For Me and For You

I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.

I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.

Scarlette Begonia

Why run in races if you’re never going to win?

Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.

Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:

Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.

Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.

Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.

Scarlette Begonia

I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.

In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.

I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.

Scarlette Begonia

The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.

Scarlette Begonia

I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.

Scarlette Begonia

I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.

And that, my friends, is truly winning.

I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.

Scarlette Begonia

Amazeballs

I believe in love. I believe in great love. I believe in amazeballs love.

I’ve been through periods of cynicism regarding love, and relationships, after a long, lifeless, loveless marriage, which, truthfully, is still in the death throes of divorce proceedings. Through a subsequent friendship, a long, flirtatious, friendship and much, much, convincing, not on my part, I found love again. The kind of love that overcame objections, a number of large obstacles; timing, money, distance, family, career, and so, was a great love.  It had amazeballs potential.

But now, even as that love withers and dies, trapped behind the very obstacles it once surpassed, I find myself only bitter in momentary fits. Only when alone, without music, and a project to occupy my mind. Across several thousand miles, I manage to feel the void, tangibly. I have  grown, matured, evolved. Maybe. Or I am delusional. Not. Perhaps I have overcome some personal obstacles and, now, find I still have faith and hope that love is pure, that it is possible and, maybe even, in the right conditions, lasting. And that love can be amazeballs.

Funny to come to the conclusion that love has the potential to last in the face of yet, another relationship, dying a young and tragic death. Perhaps it is in the autopsy, the forensic exhumation and dissection of that corpse that I discover my hope spring.

Obstacles.

Obstacles
Obstacles

I’m on a plane, now, near the back. I just made it. Moments ago, I was on another plane, near the back. As we landed in Minneapolis and started to deplane, I observed the obstacles ahead of me. My connecting flight to Chicago was already boarding. My flight to MSP landed in the far reaches of the C terminal, my flight to Chicago was departing from the G terminal. The Moment the chime sounded, everyone leapt to their feet and into the aisles of the aircraft, all anxious to deplane. Even the elderly woman who, earlier, required assistance just to stand, sprang to her feet with shocking agility, ahead of me. Not that I would push aside anyone, I just kind of thought she’d require assistance, a wheelchair, an attendant, maybe, to make her way to, and then up the jet bridge. As the passengers slowly, oh so slowly, gathered their belongings and filed towards the door, I, again, glanced at the time. The elderly woman was finally able to move forward and apparently, the energy she expended in jumping to her feet was all she had. She crept. Crept, crept towards the door. I am sympathetic, in the most anxious manner, but, still, sympathetic. Once, finally, at the door of the aircraft, more obstacles; a child seat in the midst of the path, the elderly woman stopped abruptly for the wheelchair that had been brought. Three attendants were assisting her, straddling the random child seat and wholly blocking the jet bridge. I went all “track and field” and hurdled the baby seat. And ran. Well, no, walked briskly.

Obstacles
Obstacles

I began my very long journey from arriving gate to departing gate. Sign after sign, moving walkway after moving walkway. Obstacle after obstacle. Passengers milling about, dazed, confused, drunk, I don’t know, but they were in my way! The moving walkways have a code, implied or expressed; stand to the right, walk to the left. Here, it is expressed, a sign hangs over each of the numerous, and I do mean numerous, moving walkways. The moving walkway itself is divided by a yellow line, not unlike a roadway, with “stand” and “walk” painted at intervals. The walkers, today, were leisurely strollers. First, could there be a “run” lane? And, second, what is the protocol for passing? Passing these obstacles. The only time I have ever missed a connecting flight, solely because of the distance between gates, was as this very airport. The only time, ever, in nearly seven years of frequent travel. I made it, of course, just as my boarding group was called, and, per my modus operandi, I was the first of my boarding group to board. I am skilled at this maneuver, not always proud of my tactics, but skilled, and somewhat insistent. More obstacles, overcome.

This not a smiley face, this is the MSP marathon I ran today. So many obstacles!
This not a smiley face, this is the MSP marathon I ran today. So many obstacles!

Obstacles. If only we were all masters, all so committed to overcoming them, littering our path with obstacles to whatever it is we’ve set our sights on, whatever it is we hope to achieve.

Obstacles kill love. Obstacles killed my own amazeballs potential love. Hey, don’t look at me, I was going all “track and field” on those obstacles, too! But obstacles, also, once made it great. So, per my examination, in my coroner’s report, I shall claim that obstacles were both the cause of death, and the cause of life, for this newly deceased love. I shall attempt to explain my hypothesis.

I believe that love, without challenges, without resistance, without obstacles, is doomed to a brief and fleeting existence. A flash in the pan. Not much more than an infatuation, requited, for a period. There is nothing to cause the love to grow, to overcome, it was created in perfection, in an idyllic setting, and had nowhere to go, nowhere to evolve, no reason to grow. Similar to the vineyards I live near that produce great wines; if the vines struggle, the fruit is superior. Weather, poor soil, other climatic hostilities, all cause the vine challenges and it’s these types of challenges that make the best fruit and therefore, the best wine. At the end of two years of severe drought, a devastating earthquake, a horrendous hail storm, the grapes just harvested this year are reported to be very, very good. In the face of adversity, growth and great success.

When Love is Greater than Obstacles, love can be AMAZEBALLS!
When Love is Greater than Obstacles, love can be AMAZEBALLS!

If obstacles can both cause love to flourish, and to die, then how does one survive when the other fails?

I believe it has to do with the ability of the lovers to take on the obstacles before them, between them. To adapt to change, to accept the circumstances before them, between them, and to persevere. Overcome. And bear amazeballs fruit. When love is put before the obstacle, ahead of the obstacle, as the reason to persevere, then, in that struggle, the climatic hostilities, the love struggles, flourishes, and then thrives. It amasses greater strength and resiliency, becomes hardier and far sweeter. It’s when the obstacles are put in front of the love, by one lover, the other, or both, as an obstacle to growth, an obstacle to perseverance, that love is blocked, like a dam in a stream, or a barricade in a road, blocking one lover from the other, cutting off the circulation, like a blockage in an artery. And then the death.

Why, then, does a couple, once capable of putting their love before the obstacles, then, change, and allow the very same obstacles to destroy the energy and hope in love they once shared? Why do people turn from challengers of obstacles to prisoners? Conquerors to victims? Trapped, helpless, hopeless, pathetic. This, I’m afraid, is the mystery I can’t yet solve. Why the change of heart? Like a man digging a tunnel to the richest vein of gold, and giving up an inch too soon. Maddening, tragic, incomprehensible. But, human, I suppose. Tragically, tragically human.

We were so close. It was right there. The richest vein of gold.

Diamonds from coal. It isn’t instant. It isn’t just a little while. But, wow, is it ever worth the wait!

The ability to tackle obstacles, really, is the key to all success, not just the success of love. No one ever achieved greatness with ease. Ever. Without exception. In every account of phenomenal success, the trail has been littered with obstacles, obstacles that were overcome, obstacles that others shrunk away from, cowered before, withered at the sight of. The great, the mighty, the successful, and the wise, challenge those obstacles with great effort, intensity and tenacity.

Every failure, large and small, is the result of an obstacle meeting an unwilling opponent. Without exception. Without exception.

Lottery winners, in more instances than not, end up worse off than before their great fortune. Fortune is only, truly, a fortune, I believe, when the result of toil, trial, tribulation and tragedy. Obstacles. A great many obstacles.

Seekers of amazeballs, lasting and lustrous love, those of us willing and able to tackle an Everest, a K2, a Mt. McKinley, to cross an ocean, a frozen tundra, a continent, Canada, a time zone, for the sake of the sweetest most divine fruit, how do we find one another? How do we identify each other? Is there a code word, a secret handshake? Or do we just continue to suffer with the weak, the meek and the timid of heart. Is that our challenge? And what fruit will be borne of it? Will we either find that other great conqueror, or become lonely, half crazed, prophetic, poets?

When Obstacles are Greater than Love, it dies
When Obstacles are Greater than Love, it dies

Are we, “adventurers in love”, then, if we are willing to challenge obstacles to sweeten the fruit? Are we more amenable to change, to challenge, to adversity, generally speaking, than those willing to let a great love die, repeatedly bashing it against the same little rock?  What sets us apart?

Am I alone in begging for change? I crave change? It is a fact that I sat on my “tuffet” the other night, meditating, or praying, some may say, for change. I prayed over and over and over, “change everything.” I guess I got what I asked for. And I can’t exactly go back and say, “no, wait, let me rephrase that! That’s not what I meant.” Ah, but, I shall be stronger, and wiser, and perhaps more successful for it, though. Perhaps? No, I am certain.

And as I shake my head in disbelief, fighting off those occasional fits of bitterness, and anger, loneliness, longing, and emptiness, I seek solace, solace in knowing that being dumped by someone so weakened by the passage of time, like I have an expiration date or something, and the perceived “insurmountability” of a few, wee, obstacles, obstacles I have been wailing at with pick, axe and shovel, and making huge progress towards obliterating, is probably a blessing. Such limitations may have prevented me adventures I crave, my wanderlust, compromised my passion to spread my wings, to experience, to see, to do, to be. To be in amazeballs love, someday!

Scarlett’s Letter December 26, 2013

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls ~ Mother Teresa

I have two very juxtaposed needs; a social circle and silence.

I am still trying to find a circle, or a few circles, a source, a place, or places, for socializing, as a middle-aged, solitary woman with a wildly fluctuating calendar of availability. I am not “single” and am a misfit in the “singles” crowds. I just want to establish a circle of interesting, non-threatening folks to hang out with a time or two a week, for coffee or wine tasting, a hike, a yoga class, or something like that. I don’t let the absence of such a circle deprive me of those joys, I am perfectly willing and able to go to coffee, wine tasting, a hike or a yoga class by myself, a solitary participant amidst a group of strangers, but I would prefer, on more occasions than not, to have a familiar face, or faces, to share with socially, on more than a casual, “hey, you on the yoga mat next to me, nice weather today, eh?” basis.

I’ve found one great, promising and very unlikely resource; grocery shopping. I am a “Whole Food-ee”, as you are probably aware. I am lucky enough, currently, to live in a town that has a Whole Foods Market ten minutes from my front door. Being situated in the Napa Valley, this market has a “tasting bar”. This, I’ve been aware of for some time and I have also been aware of the fact that they have a calendar of events; different featured wineries, breweries, and pairings, for a very nominal fee. As I shop for my local organic Greek yogurt, local, organic, free-range eggs, local organic produce and organic whole grains, crisscrossing my way back and forth across the aisles, I frequently pass the tasting bar, which is “corralled” off, dead center of the store, adjacent to the wine aisle, with a split rail fence and a gate complete with a rope latch, to keep the underage out, I suppose. Often, I see people sitting at the tasting bar and the few tables nearby, enjoying the featured selections, and I’ve thought, “I’ve got to take the time to do that some day.”

Making a plan.
Making a plan.

One afternoon, last week, with a little burst of fortitude, I reached for my MacBook and opened a couple of new tabs in my browser. I navigated to my gym’s class schedule from my bookmarked pages on one tab and to Whole Foods events calendar on the other. I grabbed my phone and opened up my personal calendar and scheduled out my fitness for the week, including runs, yoga classes, spin classes and cardio. Then, I found a few tasting events and scheduled those on my calendar, complete with a couple of carefully timed reminders. Later that day, right on schedule, I attended a caviar and sparkling wine tasting event at the “Whole Foods Corral”. I found a seat at the bar, a few minutes before the scheduled start time for the event, and enjoyed a fantastic Northern California brewery’s stout offering, just a small glass, for two dollars. There were a few folks at the bar and they struck up easy, casual conversation with me. They were “regulars”, I gathered, from their banter with the “bartender” and because they greeted, by name, nearly everyone that passed by the “corral”. From what I gathered, everyone there was sort of like me; not single, not content to sit home and rot in front of the television, and looking for a way to connect in the community and enjoy beer. And caviar. And sparkling wine. And then, maybe even do some grocery shopping. It was great. I’ve been to the German beer-tasting event, since, again, meeting some nice, non-threatening and immensely interesting people. Today, after my spin class at the gym, and a shower, of course, I’m going to go buy some yogurt and oatmeal and stop by for a wine tasting event, a winery I know, have visited, and am quite fond of, from the foothills of Amador County, southeast of Sacramento. I might be close to becoming a “regular” at the Whole Foods Corral.

At the "Whole Foods Corral"
At the “Whole Foods Corral”
North 101 Brewing - Naughty Aud Imperial Stout
North 101 Brewing – Naughty Aud Imperial Stout
Sparkling wine and caviar tasting at the grocery store.
Sparkling wine and caviar tasting at the grocery store.

The other craving I have; silence.

Likely more elusive than a platonic posse of pals to socialize with, a contiguous block of uninterrupted silence with which to read, think, meditate and write. I don’t consider this need to be one rooted in selfishness, though some may beg to differ. Fine, believe what you want, but, please, don’t approach me with your argument while I’m trying to read, think, meditate or write.

My basic need for a bit of uninterrupted silence, a couple of times a day, as I’ve mentioned a time, or two, or maybe a dozen or two times, before, is very hard to come by in my current living situation. One of the petty minor irritations Mom and I are trying to work through. Mom differs from me in that her most basic need seems to be one of filling every moment with noise, chatter, inquiry (often bordering on inquisition) and distraction. If I fall silent for any period of time, say, during breakfast, she will ask a rapid-fire succession of questions on a topic in, what seems to me, an attempt to extend the lifespan of said topic well beyond its natural and logical bounds. She will chatter incessantly, often using the newspaper as a catalyst, the result being a near constant barrage of completely unrelated factoids that, to me, require no response, or even acknowledgement. Mom seems to desire both, acknowledgement and response. I listen to her many stories of the past, of her acquaintances, and her (very) few social encounters of the week. She relates very detailed stories of the people in her life; doctors, nurses, hairdressers, and of the people in their lives that she has never met, but has only heard tale of. If Mom runs out of material, she will simply narrate everything she is doing, like a “blow-by-blow” account of wrapping up leftover cookies to freeze. If I am not in the room to chat with or chatter to, she will turn on the radio or the television to fill the void.

I love companionable silence; being able to sit, peacefully, with a friend, family member or loved one, after the conversation has been temporarily spent, and just enjoy their presence, their company, and pursuing those more personal, thoughtful endeavors; reading, thinking, meditating, writing.

I’m not sure where the middle ground is here, between my need for companionable silence and Mom’s desire for constant conversation. I think …

“Knock, knock, knock,” on my bedroom door, which I’ve closed to afford some kind of sound barrier from the television downstairs, the ringing telephone and the triple play of the message left; its Mom, of course, on the other side of the door, with a list of questions, a couple of stories and a detailed account of the upcoming hour of her life.

My train of thought has just derailed. I’ll end my musings for the day here.

Scarlett’s Letter December 13, 2013

My first full day home in the aftermath of those big things that have been clogging up my calendar, my focus, my free time and even how I eat, sleep and work out; travel season and the first marathon.

I feel like a freed prisoner. Liberated. I can resume life, the way I intend it to be.

Before I “went to work” this morning, I called my Sweetie! We hadn’t spoken on the phone for several days, and with his travels between Fairbanks and Coldfoot and my travels between the east and west coast, plus the huge time zone differences, our texts were even missing each other for hours at a time. The delay in text messages and the inability to talk on the phone left an odd and disjointed communication trail that I found befuddling and disheartening. It was heavenly to just sit and talk in complete and coherent sentences for a continuous period of time. It has been way too long, I really miss my guy.

I got a lot done today. First, I just sat my butt right down in my office and didn’t move until I had ALL my expense reports done. Over $6,000 worth. I kept thinking of Brian Tracy’s “Eat That Frog” program where he suggests just tackling the thing you least want to do in your day, first. Eat the frog first and the rest of the day is a breeze.  So I did. Yay! The frog wasn’t so bad.

After my expense reports, I cracked a beer open. Don’t judge, I’m still on “east coast” time for a day or two, it was much later in my brain than the clock said. Before my beer was half finished, I’d finished three quarters of my Christmas shopping, again, without even leaving the comfort of my ergonomic, Tempurpedic, office chair.

Lost Coast Downtown Brown, one of my daily faves.
Lost Coast Downtown Brown, one of my daily faves.

I spent the rest of the day puttering about my domain, upstairs, my bedroom and the other bedroom, which I use for my office. I broke down boxes and discarded packaging from mail orders received over the past month or so, I threw away the piles of junk mail and catalogs that arrived while I was gone and did a mountain of very necessary laundry.

DSW box, among others.
DSW box, among others.

I cooked my own food tonight. It felt so foreign, handling and preparing raw food, I was almost a little scared that I’d forgotten how. I made the most delicious spaghetti sauce with ingredients I had on hand, which were sparse. I ladled it over the last of the soba noodles in my pantry and, truthfully, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time. The food was hotter than any I’ve had in a while, and not nearly as salty as anything I’ve eaten lately, and, the portion size was perfect! I have enough sauce left over for another meal, too. Like maybe lunch, tomorrow!

Cooked my own dinner. So yummy.
Cooked my own dinner. So yummy.

I was settling in for the night, big sloppy sweats on, big glass of V. Sattui Cabernet Sauvignon poured, and I as I accessed my face in the mirror, contemplating initiating an anti-aging regime and noting the obvious need for an appointment with my aesthetician, I remembered; I have an appointment for a massage tonight! So, I funneled the wine back into the bottle, for now, put clothes worthy of being seen in public back on, including undies, I am so going to forget those some day, and I’m about to grab my purse, my keys and my phone and go. I thought about postponing the appointment, but, I can’t. I was mayor of the Napa Massage Envy Spa on Foursquare, until last week. Someone bumped me out of my esteemed position, while I was out of town and unable to do anything about it. The nerve! I aim to go get all nice and relaxed, which should be just the thing for the last of the lingering marathon stiffness and soreness in my quads, and the post travel season shoulder soreness from hefting my computer bag around with its two laptops, Kindle, iPad and enough cords to reach to the moon and back.

All set for a relaxing night at home.
All set for a relaxing night at home.
Luckily, Donna, my handy digital assistant reminds of important things, like massages.
Luckily, Donna, my handy digital assistant reminds of important things, like massages.

And, I aim to reclaim my title as Mayor on Foursquare. Tally ho.

P.S. Odds-bervation – doesn’t it seem peculiar that my Apple MacBook tries to correct the spelling of “iPad”?

Slowing Down

I feel like I’ve been moving at the speed of light. I have been flying back and forth across the country. I have been working long hours, working hard at what I do and I’ve been playing equally as hard. There are times and there are places where you just have to be in constant motion to accomplish all there is to accomplish. Sometimes, depending on what we do, where we live, and the demands of our lives, we get stuck there.

I’ve been in New York and New Jersey for the past couple of weeks. I always want to experience all that I can when I visit New York, and since I am there for work I have limited time to do so. Every waking moment is hurried, matches the pace of the city itself. I work, then I transport myself around the city in various ways, taxi, walking, the subway, in order to visit, see, do, accomplish that which I intend to visit, see, do and accomplish. In New Jersey, it is a matter of working and navigating through the unfamiliar landscape, again, to accomplish what it is that needs to be accomplished. I am part of the speed and part of the noise of these places, and some noise I create just to drown out the noise that others are creating. Does it make sense to apply noise to accomplish enough peace to seek any rest whatsoever?

Now, I am in Alaska, in Anchorage, first, for a wedding. Having never seen Anchorage before, there was some time set aside for seeing, exploring, visiting and experiencing. There were timeframes and schedules to be met. Yesterday was the long drive to Fairbanks, with fires and road construction requiring traffic controls, and the list of “must sees” on the way, Denali, for example, though sitting in the passenger seat all day, it was not a “slow” day.

Now I am outside of Fairbanks, a place I have been several times, a place that suggests slowing down, a place I find grounding, where I can find my center. A place with a rhythm all its own and different from anywhere else. It is a seasonal rhythm more than a daily rhythm, not unlike our days, busy when the sun is up, slower when the sun is down, rhyming with the amount of daylight. But here, that is seasonal much of the year, with entire days of light now, and later, with winter, entire days of dark. To me, it is so therapeutic, that even in the hustle and bustle of New York City and the frantic desire to see and do, I was thirsting for this. Exactly this. I was looking forward to it like I look forward to visiting New York City.

So, today, I am slowing down. And for the next couple of weeks I will move only as fast as is necessary. I am wallowing in slowness, quenching my thirst for it.

I could easily describe myself as a little competitive, as a bit of an overachiever, as driven, and motivated. I have not yet begun to accomplish all I hope to in my life, in this year, in this month or in any average day. Each day that breaks, as dark gives way to light, and often well beforehand, I begin my routine of perpetual motion. Climbing into bed at night, at the end of a high achievement day, itself, is something I am driven and compelled to do. I must get to sleep in order to get up and begin again tomorrow, anew.

Today is not one of those days. Today I am practicing living slowly. I know I am capable of living slowly, I have done it before. In fact, every so often, perhaps every few weeks or once a month or so, I just have a lost day and there is no sin in that. I know I have gone on and on about how letting time slip away is a crime, that every second lost can never be regained, and, ultimately, we have very limited supply of seconds in our lives. But I do support deliberately slowing down on occasion and just letting a day slide by. I don’t mean pulling the covers up over our heads and remain unconscious, nor do I mean sitting in front of a television mindlessly flipping channels, the first being an absence of being for as long as we are asleep, the second being an absence of being by immersion in sensory input “dictated” by others. By deliberately slowing down, I mean allowing your day to unfold naturally, to be open to our thoughts, to be cognizant of the sights and sounds and sensations around us. Remove ourselves from our daily, intentional life and place ourselves more in a position of an observer. Observe our thoughts, our feelings, our physical, mental and emotional moods, sensations and needs.

This is not a day without accomplishment, rather, a day with no requirements. I have done plenty, but none of what has been accomplished has been something I had to do. I reorganized my suitcases so I could find things, I walked through the garden and the greenhouse, marveling at how things have grown since I was here last just a month ago. I have taken some photos, and I’ve thought about what I want to write. If I had not done these few things, because I am focusing on a slow day, I would not have been disappointed in myself. Whatever gets accomplished today is just a bonus. My mind is engaged but not frantic, my body is energetic and willing, but relaxed. The possibility the day holds is exciting, but peaceful.

I am taking advantage of the peacefulness of my surroundings, today, to just slow down. I will breathe deeply, blink slowly, turn my face up towards the sky, listen actively, speak softly and only when needed. I will not seek to fill the quiet with artificial sensory input; music, radio, television. I will just absorb what my surroundings offer. The sun has been peaking in and out of drifting clouds, the wind is flirting with the birch leaves, the bees are bumbling about the flowers and the heat of the short growing season is causing things to grow, almost visibly, before my eyes. I can hear the songs of various birds intertwined with daily life; conversations, an occasional small plane overhead, the barking of dogs from distant neighbors, the ordinary sounds of others accomplishing what must be accomplished in their lives today. Here, a place where sound does not have to be applied to drowned out sound, as in the city. I have not isolated myself, I am not in exile, I am just slowly moving through my day, aware, engaged and open to whatever unfolds. And, today, this is all I aim to accomplish, let it be what may.

 

Toxic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Red Light Green Light

I have often wondered just how much of my life has been spent stopped at red traffic lights. I was driving to the airport very early the other morning, long before any traffic was on the road, and yet, I managed to get stopped at every red light I came upon. I remember as I approached the last light before entering the interstate, thinking, at last, the very last red light.

I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska for a little vacation right now, visiting my love. He lives outside of Fairbanks a distance but has a business in town. When we are in town we are stopped at red lights for what seems unnecessarily long amounts of time for the amount of cars in this town. As we head towards the remote area we live in, he expresses his relief at finally passing the last red light. So, I am not the only one who pays close attention to impediments to progress along the roadway.

I know, red lights are necessary, but annoying. Stopping at a red light, losing momentum and having to come to a complete stop represents such a waste of energy. Having to accelerate back up to cruising speed repeatedly while driving in town massacres your fuel economy. As we know, this is why the difference in mileage can differ so between city and highway driving.

Not stopping at a red light is not really an option; there is both peril and penalty associated with it. I remember back in high school, driving around with my friends very late at night, we thought it was hilarious to stop at green lights and cruise slowly through red lights. It is a wonder we survived our youth when I think back to our various antics. Of course, we lived in a rather sleepy little town, even sleepier then than it is now, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Now, like many other municipalities, Napa has the photo-enforced red lights. They just got them a year or so ago. It was big news and still warrants quite a bit of excited discussion, like the weather or the newest restaurant to open somewhere in town, a nearly daily occurrence, much like the weather, and red lights. I’ve been dealing with photo-enforced traffic signals in Sacramento for many, many years. I know the drill; stop, or else. Or else to the tune of $450. That’s the penalty, the peril is a whole different story. In smaller municipalities, lights are often controlled by a sensor, when a car triggers the sensor, the light will change shortly thereafter. In larger cities, traffic flow is a high science and lights are strategically timed and in harmony with other lights along the route to ensure the most efficient flow of thousands of cars, day and night.

What do you do at red lights? We all use, or waste, the time in our own fashion. Some people, and I have borne witness to this, use the time to pick their noses, others to lapse into deep thought, or discipline the children, pet the dog, stare ahead without thought, drum their fingers impatiently while staring at the red light with an attitude of pissed off impatience. I usually try to accomplish something; answer a text, change the Pandora station I’m listening to, update my shopping list in my notes section of my iPhone, buy the songs I bookmarked from iTunes, reorganize my purse. I mean, I pay attention to the light, I am usually the first one “off the line” when the light turns green. I am just not one of those that can let those seconds go by without having something to show for it. Perhaps it’s a compulsion, I can’t help it.

When I was a kid I loved to roller skate. I still do. Growing up in Napa we had an old skating rink in town until I was in junior high. I used to spend as many weekends there as I could, skating and skating and skating. They would have free skate sessions, broken up every so often with a game, like the hokey pokey or limbo, or, one of my favorites, red light green light. With red light green light, the skaters would all line up against the back wall. The announcer would call out green light and we’d all skate forward. When the announcer called “red light”, we’d all have to come to a complete and instant stop. If you were caught moving after the call was made, you were disqualified from the game. First of all, it was really hard to stop, instantly, with four wheels on the bottom of each foot, but once you stopped, it was even harder to get going again. The object of the game, of course, was to not be disqualified, but also, to be the first across the finish line. Since it was a race, getting back up to speed after being stopped was the real trick. The stakes were high, a free item from the snack bar!

There are many aspects of life that are no different than red lights, and green lights. Relationships, careers or school, health, lifestyle; they are all as de-energized by having to stop, by red lights, as are cars or roller skaters. And how fast they get back up to speed, or the direction in which they head when the light turns green again will vary.

In a relationship, especially a new one, things may be progressing quite nicely, both parties are excited and are devoting a lot of energy to the new romance. If there aren’t expectations of how things should progress, there are, at least hopes of how the relationship will continue at the same momentum. However, as a relationship matures, it is completely impossible for the same energy, enthusiasm and momentum to continue once the novelty has worn off. While not a red light, there is usually a yellow light, a period of caution. Each relationship time line will differ based on about a million different factors, but, once the newness has worn off and the parties involved have become fairly comfortable with one another, but before they’ve really become a team or a solid partnership, that’s when the light turns yellow. It is natural, it is really the only expectation you should have of a relationship, that there will be a point in time, somewhere between “new” and “long-term” where you go “I just don’t know”. Some relationships will hit a red light at this point and fail, out of confusion, fear or just a realization that it wasn’t meant to be. When the light turns green, one party turns right, the other turns left and they venture off on their own. Other relationships will wait out the red light, both parties taking stock of everything, and when the light turns green, they venture down the highway together. Again, it may take a little while to gain momentum again, and it will likely be at a different speed and velocity than “in the beginning”, but having taken advantage of that caution period, and the pause at the red light, to really think things through, the relationship flourishes, the parties have experience in handling those occasional bumps, potholes and, yes, even red lights, as they are bound to happen again and again throughout the course of the partnership.

With careers or school, we often take off at full throttle in our chosen field of employment or study. We’ve likely spent a great deal of resources to get where we are; considerable time in school up to this point, a considerable monetary investment, no doubt, and a lot of energy. Often, again, once the “honeymoon period” has elapsed, we usually hit a red light and wonder, is this really what I want to do for a living for the rest of my life, is this really the field of employment, the field of study I want to devote all of these resources to. And again, when the light turns green, hopefully you’ve taken advantage of that pause to seriously consider all the options, all the factors and make a sound decision to continue straight down the road, or to turn another direction. Just like a relationship, it is best to continue straight through the intersection on the green light only if you are still feeling committed love, because divorcing a career is not much easier than divorcing someone you married out of folly.

There are a lot of people out there living less than healthy lifestyles. Really, I don’t think anyone the whole world over, is leading a 100% healthy lifestyle. In other words, there is always room for improvement. There is always new information available about the choices we can make that impact our health. Some folks endeavor to improve the healthfulness of their lifestyle, prompted by a medical development, or pressure from a partner or family member, or just because New Year’s came along, but without self-motivation, without intent, once they hit that first red light, their efforts falter and when the light turns green, they often do a U-turn and head right back where they came from. Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits is probably one of the hardest things a person can endeavor to do. I think it’s probably more difficult than leaving an ill-fated, long-term relationship. I’ve done both, I speak from experience, but that may just be the case for me. We all drive a different model of car on a different roadway, I suppose. Again, what you do at those red lights when they stop you in your tracks is what’s going to make the difference. Unlike the moment for discernment with a relationship or a career or field of study choice, with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, the pause shouldn’t be where we consider whether we’ve made the right choice in making the journey, but whether we are taking the right route. We should instead be deciding how best to get there. Take a moment to read the travel guides, the maps, and figure out how to navigate there in a manner that will best suit our needs.

There are many things we can do to improve our lives other than just get healthier. We can, of course, make an effort to evolve in many, many ways; relationships, spirituality, creativity, self-confidence, success in school, work, entrepreneurship, or any other worthy goal or goals you strive for. Any time we are striving for achievement, for growth, for evolution, we are going to hit red lights, we are going to encounter a temporary immobilization where we are going to have to make the effort to get focused and get under way again, on the road to the goals we set. I guess, being the queen of analogies, I’d have to say, making the journey to a more self-improvement is all about the path your choose to get there. You should get there, no doubt, and once you begin your journey you should never stop your journey. It’s all about the coordinates you enter into your Tom Tom and the route you ultimately take. I know when I enter a destination into my Tom Tom and it attempts to take me down a road I’d rather not go, I’ll go the way I’d prefer and eventually, Tom Tom and I align paths. I didn’t make a U-turn, I kept going on a slightly altered path. Have you ever come upon a red light and decided to turn down a side street, or, yes, cut through the gas station to circumvent it? That’s what you should do when you hit a red light with healthy lifestyle changes; keep going, alter your path if it makes sense, but keep heading towards the destination!

So, as you sit at the next red light you hit, whether an actual traffic signal or a metaphorical red light, don’t pick your nose or stare off into space an drool, take a moment to seriously reflect on where you are, where you want to be, consider the direction you’re headed and where you ultimately want to be. Once that light turns green, whether you’ve decided to turn, circumvent traffic by changing your route or to stay the course, do so with intent and you’ll get to the destination you seek.

Ambience – The Hum and the Glow

am·bi·ent
/ˈambēənt/
Adjective
Of or relating to the immediate surroundings of something: “ambient noise”.

Have you ever noticed the ambient noise in a completely “quiet” house? With the television off, music off, no one else home, what do you hear? There is a humming. There are appliances running, heating and cooling systems, water heaters, any number of things just whirring away, and really, when you focus on it, making quite a lot of noise. The hum.

As an only child and a latchkey kid for much of my childhood, I remember doing this frequently. Sitting in an empty house and just listening. My dad was a hobbyist and loved old clocks, the tick tock clock variety, with the Westminster chimes every fifteen minutes. Our house is a split-level home, a ground level, a mid level a half a story up, then the upper level, a full story up. I remember sitting, often, on one of the stairs between the upper story and the middle level and just listening to all of the clocks ticking. A cacophony of ticking, like madness. Imagine the ruckus when all the chimes went off!

Last night, late, we had fairly high winds, and just before going to bed, the power went out. There are two things I love about power outages, lack of ambient noise and lack of ambient light. I relished lying in bed, in complete and total darkness and hearing only the wind in the tress outside. This spurred my thoughts on ambience, which rolled around in my head for the better part of the night, in the darkest dark as the wind whipped through the trees outside.

Having lived in a very remote country home, having backpacked in the wilderness extensively, again, there are things I adore about being far removed from civilization, temporarily; the sound of the wind, and nothing else and the darkness of the sky, except for the millions of stars. Have you ever been far enough away from the city to see the Milky Way in the sky? It is surprising how many people have never seen this wonder. Have you ever been out far enough in the countryside to be able to see the orange glow in the distance where the next town or city is located? This is light pollution from the ambient light of thousands of homes, cars, and businesses. The glow.

On a backpacking trek a few summers ago, I had the opportunity to tour a gold mine shaft with a group of people. One of the self-imposed limitations I have, and have made a concerted effort to overcome, is claustrophobia, or something like it. I fear being unable to escape, if my access to a clear exit path is blocked, I get a little panicky. Funny, isn’t it, that one of my major ruling assumptions is freedom, independence and autonomy? See any relationship there? I was in a narrow mine shaft with about a dozen or so other people, the guide, as she explained clearly beforehand, and I consented to, turned off her light and instructed us to turn off all of ours. We experienced a pitch-blackness so complete I can’t even begin to describe it, I could feel it more than see it, it was oppressive, it felt heavy, weighted. In this complete absence of any light, ambient or otherwise, we had to place our hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us and walk forward in an attempt to follow each other out of the mineshaft in total darkness. It was extremely disorienting, our balance was compromised completely and it was easy to become disconnected with the person in front of you, leaving you hopeless and helpless in the dark. It was impossible to successfully navigate towards the exit and to the relief of daylight. The guide then had us place our other hand out so we could feel the wall, still holding onto the shoulders of those ahead of us. With the assistance of the sometimes slimy wall, we were better able to balance and navigate our way back to light. I will never forget that darkness, that total absence of ambient light!

Isn’t it interesting how what we don’t really notice, ambient noise and ambient light, can actually be so significant in our lives?

An article in Scientific American summarizes a study performed by OSHA on the stress related hazards related to low-level ambient noise. Stress-related conditions, such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches could increase as a result of the measurable stress caused by ambient noise in the home and at the work place. Among other things, ambient noise has been associated with the release of cortisol, the hormone that is released in the body after a “bad experience”. The release of cortisol, at a minimum, can impact our ability to plan, reason and manage our impulse control.

A couple of years ago I read about a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute linking ambient light to increased risk for breast cancer. Other similar studies noted increased rates of ovarian cancer in women who worked night shifts, and so, were sleeping in daylight or in near daylight conditions. The studies hypothesized that our hormones (melatonin release) are linked to the natural patterns of light and dark in nature. When that natural pattern is disrupted with unnatural, ambient light, when it should be dark, our hormones don’t behave normally and this increases the risk of cancer.

Things that are ambient, that we really don’t normally pay attention to, can actually impact us in very major ways. Ambient light, ambient noise, ambient temperature all relate to our immediate surroundings, our environment. From this, comes the word ambience.

am·bi·ence
/ˈambēəns/
Noun
1. The character and atmosphere of a place.

To me, ambient light and ambient noise are subtle, unnoticeable and sometimes beyond our complete control. Unless we focus on them, we usually don’t even notice them. Ambience, on the other hand, I think of as being manipulated or contrived, something we are in complete or near complete control of, something we create, with intention.

The ambience of a restaurant is often referred to in its write up or in patron reviews. The ambience of a setting often dictates that expectation of our activity; a loud raucous bar with a group of friends out for a good time, a quiet, candlelit, corner table in a dark quiet bistro for a romantic evening.

I try to control ambient things, light and noise, to the degree I can for the benefit of my long-term health. I am, at the very least, more aware of ambient noise and ambient light and seek to mitigate their effects in my life. I also deliberately manipulate the ambience of my settings for a variety of reasons.

We’ve already touched on sleep and how ambient light can disrupt its benefits. The power of restorative sleep, absent of ambient noise and unnatural, ambient light, energizes, heals, and can actually restore youth by promoting the natural and beneficial release of HGH, human growth hormone. Creating an ambience for restful, restorative sleep can also help in your effort to evolve by increasing the healthful benefits of sleep that nature intended for us. I know, for me, I find that small sources of ambient noise and light disturb me. Perhaps more so having read up on the potential hazards associated with each of these. But if I am trying to drop off to sleep and I can hear the television downstairs, I find before long, that’s all I can hear. Like the cliché dripping faucet we see in movies, stories and cartoons! If my iPhone screen illuminates it is nearly blinding! Even the little flashing light on the front of my closed MacBook becomes a glaring beacon over the course of the night, enough to disrupt me from sleep. So, I seek to remove all of these things from my sleeping environment, I create an ambience for restful, restorative sleep.

I seek to control my ambience when dining; I make eating a special event, every meal. I set the table nicely and use nice dishes rather than the food packaging to serve my meals. I try to prepare meals that are pleasing not only to eat, but to look at as well. I am so proud of how my meals look, I actually take pictures of them for my food journal! I also tune out distractions while I eat and actually focus on my food and the simple pleasure of eating, the tastes and the textures of the food. I do not read or watch TV while eating, I avoid texting, working or social networking, and just focus on enjoying my food. Focusing on your food, on the act of eating, is proven to reduce the amount of food you consume. When you focus on what you eat, and enjoy the experience, you find satisfaction in a single portion rather than mindlessly eating two or three helpings. Distraction while dining is extremely detrimental to our diet.

Consider the ambience for sex; imagine a romantic room with a lovely bed, candles, flowers, music, chocolate would be nice, too, an inviting environment, rather than making do, so to speak, on a long unmade bed of mismatched sheets, with piles of dirty clothes all around and the dog watching from nearby. I read a fascinating and entertaining book last year, Veronica Monet’s “Sex Secrets of Escorts: What Men Really Want”. She had a great deal to say about the ambience for good sex that made a great deal of good sense.

In our efforts to evolve, to improve ourselves, it is important to consider our surroundings, our setting, our ambience and what is ambient. We need to consider deliberately creating an ambience, or an environment, for self-improvement, self-development, and evolution. We need to find a way to sit in the silence, in the dark, figuratively, and think, without anything ambient to distract us. We need to tune out the ambient noise that influences our lives much like the sound of the highway a few blocks away influences our sleep. The hum. We need to remove ourselves from distractions in our lives, like we do flashing lights while we sleep. The glow.

In our lives, in order to truly find our purpose, our direction, ourselves, we need to find a way to tune out the hum and the glow, the ambient noise; people who influence us, the media, etc. We need to think independently, in the solitary, quiet ambience of our own being, what matters to us, what are our guiding principles, even if they differ from those of people close to us, what do we really believe as individuals? There is always noise around us; the opinions of others, the strong beliefs of those we love, that may, in fact, be different from what we truly believe if we could just be quiet long enough to think about it. Ambient noise. Ambient light are other influential distractions like the media, the press, the entertainment industry, news talk radio, the clergy, business, our employers even, academia. They are all suggesting not just verbally, but visually, how we should think, feel, vote, act. Stop. Tune it out, find a peaceful, comfortable ambience, away from the hum and the glow. Think about it, apply logic. How do YOU really feel when you are away from the hum and the glow? This is where you will find your guiding principles, these are your core values. Cherish them, honor them, live by them, but first, you must know them.

Become aware of the hum and the glow.

Time Travel

I will award my entire net worth, my entire life savings, of roughly fifteen cents, to the person who invents a viable means of time travel! If I had more, I’d happily award more! What can I say? I have two kids in college.

The idea of time travel has been intoxicating for, well, most of time. Some quantum physicists insist we are already time traveling, but just aren’t smart enough to realize it. I’m talking about practical time travel, more like the “Back to the Future” style. Step into a DeLorean, poke a few buttons, and travel through time. I wouldn’t want to go back, necessarily, and do things over. Though the chance to do so is very attractive. I would like to employ this technology on a daily basis to, simply, get more out of my day.

I have spent most of my life living in the suburbs. I grew up in a small suburb in the northern part of the the San Francisco bay area. For most of my childhood, my dad owned a bicycle shop in a neighboring, north bay community and he spent precisely 36 minutes commuting to work in the morning, and another 36 minutes commuting home in the evening. I am no stranger to commuting, as I worked for him during high school and on weekends and vacations during most of college.

When I went to college, I moved to a much larger metropolitan area. Initially, I lived close to the campus, but, working for my dad on the weekends, with the bike shop nearly two hours away, I became one of those crazy, California commuters of lore. Ever since college, I have lived in one suburb or another, for most of my adult life. Work always required some form of commute. In a large metropolitan area, commuting often involves freeway driving and/or surface street driving. My nemesis was the traffic signal. Every time I got stopped at a traffic signal I’d be exasperated. I often wondered just how much of my life was spent sitting at red lights. Knowing me, I probably have a spreadsheet somewhere where I’ve tried to quantify it and even extrapolate it out over the estimated number of years I planned to continue working.

For a time, we lived in the country, on a ranch, about forty miles outside of town. My commute to town took just over an hour, as the first five miles or so were very poorly maintained dirt roads. To be more clear, dust roads in the summer and mud roads in the winter. This period of life coincided with my kids’ high school years, with all sorts of sports and extra curricular activities. It was not uncommon for me to make two, and sometimes even three, round trips to and from town in a day. Five or six days a week. It was during this time of my life that I drove in excess of 3,000 miles per month. Fortunately, I was the proud owner of an old, road weary Honda Accord. It happily bounced down the dirt roads, hugged the corners of the twisting, winding country roads, and sped effortlessly down the highway for 351,000 miles before requiring any attention.

Now, my commute is altogether different. I am a “remote” employee, meaning I do not have an office provided by the company. My office is my home. But, the nature of my job requires me to be away from my office a great deal of the time. I provide training to accounting professionals on software and related instruction. I perform this training, primarily, in person. Some of the training is provided online, which means my commute is about ten feet. But, when I train in person, significant travel is necessary. My territory is the U.S., meaning I am now spending a significant portion of my time driving to and from the airport, sitting in the airport, or sitting on an airplane.

To say I’ve spent a great deal of time traveling would be an understatement. Time travel would have prevented such a great loss. Or would it? Resigned to the fact that a significant portion of each day, for a significant portion of my life is spent in travel, I have made an effort to put that time to good use. When I drive, I often listen to motivational speakers. Occasionally, I listen to audiobooks. This time can also be put to use in working towards goals, for example, last year I set a personal goal to improve my ability to sing. I have an audio program for practicing and this is something I can do while driving. This year, I aim to improve my fluency in French, another thing I can do on the road. Often, though, I will listen to music and just think. Driving, for me, is often coffee time, too. Nothing like some alone time and a big cup of coffee to undertake some very effective brainstorming! Many good ideas have been hatched while sitting at a stop light or speeding down the highway.

My time in airports I tend to enjoy, yes enjoy, watching people. I love people watching and find it inspirational in writing. I have my little routine when it comes to airports. I am a proponent of arriving super early and having ample time for a cup of coffee and a light breakfast for my early morning departures, or a glass of wine and a light dinner for my evening departures. I hate rushing through the airport in a panic, and have, in fact, only ever done so once, and not out of poor planning, but from the unimaginable horror that is Atlanta’s highway system at commute time.

People often ask me how I can stand to fly so often. I just deal with it, again, putting the time to the best possible use. My super bright, chipper, glass-half-full, optimistic outlook is this; when I am on an airplane, no one can bother me. My phone is off, I don’t have to answer anyone or do anything, I am untouchable! I can focus on reading, or writing, or meditating, and on the rare occasion, sleep. This is the closest I get, a lot of the time, to “me time” and I take full advantage of it!

Time is an extremely valuable resource. It is not a renewable resource, once it has passed, it is gone forever. We cannot recycle time, we cannot bank time. Every fleeting second is here once, ever, and then gone. I think wasting time is a travesty, and that includes time that is seemingly wasted in commute and travel. It is, still, when all is said and done, time, precious, precious time. And like the time we may be squandering by sitting for hours watching television indiscriminately, or aimlessly surfing the net, or playing video games for hours upon hours upon hours, time spent commuting can be put to better use if we just get creative and make a little effort, because, I don’t think practical time travel is something we will be seeing any time soon. And, for the record, even if we do see time travel developed for practical purposes in our lifetime, I know that I, personally, will sit back and wait for that technology to mature quite a bit before jumping into the DeLorean! Malfunctions could be more than just a little annoying!