Archives for Mentoring
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.
As of this morning, I will have moved into my new casa. I am writing this blog post in advance deliberately, in hopes when I read it in a week (aka today), I will discover that all the bad stuff I've been worrying so persistently about will have not manifested....and all the good stuff I've been so sure won't manifest will have presented itself quite faithfully. You see, I have a real problem trusting the good stuff. Worrying, however, seems to come to me with ridiculous ease. If I knew why I am like this, I would of course stop it at once. Is it DNA? Bad example? Personal choice? Am I lazy? Did I take the "easy way" (in that worrying seems to be so much easier to do than not worrying?) When I google "what we worry about rarely comes true" I get all kinds of proof that this statement is, in fact, true. According to various pros in fields as diverse as Biblical studies, medicine and cognitive therapy (as well as many non-pros whom, I suspect, are mostly like me), 85 percent or so of what we worry about never happens. And since my mentor has drummed into me that the definition of insanity is, of course, persisting to do the same thing again and again while expecting more desirable results, it would seem just reasonable, if not also a huge time saver, to STOP WORRYING. And yet, it's almost like I don't know what else to do with my mental time.
Last month my boyfriend and I took a trip to West Texas. I was so excited by our itinerary! First of all, after being born and raised here, I had only just learned Texas has MOUNTAINS. I couldn't wait to see them. I also had my heart set on climbing one of them, and not just any mountain, either. I wanted to climb the highest mountain - Guadalupe Peak. According to the brochure, standing at 8,751 feet tall, Guadalupe Peak is the "highest point in Texas." The views are said to be spectacular. Of course I wouldn't be able to verify that, since approximately 10 minutes into our straight vertical trek up the mountainside, I developed a severe case of heat exhaustion/altitude sickness. Coughing turned to hacking, which turned to wheezing and then vomiting. Sweat was streaming down my face and body. My boyfriend called it and I hobbled after him back towards the air conditioned sanctuary of our rental car. To say I was mortified would be an understatement of Peak-level proportions (approximately 8,751 feet's worth, if you happen to be interested). I was sure my boyfriend was going to break up with me. Heck, I was contemplating breaking up with myself. I wanted to squeeze myself into a teensy invisible ball and activate my cloaking device until....well, no sense putting any time limitations on it.
Relationships with people have never been easy for me. I grew up watching my extroverted mother and extroverted younger brother making friends with ease. When I did make a friend, it was usually the other way around - that person (for some obscure reason I couldn't ever quite put my finger on) chose me. While I found relating to my pet parakeet, Perky, effortless and joyful, and I delighted in the company of my 5 slider turtles, I mostly lumped "birthday parties" and "dentist appointments" into the same category of "events to avoid at all costs." People mostly just mystified me. Often they would say one thing and then promptly do another. Sometimes they would say one thing when a particular person wasn't around, and then say just the opposite when that person finally appeared. It took me years to realize that many of the strange interactions I had with various classmates might have actually been attempts at bullying. Once, a girl in my class (a notorious puncher) walked right up to me and punched me in the stomach. I just stared at her.
Last week I went outside to take my box turtle, Bruce, for a walk. When he finally stopped for a rest, I plopped down on the warm pavement next to him. That was when I looked down and saw something extraordinary. Right beside me, a colony of red ants was busily engaged in some kind of mandatory work-related conga line, hurrying back and forth with an urgency I can only attribute to being both predator and prey. As I watched, one ant left the conga line and headed towards a small, still, upturned red ant body. He circled the body, then, in one swift movement, lifted the clearly dead ant up over his head. He wobbled. Walked a few steps. Wobbled some more. Dropped the ant. Picked it back up again. Walked a few more wobbly steps. At last he and his fallen ant comrade made it over to a crack in the concrete. A few small leafy plants had sprung up in the dirt there, providing a bit of ant-sized shade. The exhausted ant gently tucked his comrade's body underneath the shade of the leaves. He walked away. Then he walked back, examined the placement of the body, and reached out to adjust the position of the leaves so they were just so. He walked away again.
What can I say. I got my dad's back DNA. A former weight lifter and bodybuilder, my dad's back first started to go out when he was in his late 20's. Ever since (he is 76 now), Dad has continued to experience random bouts of excruciating back pain. And I am my father's daughter. Apparently. At 45 now, I can look back over approximately 20 years of surprise back spasms that have led to many unproductive and grumpy hours lying on the couch with ice packs and heating pads. It can be scary - having your back go out on you. For me, it has often felt very depressing too, because there is a lot in life I miss out on when I'm spending my days sequestered indoors (while pondering whether a cane or a walking stick is a more fashionable choice to pair with my retro wardrobe). But occasionally good stuff, like aha moments, come out of those healing times. When my back went out again about a month ago, it was the worst pain I'd ever felt to date. I was woken up in the middle of the night by two sharp lower back spasms, and suddenly I couldn't move my legs. Over the next few days, most of which time was spent self-administering a variety of painkillers and then napping them off, I did my best to stay productive by meditating a lot. In particular, I tried to focus my meditations on the intersection of the weak body and the strong spirit. My meditation teacher has often remarked that "when the body is weak the spirit becomes very strong." But I've never been able to experience that in past moments of injury or illness, on account of how painfully disruptive and thus distracting whatever the injury/illness of the day happened to be. This time, I was determined to at least try to detect if my spirit was stronger than normal. One day a few days into my healing process, I woke up with a spasming lower back yet again...and a startlingly bad attitude to match. So I started trying to focus my mind to meditate and pray. Praying to "have faith" felt insincere, since the only thing I was intending to pray for was a laundry list of the things I wanted, like spontaneous healing and an equally spontaneous source of my lost income. Oh, and no more back pain - ever. In other words, my "Year of Having Faith" all of a sudden started to look like a total waste of time. Already 5 months into my journey, it appeared I had learned nothing, nada, zip, about faith, myself, or me having faith. At that dejected, irritable, frustrated and impatient moment, suddenly the thought popped up....
Somehow, turning 45 (which happened just this past December) triggered what I can only call a "mid-life fear of death crisis." For anyone who is just joining us here now, it probably won't surprise you to learn I blogged quite a bit about this issue last year. While I have continued to ponder and reflect on my oddly cantankerous relationship with the reality of my own death, I haven't blogged about it for awhile now. I think this is because I haven't really come across anything new to re-open the topic for discussion. Until now. A few months ago, when my regular weekly issue of Time magazine arrived, there was a long section in it about "longevity." While most of it was focused on answering questions about how to prolong life, why the healthiest folks aren't always the longest-life winners, and what species of beings tend to live longest, sandwiched in between all that was a topic about how old people are less scared of dying. Because, apparently, they are. According to Time and a University of Colorado research professor named Thomas Pyszczynski (who I suspect would win the prize for "most consonants in a last name"), old people actually feel more satisfaction and less anxiety when contemplating their own death. They also take bad news better - as in the "sorry old sport but there's nothing more we can do" kind of news. Leeds, England psychology professor Steve Taylor says this is because old people stop trying to take ownership of everything in their lives.
Being a turtle mommy, for me at least, has been like winning free tickets to the "learning curve rollercoaster" - that really fast, scary one I never wanted to ride in the first place. If you've been following Malti's adventures on her blog, you probably remember that she recently went missing for 6 days. Those were pretty much the 6 longest days of our life together to date. In our personal network, no one seemed surprised that I would ditch work, socializing and pretty much everything else for 6 consecutive days to search for my baby turtle. (This, of course, is because our flock has the coolest network ever.) But outside our network, and sometimes outside (literally) as I was searching, I would get "those looks." Like, "Why are you on your belly on the ground looking under my car with a flashlight?" Well, um, "My baby turtle is lost and I'm searching for her." Oooohkaaaay. "Your baby - what?" "Turtle." "Well, uh, good luck with that...." Yup.
Recently, I attempted to track down an interesting quote about how the average person tends to repeat five times more negative than positive messages about himself or herself. The surprise was what I got when I hit "enter." I got lots of hits describing how positive self-talk can backfire on us. In fact, the more I read about this topic, the worse I felt. Apparently, if you suffer from low self-esteem and you try to raise it by repeating positive self-talk messages, you have a greater chance of making yourself feel worse than better. This totally makes sense to me, by the way. As someone who is slowly recovering from a lifetime of low self-esteem, I have put in my time and then some repeating those very same positive self-talk messages - usually with ever-worsening results. It would seem the key is to choose to repeat messages that actually feel believable or possible, which (understandably) can be quite a feat if you are feeling like total crap. But in this new era of studying the mind-body connection and finding that they are connected, well, all over the place, there is also an ongoing eagerness to learn to feel better in body AND in mind by making the mind a more positive place to live...or at least visit from time to time. And I can say this. As I have continued on my recovery journey, I have become much kinder towards myself, if through no other mechanism than sheer dogged determination to do so. In other words, after innumerable years of oh so many failed affirmations, one or two of them must have finally stuck. And once that happened, the others were easier to wedge into my brain alongside the surviving trailblazers. But I wouldn't be able to describe to you exactly how I did it, save for this little juicy tidbit I actually picked up from a book called "Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires" by Esther and Jerry Hicks. This is one of many books that often seem like variations on the theme of the popular "law of attraction" theories. And don't get me wrong here. While to this day I have zero problem with developing an ability to bring more of what I want and less of what I don't want into my life, I must also acknowledge that sometimes it is precisely the stuff I really don't want that has turned out to be the same stuff I really do need in order to learn how to get more of what I want and less of what I don't. If that makes any type of obscure sense at all. So even though I know the "Law of Attraction" has been a big blessing for some folks, it has never really worked well for me in a sense, because it actually tries to get me from A to Z (or at least A to B) a lot faster than is healthy or even possible for me. In other words, I actually seem to need a road map with more dead ends and roadblocks and wrong directions so I can learn the stuff I need to learn before I can learn the stuff I want to learn. (I will totally understand if that didn't make a single bit of sense at all!) But what I learned while reading "Ask and It is Given" is also the reason I now know that repeating strong positive self-talk statements doesn't work when I am in a particularly negative self-talk state. It doesn't work because I don't believe any of it - not for a minute. So instead of soaking in the good vibes of all that rosy-positive self-talk, I am typically busy giving myself a stern lecture about spending yet another day blowing smoke up my own a**. What DOES work, however, is this: I reach for a thought that feels just a little bit better than whatever awful thought my mind has been thinking ad nauseam about myself. So if I'm thinking, "I am the worst, most-selfish and worthless person on the planet," I don't try to immediately replace that thought with, "I am the kindest and most-wonderful person on the planet." As if. I wasn't born yesterday. Instead, I might replace it with a thought that feels just a little bit better - i.e. just a little bit more accurate, such as this thought, "Well, okay, I'm probably not the worst person on the whole planet. I mean, at least I'm not an axe murderer." That thought feels better. It also feels accurate - i.e., still true." So my mind doesn't waste any real energy or time trying to contradict it. In an odd and absolutely counter-intuitive way, suddenly I'm not feeling quite so bad about being me. Once that thought settles in, I can then reach for the next "not quite so bad feeling thought." So maybe that might be, "In fact, yesterday I got out of bed to feed my animals even though I didn't want to. So that was unselfish - kind of nice, actually." Here again, the statement is true. My mind can't argue the point since I did in fact get up, get out of the bed, clean out their habitats, and give them fresh food and water. That thought also feels just a little bit better than, "well at least I'm not an axe murderer."
For those of you who have been following my progress for this year's intention, "The Year of Having Faith," you are no doubt aware there have been many starts and stops, aha moments and setbacks thus far. Recently, nearly halfway through this faith-focused year, I came across a definition for faith that I actually resonate with. In a sea of definitions that read like textbook-based memorization lessons (i.e., "having complete confidence in someone or something" and "strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion") it was a real relief to stumble across a definition that felt - human. Authentic. Compassionate. Inclusive of both questions and answers. This definition, discovered in an older yoga lesson I recently re-read, stated: Faith is believing the unseen is as real as the seen.