Monday, January 31, 2011

Old Habits Die Hard

The Monday morning started as many do. Although the beginning of the week, I find I place no more ill-will on Monday as I do any other day of the week. The day of the week, whether Monday or Friday, should not cause me to gripe any more than any other. It is still a collection of a series of hours containing stuff that needs done to be able to eventually enjoy the relaxation that an evening with the family brings. The routine is typically the same during every other day of the week, so why emphasize Monday as being more trying? If I consider how many more days until the weekend, I am no longer living in the moment, and that can be difficult any day of the week. Ok, I still struggle.

I awaken earlier than I need to. Usually around 5:45 to 6:00 AM so I get an hour to myself. I call it my “hour of power.” Catchy huh? Okay so I am not a marketing genius. I call it my “hour of power” not because I work out. If you saw me currently, my midsection looks like a candy bar left on the dashboard in hot summer sun. I gotta work on that too!

Anyway, I arise, get my coffee ready, heat up a wonderful heating bean bag thing for my back, and adjourn to my office, my “fortress of solitude.” I turn on some soothing music, and then I take about 45 minutes to meditate. Time to myself. Ahhhh!

I then have about 15 minutes left for the news, traffic, weather, or whatever before I rally the kids. I am calm, relaxed, have time for coffee before they arise. A great way to start the day! The way I have time for this is that I make it a priority. Simple enough.

The troops rallied, snuggle time, pet the dog, more coffee, life is good.

About 45 minutes go by and kids are dressed, car is started to warm up, lunches packed, dog has been out, backpacks being packed, same routine, same timing, check!

What I have found though is something odd. Forty five minutes ago, life was good, blissful, appreciative, and grateful. Now I am scurrying around making sure that things are going “according to my plan”, “my routine”. (Mind you – it is the same plan, the same family, the same routine, the same house, same dog, that I deal with every day for years – like overnight they all lost their minds or memory. Well...maybe.)

“Dad, are you driving us today?”

*Grumble* “Yes, I guess so.” (Reminder–I have already started to warm the car.)

“Honey, will you mail this for me when you drop off the kids. It needs to be mailed this morning.”

*Gripe* “Does it have to be done at 8:00 AM?”

(Two examples are enough.)

Now I have done a lot to work on my ego in the last few years. A lot...Alot! I have become very mindful of what I do, what I put in my body as well as my brain. I try to live in service of others. I work on patching my “leaks”. I mean emotionally and spiritually the proverbial “orange barrels” have been up for some time. Did I say I have done a lot of work? I did? Okay...good.

Well I still need some.

I find my ego is still lurking. Like an angry hostage tied to a chair with duct tape over its mouth, wiggling and shaking the chair to get attention, it still hasn’t given up hope for freedom. Peel the duct tape and it will spit, curse, and scream. Back goes the tape.

As I have said many times before, “it is the storms that show us where our leaks are.” These times at least keep me mindful of the importance of continual spiritual grounding, self-examination, gratitude, and awareness.

I drove the kids and noticed the other children walking in the cold exhaling small bursts of steam. I picked up two other kids in the neighborhood–proud that I could offer a warm transport for them to get their education. The happy childlike banter filled the car. The sun was bright, the energy good.

I mailed the letter for my wife. The drive short, but refreshing. I have some great CD’s in my truck. A few more “me” minutes. The drive was pleasant. I may not have done it if not asked to run the brief errand benefitting us all.

I find my ego still likes to bitch; to makes its presence known. I also find that thankfully the “conscious” me likes to play “hero” more than adversary. The rewards are much greater. Much greater!

My wife mentioned to me recently after requesting (and yes, me complaining) for me to get her some creamer for her coffee at the store one morning (and me complying), “You take such good care of me!” I try. I fail at times, but I try. I just need to try to contain the griping, the "emotional flatulence" we should gain the ability to stifle more regularly.

Nowadays I find my ego is like the neighbor dog that is contained behind a secure fence. When noticed, he will bark, and bark, and bark, trying to establish his dominance, yet with little threat but great nuisance. I just need to be mindful of keeping the gate latched!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gotta get me some of that!

“Good things come to those who wait” was something I was always told. Usually as a kid. Usually when I was debating on tearing into the Christmas gifts prematurely. Perhaps it was when I was peeking through the blinds waiting on the mailman, or a friend to drop by.

Patience is a virtue my behind! I remember admiring a sign my father used to have hanging in his business early on, it was a photocopy obviously passed on to him and hung with pride like that of today’s inspirational plaques that executives hang on their office walls.

It depicted two cartoon vultures that were perched on a branch looking down upon an apparent thirsty man who was crawling through the desert approaching an obvious cruel dehydrated demise. One says to the other, “Patience my ass, I’m gonna kill something!”

I used to perceive patience as weakness; a belief of those who were unable to make things happen. The movers and the shakers, you know those with the cool motivational plaques hanging in their offices did not just simply sit by “patiently” waiting on their rewards. They went out and “killed something!”

I remember I used to profess that if someone were passing out one million dollar bills, and there were a line ahead of me, I would get out of line. Sad.

As I reflect, I see that I had desired to control linear time. Like God wasn’t doing a good enough job for me. I wanted time to speed up to accommodate my receiving the stuff I wanted. I wanted the promotion quicker. I wanted fame quicker. I wanted the muscles quicker. I wanted the weight loss quicker. I wanted the check to come in the mail quicker. I wanted to grow up quicker. I wanted it all now. That was the incorrect practice of “the power of now.”

Now that makes me wonder. If I want time to speed up, then am I okay when the time I wish would speed up would also rapidly zip by when I am actually enjoying myself? Do I want my kids to grow up, move on, and move out sooner? Do I want to get old and succumb to my mortality sooner? Do I want the party over sooner?

I find it a pretty bold request to command to be in control of time and to have it work within the parameters of my desires. Am I willing to share this power? What if I am the guy in line in front of the time keeper at a McDonald’s drive through, and he wishes me to not be there? Do I vanish? Do I get my food quicker? These are the heavy mysteries people. Will I be wished out of the way?

I find rather than trying to control time and trying to control how others manage theirs, it is easier to make a stronger attempt at finding my own source of patience. I find once we find our source of patience, it is a humble beginning of surrender. Surrender in the fact that we find we are not alone, we do not control the universe, yet if we slow down, we can enjoy what unfolds around us.

When I am impatient, I find I am steeped in self-importance that propels me at light speed into the future. I focus on what I should be doing, where I should be going, what should be happening to me, and I miss where I am. Often in the stillness and slowness I am most often blessed with gratitude and the revealing why the patience is a gift. A gift because I can realize I can have both benefits.

In being patient I get the blessings of presence. Whether it is a few quiet moments in the sun, even if it is waiting in line at a drive through or in daily traffic, or if it is a moment of solitude as a wait behind the coupon lady at the grocery, these moments are mine. I can’t do anything about it. Oh yes, I can bitch, but I find I am still standing there in the same spot, just bitching. By choice. Still waiting.

I also eventually get what I am impatiently waiting for. I find that being impatient does not make the metaphorical universal UPS truck deliver my wishes any faster. My impatience only dictates how I feel as I close the gap between now and the delivery of my awaited circumstances. What I want to happen quicker does indeed happen, as it should and will on life’s terms, I just find through impatience I simply make the journey there more frustrating by choice.

Yes taking charge of certain elements is helpful. Of course preparation can speed progress. Absolutely we can do things to bring our desires to us quicker. Yet I find that impatience most often infiltrates us on the trivial level. I also find there are more trivial occurrences happening between the times our lives are punctuated by the big stuff.
Patience. I still need work, but I realize that I am the one who needs the work and that is okay. I just need it most when there is a line of cars between me and my Sausage McMuffin.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Now this is a tale of a fateful trip...

I always said Gilligan’s Island would be a great place to be if I could get used to the taste of coconut. Isolated, lush and green, a lagoon; what more could I ask for? Of course I would have to choose a few friends, and I do not think I would choose a couple with a trunk full of money. In today’s world they would simply have a wallet full of credit cards, and I do not know too many “Lovey’s.”

The reason for my aspirations usually comes after a time of tragedy. Mass shootings, politically charged rhetoric that inspires exclusion or separatist thought, ecological disaster, you know the icky, big stuff. I would profess, and still do, that it would be nice to be able to escape it all, to simply go to a beautiful place where these thorns could not grow in my garden.

I would accept the restricted diet of fish and limited produce for the peace of a hammock between to palms, a hut, and many hours of unmolested reflection at the water’s edge. Maybe the diet would solve my expanding waistline as well, and the hunting/gathering would become sufficient exercise.

But then I think: “There would not be much social stimulation (I like people), and I do not need many material things, but how many toys can you make out of bamboo and palm fronds? I mean I would need an outlet to plug in my iPod for charging.” Also, there could still be hurricanes, another oil leak could reach my shores, and I cannot escape the bias of my own thoughts. No man is an island, plus I would not want to eventually have a volley ball as my best friend.

As we often seek a remedy or escape from that which harms us, frightens us, or tears us asunder, I find that I am often looking for the “caped crusader” to come to the rescue. “Who is going to make this right?” “Where is the cosmic Maytag Repair Man?” “Who is going to stop the insanity?”

“Anyone...anyone??!” (We then hear the crickets...)

I then find that I hold a majority of the potential for change. I myself can drop the proverbial “pebble in the pond”, and stare as the ripples retract concentrically outward reaching far shores.

My world is simply a reflection of myself and how I see it.

When I say, “The world sucks” often proves me correct.

When I say, “People today are crazy”...they often act in such a manner.

When I say, “Life is rough”...I meet quite a bit of adversity.

However, when I tell myself, “The world has beauty and promise, contains an abundance of compassionate, intelligent, and beautiful people who are willing to take on the same challenges as I, so none of us are alone”, I find my burdens lighten.

Same world, same people, same life–different perspective. My choice.

I have three simple tools in my tool kit. They like a hammer, screwdriver, and duct tape can fix most any a household dilemma.

First–awareness of the things I tell myself. When I am carrying out my own dialogue, I must become aware of things I tell myself. Am I critical or hopeful? Do I want to be my own coach or adversary? Am I using destructive dialogue coming out of a bullhorn reminding myself of my past failures, or am I using a motivating tone reminding me to get up, brush off the dirt, and attempt the important things again until I get it? This is a choice. Where I stand in the world and how I reflect upon my position in it is a choice.

Second–the questions I ask myself. “Why are you such a loser?” is not the best way to try to motivate yourself to overcome your shortcomings. When I ask myself questions like this, amazingly I have many, many answers. Most of them are rooted in past behavior. Behavior I no longer can do anything about. Why? Because it is PAST behavior! When I ask, “How can I make today better than yesterday?” Or, “How can I be a better person, husband, wife, employee, citizen, etc.”, interestingly enough, I get answers here too. These answers usually come in the context of things I can do in the present and will affect my future. The opportunities presented to me in this life appear often in direct proportion to the questions I ask myself.

Finally–the window I peer out into the world is one I place before myself. What we focus on is what we see. If I constantly focus on death, pain, belligerence, debauchery, suffering, madness, loss, and hatred, guess what I see? If focus on people making a difference, compassion, growth, ingenuity, progress, and miracles, yes–miracles; I will see them too. Same planet–different worlds.

The greatest thing about these global changes that affect the masses is that we already have them, it can change the world for ourselves and others, and the shift occurs the moment we dedicate ourselves to the changes we wish to see. They can work as personally or universally as the intentions we use to activate them. We cannot change the world until we start upon the changes within ourselves.

Yes, it can be challenging at times. If you want a good workout on these principles, turn on the news. There are many people who are willing to spiritually spar and test our resolve. It is empowering to know that my armor thickens with my recall of these ideals. However if this is a bit hard, the S.S. Minnow always is an option.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Keep On Keepin On

I can tell it is the New Year. Aside from the ritual of taking down holiday decorations and a small anxious desire for school to go back into session, there’s one major tell-tale sign: the proliferation of personal improvement ads.

Like budding trees in the springtime, the beginning of the year provides a plethora of reminders that it is time to take a personal inventory and whittle away at that we own that is less than desirable. If I take this pill, I can be in a better mood, detoxify my system, or shed those unwanted pounds.

If I call this guy, I can improve my finances, own real estate, or learn the secrets of getting a perfect physique in 90 days.

I can quit smoking, drinking, drugging, arguing with my kids, teach my baby to read, and go back to school.

I am emphatically encouraged to emerge from the chrysalis of last year’s drudgery into the beautiful butterfly I am destined to become...this month.

Eagerly I listen. I critically examine my attributes and lack thereof assessing what I need to keep, and what I need to improve upon. It is January 2nd. I am already a day late. Am I a loser already?

In this onslaught of suggestions of how my life can improve, lies the paradox of an equal amount of articles of why resolutions fail. Too much, too lofty, too quick. We are captivated and enchanted by a couple months of lights and mistletoe, fun and frivolity, and then like at 2:00 am in a pub, the lights come on, we are told to stop, and go home.

Of course it will be hard even with the noblest of intentions to make major life changes this time of year. We go from a season of indulgence, self satisfaction, giving, abundance, and festivity to immediately tear down decorations, a cold season of grey skies (here in the Midwest), holiday credit card bills, and then are expected to proclaim, then live up to, stopping things we have done habitually mainly because they make us feel good.

No sir, I don’t like it. It is hard enough for me to write the correct date on my checks in the New Year let alone stop eating what I enjoy, get more rest and exercise, upgrade to “better behavior 2.0”, reboot, and act as if it is easy, or at least enjoyable. It is like driving along the freeway at sixty miles and hour and noticing your exit then slamming your car into reverse trying to make it safely to your next destination. Not good for cars or humans.

I do not believe the New Year is like an Etch-a-Sketch. It is not a simple shake of the calendar and then we start over. If it were that simple, why wait for 364 days to pass before using that wonderful do-over? Why let a full year pass before deciding we could use a new blank sheet? Do we also need to shake it to make then entire past disappear? Sometimes we simply need a little White Out to mask a few mistakes to make the text read better.

Perhaps before considering resolutions we should examine what went well in the previous year? Let’s do more of THAT stuff! Perhaps make habits out of serendipity. If we spent more time focusing on some of what we do right and not so much that our jeans don’t fit like they used to, we would embellish the skills that would allow us the skill sets to achieve many more of the things we desire.

I like to look at life as if it had a “batting average”. As in baseball, it takes a number of times at bat to assess where our stats lie. Perfection is not so much praised as consistency of getting the hits. Of course we will swing and miss. It makes the home runs that much more fun to celebrate. It is the possibility of a strike out that hones our competitive spirit.

Personally I reflect this time of year “categorically.” I try to look at global attributes that I would like to examine in more forensic depth in the upcoming year. This examination requires time, research and rhythm. There is no way I can incorporate lasting changes into my life without practice and patience. It took a lot of the negative habits I may wish to eradicate a long time to erode their way into a habitual pattern. I must therefore offer the same amount of dedication and tenacity in replacing them. I am still busy making excuses in January!

I have in the past used categories such as “expanding my knowledge”, “improving my spiritual awareness”, “stabilizing my health”, “developing greater patience”, and I will often revisit those yearly but with just different amount of emphasis.

This year I am dedicating a larger amount of the pie to “balance.” I have a tendency to obsess or attach to one thing in my life often times at the detriment of another. As a farmer will plant many seeds, all needing different amounts of attention, water, nourishment, and care, he still plants with the intent to harvest all to better feed him and others. His attention and routines are stable and reliable and fluctuate to the ongoing needs of his crops.

I have many seeds planted now. I cannot let one suffer as I tend to another. I must have balance to have bounty. As the farmer weathers the seasons, the droughts, the rains, and adjusts his routines to the needs of his seedlings, so must I. It is another year, but it is also another day. In my goal to improve my life’s balance, I will simply keep on keepin’ on. By spring I should have some good plants growing.