Perfect Cartwheels

My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”

I began to think about cartwheels.

I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel.

I was a latchkey kid for most afternoons from some point in grade school, on. I was alone for a few hours after school almost every day, and almost always on Saturdays. Every day when I came home from school and every Saturday morning when I woke up, there was a list of chores written in my mother’s recognizable cursive, left conspicuously on the kitchen counter. I’d play all afternoon, watch cartoons and my favorite syndicated shows, talk on the phone with friends and do whatever I wanted, until about ten minutes before my mom was due home. Then I’d quickly do my chores and go upstairs and pretend to be laboring over my homework. One of the things that fell under “do whatever I wanted” was cartwheels. In the living room. Which was, I’m sure, forbidden.

My mother’s living room has always been this vast, unused, somewhat sterile space. Reserved only for the most important of company, we dare not, to this day, enter the room. More recently, my mother quite elderly, has become “lost”, on a couple of different occasions. I’ve been unable to find her. In these instances, both times, I’ve looked everywhere; in her room, her bathroom, the garage, the backyard, the family room where the TV is, her office, which is really where the washer and dryer were intended to go, but the old, oak roll top desk has always resided. The washer and dryer were relegated to the garage. Each time I’ve “lost” my mom, I finally found her, as Jeff Foxworthy would say, in the very last place I looked; the living room. But it stands to reason that it would be the very last place I looked! We never, ever, ever use the room. We’re lucky I just didn’t call the authorities and report a missing person before looking in the living room for her!

The living room is quite large, large enough to do cartwheels, obviously, and has a dining room attached. Fashionable in the 1960’s, the living room is “sunken”, meaning there is a tiny step, say four inches, down into the living room, then back, up, into the dining room. The carpet in the living room has always had a nap, and I think this was a required criteria for the carpet each time the old was replaced with new, which, by the way, was only ever because the color became unfashionable and certainly not because it was worn. The nap of the carpet would tattle immediately, alerting my mom to the fact that someone had trod through the living room. You can imagine what cartwheels would do; handprints and footprints, dozens of them. We won’t even mention the times I roller skated in the living room with the neighbor girl from across the street while our moms were at work!

I just included in my chores each day, a quick run through the living room with the Eureka, canister style, vacuum, carefully “laying down the nap” of the carpet. This was tricky, but I became quite skilled; you simply started at one end of the room and backed your way across, vacuuming in one direction only.

Scarlette Begonia

I was hiking in Marin County last weekend, outside of Bolinas. The trail I sought led to a fresh water waterfall that tumbles onto the beach and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls. This has been on my “to-do” list for quite some time. As I love to take pictures, and especially selfies, I’m a believer in the practice of taking routine, if not daily, selfies, I will frequently dream up opportunities for a great selfie and incorporate it into an activity. Once in a while, I will plan an activity around the idea for a selfie! My idea for a selfie for this particular hike was one of me doing a cartwheel in front of the waterfall and using my miniature tripod and the “Slo-Mo” feature on my iPhone to capture it. I’d then take a screenshot, mid slow-motion video, of the perfect moment of my cartwheel and the most epic selfie of the week would be executed. My hike to Alamere Falls occurred on a very warm, very pleasant, very popular, very crowded Saturday. Though the hike included a quarter mile of crouching through a narrow “poison oak tunnel”, and then required a rather dicey descent down a steep cliff from the top of the waterfall to the beach below, there were hordes of people on the beach. They had all somehow managed to carry umbrellas and picnic baskets and bags of food and blankets and all kinds of crap. It looked like South Beach in Florida during Spring Break. My plans for a selfie were instantly altered from cartwheel on deserted beach to a quick, opportunistic snapshot at the one and only and very precise moment when only the waterfall and I were visible in the viewfinder.

Scarlette Begonia

I still wanted to do a cartwheel, on the beach, selfie or no. But I was afraid. I haven’t done a cartwheel, like Jardin, in a very long time. Am I still capable? Able? What if I tried and failed? I’d be embarrassed. Or worse, maybe I’d be injured and given the state of the trail to the beach, I have to be evacuated to a trauma unit by helicopter! Not likely, I know, but I decided against it and headed back up the cliff, back through the poison oak tunnel, out to the main trail, on to the trailhead where I left my car. Failure.

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

I have similar fears about doing handstands in yoga class. I used to do handstands all the time, in the house, when my mom wasn’t looking. My bedroom door opens up onto a hallway and there used to be a perfectly blank wall right there, so I’d do a handstand and rest my heels against the wall. I did this for most of my childhood and even into early adulthood. As I moved back home, to the same house, a couple of years ago, to help Mom out, I’m back in that same room. However, the wall in the hallway is now adorned with a framed painting by Walter Keane that, for my entire childhood, hung from a wall downstairs in the family room. I often wonder if Mom moved the picture to thwart my secret and unstated desire to practice handstands in the hallway, at the age of 52, so I could hope to successfully perform a handstand in yoga class without trepidation.

Scarlette Begonia

What’s with this fear? And trepidation? What’s with the concern of being embarrassed if I mess up a handstand in yoga class or fall doing a cartwheel on the beach? I know not many 52 year old women are seen doing cartwheels on the beach or handstands, outside of yoga class, but I still want to do them.

Fear and embarrassment. So negative. So limiting. So unlike me.

I’ve thought about practicing cartwheels on the lawn in the backyard, but have been shy about it. The surrounding neighbors have two-story homes with windows that overlook our lawn. Unless I practice under a tree, they “might see me”. And what, I ask myself, would be wrong with that? They might be impressed, or amazed, or inspired! Or maybe they’d think I was odd or silly. So? So, today, this afternoon, after sitting on the deck, reading for a while, I fought back my fear, my trepidation, my embarrassment, my shyness, and I went down the steps and onto the lawn. Okay, yes, I hid under the cover of the boughs of the tree, and I very cautiously, very pensively, positioned myself to do a cartwheel. I did my little hop, skip, and then, just like being a kid; hand, hand, foot, foot. Perfection. I did another, and another, and another. I felt free, and young, and spirited. I felt amazing, I felt proud. I can still do cartwheels and shall now do them whenever and wherever I please. I will, in fact, now go down into the living room, as Mom has toddled off to bed, and I shall do a cartwheel!

Tomorrow morning, I will quickly vacuum the living room, just to lay the nap of the carpet back down.

Then, I think the Walter Keane will be occasionally removed from the hallway wall, when the TV is very loud downstairs, and I shall practice, to my delight, my handstands!

Because it makes me feel happy!

Success! At Last!

Success!

At last!

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

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

But, really, what is success?

What defines success?
What defines success?

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

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

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

What defines happiness?
What defines happiness?

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

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

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

Success, at last!

Selife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

You Have to Play to Win

My cousin visited a couple of weeks ago and she, my mom and I went out to lunch. On the way to the restaurant, we somehow got onto the subject of winning the lottery. What would you do if you won a large jackpot? Some people say they would save the money, invest it wisely and live off the interest, others say they would spend it all fast and furiously. My cousin was of the latter mindset, she said she has it all planned out and that she would pretty much just enjoy it while it lasted. Which is what most big jackpot winners do, spend it all and then return to their previous lives with nothing but great memories and some awesome stories to tell.  Fair enough. I’d buy shoes. And maybe a castle to keep them in. But you have to play to win.

I used to play the Lotto religiously. I’d purchase twenty draws in advance, the same numbers, and then, I’d never check the numbers to see if I won. I probably won the big jackpot, maybe even several of them, and never knew it. I stopped playing. You have to play to win.

I played in Indiana and New York. I may have won. I don't know. I never checked. So, I don't play this game anymore. I'll focus my efforts elsewhere.
I played in Indiana and New York. I may have won. I don’t know. I never checked. So, I don’t play this game anymore. I’ll focus my efforts elsewhere.

During my cousin’s visit, we also had a discussion about buying things you don’t necessarily need. On impulse. My aunt, my cousin’s mom, had these two large, beautiful rooster figurines. When she passed, I somehow came into possession of these roosters. At that point in time, I lived in a small suburb of Sacramento, Fair Oaks, in “the Village”, where chickens roamed the streets and most residents had chickens as “pets”. We had chickens as pets. And my house was decorated inside and out with chickens, including these two roosters. That was over fifteen years ago and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve moved since then. No more chickens, real or decorative. But, these two roosters have made move after move. Now, I really don’t have room for them, and, quite frankly, I’m sick to death of dusting them. So, my cousin, the garage sale genius that she is, came by to pick up some of our discards to sell at her next sale. Chickens included. My mom asked my cousin if she knew where my aunt had purchased the roosters. Of course, my cousin didn’t know, it was decades after she’d grown, left home and raised her own family, and decorated her own home. My mom has a way of asking (a lot) of questions that no one could possibly know the answers to. Often in rapid fire succession. Sometimes almost inquisition style. It’s her gift. We all agreed, knowing my aunt, that the roosters were probably an impulse purchase and we all had a good idea how my uncle probably reacted. On impulse purchases, my cousin mentioned that in her travels, she’d seen a doormat she wanted to buy for her mom that said “Ed, please leave the check under the mat.” She didn’t buy it, thinking she’d stop back by and do so, but never did. My aunt never got the doormat, so Ed didn’t leave her the winning check. I’m not sure my aunt even entered the Publishers Clearing House drawing, I’ll bet she did. You have to play to win.

My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it's mine, but it's time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it’s mine, but it’s time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it's mine, but it's time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it’s mine, but it’s time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!

Speaking of Ed and the Publishers Clearing House Drawing prize checks, Mom and I were having breakfast this morning when her phone rang. Her phone rings all the time. Actually, I swear there are twelve phones in the house, all with the ringer turned up as loud as possible. When someone calls, I swear the windows are going to shatter. I have my own “land line”, for work. The number is unlisted and the ringer is turned off. I don’t even know what my phone sounds like, but I’m sure I’d hate it. I haven’t given my “land line” number to anyone, ever, at all, so I know without a doubt that no one I would ever want to speak with will ever call me on that line. When my cell phone rings, and it is on silent all the time, too, so I’d have to actually see the incoming call, I look at the number and decide if a) its someone I want to speak with and b) if I want to speak with them right now, or if I might prefer calling them back at a more convenient time, for me. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message and I can decide if and when I’ll return the call. Mom answers almost every call. Except for the one that occurs every morning, like clock work, at breakfast time. When she has answered it in the past, it has been some recorded message trying to sell her new windows, siding, roofing, solar panels, and appliances, all financed by the utility company. Even if she understood the whole thing, she really isn’t in the market for any of that stuff. She has asked, on numerous occasions, to be removed from their call list, but to no avail. I’ve registered her number on the “do not call” registry, but we all know that’s only as good as the ability to enforce it. Which is zero. So, this morning, like every morning, the call comes. Mom picked up the phone, glanced at the incoming number, hit the answer button followed immediately by the end button. Then she remarked, jokingly, “that was probably Ed with my winnings for the Publishers Clearing House drawing.” I asked, a little sarcastically, “Did you enter?” No. Well, you have to play to win.

I’m not proposing you should play the lottery or enter drawings and contests, I’m saying that you have to play to win. That applies to whatever you want to happen in your life. If you want to be fit, you’ll have to play to win; work out hard, regularly, eat right, commit to a fit, clean lifestyle. Forever. No pill, no shake, no two-week celebrity diet, no celebrity doctor endorsed super food suggestion is ever going to make you thin, fit or healthy. It is a lifestyle. You can’t wish yourself fit just like you can’t expect the next visitor at the door to be Ed with a big fat check if you didn’t enter the drawing. You absolutely have to play to win.

If you want to find love and companionship, you can’t sit home and wish for it to happen. Fabio isn’t going to crawl off the cover of your Harlequin Romance novel and pull you into his arms. You’ll have to play to win. You need to go out, participate in your community, be visible and active and mingle. You need to increase your exposure to a lot of people to find the one. The Powerball jackpot won’t ever be yours unless you’ve bought a ticket or two. You’ll probably have to go out into the world and meet a few folks before you find your soul mate. Must play to win.

You have to play to win at love.
You have to play to win at love.

Perhaps you’re hankering for increased success financially. Unless you take active measures to increase your income and decrease your spending, it probably won’t happen. Unless you DO play the Lotto and you DO win, but, my friend, in case no one else has told you, the odds aren’t good. No one is going to just give you gobs of money for no reason. Chances are you don’t have a long, lost, rich uncle who died and left you his fortune. You have to play to win. You need to carefully plan, budget and commit to both if you want to begin to accumulate money.

Your next raise is likely to not quite match the rate of inflation unless you’ve played to win in your career, too. But you can’t rest on your career marketability laurels and hope to be offered more rewarding opportunities. You have to play to win. I am hard-pressed to think of a single career field that hasn’t changed dramatically as a result of computers and advances in technology. We, too, must evolve, change, adapt in order to remain relevant, let alone advance. We need to meet or match the same pace of technological advances in order to remain relevant in our careers. It is an ongoing and almost frenzied activity to keep abreast of technological advances, but you must, in order to be marketable. My (former) husband was, for a long time, in software sales, support and customization. He had his own business and did well for a number of years. During that time, Microsoft Windows came out, and for a very, very long time, he resisted. He stuck with DOS and recommended his clients do so as well. Until it was no longer viable, supported or an option. Once he finally migrated to Windows, kicking and screaming, he stuck with the oldest version supported and upgraded only when absolutely necessary. This was not a very sound practice for someone in the software industry. Better to move forward, embrace the new, and make well-informed and educated recommendations to clients than to stubbornly cling to the old, comfortable version of the software, missing out on the enhancements and the benefits and opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness in the new version. There is a popular ad campaign for teeth whitening products, “if you aren’t whitening, you’re yellowing”. I think this can be perfectly applied to doing what needs to be done to remain marketable in your career field. If you aren’t advancing with your field and with the technology within your field, you’re becoming irrelevant and unmarketable. You have to be in the game to score. You have to play to win.

No matter what it is in life you are making an effort to evolve in, you have to make the effort to obtain the result, without exception. You have to be invested. And, the more invested you are, the better your odds for success. I advise “all in” for everything in life you’d like to win, except the Lotto and other games of chance, of course, here, a dollar will do. But you do have to play to win.

I With a Capital I

People are interesting. Have you ever noticed, in conversation, how much people enjoy talking about themselves? There is nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, it’s what we do. All of us. We like to share things about ourselves, our experiences, injustices, adventures, helpful information, unbelievable details. Nearly everything we bring up in conversation relates to our personal experience or relationship with the topic at hand. Even when we speak of others, it is usually based on our own personal experience or exposure. It may seem obvious, but we do know more about ourselves, our experiences, our methods for doing things, than anything or anyone else and this becomes our basis for participating in conversation. The trick is to know when you are only talking about you and not listening, really, to anyone else.

Have you noticed how we often refer to ourselves in conversation? Of course we use the word “I”, and in proper grammatical use, it is capitalized when written. It would be weird for us to refer to ourselves in the third person, so this one letter word has been devoted for expression of self as a proper noun. But, when we use the word “I” in conversation, we often place a lot of exaggerated emphasis on it. Instead of just “I”, a single syllable, single letter word, it comes out as IIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiii, in about three syllables. If it were a musical note, it would have one of those crazy symbols, a “maxima”, which octuples a whole note, so in 4/4 time, that would be 32 counts or beats. A really long time, that’s my point. It’s emphatically crazy. When we’re trying to get our point across or to be convincing in any manner, we over emphasize the word “I” to add reliability and justification to our statement or position. The more we emphasize the word “I” the more right we are, at least that’s what our subconscious seems to think. We don’t come out and say “I’m right, you’re wrong”, like we did in the second grade, which then usually digressed into the “uh-huh/huh-uh” exchange. How refreshing that would be, as an adult; to spend ten minutes defending your position by simply saying “uh-huh”.

I catch myself doing this and I observe others. Frequently. And, it seems the better we know someone, the more likely we are to engage in this behavior. Once you become more aware of it, more attuned to it, it becomes almost entertaining to observe, in yourself, hopefully so you can fix it, and in others. And though we are all susceptible to falling prey to this self-righteous behavior, anyone who has ever read a book on conversations, charisma, or relationships is aware that the most important part of a conversation is the listening part.

I am often described as quiet. I can be. I try to be, at times. I’m listening. Intently. I am asking salient questions to validate the speaker’s topic and to clarify my understanding. When I speak, I speak carefully without trying to sound too self-absorbed or too self-righteous. It is hard. It is a skill, an acquired skill, and one that is never perfected, but that always takes conscious effort.

With people close to us, family and close friends, the exaggerated “I” comes out. At its worst, the exaggerated “I” is prefaced with the word “well”. Listen for it. Our unsophisticated (egoic) mind uses this combination of words almost like bait, “well IIIIIiiiiii …” and, since we consider ourselves experts on the particular topic (the amount of emphasis on the word “I” is proportionate to the amount of knowledge we feel we have on the topic), our subconscious is begging, begging, begging for someone to ask “why?” That gives us license to unleash our vast wealth of knowledge, information and examples on the topic, further leading to our validity and (self) importance.

One of the more recent examples of the “IIIIIIIiiiii” monster coming out was in a conversation about the “correct” order for brushing, flossing and mouth washing. I honestly cannot remember who the participants in the conversation were, but there were quite a few “IIIIIiiii’s”. No one was right, no one was wrong, and we all had different sources for our (very strong) beliefs. So, did the “IIIIIIiiiii’s” have it? Nope. To my relief, based on this conversation, I was just happy to know that everyone believes, passionately, in solid dental hygiene habits.

Often in, shall we say, “lively” conversation, debates, or, heaven forbid, fights, we feel so passionately about our position or argument, that not only are we using the exaggerated “I”, we use the time the other party takes to state, or restate their position to think through what our response will be. There is no listening whatsoever. I remember this in my former marriage, or, more correctly, the marriage I no longer live in. I would (and rightly so), state my position and my spouse would be so busy rebutting, and usually talking over me, interrupting and getting louder and louder in the process, that he never heard what I said. In other words, there was no conversation, no exchange of ideas or information. Our “conversations” resembled what we see on political panel discussions on television, which I think is the cruelest version of hell and the hell people who don’t listen are going to be banished to.

So, what do IIIiiiii recommend? IIiiii suggest listening carefully to yourself, and of course, to others, in conversation. Be mindful of how you speak and to how well you’re listening. Observe how people begin to react to you differently as you practice listening actively and being genuinely interested in what they have to say. They will begin to make eye contact with you more during conversation, they will lean a little towards you as they speak, and, most miraculously, when they are assured that you are listening and are interested in a compassionate sense, they will stop using the exaggerated IIIIiiiii, and their tone of voice will soften.

When you have the opportunity to speak, keep the “I’s” short, speak clearly but not loudly, make eye contact with everyone in the conversation and allow others their turn to contribute to the conversation. You may not have the chance to expound completely on your topic; learn to let it go. Conversations are like a school of fish; they change shape and shift and move in different directions. Let it go, don’t try to force the conversation, don’t try to force your agenda. Share your ideas and let the conversation evolve. Successful conversation is in the “I” of the beholder. This is the art. This is the key to success in family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, and in business relationships. It’s what IIIIIIiiii try to do.

Let Me Slip Into Something More Uncomfortable

Comfort, we think of this as a good thing, something we desire, something we seek. We look for comfort in clothes, shoes, beds, chairs, couches, cars, climate, friendships, relationships, our income and standard of living. I have a hard time thinking of a place we wouldn’t desire comfort. And, yet, comfort can be the enemy. I’ll explain.

There seems to be a fine line between comfortable and too comfortable, in life. When we are comfortable, everything is going well, or well enough. Often, once we’re comfortable, we slip into a state of “too comfortable”, which is stagnation, or even complacency. This is where we fall into a danger zone.

Complacency and stagnation imply a lack of concern, a staleness, an absence of movement. Yet, the world continues to move at a very rapid pace all around us. We may soon fall behind if we do not pay close attention. This can jeopardize our career, our fitness and health, and our relationships.

Career wise, think of the job skills and the technical skills that are necessary to be competitive now compared to ten years ago. Compared to twenty years ago. I know people who were “comfortable”, career wise, twenty years ago and became stagnant and complacent. As technology advanced, they clung to their comfortable ways, and in so doing, became less than competitive and unmarketable in their careers.

In our fitness and health realm, becoming comfortable can be very detrimental to our long-term health. While we are young and our metabolisms match our young, hearty and often unwise eating habits, all is well. As we become older and our metabolisms slow, we begin to accumulate extra pounds. Often, as our career and family interests and demands increase, our activity level decreases, yet our food intake does not, and the problem worsens. Soon, we are “too busy” with life to imagine how we’ll ever fit exercise and healthful food preparation into our schedules. We won’t, unless we make the effort. But, I have to ask this, if you don’t have time for fitness and healthful food preparation now, how in the world are you going to be able to manage illness or disease with your “too busy” schedule? That is often the consequence.

Comfort in relationships is also desirable, but once it becomes stagnation or complacency, the relationship is doomed to unhappiness or demise unless corrective measures are taken. Relationships, successful, enduring relationships, take as much effort and energy as an effective fitness program. Relationships involve two people, each of whom are growing and changing, learning and advancing, with time. It is important to always be focused on those changes and how they impact the relationship. It is important to allow the relationship to evolve along with the changes, the evolution of the parties involved. If a relationship is comfortable, stagnant, or complacent, and doesn’t evolve as the people do, it will suffer and become strained. A certain level of consciousness should be paid to your relationship, as much or more as you pay to your personal and career advances.

To grow, to change, to evolve, to advance, we need to get uncomfortable. Metaphorically speaking, and in reality, if we are sitting in our recliner every night, veg’ing out in from of the television, it is very hard to foster meaningful change. Heck, it’s hard just to stand up again. We will never accomplish anything greater by repeating the same, ordinary behavior over and over. To accomplish anything greater, we need to do something greater, and this is usually something that will be, at first, uncomfortable. One of my favorite home workout videos is Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown. She is quoted in one particularly tough section as “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

John Assaraf , author, lecturer and entrepreneur posted this on Facebook “I find that so many people nod their heads and say yes ‘I want this or that’ but when it comes down to really doing what it takes to do ‘this or that’ another part of their personality kicks in. It’s the ‘I’m too comfortable’ doing what I am doing right now part of their unconscious that kicks in and they allow their old comfortable self to rule and keep them away from the possibilities of a better future. To succeed beyond where you are, you must be willing to do what you aren’t comfortable doing for enough time so it becomes easy.”

I have shared some of my challenging experiences in the past, experiences where I had to get uncomfortable to progress in a direction that was necessary for me to go. In my current job, I teach groups of professionals how to use any of several accounting and auditing softwares. I must speak for eight hours at a time, standing, in front of an often unenthusiastic audience. I was never one for ANY kind of public speaking, I was once even shy speaking to professionals one on one. This job came to me at a time when my family was in great financial need. I took the job and overcame my limitation out of desperation in order to keep a roof over our head for a few more months. As you know, this job requires a great deal of air travel and when I took this job I was a very nervous flyer. I overcame that nervousness out of necessity. I have also told of my decision to begin running in an effort to overcome another self-imposed limitation I’ve harbored for many years. I became comfortable with running out a desire to challenge myself personally. We can change in any manner we seek by putting ourselves in situations where we are uncomfortable, this fosters growth and evolution, builds self-confidence and self-esteem

I truly believe we can do anything, that we can overcome any self-imposed limitation we choose, but, to do so we must do that which makes us uncomfortable. We have to push ourselves to change and to evolve. An immovable object will not just begin moving without some force to dislodge it. We are often that immovable object. We are also the dislodging force if we desire it. Dislodge yourself from complacency and stagnation. Slip into something a little more uncomfortable.

I challenge you to slip into something a little more uncomfortable. Take a moment or two and figure out something, however minor, however major, you’d like to accomplish. Assign a timeframe to it. Let’s do this together! Tell me what you want to accomplish that makes you a little (or a lot) uncomfortable) and I’ll tell you what my new challenge is. Push-ups make me uncomfortable. I can do about one. I want to be able to do more. I remember a young lady in my son’s fifth grade class who could drop and do 100 push-ups. I want to be able to do THAT, but it’s very uncomfortable, for me! I know this is no major, life altering ability, but, to me, it is. I have always had inferior upper body strength, a limitation, perhaps even a self-imposed limitation. Just to prove that limitations, of any sort, can be overcome, I am going to work towards being able to do one hundred push-ups, non-stop, one year from now. We’ll round down to June 1st to make it easier to remember. By June 1, 2014, I will post a video of me doing 100 push-ups, non-stop. How uncomfortable! What’s your challenge?! Let’s all slip into something uncomfortable!

On the Contrary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Like the Vine

Consider the grapevine of the wine-producing sort. When you drive past a vineyard in a wine region, you usually notice the neat, straight rows. The vines are sometimes trellised so they stretch out along a wire, others are not, growing unsupported, depending on the variety. Vineyards always appear neat, tidy, geometrical, pristine. Sometimes you see many people in the vineyards tending to the care of the vines. It would seem that the vines needs are looked after in every respect; the soil, water, nutrients, there are fans and heaters and sprinklers and all sorts of things to keep the vines warm when it is too cold and cool when it is too warm. Many measures are taken, depending on the practices of each vintner, against pests, from tiny bugs, to birds, to deer, to passing, hungry motorists. They actually record the temperature in the different vineyards many times throughout each and every day to calculate out necessary information for optimal care of the vines. At first blush, it seems that vines are pampered much like star athletes. Some varieties of grapes come from vines that require many years of establishment before ever producing a single piece of fruit. Consider the investment involved.

I had the good fortune to take a walking tour through a vineyard this past weekend as part of a special “Earth Day” event. As we strolled along, viewing different “blocks” of vineyards, our tour guide described many of the different practices used in growing vines that produce wine grapes. I was at Hess Winery in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, a series of steep hills with harsher soil conditions and cooler weather conditions than other wine districts in this famous region. Because Mt. Veeder is cooler than other districts, and because the soil is composed mostly of limestone, with a thin layer of topsoil over it, the vines here are in a constant “struggle”. Only certain varieties can even endure this district’s climate. And this, it was explained to us, is good. Vines that struggle will produce better fruit than those that do not. Whether a vine has to struggle to derive nutrients from the soil or to overcome a streak of unusually warm weather, the results are usually for the better, ultimately. Struggle, to a degree, is good, if you’re a grapevine.

An Effort to Evolve

I began to contemplate this some after about my third tasting, of six, following the vineyard walk. I’m glad I decided to taste wine after the walk and not before! As I thought about the vines and their struggles, I translated that to people and their struggles. Are we not very similar to grapevines? People who struggle usually grow in ways that are both unexpected and beneficial, in the long run.

It is unreasonable to expect that every growing year, for a grapevine, will be perfect. There are likely to be conditions that will cause the vine to stress out a bit and to struggle. It could be a late season frost, or an early, warmer than usual spring, a cooler fall, a colder winter, too much rain, or too little rain. No two years are ever going to be exactly alike in any wine district, in any wine region. This explains the distinct differences in wines between regions and years, or vintages.

It is also unreasonable to expect that life is always going to be a cakewalk for us. We are all going to struggle with something at some point in time. If you haven’t, brace yourself. I know, I know, I know; I’m the “positive mental attitude” and “law of attraction” preacher. And I am here to tell you, that my life was as perfect as I could imagine and going my way, 100%, for a very long time. It was pretty easy to be positive. Occasionally, I would look over my shoulder, though, because I couldn’t believe how well things were going, for so long. Not perfect, of course, I was making compromises, but things were really, really good, overall. And, even while practicing and preaching PMA and the law of attraction and even visualization, my entire world collapsed. Talk about struggle.

For quite a while, as my world completely shattered all around me, only my immediate family and my closest, closest friends knew what was happening. For everyone else, it was business as usual. Yes, I was struggling, but because I was so positive, because I believed in the law of attraction, I knew I would grow tremendously from the struggles I endured. Only occasionally did my faith waiver, only rarely did I despair, and only in private, and only for a moment. Then I set myself straight, and just went on.

As more and more of my friends and acquaintances became aware of the turmoil that had occurred, the struggles endured, by me and my kids, teenagers at the time, the more often I heard “I don’t know how you just keep going”. I didn’t know how to NOT keep going. I was driven, my kids were driven. It was just a struggle and we were going to get through it. As more and more friends found out about our situation, and looked on in awe, I realized that we had become invincible because of our struggle. We had always been tough, stoic, strong, stubborn even, the three of us. What we endured in the past several years, to some, would be a nightmare beyond fathom. Ok, it was. We lost everything. But all the while, we went about our work, school, myriad volunteer activities, we never had an excuse, we never quit, we showed up for everything, worked hard, and we excelled at everything we endeavored, we smiled, joked, laughed, lived. And we grew; better, I think, than if everything had gone perfectly as they had all those years prior. My son became an Eagle Scout, my daughter held a state office in the California International Order of Rainbow for Girls and I took on a new job that required learning pubic speaking and also required an enormous amount of travel, two things I never considered an ability prior to this “struggle”.

Our story is not unique. I’m sure, in light of the past several years of economic turmoil, you can think of a family, perhaps displaced from their home or from their jobs, who through those struggles actually found a new lease on life. Perhaps a more suitable lifestyle, perhaps the rare chance to start over with a career, to finally do something they only ever dreamed of doing. The vine bore better fruit as a result of the struggle. Of course, there are those who just sat there in despair, being the victim, languishing and desperate. Those grapes became bitter fruit because they did not respond to the struggle in an appropriate fashion.

I guarantee that no successful person in the history of the world ever made it to success without some significant struggle along the way. It is not possible to truly succeed without having struggled. The greater the success, I promise, the greater the struggle.

Do not be afraid when you are met with a situation you must struggle against; health, money, relationships. Just remember the vines, growing on the steep, limestone hillside in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, remember that occasionally they struggle beyond just their difficult rooting in the rocky soil, in a climate cooler than the rest of the valley, where there is far less water. As a result, the fruit becomes sweeter, and the wine is divine! You will be, too. Learn to use struggle as a catalyst for growth and you will succeed, like the vine.