Emotions

Hello Mid Life Crisis

The other day I woke up into a sea of anxiety yet again. But this time, instead of just thinking, "oh look, there's more anxiety," I had a surprising thought: I wonder if I'm having a mid-life crisis. A few hours later I was sitting with my boyfriend chatting about this and that, when out of the blue he mentions that he has been thinking about what it means to have a mid-life crisis. As if I needed any more confirmation than that. So here it is. Now what? I guess I just always assumed I wouldn't be "one of those people" who goes through a mid-life crisis. Here is why: one of my neighbors at the last place I lived went through one while I was living next door. He went out and bought a really fancy sports car, started gambling a lot at the casinos and divorced his wife. I haven't done any of that, nor is it on any agenda I am currently aware of. But given my emotional state of late, it would seem a person can still have a mid-life crisis even if they aren't blowing through their savings, running off to travel the world, scheduling cosmetic surgery or putting themselves back on the market for a new sidekick. 
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Animal Mentors

Yes, Dogs Can Speak “Human”

I love animals. Animals don't litter. With an animal, you don't have to dig through layers of meaning and context to find the point. An animal won't pretend they like you to your face then gossip about you behind your back. And, as it turns out, it may just be that animals understand people far better than people understand animals (despite what people may like to tell themselves about being the "superior" species). For instance, a recent study at the University of Vienna has produced evidence that dogs can understand both tone and vocabulary. Not only that, but another study at the University of Budapest showed that dogs process speech in the left brain hemisphere and tone in the right brain hemisphere just like people do. In other words, it will no longer work (and never actually has worked) to criticize a dog using a sweet tone of voice. The dog won't be fooled even if the person doing the criticizing is fooled.  
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Faith

Trusting in the Next Steps

As some of you know, I like to set a new intention to work towards at the start of each year. Not only does this neatly replace any obligation to set any New Year's resolutions, which apparently aren't quite my special gift, but it also gives me 365 whole days to work on whatever the intention of the year happens to be. This year, my intention has been "The Year of Having Faith." As such, I've been blogging quite a lot this year about faith (or lack thereof). In keeping with the overarching goal of tackling tough shorter-term questions with a faith-first approach, I recently blogged about my efforts to develop a longer-term mindset. So far, not so good. It would seem that, for me at least, not much exists in the space between "today" and "20 years from now." What I mean is - whatever is happening to me right now, today, is also what I assume will be happening to me 20 years from now. This can be good and bad. For example, if today everything is going well in different areas of my life (career, relationship, finances, health, pet health, parental health, etc.) my 20-year outlook also seems similarly rosy. But if today everything is not going so well (debt is piling up, my back went out again, my best friend just moved halfway across the country) then it simply follows that I am in no hurry for my "later" to arrive.  In fact, if it wants to just go visit someone else instead, that is fine too. Interestingly, I have also recently realized this is part of the reason why I continue to struggle to have faith. I am starting to think it may also lie at the root of my ongoing battles with depression and anxiety. Because the truth is, no matter how much my mentor, Lynn, and I talk about how the light only shines far enough to see the next step in front of me, somehow I continually fail to actually perceive those next steps, or even believe they are really there at all. Here is an example. 
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Movie Mentors

My Mentor Florence Foster Jenkins

I will admit I haven't yet seen the new movie "Florence Foster Jenkins" starring Meryl Streep. But I don't have to see it to know she is clearly one of my mentors. Recently, my own longtime mentor, Lynn, and I were discussing our mutual enthusiasm for the film and how eager we are to see it. Lynn mentioned she has listened to some of the real FFJ's musical recordings. So of course I had to hop on over to YouTube and listen for myself. The moment I heard the opening notes on the first selection, I understood why William Meredith, the poet, was quoted as saying: ....what Jenkins provided  ... was never exactly an aesthetic experience, or only to the degree that an early Christian among the lions provided aesthetic experience. Nor did I have to struggle to comprehend why the great composer and performer Cole Porter was reputed to bang his cane into his own foot to keep from laughing out loud at Jenkins' musical recitals....yet was apparently unable to stay away from each new Jenkins concert. It would seem she was that bad....and that good. 
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Emotions

Are You Stubborn or Persevering?

Am I stubborn? Or persevering? This is the question I found myself asking this week. It happened after two people close to me told me I was "too stubborn." Given that the prevailing definition of stubborn basically describes a person I hope I never meet, this caused me some amount of concern. Am I stubborn? Do I insist that my way is the right way...the only way? Do I keep insisting this even when I am flat, dead wrong? Am I arrogant, inflexible, obstinant? Yeep. I sure hope not. So I ran it by my longtime mentor, Lynn, to see what she thought. Her response was intriguing - and potentially reassuring. She replied: Stubborness can be a liability (that is, an asset carried too far to be useful anymore) – the asset version is perseverance. It’s important to know the difference.  I agreed...especially when I am being called something that is a liability. Plus, I like the sound of "perseverance" better. She continued: 
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Relationships

Tackling the Long Term

When I was little, my folks (and most everyone else) liked to joke that I was "5 going on 35." I was apparently very mature for my age. Or any age. I do remember being a rather serious child, very much in my own inner world at times, and sometimes feeling like I saw the world and the people in it differently from my peers. An example - one day an older neighborhood girl was babysitting my brother and me. Her younger sister accompanied her and began to talk about some problems she was having with her boyfriend. I was about 10 at the time and had never had a boyfriend. But when she told me her issue, I instantly understood what was going on with the boyfriend and quickly explained to her the most likely reason why he was behaving the way he was (although now I don't remember exactly what it was he was doing). She looked at me - shocked - and said, "You are right! But how do you know this?" I had no idea. I still have no idea. Now I suspect it is just because I am an introvert and a natural observer of life and people. Maybe I just had seen the same pattern play out with other peer relationships. Or perhaps I saw something similar to what the girl described on a television show. All I know is, whatever I told her worked, and it resolved her issue with her boyfriend. That being said, as a "mature" 5, and 10, and 15, and 25-year-old, I was very faithful to my parents' assertions that I should always have a long-term plan. So I did. For instance, I was saving for retirement the moment I paid off my student debt. After college, I chose a career with a stable company in a beautiful place (California) and anticipated maxing out my 401K plan so I could be secure the rest of my life. The only problem with this very wise long-term plan is, it didn't fit me. 
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Silence

Learning to Listen for the Silence

Over the last 13 years, I have moved 8 times. So the fact that I really don't like moving should be significant. And it is significant, except that I have always had a really good reason for needing to move from one place to the next. Often, that reason has boiled down to one of two factors: neighbors or noise.  Or both. There was also rent to consider, and thanks to Houston's newfound reputation as a great place to find jobs, rent hasn't always been a factor I could control. But then again, neither is neighbors or noise. I have had some truly awful neighbors - the kind you call the cops about (or just fantasize about calling the cops about). The worst kinds of neighbors are noisy, nosy neighbors - the ones who seem to live to make those around them miserable, whether or not they realize that is what they are doing. Which means that the outcome of having nasty neighbors is often noisy surroundings. And, as I mentioned in this blog post, I am not a huge fan of most kinds of noise. For instance, I don't like "people" noise. This includes lawn care machinery noise, construction noise, loud music noise, loud car or motorcycle noise, loud party noise and other similar noises. I also don't like loud barking dog noise (although I do like most dogs - but I don't blame the dogs when they are barking a lot!). How does this relate to me moving frequently? Well, every time I make a move to a new place, I have to get used to a whole new set of noises. This happens on a few different levels. While conscious-me is getting used to which noises are associated with what neighbor, place or activity, limbic-brain me is getting used to which noises should be activating its "fight or flight" emergency response system. So for the first few weeks or so, my limbic brain is putting out SOS calls all. the. time. We are both on high alert for any and all noises, until my limbic brain can sort them out and assess which ones require panic and which ones are no big deal. 
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Good News

The Art of Not Taking Yourself Personally

Recently, I have gone through a few periods where I have gotten really down on myself. After having worked so hard for so many years to learn how to give myself the benefit of a doubt, it seriously bummed me out when this unpleasant habit cropped up yet again. In other words, I took it quite personally. I got mad at myself. Really mad. (It goes without saying this didn't help the situation much.) But then I remembered what one of my long-time mentors, author Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., has to say about taking things personally. In a phrase, he says, "Don't take anything personally." It just didn't occur to me until just now that this includes myself. 
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Book Mentors

A Mentor in Hiking Boots

About seven weeks ago, my boyfriend and I returned from a 6-day trek into the wilderness of West Texas. The town we stayed in had a population of 349 people (coming from Houston, a town of more than 2 million people, this was pretty wild all on its own)! Our goal was to hike the tallest mountain peak in Texas (you can read this post to find out how well that went!) Our other goal was to reconnect to our wild insides - the parts of us that still remembered how to live simply, how to breathe in and breathe out, how to allow our jaws to drop open in wonder at the vast natural beauty around us, how to sip coffee in the morning without simultaneously building the day's to-do lists in our heads. One night we decided to browse through the DVDs at the sweet rental casa where we were staying. We came across a film called "Wild" and popped it into the DVD player. As it turned out, the main character in the film, Cheryl Strayed, had recently experienced some tragedy and decided to "hike it off" - literally. For her first-ever hiking adventure, Cheryl chose to tackle the PCT, or Pacific Coast Trail. The PCT took Cheryl from California to Oregon and then across the "Bridge of the Gods" into Washington State. A young 20-something, she had just lost her mother very suddenly to cancer and then lost her husband with nearly equal suddenness to divorce. She had never hiked or camped before. Her pack, which her PCT trail-mates quickly nicknamed "Monster," was so heavy she couldn't even move it at first, much less strap it to her back and stand up. I am reliably fascinated by these kinds of stories. For instance, in the movie The Way, a bereaved father decides to hike through a Pyrenees trail called "The Way of St. James" as a tribute to his recently deceased son. Of course, in Wild, Cheryl hikes the PCT, and cites similar circumstances as her inspiration to do so. On a lighter note, The Big Year chronicles three avid birdwatchers, each with his own deeply personal reason for pursuing a "big year" trek of counting rare bird species around the world. I have never hiked the Pyrenees or the PCT, and the only bird I can reliably identify (and count) is the one living with me in my casa. But there have been many times when I have woken up one day, only to realize I had reached my limit of how many days I could go on living the way I had been living and feeling the way I had been feeling. When these days come, there is no arguing with them. And until they come, there is no rushing them. 
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Emotions

Where Self Importance and Stress Meet

Stress is something I am very familiar with. In fact, I'm pretty sure stress was present at my birth, already eager to introduce itself and become BFFs. But self importance is an issue I've wrestled less with, if only because I've been less aware of its role and effects....until now. Lately, however, I've begun to suspect self importance is a bigger issue for me than I would have ever guessed. Let me explain. Let's say I catch myself stressing about, well, anything. It could be a huge thing or a tiny thing. Once I dive in and start contemplating the source of the stress and how to put as much distance between us as possible, I often notice I've blown the issue way out of proportion. For example, maybe one day I have a huge to-do list. I made the list myself, of course (which means I added all those things to it). The list has a bunch of items on it, some quite normal and maybe a few not-so-normal. I look at the list and realize there is really a lot of stuff on it. I start to stress. This is where I can often catch self importance waiting in the wings to announce its critical role in accomplishing everything on the list. It wants to sweep in and save the day and it is very sure of itself. Self importance is the quality in me that assigns the same level of importance to going grocery shopping (which really could be done any day) and bringing my sick turtle to the vet (which really has to be done that day). Self importance is the quality that, when asked how I am doing or how things are going, instantly launches into a long recitation of my many responsibilities and obligations and all that I have to do. "I am so busy and important!" is basically the point of any such recitations. But the other person probably isn't really listening to me anyway, because the moment I start outlining my essential role in my own life, they begin contemplating all the things they have to do and how urgent each is and before long, they are just as stressed as I am (and they haven't heard a word I've said). It is an old, old habit to let stress make these traps for me, hide them in the ground somewhere and wait for me to come by and take the bait. As such, it isn't an easy habit to break, and I don't expect it to be. 
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