Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reduced to Joy

I was sipping coffee on the way to work,
the back road under a canopy of maples
turning orange. In the dip of woods, a small
doe gently leaping. I pulled over, for there
was no where else to go. She paused as if
she knew I was watching. A few orange
leaves fell around her like blessings no
one can seem to find. I sipped some
coffee, completely at peace, knowing
it wouldn't last. But that's alright.

We never know when we will blossom
into what we’re supposed to be. It might
be early. It might be late. It might be after
thirty years of failing at a misguided way.
Or the very first time we dare to shed
our mental skin and touch the world.

They say, if real enough, some see God
at the moment of their death. But isn't
every fall and letting go a death? Isn't God
waiting right now in the chill between the
small doe's hoof and those fallen leaves?
— Mark Nepo
Maytag Park, Newton, Iowa

Everything is in transition, even when it may feel like we are stuck or lost. This is why it is so important to pay attention. To pause and appreciate the moments as they pass by. This is your life, right now, in this moment, not something that you are searching for. Pause. Appreciate. Live.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What Makes You The Person You Are Today?

For a jillion years, I've watched ol' Dave Letterman come up with his Top Ten lists. In the dorm, my friend Betsy and I would have a lite beer and eat saltines with peanut butter and watch Dave after an evening of studying and laundry. A friend encouraged me to think about creating a top ten list of my own. But what would it be? Favorite books and authors? Favorite music? Best ideas for a second date? My bucket list of travel places?

As I thought about the theme of my top ten list, I was cleaning up my house. A total stranger walking into my home would instantly know that I have teenagers by the stuff in the room. J-14 magazines, X-Box controllers, school-issued mac books lying around, backpacks and earbuds, wild tie-dyed socks... it used to be small and sturdy board books, crayons and paper, dolls and stuffed animals...

Into the teen years, my kids are working on figuring out who they are as individuals - all the while society, their friends, classmates, and popular culture are having an influence on who the adult version of themselves will be. And it got me thinking, what were the influences in my life that made me the adult I am today? Think beyond the "givens" of your parents, your school, teachers...we can all claim those. Dig a little deeper into stuff others may not think of when they see you.

In no particular order whatsoever... (Typical.)
  • Watergate. I was in the third grade, the time when kids begin to recognize the influences of government, their sense of fairness and how people in positions of authority treat others. I think it sparked an interest in government and politics that led me to study political science and history in college. Kinda proud that my kids had a "West Wing" marathon on Netflix this summer.
  • Monty Python (The boys still dig that I am nerdy in this way.)
  • My friends who lived in my town and went to my school. 
  • My friends who lived at least 100 miles away and we only met at church retreats and camps and through hours of long-distance phone calls and 20-page handwritten letters. Still my closest and dearest sister friends.
  • Public television, particularly Masterpiece Theater and Mystery - without which I might not have been interested in going on a Thomas Hardy jag and reading some of the most depressing novels ever written. They are amazing stories and slices of history. Classic novels, for me, are pretty extraordinary. 
  • Garrison Keillor's "Lake Woebegon" monologues that glorified my growing up in a Swedish-American family on the edge of the prairie.
  • My stepdad Phil who taught me how to be an excellent spectator of sports and how to understand football and basketball. It has paid off in spades with a lifelong personal interest as well as being able to share this with my teenage son. I'm the one who is bursting with pride to take my kids to games at my alma mater and it is a tradition that Phil would have dearly loved to see continue. I think of him every time John and I walk through the opening into Kinnick.
  • Opportunities to travel as a kid and to leave my community where I was raised in The Time Before the Internet. 
  • My church. Yeah, I know I mentioned this before, but being raised in a denomination that fostered thinking as well as faith, gave me the tools to walk my own spiritual path without judging others' paths, and to have a community that truly gave a damn about people beyond themselves was deeply influential for me. When I left my little rural town on my own without my parents for the first time, it was 1979. I went on a trip with a bunch of teenagers to the national convention of our denomination. Our denomination made big news by being the first mainline denomination to ordain an openly gay man. As a teenager, my friends and I didn't grasp The Big Deal of it all because most of us had been raised that this was not an abomination much less a sin. I am deeply grateful for being raised in a church and a wider church that preached God's extravagant love to all, without any strings attached. 
  • My college experience at the University of Iowa from 1982 to 1986 had a profound influence in my life. I suspect that is true for most people. It is typically our time to find our true selves and I know that I did. My friends at that stage of my life were about the best and most eccentric group of interesting and amazing people I could have never hand-picked. I am grateful for the oddity of Facebook that has reconnected me with many of them. 
  • A sense of being a Midwesterner. With our easy going attitudes, we are well known for our sincere concern for others. When I travel or meet people from other regions of the US or other countries, they remark on my "niceness." It even impacted one of my earliest jobs. "You are too nice to be in politics," I was once told by a DC campaign consultant. I took that as a genuine compliment. Interestingly, I worked for Republicans at that time.
As I think about these things that had a tremendous influence on shaping my life today, I wonder what my kids' lists will look like. What are the experiences and people and memories they are making right now that will influence who they are becoming? What about you? What is on your list of top influences in your life that have brought you to where you are today? Something you might enjoy thinking about.

Just a word for my dear lifelong buddy Matt - Bill Bryson is YOUR author. Go pick out something he's written - for you, I'd suggest "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" and I swear you will laugh out loud throughout the entire novel. My personal favorite is "Notes from a Small Island" about his first experiences in England. You will often find his work in the travel section. I honestly laugh until I am weeping. And who doesn't need more of that?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Excuse me, I have one nerve left and you are sitting on it!

Sharp and shooting, pinchy, seize-up and unexpected pain went shooting through my right sit bones this weekend and I finally put together the tender lower backache of the past couple of weeks combined with lots of car time, time sitting on bleachers, time sitting in conferences, complete blow-off of my fitness regimen created a painful siege on my sciatic nerve.

Armed with ibuprofen, a heating pad, ThermaCare wraps, advice from my acupuncturist, my massage therapist, and one of my best friends, I have faced the realization that once again, I have pushed myself beyond healthy limits.

Anyone else guilty of this?

Thought so.

Deep in the trenches of everyday life, it doesn't seem like a big deal to not have time in the day to get in the fitness center regularly. Until you find that you don't have energy or desire to even take a walk.

Often we don't see warning signs until we look in the rearview and realize that we could see an injury or illness coming but do nothing about it until we reach the point of pain or bedrest. And this applies to emotional injury, too. It's easy to get attached to the outcome we want to achieve only to set ourselves up for disappointment.

Pause for a moment right now. Take a little scan of your body and soul. Where are the places today that need a little extra care and attention? Honor these, as my yogini would say, and provide that TLC that you need. It's Thursday. You can see the weekend from here. Put a flower on your desk. Write a letter to a friend or your aunt in Florida. Take a walk at lunch. Little things, to be sure, but they can prevent bigger issues ahead.

Take care of you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Try to see it my way

Yesterday was a wonderful fall getaway day. Out of the house for nearly 12 hours, my 15 year old son and I headed to the University of Iowa for Homecoming. 77,000 people in and around the football stadium created a small city within a city, nearly ten times the population of the town where we live. There's no such thing as 'personal space' when you shuffle your way through the corridors of a football stadium, or practically sit on the lap of the person next to you. It's just how it is and if crowds are an issue and lack of personal space gives you the vapors, you know that you either suck it up or stay home. I'm ok with togetherness for a while. Not sure I could plunge into that crowd every single home game, but a couple of times a year, I am energized by our collective energy focused on one thing.

Looking at the crowd, nearly all decked in our school colors of black and gold, it strikes me that these people agree on one thing and they are passionately committed to following a particular football team. Something that unites us at a time when we as a nation seem to focus with laser-like clarity on our differences. And even beyond that, there were others in the stadium cheering for their team to defeat our beloved Hawkeyes. But everyone's heart swelled with the playing of our National Anthem. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

Perhaps a suggestion would be for us to shift our perspective a little to open our minds to understanding why another may hold views different from our own. What would it do if we were to attempt with an open mind to see why others disagree with us? Instead of trying to change another's opinion, what if we try to understand their point of view instead of judging them for it? We can still agree to disagree, but we might get closer to respecting differences instead of chastising.

I will be the first to admit that this is not an easy task. But I also know that shouting at each other will not change anyone's opinions, it only serves to entrench each side to their own viewpoint all the more strongly and we grind further and further apart. 

What else in your life would benefit from a change of perspective? What if you found something to appreciate about every person you encounter through the day? Yes, even those who may challenge your peace of mind. Especially them. You get back from the universe what you put out there. If respect is what you seek from others, then you must find a way to respect something about them. It could even be something as small as their choice of coffee or the bike they ride to work. It takes some doing, but what you receive in return is a whole lot less stress and who doesn't want that?

"If you want the best the world has to offer, offer the world your best." - Neale Donald Walsch