Wednesday, October 31, 2012

blessings counted

Another hurricane in New York City, and it's a mess.  I am grateful that my friends, family, and neighborhood are more or less unscathed, and my thoughts go out to those who have lost anything. There are tons of people, buildings, businesses, homes, families that have suffered and changed, and at the bare minimum, we have all lost some peace of mind.

I've been trying to be cool, stay relaxed, and just go with the flow, but I've never been really good at that.  I like to know what's coming, plan for it, and then be able to get back to normal as quickly as possible.  This is great for things like getting to the airport on time, running 47 errands in an hour lunch break, or getting three coffee dates in before dinner.  What it's not good for is recovering from a hurricane.

My peace of mind is directly related to knowing what's going on;  having information, being able to make something that resembles a plan, and being in connection with those who are important to me.  And a hurricane changes that.  Subways stop running.  Phone calls get dropped.  Entire chocolate cakes get eaten.  There's a new normal, and nobody really knows what it is.  And while the internet and tv have provided all kinds of data and updates, it's still new and untamed.  Everyone is in a bit of a holding pattern, practicing patience.  Personally, I'm in a rush to go back to normal, but it's unclear when that will happen -- and in some parts of the city, it never will.

Some people work best in a time of upheaval or chaos -- they're better adapted to being flexible and going with the flow, and in fact, prefer to operate that way.  Life is more of an adventure for them, and not knowing is an accepted part of life.  We all have the ability to be flexible like this, but for some of us we have to work harder at it, and it comes less naturally.  But that's the reminder for me -- I'm not incapable of being patient, I'm not totally unskilled at going with the flow.  I just have to unhook myself from the outcome and see things as more of an adventure.

Because there's little else I can do right now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

more on beginner's mind

My last post mentioned the concept of beginner's mind, and I found an article that expands on it, pointing out 10 different ways to expand your perspective:

1. Take one step at a time.
2. Fall down seven times, get up eight times.
3. Use Don’t Know mind.
4. Live without shoulds.
5. Make use of experience
6. Let go of being an expert.
7. Experience the moment fully.
8. Disregard common sense.
9. Discard fear of failure.
10. Use the spirit of inquiry

Read the rest of the article here.  I enjoyed it and hope you will, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

the gift of fear

I recently spent the weekend with a dear friend who is going through a series of life transitions all at the same time and she is, quite understandably, terrified.  And while I don't envy her situation, I am able to see a silver lining in it -- if she weren't afraid, she wouldn't have the opportunity to be courageous.

Think about it:  courage is not about being fearless, it's about being afraid and acting anyway.  Without fear, there is no courage.

I make my living as a corporate trainer -- I speak in public regularly.  For some people, my job would be their waking nightmare, day after day, speaking in front of others.  For them, it would take massive amounts of courage.  But for me, because I'm not afraid of it, it's a no-brainer.  Conversely, moms around the world will hold their children's hair while they barf.  (Hell, college freshman do it, too.)  For me, that would require inner depths of strength that I don't know if I have.  Fear and courage are both relative, and just because you're afraid doesn't mean you're weak.  It's how you choose to act while you're afraid that helps to define and forge your character.

So what can you do to become more courageous, and to tune down the voices in your head that say you're going to die?  Here are a couple of things that have worked for me in the past:

1. Focus on the learning.
When I'm doing something hard (/scary/terrifying) I often look down the road and ask myself what the long-term benefit will be.  Will I be growing into someone I want to be?  Will I be proud of my actions in this current moment once it has passed?  What am I striving for from my life, and will taking this terrifying action give me more of that?  If so, I act.  I seize the opportunity to grow.

2. Lean into it
Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop fighting the shoulds -- "I shouldn't be afraid of this" or "I should know how to do this already" or "I should be able to handle this."  Instead of worrying and shoulding all over yourself, think of the challenging situation as an opportunity to think about who you could become.  Find a way to be ok with the uncomfortable feelings -- maybe by regularly repeating something like, "this, too, shall pass" or breathing deeply every time anxiety shows up.  Just leaning into the change in a gentle, what-is-possible-here kind of way.

3. Use beginner's mind
The apocryphal Zen story helps to define (mystically) the concept of beginner's mind:  A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

When we treat ourselves as experts, there is no room to fail and grow.  And this makes uncertain times even more stressful because we feel like we have to know what to do.  We don't give ourselves credit for never having been in this exact moment before.  Maybe it was a similar situation, but it wasn't this one.  And maybe this one requires a new mindset.

4.  Get support
Going through change alone can be isolating, alienating, and all together lonely-making.  The most important thing I've learned in going through change is how important it is to have support.  Whether that comes from a loving coach, a skilled therapist, a dear friend, or a supportive community, finding others who can give you perspective, advice, and help you navigate your way through a change is invaluable.  I would never be where I am today without my coach, my therapist, my friends, and my family.  And I'm not the least bit ashamed to ask them for help.  Because I would want them to come to me if they felt the same way.

So to my friend, and to anyone else out there who is going through change and is afraid, remember that you're not alone, and that no matter how scary it gets, the key is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And to reward yourself for just making it through.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

the power of listening

I've recently re-started a meditation practice, and I'm not particularly good at it.  My mind wanders, thinks about what I should wear today and how to get my neighbors to stop slamming the door at 6:15, but when I realize that I'm wandering, the first thing I do is bring my attention back to my listening.  I hear the sound of my breath, my DVR spinning, the garbage truck going by, the constant hum of traffic from the highway.  Just tuning in like this gives me a sense of my physical space, and reminds me that I am here, now, in the moment, in my apartment.  And, yeah, ok, my mind goes off again, worrying that I don't have anything to eat for lunch and that my knee hurts and I'll probably be hobbling like a granny when I get up.  But then I go back to the sound.

Wander, rinse, repeat.

Plenty of people claim to be bad meditators -- they can't still their minds.  And I'm with them.  I get caught in my monkey thoughts (which, oddly enough, used to continually involve Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee") but what helps me get out of them is listening.  Focusing on sound as if I'm trying to hear a mouse in my radiator.  It takes time and attention, but I think the space it's giving me between my reactions and my responses is worth the effort.

Julian Treasure is a huge sound-lover.  He spoke at TED in the video below about the power of listening.  I think about it especially in relation to dating and meeting new people.  How many times have you been sitting with a stranger, hearing what he or she is saying, but really focusing on what you want to say next?  Formulating your charming, witty, pointed response without fully taking in what your date (or coworker or instructor) has said.  The process of real, deep listening can be a connector.  It can bring you together with this stranger -- or this family member, or friend, or unintentionally-door-slamming neighbor -- in a way that hearing just can't do.

Steven Covey, in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  And Julian Treasure says that we have to "listen consciously to live fully."

I totally agree.  Sign me up.