Archives for Book Mentors
I find myself pondering Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr.'s "four agreements" quite a lot lately. When I'm not talking about them (which is most of the time, since I work from home and my parrot, Pearl, has a pretty short attention span), I'm thinking about them. Sometimes I also read about them in the book by the same name, at least on the days when I'm not so tired at night I just fall into bed as-is. Oh, and I follow Ruiz on Instagram, which gives me a ready daily supply of reminders just in case. All this talking and thinking and reading and following is really helping me steer a steadier course when it comes to my relationships with others. For instance, "be impeccable with your word." This agreement reminds me that all I can do, and control, is my side of the street (as my mentor Lynn would say). I can't make other people be impeccable with their word, but I can be impeccable with mine and do what I say I'm going to do (and not say it if I am not planning to do it). And "always do your best." This one is an especial favorite because in the book, Ruiz goes on to state that your best might be better on one day than another. If asked, I can provide plenty of proof that he is correct about this.
I will never EVER forget my first day of kindergarten. Unfortunately, there are no words I can find to adequately describe the mind-numbing shock of opening that classroom door and being confronted with no less than 45 other small, loud, fast-moving bodies who were already inside. There were one or two taller bodies too - I later learned these were called "teachers." But it was the short bodies that most concerned me. First of all, there were simply far too many of them. Second of all, they were all too close to me. Third of all, I had just learned I was going to be expected to spend the majority of my days crammed in there with them for a lifetime (or at least for the next 9 months). That first morning, the teachers sat us down on the floor in rows. Being tall for my age, I was seated at the very end of a row nearest to our lockers. We got our locker assignments and I remember how I spent quite a bit of time that first morning analyzing how best to cram my entire body inside and still be able to close the door. Finally I had to settle for cramming my backpack and my favorite sidekick at that time, a small beanbag lobster, inside. I figured at least they would be safe if I didn't make it. All this to say, when people speak about "going back to kindergarten" to learn a new skill, recover from a harmful habit, or find a way to connect to spirit or God or the divine or whatever they like to call it, I often cannot relate at all. This is because I learned nothing in kindergarten except how much slower the hands on the clock moved in the morning when we were in class than in the evening when we were not in class. In my last blog post, I shared about a new book I'm reading called "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage" by Amy Sutherland. It is a very good book....or at least it was until I got to the chapter called "Baby Steps." In this chapter, Sutherland talks about how animal trainers often send their charges "back to kindergarten" when they forget or simply mis-remember a behavior.
I love to go thrifting. But unlike certain famous television folks with the same hobby, I'm not out to find a real Monet on sale for $12 (mostly because I probably wouldn't recognize it) or a genuine dinosaur tooth from the Jurassic era...although that would be pretty cool. Nope. Mostly I'm on the lookout for a pair of last-decade's jeans that might actually fit my this-year's booty, or perhaps a 50-cent book I am eager to read that inexplicably isn't available through our local library system. Last month I made just such a find when I wandered through a thrift store in my new neighborhood and a tiny black-and-white graphic of a whale caught my eye. "What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage," the title read. I gathered from the graphic that the Shamu in question was none other than the famous killer whale (actually several performing killer whales who have been given that same name over the decades). Since I make it a habit to learn as much as I can about life, love and at least partnership (legal or otherwise), and I've never had a killer whale as a mentor before, I decided I had to have it. I coughed up the 50 cents and sped home to begin learning.
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.
I follow Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., on Instagram. I say that because recently he re-posted the opening lines of from a chapter in his book called "The Mastery of Love" on his Instagram. Now, I have read this book many times.....oh so many times. I credit "The Mastery of Love" with the many oopses I have avoided making in my own relationships. It is truly a miracle worker in print. This particular chapter, titled "Seeing with Eyes of Love," read: If you look at your body, you will find billions of living beings who depend on you. Every cell in your body is a living being that depends on you. You are responsible for all of those beings. For all of those living beings that are your cells, you are God. You can provide what they need; you can love all those living beings, or you can be so mean to them. I read it. Then I read it again. Then I read it again. Something in me was reading in a new way, at a new level, at a depth where suddenly I GOT IT. I can almost say I felt each one of those billions of cells, those living beings relying on me with such trust and devotion, hoping each day that this will be a day when I am loving and not mean. These cells, with their humility, their willingness to follow, somehow are also serving as my mentors, ever so hopeful that I will learn to see with the eyes of love today, if not yesterday, or if not today, perhaps tomorrow. Their hope was - is - so palpable.
I am happy to share this guest post by Andrea Wachter, LMFT, who is the co-author of the new tween/teen book "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. I wish this book had been available when I was 11 and starting to crumble inside from the pressure to get thinner. For that matter, it could have been helpful to me during any year of my struggles! Andrea has been kind enough to share some insights from her research exploring the origins of body dislike and body dissatisfaction, thin versus fat, the media's influence, cultural programming and what is taking place today to restore us to body peace. I hope you enjoy her guest post! A Cultural Look at Body Bashing By Andrea Wachter, LMFT* I think it’s pretty accurate to say that most people in our culture are dissatisfied with their body. Many people even despise their body (or certain parts). And this epidemic has no age limit. In my psychotherapy practice I have worked with clients as young as six-years old who are already obsessed with calories, carbs and fat. I have treated people in their 70’s who have no memories of eating bread or dessert without guilt. And I have seen people of nearly every age in between who battle their body on some level. It’s like being a member of a club to trash and bash your body in our image-obsessed culture. Many people bond over what I call “Fat Chat” and many people spend enormous amounts of time trying to change their bodies. Thanks to the media and the diet industry, we have all been set up to dislike our bodies. We are surrounded by unnatural images and unkind messages about how we should look, eat, exercise, think and feel. We are basically taught that if we alter our bodies and achieve the image we have been sold, we will be happy, loved and special. But how did we get here? How did we get to where being thin is often valued more than being healthy? How did we get to a place where young children are counting calories and feeling fat? Why do we have senior citizens who have spent decades and sometimes their entire lives avoiding and fearing fats and carbs? Why are people of all ages devoting more of their precious lives to the pursuit of thinness than to all the other meaningful things they could be doing? Well, I’m glad you asked!
So I have finally come to the end of Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear." Or (though it typically irks me when others say this) maybe I've come to the beginning. When I am drawn to a new mentoring influence, I've noticed that one of the siren songs I absolutely cannot resist is the mentor's ability to marry the mundane (the itsy bitsy small stuff) with the profound (the unknowable, unfathomable, beyond all efforts of the mind to reach it). Gilbert does this stunningly well in "Big Magic." In each story I find bits of both combined in ways that make me feel like we all belong here together, doing what we do, being who we are, struggling with what we struggle with and excelling at what we excel at. It is a lovely gift - especially so soon into the New Year. Right near the end of the book, there is a chapter called "Hungry Ghosts." In this chapter, Gilbert addresses the realization that we are more than "just" any one aspect. For example, we are - or we have - an ego, and we have - or we are - also a soul. The Hungry Ghost is our ego, which the Buddhists say is, "forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed." The howling comes in when the ego gets coddled, perhaps over-fed with the food it likes best, which is success, praise, recognition, reward. We all have it - this ego presence - that bottomless pit that is so deep and vast and empty that no amount of food can fill it. But we also have a soul.
I am nearly finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear." While reading "Big Magic," I have learned all of the following: It is normal (like, on a biological as well as an emotional and social level) to feel fear before, during and after creating. It is more important to see an idea through than to see it through perfectly. Curiosity trumps passion....every time. We are all creative - whether we think we are (or others think we are) or not. But by far the most intriguing thing I have learned is this - ideas are alive. From the chapter called "How Ideas Work:" I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us - albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. WOW. So if I don't opt in, these poor idea-beings will spend their whole disembodied lives attempting to change my mind?
"Hope" is not one of those words I've ever particularly resonated with. This is probably because hope has always felt rather passive - like wishful thinking rather than wishful doing (which I much prefer). Reframed in the context of "faith" (another process that remains very much a mystery), hope makes a bit more sense, since faith implies that at least someone or something else (assuming the entity or concept one has faith in) is taking action towards what is being hoped for. But recently I read a brand new take on hope in Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong." She writes: Hope is not an emotion: It's a cognitive process - a thought process made up of what researcher C.R. Snyder called the trilogy of "Goals, pathways, and agency." Hope happens when we can set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act. Snyder also points out (as conveyed through Brown) that "hope is learned." At this point it occurred to me that I probably haven't learned it. But I do really like this new way of approaching hope - as an active process, not passive wishing or waiting. Brown goes on to mention that the development of hope is a by-product of struggling in life. Adversity, failure - this is the stuff hope is born from. Oddly, I have had plenty of both of these, and yet I didn't learn hope from them.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with reading Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong." ...or at least those experiences that related to reading the first 30 pages or so. I have now read another 40 pages and have again had to hit "pause" to process. Speaking of processing....did you know our brain gives us a hit of dopamine (a neurotransmitter and pretty much the best drug ever created) every time we successfully complete a puzzle? The puzzle could be a Sudoku page, a crossword puzzle, a game of Hangman...or even a story we tell ourselves. It could be an "Aha moment" - when all the pieces fit or the dots connect and what didn't make any sense at all is now suddenly, wonderfully clear..... And did you know that, in these moments and flooded as they are with feel-good dopamine, our brains don't care if we solved the puzzle/rescued the stick figure/interpreted the signs correctly. They just care that another puzzle is complete so they can get their drug-of-choice reward. What this means, according to Brown, is that we can and probably do tell ourselves incorrect stories and have inaccurate "Aha moments" all the time. Brown refers to a neurologist named Robert Burton as the source of this newfound knowledge, sharing this from his work in "Rising Strong:" Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don't need to be accurate, just certain.