The Obstacles You Face are Moving Your Story Forward

I’ve been taking Patti Digh’s Project 137 for the last few months. Project 137 has activities each day to help live your life to the fullest.  This is what came up the other day:

Where are you, right now, in your journey? Be fully there.

                     Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s.

                     Be fully where you are. The obstacles you face there are moving your story    

                     forward. Embrace them.

This was really enlightening.  I have written about staying off someone else’s path before but actually viewing obstacles as moving myself forward was completely new to me.  It’s so easy to get discouraged by an obstacle and letting it demoralize you. Put your hands up in the air and throw in the towel.

karina-carvalho-94650

Here are some thoughts about having obstacles move you forward:

Reframe the obstacle.  I received some life altering bad news yesterday.  I was angry.  I felt deceived.  I felt like I just could not catch a break.  And then, as I do with many of my coachees, I reframed it.  This news was not a death sentence.  It wasn’t even a health issue.  It was just about money.  I realized by the time I went to bed that it was just money.  I didn’t lose a loved one, my health was fine and my career in tack.  So it’s just a challenge I need to get past and I will be stronger for it.  Put the obstacle under a new frame.

Take stock. I write in a gratitude journal every day.  This is incredible helpful when life throws you a few challenges.  I had a serious scare earlier this week with a loved one.  I took stock in the fact that the loved one was just fine and how happy I was that they were fine.  I’m happy my dog is safe when I return home from being on a business trip.  I appreciate that a friend took time to speak to the class I was facilitating.  I am grateful that my career is so successful.  I write five things (sometimes more) that I am grateful for every day.  It helps me realign the universe to having my best interest at heart.  Take stock.

Take the turn.  Have you ever used the GPS to get through something like the Hampton Roads area of Virginia?  I cannot make it through the Norfolk/Newport News area without taking the wrong exit or being in the wrong lane as my destination is three lanes over. So I have a choice.  I can get angry and beat myself up or I can take the next turn and get back on track.  Just because it didn’t go as planned, just adapt.  Be flexible and don’t let your inner critic hijack your emotions.  Just relax and take the next turn.

Stay positive.  As Patti writes in Project 137, “Don’t let your struggle become your identity.”  When I went through a huge life pivot point some 6 months back, I defined my entire life by the pivot point.  All my worthiness was wrapped up in a decision that someone else made.  I was not moving forward.  In fact, I was trying my hardest to move backwards.  I was living in the space of constant struggle.  It took a few months but I finally figured out that forward positive motion was the only answer. I couldn’t live in self despair.  I had to see what was possible instead of wallowing in grief.  Staying positive lets you see what is possible.

Understand your story.  Brene Brown writes in Rising Strong, “In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. In fact, the need to make up a story, especially when we are hurt, is part of our most primitive survival wiring. Mean making is in our biology, and our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense, feels familiar, and offers us insight into how best to self-protect.” Knowing that you are filling in the blanks for data that is missing is important to recognize.  It’s amazing how paranoid I can get when I am missing a few data points. When I acknowledge that I am “fabricating data” for the story in my head, it brings me back to reality and helps me redraft the story with more positive data.  You are the author of the story in your head, and you are allowed, actually encouraged, to rewrite the story for the happy ending.

In an era of constant change and ambiguity, it can be overwhelming when a challenge arises.  It’s important for all of us to remember, including myself, that it’s our response to the obstacle that is what is most important rather than the challenge itself.  What obstacles are you facing?

Setting Boundaries to Build Trust

This seems counter-intuitive.  Why would having firm boundaries increase trust?  This is a concept I learned about from Brene Brown in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness. I imagined that if you have firm boundaries that you have created an impenetrable fortress around you.  You don’t let anybody in, and in turn, certainly don’t let anybody out.  Keep everyone at arm’s length.

crystal-huff-425443

By Brene’s definition, it means making it clear what’s OK and not OK.  But this is really hard for those of us who just want to please everyone.  Go along to get along.  I’ve been in this camp for many years whether it was giving into crazy rules and regulations of a relationship (i.e. no music while driving, no lemon, only foreign films, etc.) or making excuses why someone is late or not being respectful.  Regardless, I haven’t been very good at setting up boundaries.  So, this is something new for me and about 80 percent of my coachees.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take responsibility. There is only one person who can set up your boundaries and that is you.  Your Fairy Godmother is not going to come down from on high or Prince Charming on his stead to set up your boundaries for you.  Don’t play the blame game for someone else walking all over you.  There is only one person who needs to take responsibility, and that is you.  I know this is hard to swallow because it is so much easier to complain about how someone treated you instead of owning it.  Take responsibility for your boundaries.

 

  • Know your boundaries. Take some time to articulate your boundaries.  Write them down.  I don’t stay out after midnight.  Never travel for business on a Sunday.  Always request a booth at a restaurant.  Only 25% of my business is pro bono.  I agree to deadlines that are attainable.  No phone calls after 7 PM.  No technology at the dinner table. No more than three text or emails without a response.  No committing to more than two events per week.  I don’t leave my dog with a dog sitter for more than two days.  Whatever they are, write them down.  Know them.  If you haven’t written them down then they might get blurry.   Establish your boundaries.

 

  • Just say no. Brene writes about choosing to be uncomfortable for eight seconds when you turn something down rather than the resentment that will eat at you if you say yes. When you can’t live with the uncomfortable eight seconds to say no, then you will end up living with resentment that will eat you up.  I have done this many times.  I’ve said yes to serving on boards I had no time or desire to be on. I don’t want to look like I am selfish. I’ve said yes to obligations that did not line up with my passions.  The regret that comes with these decisions is a much heavier load than the eight seconds of being uncomfortable.  Embrace the discomfort and say no.

 

  • Let go of the guilt. Guilt is an inside job.    Maybe my mother is carrying a load of guilt on my behalf but besides that, all the guilt I might carry is completely created by me.  I carry guilt for other folks.  My daughter made the decision to attend a once in a lifetime event instead of a family event.  I started picking up the guilt and carrying it with me.  It was not my guilt to carry.  She had set a boundary and I needed to respect that.  Sometimes the guilt is attributed to someone else’s boundary.  Respect that and let go.  Don’t drag yours or anyone else’s guilt behind you.  It is weighing you down.

 

  • Hold the line. Brene calls this accountability.  Don’t back down once you have set your boundaries.  I’ve been meditating for 30 minutes for the last 5 months.  It is nonnegotiable.  If I have a 6 AM flight, I’ll get up at 4 AM to make sure I get my meditation in. Make sure your boundaries are nonnegotiable.  At this point this boundary of my life is a habit like brushing my teeth.  If you hold the line long enough, it becomes second nature.

 

Establishing boundaries builds trust.  In many ways, it is trust in yourself in that you know what is best for you.  Isn’t that what it’s all about.  Knowing what is best for you?  What boundaries do you need to establish?

Learnings from the Escape Room

I was not familiar with an escape room experience but having just survived one, I figured I’d enlighten my readers so that you can be forearmed in case someone convinces you to take part. When someone on my employee activities committee suggested we go to an escape room, I was hesitant. It didn’t sound very appealing. Why be locked up in a room with some co-workers to try and solve puzzles for an hour while hoping to outsmart the puzzles? Perhaps I overthought it. It turns out it was fun. And in the process, some hidden talents of my co-workers were uncovered.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of an escape room: “An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons and space stations, and usually the various puzzles and riddles themselves follow the theme of the room. Escape rooms are great activities for families, friends, students, and even businesses because they rely on team building exercises.”

22780677_358230514624403_3403396061402698180_n

Apparently, these escape rooms are cropping up all over the country. I mean, if they have one in lil’ ole Goldsboro, North Carolina, they must have them everywhere. So, before you turn up your nose at the experience, let me share some of my learning.

  • Think outside the box. When the six of us were given the instructions before entering our room, “The Heist” escape room, our guide told us to think outside the box when we were trying to puzzle our way out. This was really important advice. While pursuing our escape, we had a bunch of pieces to what seemed to be a picture frame. My immediate impulse was to make a rectangle (er…a box). It turns out that if we followed some color-coding, we actually extrapolated some numbers instead of the form of a box. I had a really hard time not just making a rectangle in my head, instead of seeing the numbers. This prompted a reconsideration on my part. Are we all just assuming that what we see is accurate or that following the status quo is the only correct path? It might stretch you and be uncomfortable, but think outside the box.

 

  • Pay attention to details.  We were in a room full of art pieces and paintings. We were instructed to count up all the rowboats as part of our escape solutions. I remember one or two of my coworkers kept wanting to count every boat, which included sailboats and canoes. The important detail was that there were only a few actual rowboats with oars. We could not move ahead in the puzzle until we counted the rowboats instead of every boat (and no, we could not use our cell phones). It’s important to know the difference, and if you don’t, then maybe you need to figure out someone in the group who does. There were several times when we burned minutes by ignoring the details and not really looking for the answer. Make sure you look at the details.

 

  • Take risks. One of my co-workers is a huge risk taker. She has always taken matters into her own hands and tested things out. I mention this only because it was a huge advantage for us as a team in our escape from our escape room. There were two puzzles that I can think of that she single-handedly figured out. She didn’t ask for affirmation from us for solving the puzzle. She just charged ahead. Here’s a perfect example: at one point we had a blow dryer and, well, wow. I saw no reason for a blow dryer; and honestly, I didn’t see the light going on for anyone else. I figured it was a joke of some sort. The blow dryer solution ended up catapulting us forward because she took a risk with the interpretation. This taught me to remain open to the reality that those around us are looking for solutions and finding them; I need to remain open and risk. Are you taking any risks, remaining open to interpretations, or playing it safe?

 

  • Sometimes you don’t need everything. If someone gives you a puzzle challenge and you are given ten puzzle pieces, you would want to use them all, right? There were several times during the hour-long escape that we didn’t need all of the objects placed in front of us. Sometimes just eight pieces, or six, or even two would work. Just because you are given something, doesn’t mean you will even use it. Getting wrapped up in using everything in front of you can bog down the process. Remind yourself of this.

 

  • Take the clues as you go. We had the option of getting three clues during the hour-long game. I had it in my head that we should get one every 15 minutes or so, and it ended up being one of the best ideas. So, we would try to figure out a few puzzles and locks and then request a clue. We would go for fifteen more minutes and then request another clue. The puzzles sort of build on each other, so if you had all the clues at the start, it wouldn’t be as helpful. By taking them over time, they were of the most benefit. So, don’t wait for the last minute for help and don’t ask for all the help up front. Assess and use it over time.

 

We did not escape in the time allotted. Our guide told us we were about 75% complete. That’s really good since it was the first escape room experience for all six of us. I think the biggest takeaway is that I now know my team’s strongest attributes. I got to witness a process that they each go through. So, whether a risk taker, willing to get down on the ground or someone patiently trying a padlock for 10 minutes; we could never have done it alone. Together we had terrific progress and learned wonderful things about each other.

Straining to Be

You’re ten minutes late for the conference and you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You merge left, then right, and end up five cars farther behind. You check the mail for the important document from the bank and it’s still not there. You sigh in disgust. You’re hoping your co-worker is finally going to step up on the project, but he left all the details from your input out the project. Left out again. You are straining to just be.

22561000_10155719025443688_1255532297_o

The photo above is the inspiration for this post. I saw it in the town of Wilmington, North Carolina a few months back. I identified with that dog. Straining forward. Putting all the effort in moving with very little reward. I think of a negotiation I’ve been in the middle of recently, and equate it with, “You can’t push a rope.” In fact, all that straining to push forward is exhausting. An energy drain. I can feel the potential in that dog, but feel its futility as well.

 

How can we let go of straining to be?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Decide not to decide. My dear friend Janine told me this several months back. She gave me some examples of how not deciding had changed the course of events in her life. This is difficult for someone as tenacious and impatient as myself. I want to push things and be done with them. There is a difference between “not deciding” versus “indecision.” One is inactive and the other is active. Indecision creates stress and a constant waffling between options. “Not deciding” is being OK with what is now and not trying to change the course of events. Not deciding is where your power is.

 

  • Quit lugging the weight. Dragging things down the road is nothing, but expending energy when it’s not necessary. When I walk my dog Baci, she will try to pull and tug and strain when she sees the top of the driveway, closing in on home at end of our walk. She tries to lug me with all her might to get into the house. It makes no difference in our progress, as we head towards the sacred water bowl. It frustrates the both of us, and can damage our relationship. I find that my coachees, who have Responsibility as one of their strengths, can feel responsible for everyone on their team’s work (re: weight). They metaphorically end up carrying the weight of the team. When you strain against others, it can hurt your relationship.

 

  • Second can be just as good. They say that the athlete who is most disappointed is the one who wins the silver. Seems crazy. The woman who won bronze is just happy to make the podium and the guy who won gold is beaming with pride at the top. The silver medalist is so full of regret that they didn’t make gold. But they are on the podium! I used to have a Labrador and a Siberian Husky. The husky always wanted to lead. She would never be happy in second place. The lab didn’t care. He knew that he was going for a walk and would just happy to be there. Be accepting of second place. At least you are on the podium or the walk.

 

  • Are we there yet? Straining forward focuses on the future. You remember when you were eight years old and headed out on a ten-hour drive to a vacation spot. You were focused on getting to the vacation spot, never the present moment. You never thought you would arrive and so, you miss out on the joke your brother just told or the elusive “Hawaii” license plate trying to attain all fifty states. Be present right now. And now. And now. You have arrived at right now.

 

  • Be grateful.  Acknowledge what you have accomplished. I did this yesterday with my coach, Tammi Wheeler. When you reflect back from where you have come, it is really gratifying. Having a coach is a great way to reflect on your accomplishments and to be grateful. Keeping track of what has gone right and having a positive mindset creates possibilities. Take stock in what you are grateful for.

 

All this can be difficult because of our negativity bias. We are hardwired to look for what is wrong. It’s a slow meticulous process but letting go of the straining forward and learning to just be is freeing. How do you let go of straining to be?

How to Have Wonder

I was on a plane to Miami a few weeks ago. It was my fifth flight inside of a week. I’m a jaded traveler. I don’t pay attention to the safety announcements, I always bring a bottle of water and go to the ladies room as soon as they start boarding. This kills time for the inevitable “those who need extra time to board the plane.” I am always habitual and with this trip I was hoping for no snags in my connections or weather in Atlanta. I almost always sit by the window but rarely look out. Until I saw this little boy looking out the window some three rows in front of me. He had wonder in his eyes. It caught my attention with a wisp of admiration. I want that. His mouth was open in awe. He couldn’t believe the magic of the clouds befor him. He had wonder oozing from him.

22537912_10155719025298688_1200888522_n

I took his picture knowing that I wanted to write about it. And to look for ways to get wonder back in my life. It’s happenstance that the leaves in Eastern North Carolina are just starting to turn as we enter autumn. I was going to Miami to visit my son and to see him compete in a weightlifting competition. For most of the two-day trip, I had nothing to do. All I could do was sit, walk or look for wonder. The awe-inspiring moments of life are way top easily overlooked. So, I went about looking for them as a direct consequence of the boy on the plane.

Here is how to have wonder in your life:

 

  • Patience.  This has never been my strong suit and omnipresent technology distractions don’t help in the least. When we are constantly striving to move forward and pay attention to more than what’s in front of us, we miss the little things. I took note of this when I saw a family waiting for mom at the airport, with signs that read: “We ran out of diapers three days ago.” I forced myself to overcome the urge to text my son to say, “I’ll just take a taxi,” because I’m too impatient to wait. To force myself to be okay with the cable being out and not calling the company multiple times –  it won’t change a thing. And to wait for the orchid to bloom, instead of buying flowers at the store. Restraint exposes wonder.

 

  • Be open. I ended up spending the majority of Sunday at the coffee shop (White Rose Coffee) where my son works. He had the second season of Better Call Saul on the big screen television. I had no desire to start mid-season on a new television show. My son Benson pointed out that he had started watching Breaking Bad mid-season when I was home after surgery. So there I sat, watching some five episodes and watching with wonder as my son served guests. I even ate some vegan pirogi so I wouldn’t have to leave for lunch. If he missed a section, I would catch him up. Be open to the experience.

 

  • Venue. It never hurts to change your venue. Even if it’s a new coffee shop instead of your usual place. Walk your neighborhood in a different direction. Park in a different spot at work. I wrote about a side trip to Assateague Island when I was headed to a wedding in Delaware. Take time to go to a museum, garden or restaurant when you are in a new town, even if you’re on business. I have a friend who had been to Chicago several times on business and made it a point to consistently go a day early to see the sites of Chicago. What’s the point of traveling if you never stop and see the sights? Seek out new venues and sit back with wonder.

 

  • Child’s Lens. When I saw that little boy with his mouth agape as he looked out the window of the plane, I looked out the window with my mouth agape. I suddenly appreciated the fluffy white clouds below me. When I walked this morning, I saw a break in the clouds where the sun shined down as if being summoned by angels. Look at something like you are five-years-old and suddenly, this becomes your first plane ride, car ride, ferry ride, escalator ride, taxi ride, train ride, truck ride, roller coaster ride–any kind of ride. Put on your five-year-old glasses and wonder.

 

  • Focus. I am sitting here writing as I watch my dog stalk a squirrel outside. I’m trying to figure out what the squirrel is eating as my dog, Baci, is laser-focused on that squirrel. I realize now that Baci is in wonder (probably wondering how tasty that squirrel might be if she ever caught one…she never has). It wouldn’t matter if I put a steak on the floor or offered her a treat, she is mesmerized by that squirrel. I can remember seeing a Matisse at the National Gallery in D.C. If you stood really close, you could see the brush strokes, and you end up not focusing on the forest as a whole, but rather seeing the details in the trees. Wonder starts with focusing and being mesmerized by the detail.

 

Wonder is really just another word for curiosity. Curiosity is the cure for fear. It helps us open ourselves to a new experience, or reliving an old experience in a new way. What are you in wonder of?

Embracing Kindness

I’ve been traveling a bunch in the last two weeks and it’s come to my attention that there is a whole lot of kindness out there. I wonder if part of it is due to the various natural disasters as of late. There is nothing like being without power or being displaced from home to humble us and move the heart. I was displaced for seven months after Hurricane Matthew hit (over a year ago) and it was awe inspiring to have countless people come to my aid with both financial and emotional support. It gave and continues to give me great hope.

lina-trochez-377674

Kindness is actually good for both the giver and receiver. Isn’t that awesome? We are hard wired to be kind and it actually helps us feel good. It’s so easy to fall into the negativity bias that looks for constant danger. Try looking for kindness and your day will get that much better.

Here is why you should embrace kindness:

Health. As Bruce Cryer wrote for Project Happiness, “Sincere kindness from the heart triggers a cascade of vitality and health-inducing biochemicals in our body, at least 1400, which re-energizes both giver and receiver. Now research has shown that at least 600 genes are designed to protect our health and longevity are actually triggered to express when we are feeling kind and compassionate.” So, take two tablets of kindness and feel healthy. You are biochemically built for it.

Connected. Kindness connects us. I was in Scottsdale last week on business. I knew that breakfast at the hotel didn’t open until 6:30 AM, but I arrived 10 minutes early hoping I could grab a quick bite before heading to the airport. The server let me in early. I was so appreciative. She didn’t have to but it connected us. I felt like she was on the same wavelength: “Let’s make sure Cathy eats AND arrives at the airport on time.” For this act of kindness, she was on Team Cathy.

Younger. Yep. It makes you younger than your stressed out counterparts. Worry and stress, no surprise, ages you. Embracing kindness slows down the process. As Cryer writes, “Those worry lines that can become deep grooves on someone’s’ forehead or around the eyes don’t have to be there! It’s in our power to change it. The stressful emotions we all experience separate us from the kindness and love of others. They create walls of a prison we are now the inhabitant of. No one wins.” Leave the Botox behind and elect kindness instead.

Armor. I assume you have heard the term, kill them with kindness. Having a long service background, which included cocktail waitressing at the San Francisco Airport and running the cash register at the Sizzler franchise I owned, I ran into my share of grumpy folks. I remember thinking that my smile and compassion could win anyone over. It didn’t work every time, but it worked on most. Armoring up with kindness was almost like throwing down the gauntlet. Let me see if I can turn this grumpy guy around. And when it works and they leave feeling better than they came in? Priceless.

Home. Kindness starts at home. I remember a guy who was friendly with everyone he met and knew, but was an absolute jerk with his own kids. Don’t be that guy. Kiss your spouse on the cheek, hug your child and give a few extra scratches to Fido. Home should be the center of kindness and compassion. Just because it’s out of view doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It matters that you are always welcome and loved by your family. That starts and ends with you.

Work. You know who is approachable and who is not. Who is kind and who is not. Who would you rather work with? So be that person. The one who listens. The one who doesn’t judge. The one who doesn’t keep score. I know who my go-to people are at work. Make sure you are some one’s go-to person. The kind person that your coworker actually feels better after experiencing “you”. Be the kind person at work.

So, think about it as you go about your day. Find the kindness that is out in the world and pay it forward to someone else. Where is there kindness in your world?

Returning to Assateague Island

I had the great fortune to attend a lovely wedding in Dewey Beach, Delaware recently. It was a long 7-hour drive from my home in North Carolina, so I decided to stop off in Chincoteague, Virginia for a night’s stay. Assateague and Chincoteague are very foggy memories for me. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and we took many trips when I was a child along the eastern seaboard. I faintly remembering the trip to Assateague and wanting to see the fabled ponies but it was a lingering memory of disappointment. I don’t remember seeing the ponies. So, this was a trip to recapture something I simply could not remember. It did not disappoint.

22154516_10155678526503688_6150938079784357948_n

I made a reservation on the highest rated boat excursion on Trip Advisor called Daisey’s Island Cruises. When I called, the guy recommended a 9 AM ride, so I made the reservation. I was relieved to not be going on the trip the afternoon I arrived because I was road weary and wanted a good night’s sleep.

These were the highlights of the trip:

Small boat.  Daisey apparently operates several large and small boats but we were on a pontoon boat that sat about ten people. There were seven of us including Captain Nate on the boat. I had expected a larger boat and a slew of people much like a boat ride around Manhattan with a prerecorded tape pointing out the sights. This was much more intimate and there was no preset destination. Kind of like a road trip on a boat with no particular agenda; an open book for discovery. If you can choose, get on the smaller boat as it will be more of an adventure.

 

Dolphins. Captain Nate was on his radio as soon as we left the marina. He said he had a surprise for us as soon as we left the port. Sure enough there ten to twenty dolphins swimming in the channel right outside the marina. It was amazing. We must have sat out there for some thirty minutes as a whole pod of dolphins wrestled in the water. I felt like Jacque Cousteau observing these friendly creatures. Just seeing the dolphins was enough for me but there was so much more.

 

NASA.  We passed Wallops Island and saw all the launch pads for unmanned missions to resupply Spacelab and a host of other missions. There have been over 1,500 launches since the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport was developed back in 1947. So you don’t need to travel all the way to Florida to see rockets take off. Apparently, you can check out the scheduled launches on the NOAA website. All this on a six-square mile island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

 

Chincoteague Ponies.  As mentioned earlier, I had it in my mind that looking for ponies would be a letdown. As we traveled across the water at a fair clip, I assumed that we would be staring at vacant marsh land. But Captain Nate and the other Daisey boats were in constant communication. There were two ponies spotted and we were off to find them. As we sped towards the coast there were two ponies eating marsh grass oblivious to us encroaching on their space. Captain Nate pointed out into the distance at three other ponies and the Stallion off in the trees. Because we were on a small boat we were able to travel up a shallow creek bed to be less than ten feet from the ponies. There were the unseen ponies from my childhood only feet away. Absolutely magical.

 

Birds.  There were all manner of birds on the trip. There was a whole set of cormorants drying off their wings as they sat atop moorings in the middle of the water. We rode by only feet away but they sat regally benign to our presence. White crane were fishing in the marshy shallows. Seagulls were flecked among the sky. It felt like nature was conspiring to impress me at every turn.

 

Shellfish.  We passed by countless oyster beds. Apparently, the beds are leased by fishmongers and we happened to see one group out among the beds harvesting oysters. We came up on one bed and Captain Nate laid down and picked out a mass of oysters. Apparently, they grow on each other’s shells, so the one handful was several oysters, some 5 years old and others less than a year depending on size. He shucked the oyster to reveal an enormous thumb size oyster meat which he promptly ate when everyone on the boat turned it down. We also rode by clams resting in the sea water in crates; apparently, a catch being kept for future shipment.

 

I never imagined that there would be so much so much to see and take in. If you ever get to the eastern shore of Virginia, I highly recommend a boat trip to Assateague Island.

Silent Simplicity

I’ve written about the silence retreat I attended over Labor Day weekend not once, but twice. I had several people ask me about the more long-term effects of the retreat. I’m going to address what I believe to be the long-term effects, but I also found I have put other routines into place that have caused a change in my life. In fact, a bigger change in my life has been my daily kriya meditation practice, which lasts about 25 to 30 minutes. It’s hard to identify exclusively what impact the retreat had, but there is still insight to be gained.

harli-marten-140106.jpg

Most people that I know are scared off by meditation. They believe it’s only for monks, yogis and gurus. They don’t think they can ever “quiet their mind”. I have been practicing one form of meditation or another for over five years. I have done everything from a body scan, where you tighten and relax various parts of your body; a loving kindness meditation, a meditation where you send out loving kindness to loved ones, enemies, and acquaintances; and now, I practice Sudarshan Kriya Focus, which is a breathing meditation where you put your body in certain positions to increase energy. The main difference with my current practice is that it lasts upwards of 30 minutes, whereas my prior meditation practices were ten minutes or less.

 

So this is what I believe the long term effects of a silence retreat are:

 

  1. Focus.  I feel like I am much better able to focus. During the retreat, we were not allowed to use our phones, read books or watch television. With distractions gone, I discovered I was able to focus quicker and have carried that forward in my daily life. I’ve made a concerted effort, like right now on a Sunday morning, to have my phone in another room. Out of sight, out of mind. Distractions are the roadblock to focus. They eat up valuable time. Perhaps it’s the daily meditation, or the fact that I am in a completely quiet room with nothing to lure me away, but I am able to write and focus more quickly. There are no bings, pings or beeps to entice me away. I am now more focused.

 

  1. Technology-free.  I realize I am writing this on a computer, but there is nothing open on my desktop, and my phone is some 50 feet away. During the silence retreat, I left my phone in the vestibule of the ashram. When you part with technology for the better part of two and half days, it makes it easier to part with it going forward. I remember a speaker I saw recently who said that just the mere presence of a phone at a meeting or appointment is distracting. It shows a sign of disrespect. Like something more important and urgent could invade the space at any moment. I definitely think through when I bring my phone with me now. Being more technology free allows me to be present.

 

 

  1. Peaceful.  Part of what brought me to the retreat and the kriya practice was the aftermath of putting my house back together post Hurricane Matthew. It was and is an enormous stress both physically and financially. It’s still not “finished.” The practice has helped me through the ebbs and flows of the decisions, as well as the patience required to get through a most challenging time. I think of the metaphor “water off a duck’s back”. I’m better able to let things roll off and be at peace.

 

  1. Cope.  I almost feel like I have shock absorbers attached to my brain. I don’t want to bore you with the litany of disruptions and unexpected turns over the last twelve months but it’s been monumental. Whether it’s requests for help, a loss of a business opportunity and an end to a partnership, I’ve weathered it all. I don’t get as rattled and I certainly don’t react in the same manner. I have the view that “this too shall pass.” Everything that can be bad has a flip side that can be good. Even if your power is out, you will have a lower power bill. And you’ve gained silence from the roar of daily life. There is a silver lining to everything. Finding that silver lining has helped me cope.

 

  1. Simplicity.  In the past, I had a way of making everything more complicated that it had to be. Over the last month, I have been decluttering my house. If it’s not an absolute “yes”, it’s a “no.” I have been boxing up family heirlooms and sending them to those who will truly appreciate it. So far, I have an empty attic (yes, empty), empty linen closet and my spice drawer is still alphabetized. There is order, but it is beautiful in its simplicity. I continue to cull out the non-crucial items every day. I still have the Lego airplane my son built some thirteen years ago and a pillow painted by daughter that says “I love you.” There are still treasures I hold onto. But the extra set of china, the unmatched socks and Sizzler training manuals from twenty years ago are now either trash or someone else’s treasure. I continue to lighten the load from the silence retreat going forward. I’m embracing simplicity.

 

It’s the chicken and the egg scenario. Which came first? Did I seek out a new meditation practice and silence retreat? Or was I hardwired for it to find me? Regardless of the answer, it has made a profound difference. Is there a change you need to make?

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

You’re driving to work and forget you had to go to the dry cleaners. You end up missing the exit. You’re fifteen minutes late for work and you can’t figure out where the morning went. You are in a fog for most of the morning and blow off that spin class you’ve promised yourself you’d attend for the last two months. All of this anxiety is likely due to your sleep cycle or lack thereof.

quin-stevenson-14889

Not getting a good night’s sleep is related to so many consequences. You would think that we would have a class in high school on how to get a good night’s sleep rather than world history or calculus. Want to know what the result can be? Here are a few: depression, weight gain, poor cognitive processing, lower sex drive, quicker aging, forgetfulness, and poor judgement. Hmmm. Sounds like we all need a good quality night’s sleep.

So here are some suggestions:

  • Detach from your phone. I actually plug in my phone to charge in the kitchen at 7 PM, rather than charging it in my bedroom. I will make sure that it’s set to ring, just in case. My kitchen is about 50 feet from my pillow but if someone REALLY wants to reach me for an emergency, I can hear the phone from there. My son was driving home to Miami the other night and my phone was in the kitchen as usual. I got up to go to the bathroom and walked into the kitchen to check his progress. Then I went back to bed and, yes, went to sleep. The last thing your mind needs is unnecessary pings and pongs in the middle of the night.

 

  • Wait until morning to send the email. If you send an email right before you head off to bed, what do you think happens? For one thing, you are likely to think about that email for a good part of the night. In addition, you are keeping someone else, the receiver of that email, awake (unless they are reading this post and following the first bullet). It’s like being at a bar after midnight: not much good from writing emails, drinking, or anything else late at night. Wait until morning when you can execute your best thinking.

 

  • Keep it cool.  You ideally want to sleep in a room that is between 60 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit. I turn a fan on in my bedroom. It keeps the room cool and the white noise from the fan drowns out any noises that might wake me. Your body needs to drop its core temperature to sleep properly. If you think about it from a caveman’s perspective, they were sleeping at night in cooler temperatures. So turn down the thermostat and get some better, quality shut eye.

 

  • Make it dark.  One of the best things I did while repairing my home after Hurricane Matthew was to put in blinds on my French doors in my bedroom. It completely shut out any external light. I felt the quality of my sleep improve. I remember going to my brother’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and he had aluminum foil on his bedroom windows. He has always worked graveyard shifts, so blocking the sunlight is imperative. In addition, I don’t have anything in my room that typically lights up at night, like a clock, television, or computer. There is one small night light in the bathroom so that I don’t need to turn on a light (and wake completely up) if I need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

 

  • Dim the lights.  Bright light is understood as the sun in your mind, in the sky which is code for, “It’s daylight, let’s get to work.” I make a concerted effort to keep my lighting to a minimum in the evening, especially an hour or so before bed. So put a forty or twenty watt bulb, or a dimmer switch next to your bed so that you can ease yourself into a good night’s sleep.

 

  • Don’t hit the snooze button.  Apparently about a third of the population are addicted to snoozing in the morning. It’s about the worst thing you can do. I’ve been reading Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule, and she suffered for years by hitting the snooze button. You sleep in 90-minute intervals. Mel says that in the last two hours before you wake up, your body is preparing to wake up. So if you don’t have a 90-minute sleep cycle coming, you need to get out of bed. Ironically, I woke up this morning at 4:20 AM and my alarm goes off at 5 AM. I knew I couldn’t squeeze in another 90-minute cycle, so I got out of bed. If I had stayed in bed and tried to sleep, I would have been woken up mid-cycle and been groggy the rest of the morning. Snooze does the same thing. It perpetuates grogginess.

 

  • Caffeine and alcohol. Stay away from caffeine after 2 PM and alcohol after 6 PM. Caffeine seems obvious since it’s a stimulant. I personally need to stay away from it after noon. Alcohol is more deceptive. It lulls you into thinking you are going right to sleep, but it actually causes disruption in your REM sleep. So if you are drinking into the evening, your sleep won’t be as restful and of poorer quality.

 

I put these habits into place over the last three months and my sleep has dramatically improved. I have also increased my quality and quantity of mediation but that is for another post. Try one or two of these and see if your sleep doesn’t improve. What are your secrets to a good night’s sleep?

The Anatomy of a Silence Retreat

I posted last week about a Silence Retreat I went to over Labor Day Weekend. It sparked a lot of feedback and some faithful readers want to know more! I admit, I was a bit surprised. So this, is that more. To start off, when I arrived at the retreat, I had an expectation that everyone there, including all the employees and other guests, would be silent. I was anticipating as I drove up that I would need to zip my lip. And I also assumed we would all communicate via sign language and gestures going forward. Not so. There were other events and participants going on. The “silence” portion didn’t start for another 36 hours and the employees of the center were active, communicating with participants like anyone else would on the job.

21270891_10155607494848688_3857385553531978755_n

The silence itself focused on the participant not communicating versus everyone else not communicating. When I think of silence, I think of a church on a weekday where there is little if any noise and folks kneeling to pray. Very hushed and quiet. In reality, the silence is not about outside or even participatory communication; it’s all about silencing your mind through meditation and relaxation. The silence is internal and that silence can be a bit  allusive to start. Kind of like trying to hold onto Jell-O through finger tips.

 

So, this is the anatomy of a Silence Retreat:

 

  • Reception. Upon arrival, I was expecting the aura of a monastery combined with pantomime. Not so. I parked and followed the signs to the reception desk. The gentleman greeting me was quite friendly and gregarious. I was taken aback, as I figured silence was from the get go. He immediately established which program I was with; so this was my first sign that there was more than just us Silencers here at the retreat center. And, since they didn’t duct tape my mouth or tell me to shush the silence portion might start as the event kicked off after dinner. I was really surprised when he gave me not one but two Wifi codes, “You know; for two devices.” I didn’t bother bringing more than my trusty smart phone but I didn’t imagine I would be streaming Netflix House of Cards on a silence retreat. No silent reception. Who knew?

 

  • Accommodations.  Essentially my room had three single beds, a desk and a bathroom. I was a little apprehensive that, even though I had asked for a private room, someone might show up for one of the bunks. I didn’t feel like sharing my space with anyone. I had imagined myself being in the fetal position in the middle of the night, sucking my thumb and crying for my mommy. Ok. Well that didn’t happen and neither did any roommates pop up as well. In fact, I think all of us silencers were in the same far flung building; they wanted us to be silent together instead of mixed in with all the folks who weren’t silent and more likely to be playing Metallica after midnight. There were property rules that I be quiet after 10pm but my impression was that all the Silencers were in the same building.

 

  • Food.  The thing I did once I dropped my bag off, made my bed – sheets and blankets provided – make your own bed; I headed to the dining hall. I was still thinking that at some point someone was going to tell me to not talk. Nope. I knew the menu was vegetarian but almost all of food was gluten free and vegan. This meant no scrambled eggs, cheese or fresh baked bread. In addition, our instructor, Mona, told us that during the retreat, they were cooking lighter food so that it was easier to meditate. I’m not sure if it was vegan menu, buffet style service or that my enlightened mind wasn’t up for much food, but I barely ate at meals. I was rarely hungry. Or perhaps my carnivore mind knew to be on strike.

 

  • Monkey brain.  I didn’t realize this at the time but since returning, I have read that the pain and anguish I was feeling in the first twenty-four hours of silence was my monkey brain. Imagine all your thoughts flying through your head like a pack of orangutans jumping from vine to vine to vine. Your thoughts start going haywire with no distractions such as conversations, Facebook notifications or sitting for hours at a time. Literally, I thought I was going “bananas”…how appropriate, right? Apparently, it takes about twenty four hours of silence for those orangutans to settle down. And once they do? It’s beautiful.

 

  • Nature.  This retreat center is on the top of a mountain in western North Carolina. Once my mind was silent and the monkeys were finally relaxed and quiet; I was able to focus in on the spectacular scenery. The smallest of details came into focus as I noticed butterflies, the breeze through the trees, the stones on the ground, the path through the forest. Each intimate detail; I was enthralled with it all. Turning off all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, let me wake up my senses to what was going on around me. There was so much going on around me that I normally would never have paid attention to. It was mesmerizing.

 

  • Inward.  Introspection is the end result of two and half days of silence. THIS is the ULTIMATE prize – it is like shining a light inside yourself, after the monkeys have calmed down, and being able to be with yourself and truly appreciate just being in the present moment. No agenda. No to-do list. No planning. No rumination. Just to be. I honestly think that the last time I was in the present moment with myself was when I was four years old and my mother would force me to take a nap I was alone in my bedroom with no distractions but my own present moment. It’s incredibly powerful to be with yourself. Taking a break from all the helter-skelter of everyday life is an enormous gift. It’s almost like unplugging yourself and letting the batteries run dry only in order to be completely rejuvenated. Hollow and empty but profoundly peaceful and enriching.

I highly recommend a silent retreat, especially if you are facing a major life change like retiring, changing jobs or leaving a relationship. There is deep clarity once all the distractions are gone and the monkeys have gone to bed.