids after school, to participate in their young lives the only opportunity I’d ever have. Those years flew by in a breath, but I was there, I was part of it. I don’t regret taking the chance on buying a ranch that was impossible to keep when fortunes turned, for the opportunity to live in the country in one of the most beautiful places in the world, if only for a period of time. I don’t regret the friendships that have come and gone. I don’t regret leaving “good” jobs that left me stressed to the point of illness or feeling taken advantage of to the point of self-loathing. Each of these decisions, though perhaps seen as unwise, left my life much richer than had I not made them. Regret? No, in fact, I am forever grateful for those “poor” decisions!

I’m sure many of my friends, family and acquaintances look at my life, at all that has occurred, and consider me a fool, silly, stupid even, for some of the chances I’ve taken that ended in what they’d consider disaster. I’m sure many have looked on in wonderment, or perhaps, even, horror, calling my life a folly. In fact, I have not a single regret, I knew the risks when I took those chances, I have lived lifestyles most people have only ever seen on television. I have had experiences people can’t even begin to imagine. I remember in college being touted as the one who “dared to be different”. I was always proud of that. I do dare. I am different.

For anyone who pities me for the consequences of my daring decisions, the crazy chances I’ve taken, for my follies, I, in turn, pity them, for not embracing life, for settling for a cookie cutter life, living in the same suburban neighborhood with cracking sidewalks and dry rotted decks, in the same drab house with leaves in the gutters that need tending to, with the same dusty trinkets on all the same flat surfaces. The only variation in life is the new array of television shows and the fact that they can record multiple shows, simultaneously, to numb their minds with later. Perhaps they don’t have regrets, yet, because their life has gone “according to plan”. Is a life according to plan, eventually, regrettable? I’ll hazard a guess. Yes. “Well, here we are, at the end of our plan. We have the planned amount of money in our well-tended retirement account, now we can afford that really nice assisted living compound and those little scooter chairs. I get the red one.”

We’re all going to arrive at the same finish line, sooner or later. We all get buried in the same dirt. The follies others see in my life, in fact, have given me far more clarity and wisdom than any life lived “according to plan”, and I cherish that. My varied lifestyles and experiences have given me a life perspective few have, a perspective I covet. The difficulties others see that I have endured have left me with the confidence and sheer will and determination I can use to conquer anything I set my mind to. Bonus. I have no regrets, and because I have no regrets, I am living in the present. I know bliss.

The thing with regrets, if you look at the definition of the word, they pertain to the past. We don’t live in the past. We can’t change the past. There is no value in thinking about the past. We’ve made decisions, some good, some bad, they are in the past, we’ve lived with or are living with the consequences of those decisions, regretting them, or feeling bad about them is in no way going to change them. There is nothing we can do to change what has happened. Simply chalk it all up to experience and get on with life. Life is now, only ever now. If you are not living in the present, you simply put, are not living.

In fact, if you dwell on the past, relive the past, whether you are fondly recalling your glory days or are repentant for previous actions, tasks, deeds and decisions, you are not living in the present. When we are focused on the past we are usually either in a state of depression, or we’re flirting dangerously with it. Just like worry is unnecessary, negative energy focused on future events that causes anxiety, regret is unnecessary and very negative energy focused on the past. Worry will never change the outcome of future events, and likewise, regret will never change the outcome of past events. The only events you can change in any way are the ones happening right now, this very moment. Might I suggest you stay present to affect change?

By applying this simple principle, living in the present, we can effectively remove both depression and anxiety from our life; doesn’t that just sound like bliss? To live in the present is to live without regrets, and to live without worry. Bliss is living in the present, and it does take some practice and a very concerted effort. It is a little harder than it sounds, this living in the present. Some day, maybe on a day off or on one of those rare weekend days when you have no real plans, no pressing commitments or obligations, try just hanging out with yourself. Listen to the running dialogue in your mind; every time you catch yourself thinking about something in the past, redirect your thoughts to the immediate present. Likewise, every time you catch yourself thinking about the future, even later that very day, redirect your thoughts to the immediate moment. Spend a quiet day with yourself, listening and redirecting, sort of get acquainted with the idea and the tendencies your thoughts have to migrate to other time zones. Once you’ve learned to identify the frequency of your tendency to dwell on thoughts past and future, you’ll become more aware of these thoughts during your “normal” days, you can then begin to redirect your thoughts on a regular basis. The result will be amazing; if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, see if practicing this simple, mindful exercise doesn’t provide some relief. If you don’t suffer from depression and/or anxiety, I’ll bet you still find yourself in a more blissful state.

The prescription for bliss, quite simply, is living without worry and, even more importantly, living without regret. Focus on life, on the present, on this very moment and the peace that exists just now. There is nothing you need right now, if you think about it. You are you, you’re where you are, and no matter what is happening in your life, at this exact moment in time, you are okay. Quite a concept. It’s not to say we should just quit work and sit on a park bench and just “focus on the now”. I saw plenty of those folks in San Francisco this week and I’m not anxious to give that a try, I may be missing the point there, perhaps they are happier than me, but frankly, I’m kind of fond of my daily shower and matching socks. Just become more present, learn to eliminate worry and regret and I am pretty sure you’ll see a definite shift towards bliss. Give it a chance, you’ll have no regrets!

Magic

A little bit about the care and keeping of the human spirit. Yours to be precise.

Do you believe in magic? Did anything magical happen in your life today? Something breathtakingly magical? Your spirit believes in magic, even if your reason negates that belief. If you don’t believe in magic, you certainly won’t ever see magic. But your spirit does, and you shut it down. So, did you see anything magical today?

No? I beg to differ. There are many magical moments in our day, each and every day, and they burst like the little rainbow bubbles we used to blow as children. The delicate “pop”, the tiny splash of liquid if you were close enough to the bubble. Remember? And if you were oh so careful, you could catch a bubble on your finger, or even the tip of your nose, for just a second before it went “pop”, “splash” in the softest of whispers. Remember?

If you can’t recall one specific, magical, bubble bursting, moment today, I am going to have to assume you just aren’t paying attention, or perhaps you’re taking a lot of things for granted, or because you are denying the magic.

I see magic everywhere. But I look for it. I love it. I lust for it. If I don’t see any magic in a day, I’m not living right.

I was driving eastbound in Interstate 80 this morning, on my way to my running club in Sacramento. If anyone has driven Interstate 80 between the Bay Area and Sacramento, you know that, for much of the drive, it is straight and flat and not very stimulating, certainly not very magical. It was early, I left home at 5:40 this morning, so by the time I was nearing Davis, I could just see a smudge of gray, a fat line, like a pastel marker. The Sierras. The sky over the Sierras was lighter than the sky higher above the horizon, and becoming brighter by the second. Suddenly, like a child’s ball ablaze, the sun popped up over the mountain, its ascent into the sky so brilliant and so fast, a few moments later it was as if it bounced into the sky. All I could think was “wow, magic.” And yet, the sun rises absolutely, positively every day, without exception, predictable down to the second. But it is, and always will be magical when seen, with one’s own eyes, even on the dreariest of drives.

I spent my morning running down a paved bike trail, fourteen miles at about twelve minutes per mile, with a one minute walk break for every five minutes run. We run like soldiers, two abreast, matched by our common pace and our love of the sport. There is conversation, we are comfortable enough with the pace to be able to converse, in animated tones, with laughter. At the pace I run, as in, not all that fast, we are mostly women, so the conversation is mostly about children, recipes and aches and pains. We run together every week, year round. Sometimes it seems like the same conversations over and over. Perhaps they are. I listen more than I speak. I am sort or a free form chef, I don’t often use a recipe. My children are grown, but not old enough to have children of their own, so I have no adorable toddler happenings to share. I don’t have aches and pains, and frankly, I think if the others wouldn’t discuss their aches and pains for three continuous hours, they’d likely not have so many. I listen to others, make a stray comment here or there, but mostly, I look at my surroundings.

What a resource this community has with this very well developed, popular and yet very natural trail. It runs for miles and miles and miles, through the heart of a good-sized city, along the banks of a river. Trees shade the trail for much of the way and there is wildlife. This time of year, there are wildflowers along the edges, where we run, out of the way of the speeding cyclists. The flowers lean towards us and are graced with nervous butterflies who light for a moment, then are aloft, bounding on a breeze, only to light again on another flower. A delicacy on a delicacy, butterflies on wildflowers. All I can think is “magic!”

Our running club as 500 members, though never do we all attend every run. There are still many of us, every week, leaving tracks with our expensive, state of the art, highly engineered foot apparel. There are other runners, too, and walkers, friends in groups of twos and threes, families with young ones on foot or in strollers. Those of us on foot use the dirt shoulder; the paved section is for cyclists and the occasional skater. Yet with all the footprints in the dirt, I am still able to see, occasionally, animal tracks. There are squirrels and birds, lots of dogs, but coyotes, too. Raccoons, possum, and rabbits. If one is paying attention and knows anything about animal tracks, they will likely see something magical amidst all the people prints. One stray print in the dust, a subtle and somehow not over trodden reminder that we share, even in an urban river parkway, our world with magical, furry creatures, who like us, are just trying to find a way to feed themselves, their families, to find suitable housing, to make a living. And, hopefully, to find a little magic.

I ran fourteen miles today, beginning in the cool morning and ending the in the sweltering late morning. I met my son afterwards, a grown man. My eyes are brown, as are his father’s, apparently we both carry a recessive gene for blue eyes. My son has blue eyes, not usually a vivid blue, but mildly blue eyes. Every now and then, depending on what he is wearing, or his proximity to something a certain shade, his eyes become remarkably blue. Today, he stood with the bright, blue April sky behind him, the sun I watched bounce into the sky over the Sierras six hours earlier was now hot and high up in the unusually bright, clean sky. His eyes were the most magical blue ever, like the day he was born; they took my breath away as much today as they did that day. Never, in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d give birth to a blue-eyed child. My parents both had brown eyes, both have olive toned skin. I have cousins and aunts and uncles with blue eyes, but we are all dark. I remember one night, while pregnant with my son, I dreamt an outlandish dream. I dreamt that I gave birth to a boy and I thought for sure I was carrying a girl, we never know for certain without modern science. I didn’t’ t want to know in advance, that would’ve taken the magic of the moment away! That moment we see in every movie, read in every story, that magic moment when the doctor holds a tiny person up and says, “it’s a …” In my dream, it was a boy. A boy with golden hair and bright blue eyes. To me, this seemed so unlikely as to be absurd. I shared my wild dream with friends and family, laughing incredulously at the outcome, telling it over and over, the ending delivered almost like the punch line to a joke. The day he was born, the doctor held him up and said, “it’s a boy!” I saw a baby, still damp his hair looked dark. Later, as he lay next to me in his Lexan crib, peaking out from under his standard issue baby beanie was the most golden hair I’d ever seen, not blonde, but glistening gold, like the metallic embroidery floss you’d buy at the craft store, if you were into that sort of thing. Crafts, that is. I watched him; he stared at me and his eyes were the most intense blue I’d ever seen. He was really, a dream come true. Magic.

When my daughter was born twenty one months later, another tiny bundle of magic, she had the blackest hair I’d ever seen, far darker than mine, or her dad’s, or even my dad’s, which, if it wasn’t black, always appeared black because for my entire life he wore Brylcreem in his hair. Even on his deathbed, he asked me to go to the only store in town that still carried this now obscure product and buy a tube. The tube remains unopened, unused and unneeded. I wonder what color his hair truly was before it grayed, underneath that layer of gel. A month after my daughter was born, her hair fell out. Completely. How cruel for the girl baby to be bald and the little boy to have a full, thick head of golden hair. She was bald. Cruel. I know, first hand, because my mom used to have to tape bows to my bald head and dress me in outlandishly frilly clothes so people didn’t exclaim, “what a cute little boy!” My hair finally grew in dark brown, like mud, and curly. My daughter’s hair grew in platinum blonde and straight, like silk, and as she grew older, her hair turned into the most magical assortment of gold, honey brown and red, no two hairs are the same color. It is thick and luxurious like no other hair I’ve ever witnessed, with a spirit its own, the mane of a goddess. Every time the wind furls it or the sun reflects off of it, even after twenty years, it is breathtaking. Magic.

There is magic in our midst, magic that has been in existence for all of time, that marks the passing of each day and of the millennia. There is magic in the people you love, there is magic in unlikely places, magic even in the dirt, if you look. If you aren’t able to recount several instances of magic in any ordinary day, I implore you to stop. Stop moving so fast, stop focusing on the pain of the past, the fear of the future. Magic is now and now is only ever an instant. If you aren’t living in the present, the magic in a moment has come and gone right in your midst and you have missed it. You past is only painful because it isn’t punctuated with the magic you failed to notice. Your future is only scary because you haven’t the faith in the magic of the present to assure you beauty in life. Magic is subtle, usually, not like the wave of a wand, the swish of a cape, the flash of a flame before the appearance of a dove. The sky reflecting in someone’s eyes, the wind furling through someone’s hair, a flower, a bee, a butterfly, a tree. There is a word that rhymes with magic; tragic. To miss the magic hidden in the present is tragic. Learn to live your life in the now, in the present and discover the magic, however subtle, however grand, in your midst. Today. Everyday.