My Dog. My Witness.

It has been a tumultuous year. I lived in limbo for seven months following Hurricane Matthew, rebuilt my home, saw my daughter move to the west coast, and some seven months ago, decided to stop numbing out with alcohol. There has been one constant through all of this: my beloved Brittany named Baci. I’ve written about Baci several times in the past but it’s not until you are truly tested that you realize the love of a dog, may be the secret to your success.

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I say success after all this tumult because I am so much better than I was a year ago. I am stronger. Wiser. Complete. Happy. I need to give credit where credit is due. It’s all because of a dog. The best dog I have ever owned. Of course, the Universe conspires when I need inspiration to write a post. Articles on the love of a pet and its health benefits started showing up in my feed this past week. This post on my dog is long overdue.

Here is how Baci has been my witness:

Social lubricant. If it’s the neighbor, the UPS driver, the HVAC guy or the tile setter, Baci is the social lubricant that brings it all together. Sometimes, it’s me allaying fears that she might be a biter (she’s not), or a question about her breed (Brittany), or getting up in someone’s business when they are repairing the house. Baci is the natural ease of social tension if a stranger is walking up to the door or a neighbor is walking their dog. People are naturally curious about Baci or any dog for that matter. She makes awkward interactions so much the better by just wagging her tail and soaking up the attention.

Alarm system. Baci sleeps most of the day. She is nine years old and kicks back most of the day at this point. I live in a larger, older home. There are noises. Unaccounted for noises. A creak here, a sigh there. I know that if it’s something to pay attention to, Baci will be on top of it. Her hearing is a lot better than mine. She can hear a garbage truck or the UPS driver from half a mile away. I know that if it’s something to be concerned about, Baci will let me know. If she is calmly sleeping and the ice maker dumps a load of ice cubes and she doesn’t react? It’s all OK. And she knows it’s her role.

Stress reducer.  As I write this, Baci is sleeping sweetly under a picture window. She looks so calm and relaxed. How could I possibly be uptight about doing my taxes today with such a relaxed dog in the room? As written by Kristen Strut for Huffington Post, “There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and wellbeing.” So Baci is my therapy dog and I get to have her everyday, all day.

Heart health. I don’t have high blood pressure. I have a family history of high blood pressure but somehow it’s missed me. Now I realize it’s probably Baci’s doing. As written on WebMD, “Heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without, according to several studies. Male pet owners have less signs of heart disease — lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels — than non-owners, researchers say.” Hmmm. The rest of my immediate family doesn’t own a pet. Baci is the secret to my heart health.

Unconditional love.  Baci does not care if my boss is mad at me or if I gained five pounds. She doesn’t care if I put too much lemon in the dish for dinner or if I binge watch Ozark all day. I frequently wake up at 4 AM. Baci doesn’t give a hoot if I wake up at 4 AM. She’s ready to go. No judgement. No admonishments. I am perfectly perfect as far as she is concerned. She even forgives me if I forget to fill the water dish or stash her toys for a few days. She loves me no matter what. And I love her.

Allergy fighter.  I am allergic to multiple things from aspirin to dust mites to various trees and grasses. I was on asthma medication for some fifteen years. I’ve had Baci for the last nine years. I am now off all asthma medication. I can’t say it’s Baci for sure but not having to take asthma medication is terrific. As written on WebMD,” A growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with “furred animals” — whether it’s a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals — will have less risk of allergies and asthma.” I realize this is anecdotal but this is the longest I have ever lived with an inside pet and now I am asthma free.

I have a reason to get home. A reason to get back safely from a trip. A reason to wake up. A reason to stay sober. A reason to get dressed and get to work. A reason to keep my house. A reason to be grateful. A reason to stay the course. Baci gives me purpose. She is there through thick and thin. She is my rock…yes, she is my witness.

When You See Something, Say Something

I had the opportunity and privilege to hear Gretchen Carlson, author of Be Fierce, speak in early February on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. It was a room full of Human Resource professionals. Gretchen apprised us of the fact that what we currently are doing is not moving the needle on workplace harassment. All the training and policies in the world are not having an impact on workplace harassment. In fact, of the one in three women who are harassed in the workplace, only about 29% ever even report it. So the majority of the victims keep it to themselves. They are afraid of retaliation and, worse, being fired.

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Carlson pointed out that victims fall silent and feel helpless. There is this corporate attitude that “we have no reports of any harassment.” This is a delusion. The real reason people don’t report it is that they don’t feel safe and/or they feel like it’s their fault. One of the big takeaways is that we don’t address the bystanders. The guys in the boardroom who don’t step up and shut down the offenders in the room are responsible. Most of the time, this means a man stepping up since 94% of the CEOs are men. It all starts with speaking up. When you see something; say something.

I did some further research after this talk and came up with some points to share that tie in with Gretchen’s talk:

Let your body speak.  As written at the University of Exeter, “Remember, you don’t have to speak to communicate. Sometimes a disapproving look can be far more powerful than words.” This is an easier gateway to doing something without actually speaking up. I think this is great advice if you are in an unfamiliar situation or group. It also might be helpful if you’re dealing with a larger group. If someone is making a joke at someone else’s expense, go silent and let your body speak your disapproval.

Don’t add fuel. I find that typically the reason why women (the usual victim) don’t speak up is because the response from the group was positive; as in everyone laughed when Bob said I was sexy. The “group think” is that if everyone laughed, everyone is in on the joke. Everyone is in agreement. The peer pressure makes you laugh at the joke. In reality, laughing is only adding fuel to the fire. Bob is going to continue because it elicited a laugh from “everyone”. Don’t be everyone. Don’t laugh. Do no harm. Don’t add fuel to the fire.

Bring empathy. Ironically, the empathy is for the harasser. As written at Exeter, empathy prevents someone from distancing themselves from the impact of their actions. So “I hope no one ever talks about you like that” is a great approach. It also prevents the harasser from dehumanizing their targets as well. “What if someone said your girlfriend deserved to be raped, or called your mother a slut?” This is an interesting switch. Instead of coming to the defense of the victim, create empathy in the harasser.

Be a friend. This bolsters your friendship and keeps the harasser from being put on the defensive. I would recommend doing this in private. As written at Exeter, “Hey, Dave. As your friend, I’ve got to tell you that your tee-shirt isn’t doing you any favours, it’s killing your rep with the ladies. Do yourself a favour and don’t wear it again – chuck it out.” I think if you did this in private you would be less likely to get a defensive response. Be a friend and instruct them on their behavior.

Be a distraction. I can remember when my kids were toddlers. If they started to whine or misbehave, I would pick them up and start looking at pictures on the walls. “Oh, look at that pretty tree. I wonder where that tree is. Do you like the tree?” It would almost immediately calm them down. So, interrupt your harassing co-worker with, “Hey Bob, do you know when the budget meeting is?” “How long is the drive to the airport?” Again, a redirect is less likely to get a defensive reaction.

Bystander training. The biggest takeaway from the conference with Carlson, was to start with the top folks in your organization and let them know that the culture starts with them.  Tolerance for misbehaving is in the boardroom. Talk to your CEO and President and let them know that they need to put their foot down when that sexist email is forwarded to them or if they tolerate the racist jokes of their managers. Bystanders, especially those in power, need to step up and speak up.

It starts with you. It starts with each and every one of us. We need to speak up. Whether privately with the offender or with body language or silence or checking in with the victim to find out how you can help. Be careful how you use slang terms that are pejorative of a race, gender or religious group. I know I used to refer to my freckled easily burned skin as “cheap Irish skin.” This belittles me and an entire country and its descendants. Yes, I am part Irish but I don’t get to judge the entire country with less than valuable skin. Be the solution. Not the problem.

Harassment and its collateral damage needs to be addressed by the organization. These suggestions are to help nudge the culture of an organization so that a respectful workplace can be created and maintained. It can’t be addressed by one victim or one Human Resource professional. It takes a village.

Canada. It’s another country.

As I write this, it’s a rainy morning in Vancouver, British Columbia. I am here as an alumni to take the Path portion of ORSC (team and individual coaching), created by CRR Global. It’s been several decades since I have been to Vancouver. I am blessed in that, as a child, we took family trips to Canada and I had visited all the southern provinces of Canada by the time I was nine. As a kid, if everyone spoke the same language as I, I didn’t realize there were cultural differences. I remember the beautiful Butchart Gardens of Victoria and the profound crevasses of Banff National Park. And the adventure of the stretch of highway where there wasn’t gas for some 200 hundred miles and just praying we would make it with our enormous trailer that we were lugging behind us. Thankfully, we did.

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As I order at a restaurant or check in at the hotel, I wonder if I am obviously from the United States. Do they hear an accent? Do I dress funny? Am I clumsy? I say this because it’s hard for me to tell who is a tourist and who is a native. I just went to Starbucks for a coffee and ordered my usual. I assume those working there are Canadians. Are most of their patrons tourists? I have no idea. The differences here are subtle but there are differences that weren’t apparent to my nine-year-old self.

Here they are:

Celsius. Temperature is temperature. Whether or not you relate to it as Celsius or Fahrenheit, it doesn’t really matter, right? The funny thing is that when I found the thermostat in my room, I saw it read 22 degrees. Wow. We could hang meat in here. So of course, I had to google to convert the temperature to Fahrenheit – like it mattered. Why not just sense whether it’s too warm or too cool? The funny thing is that in my class yesterday, which was largely Canadians, someone said, “It must be 25 degrees in here.” She meant that it was hot. I chuckled to myself. I’m glad I knew she was talking Celsius.

Taxis.  Luckily, I happened to research whether or not Lyft or Uber were available in Vancouver. They are not. I’m not sure about the rest of Canada, but in British Columbia, you must take public transit or a taxi. In the last year or so, I have realized that renting a car is an expensive encumbrance when traveling on business. Between parking, gassing up and tolls, it is just one more burden, kind of like an extra suitcase, that you have to take care of and keep track of. Luckily, there wasn’t a language barrier, which is the biggest plus to ridesharing apps. But if you aren’t in a well-populated location, it can be impossible to find a cab. In fact, I didn’t go to a museum I had planned on visiting because I wasn’t sure how I would get back to the hotel.

Currency. The last time I was in Canada, my daughter and I were in Quebec. I was trying not to have any Canadian currency. I try not to have any cash in any foreign country because it’s a mess to exchange back. In fact, like the euros I have from my trip to Paris, they are still clanging around in my wallet. Too minuscule to change and more of a remembrance of a great trip. The last time I was in Canada was a road trip with my daughter four years ago. We were in Montreal and visited the breathtaking Notre-Dame Basilica. I remember they only took cash for entrance and they did take US dollars. The exchange was pretty poor but I didn’t care. As I travel around Vancouver at restaurants and shops, I am careful that they take credit cards so I don’t have to mess with exchange of currency and I keep a few US dollars for tipping.

Language. So we speak the same language but as I said, my class is largely Canadian. I would guess that 95% of the words are exactly the same. It’s only the odd “PROOO-cess” or “Aboot” that crop up in conversation. The other difference, at least compared to Eastern North Carolina, is the diversity. The service jobs in Vancouver seemed to be staffed with people from all walks of life – from an Irish waiter, to a Korean busboy to a Nigerian desk clerk. It feels as cosmopolitan as Manhattan. As I walk down the street, there all sorts of languages being spoken. Again, I’m not sure if I’m in the middle of the tourist district (think Times Square) or if there is an international university nearby. But it feels as if everyone is welcome here, regardless of origin.

Pace.  This is a large city. The thing that strikes me that is vastly different from a city like New York is that the pace is much more relaxed. Considering the blend of diversity and the size, it seems very calm. None of that frenetic buzz that seems to increase your anxiety. There is no rushing to and fro. My walking pace is even slower. For such a large city, it’s very calm.

Hot sauce.  If there is a minus, it’s the hot sauce. No Tabasco. No Texas Pete. No Cholula. There is British Columbian grown-and-produced Verde and Salsa Diablo. I tried it out. It was acidic. I realized after I read the label that besides having Canola Oil in the top three ingredients (re. mayonnaise…yuck) there is lemon juice. I am not a fan. But this is a minor complaint compared to the rest of my experience.

Rain.  I recently traveled to Seattle for Thanksgiving. It rained a lot. It has rained or drizzled almost non-stop since my arrival in Vancouver. The difference it that this is an umbrella city versus a rain jacket city. Seattle is a rain jacket city. More people can fit on a sidewalk if they have a rain jacket on instead of an umbrella. In Vancouver, you have to maneuver down the street to make sure to not crash into someone else’s umbrella. Funny how different cities adapt to similar weather.

I wish I had more free time to investigate Vancouver but maybe next time. Our classroom was on the top floor of the building and was floor-to-ceiling glass facing out. We were suddenly interrupted by five flying bald eagles yesterday. We all stopped to gaze at their majestic flight with snow-capped mountains as a back drop. Uniquely awesome. I will be back.

Controlling for Happiness

I just finished Mo Gawdat’s brilliant book called Solve for Happy. Gawdat’s premise is: “Happiness is greater than or equal to your perception of the events in your life, minus your expectation of how life should behave.” It is profound for me because he grounds a lot of what he suggests in research and, being an engineer, in mathematics. Gawdat is the Chief Business Officer for Google X. He has a lot of money. He is successful. It’s easy at first glance to dismiss his ideas like they are coming from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. None of these guys are worried about making the monthly mortgage payment. What could he possibly know about happiness when his bank account is overflowing? The thing is that Gawdat lost his 21-year-old son to a mistake made in an appendectomy. He suffered a loss that I would not wish on anyone. Despite this enormous loss, he has found the formula for happiness.

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I have never suffered a loss as profound as a child. Gawdat doesn’t grind an axe about the hospital. He doesn’t blame a divine power. He takes it as a lesson from his son, Ali. He brings us into his enlightenment. Gawdat had already solved for happy many years before Ali’s death. He at one time had purchased two (yes, two) Rolls Royce’s on the same day and found that he was empty. All the money in the world could not taper the stress he felt from trying to control and plan everything in his life. I have a ton of clients who suffer from this over-planning. I have suffered from trying to control all the variables in my life. This is an illusion of control. You and I really don’t have any control over those outside of us.

Here are the only two things you can control:

Your Actions.  Gawdat struggled with trying to control everyone and everything in his life. Every employee, family member and outcome. Have you done that? I have. I’ve tried to control the perceptions of my neighbors, co-workers and family members. I made sure my kids were dressed in name brand clothes, got the best grades and created the impression of the perfect happy family. That whirlwind of effort and control was exhausting and unfulfilling. It left me empty. Invariably, something would go wrong. My son didn’t want to go to my Alma Mater, my daughter wanted to spend her Spring Breaks hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains instead of coming home, and 50% of the students in the class I was teaching at the time would fail the exam. Ugh. That illusion that you can control others weighs you down. You are lugging a giant sack of expectations and it is making you suffer.

As Gawdat writes, “My first breakthrough came when a friend taught me about the Hindu concept of detachment, when you strive to achieve your goals knowing that the results are impossible to predict. When something unexpected happens, the detachment concept tells us to accept the new direction and try again. There is no sadness or regret, and no grief over the loss of control.” I love this because it’s not like you throw your hands up in the air and say, “Oh well” and give up. You continue to take action and you just realize that the outcome will be, for the most part, unexpected. I think of every weightlifting competition I have attended to watch my son compete. I want him to win. I want him at the top of the podium with a gold medal around his neck. I show up. I envision success. I wear my lucky t-shirt. The outcome is out of my control. No amount of wishing and hoping can change the outcome. It will be what it will be.

The lesson is to take action. I’ve recently lost a bunch of weight from some lifestyle changes. Now I need to work on my muscle mass. I need to do push ups and lift weights. I need to take action. I have control over whether or not I take action. What the outcome will ultimately will be is up to forces outside of my control. Whether my son qualifies for the World University Championships this year is up to variables way outside of my control. I can show up and support him. Ultimately, the outcome is outside of anyone’s control. Act and detach from the outcome.

Your Attitude. As Gawdat writes, “While actions are the visible levers of achievement, attitude is the true game changer.” I know a lot of folks who suffer from external locus of control. This is the belief that whether or not you have a good day is dependent on the world around you. So, if it’s raining outside or if there is an accident on the way to work, It’s going to be a bad day. I know you have worked with someone like this, or perhaps, are even married to someone like this. They cannot accept responsibility for anything that happens. There is always someone or something to blame.

The secret is having an internal locus of control. Owning the fact that you have complete control of how you respond to anything whether it’s the rain, bad news from the IRS, or a devastating loss. This doesn’t mean you can’t grieve. In fact, you should grieve a profound loss. The worst thing you can do is ignore or numb out the pain. What you resist persists. The majority of setbacks are magnified or diminished based on your attitude toward the setback. I play some memory games every morning. I mess up. I can cuss myself out or just say “Oops.” The acceptance that I am not perfect and make mistakes, but not letting it bring me down is important. Keeping a positive attitude is critical for happiness.

Gawdat’s outrageous audacious “moonshot” goal is to create one billion happy people #onebillionhappy. There are three steps. The first is to make happiness your first priority. The second is invest in developing your happiness skills. The third is to tell two people who will tell two people. This is my step three. Now you go tell two people.

Finding Beauty at the Bottom of a Lake

The lake I live next to is lowered every year during the month of January. It is a man-made lake that is fed by a creek, which lies some 50 yards off the banks of my home. When looking at the barrenness after it’s lowered, it is easy to feel like the bare lake bed, its collection of stumps, and debris are suddenly revealed; ugly and unsightly. Something to hide.

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The truth is that there is a particular beauty that unfolds over the weeks and sometimes months that the lake is mostly empty. This has been an annual event that for the last 15 years and I have watched. In the first few years, I dreaded it. I certainly would not invite guests to my home to behold the sodden tree trunks and the refuse sitting at the bottom of the lake. In the last 5 or so years, I have actually looked forward to this process. This rebirth of the lake. The beauty of the entire process.

Here are those discoveries:

Seagulls.  I live some 100 miles from the North Carolina coast. Typically, we don’t ever see seagulls this far inland. I have no idea why but the lowering of the lake attracts flocks and flocks of seagulls. Like clockwork every year, once a few tree stumps are revealed, there are the seagulls. How wondrous is that? I don’t need to go to the beach. I can sit in comfort on my couch and watch these marine birds frolic in the lake bed. No need to gas up and drive to the coast. The seagulls stop by every year for a visit.

Canadian Geese.  Regardless of the time of year, there are geese. But in the winter time, it’s like watching West Side Story; one gaggle are the Jets and the others are the Sharks.  One group slowly approaches in an arrow head formation while the other approaches from the opposite direction in a similar formation. They head towards a collision until one flinches and suddenly, they are in retreat. I can image Sir David Attenborough’s voice describing the encounter. I realize now that the larger group is usually victorious in claiming their turf. Regardless, it is an elegant dance.

Herons.  Herons live on the lake all year round. Typically, I only see one or two during the summer and fall. The lower lake level brings out a flurry of activity. Just yesterday, I saw four of them strategically placed down the entire riverbed about thirty yards between each of them. I’m sure the allure was the poor fish population which has no where to hide when the lake is lowered. So there they all stand, like sentinels waiting patiently for their prey to swim past. Rather like shooting fish in a barrel as they say. Rain or shine, they wait for their next meal in their stoic blue-gray beauty.

Ice.  The lake would typically never freeze over. For one thing, we are in the South and aren’t supposed to get long-term, sub-freezing temperatures. For another, if the lake were full, there would typically be too much movement for it to freeze. But every January, the temperatures drop and with the lower water volume, they readily freeze over. This is when the fun begins, as the ducks and geese are literally standing on ice. It’s quite the show as they ice skate with their webbed feet.

Wind.  Obviously, there is wind all year long. The remarkable thing about the lowered lake is that there are different coves and jetties that are created. There can be stillness within inches of a gust whipping across a different pool on the lake. It’s like different-styled brushstrokes across the masterpiece in an ever-changing mix of texture and light.

As I sit here and write, looking out at the lake, the water is slowly reclaiming its space. It rained yesterday, and those drops have slowly added to the level and the creek has disappeared below. The lake renews itself once again and, eventually, will reclaim its banks. It’s a wonderful process, unveiling secrets and beauty each year.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

You are angry because your coworker hijacked the project near and dear to your heart. Who do they think they are? One of your favorite singers is a lot heavier since first appearing on American Idol. Geez, put down the Twinkie, will you? Your child needs financial help…again. How many times do I need to bail you out? You blew off that exercise class…again. I’m a lazy, flabby slob.

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This is judgment. When you are wrapped up in judgment you cannot love; even yourself. We are taught judgment from a very early age. For me, it was not having an expansive vocabulary (What do you mean you don’t know that word?), not achieving straight A’s or not having the physical prowess of my siblings. I judged myself for not measuring up. This judgment and comparison robbed me of my joy and will rob you of yours. Stop judging.

Here is how to let go of judgment:

Catch yourself.  First, you need to be aware that you are judging. It is so easy to fall prey to a constant stream of judgment of yourself and others. How to change it? It starts with awareness.  I make an effort to be cognizant of my judgments. When I notice that someone has gained or lost weight, or is wearing something I don’t find appropriate, I think to myself, “This is judgment.” I have found myself passing judgment all day long. Whoa. Whether it’s me getting on the scale in the morning to an additional five pounds, or rolling my eyes at the screaming kid throwing a tantrum in the grocery store. Hmmm. This is judgment. The first step is to be aware that you are judging and then label it.

Whose path is it?  “Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.” – Anonymous. This is a profound quote for me. I don’t know where you are in your book and I don’t have any idea how many pages have preceded the current chapter. We are all on different journeys. I don’t know if your path has been rocky, a steep hill, or if you have been on the couch for the last ten years. Comparison of your path versus someone else will rob you of your joy. Focus on your path. On your happiness. Stay on your path.

Find admiration.  I have several friends who are expert yoga instructors. They are in fabulous shape. I could live in jealousy of their expertise and physical prowess and compare my somewhat klutzy self to their elegance. I am so much more at peace and happier when I just admire their expertise and power. Wow. What an amazing dedication of being outstanding at yoga. I admire them and am proud to call them friend. Find admiration for what you think you lack. And get beyond yourself.

Compassion for yourself and others.  Let go of the mistakes that you and others have made. Depending on the depth of the wound this may take more time and involve going through rather than around the feeling. I can get wrapped up in what my parents, teachers, spouses, and friends should have done differently. In the end, history cannot be rewritten and the regrets that are harbored in your heart help no one, especially yourself. Having compassion for that egotist at work, or your fickle client, or your ex’s addiction is, in the end, freeing. Compassion is finding love for friend or foe. It is holding that special space of love and forgiveness. This compassion starts with yourself and can help you change with others.

Thoughts become things.  You do get to choose your thoughts. It seems at times that your mind is blasting you with uncontrollable thoughts and judgments. You can choose instead to choose thoughts of love. I have recited affirmations for years to help develop a more positive outlook and results. It is a practice of centering and focusing on happiness and love. I have been following Mike Dooley for years and am subscribed to his Notes from the UniverseEvery weekday I receive a message from the Universe helping me push forward on my wondrous path. His tag line is: “Thoughts become things, choose the good ones.” This is a powerful message and keeps me mindful of trying to focus on possibility and love rather than blame and judgment.

If you are constantly judging yourself, you don’t have time to love yourself. Take a breath and be okay right now. You will love it.

No one outside of you has your answer

This was the prompt for Day 114 of the Project 137 by Patti Digh. This idea really sets me adrift, like someone put me in a rowboat without oars and cut the towline. Go figure it out, Cathy. I feel like I have measured myself my entire life by living up to other people’s expectations; other’s dreams and wants. This comes down to me and what I want. My expectations of myself. Gulp.

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I run into folks who are either followers or are curious about this blog. This is my sanctuary to work things out. My colander to strain out the unnecessary to find the good parts. I gave my card to someone at a conference last week and she asked about the blog.  I said, “It helps me work out my stuff.” The hope is that the byproduct of me working out my stuff is that someone else gains some wisdom or thought-provoking question that propels them forward. But really, at the heart of it all, is me working out my stuff.

So here are some insights of looking inward:

  • Shoes. No one else really walks in your shoes. And I don’t really walk in anyone else’s shoes. I can make assumptions about a loved one’s journey or what my colleague aspires to or if that mystery man is unattached. While I can identify with someone else, I really can’t live in their shoes and they really don’t know what it’s like in my shoes. They probably don’t even know my shoe size! So, the answer is taking care of your shoes and throwing out the ones that don’t serve you anymore.  I recently decided to hike Machu Picchu this summer. I will need new boots and will have to break them in. That answer is in me.

 

  • Advice.  I have spent the last month grilling friends and family about the fate of a huge financial decision. I sought advice from almost every trusted resource I have. It’s fine to get advice. To be informed. To find a devil’s advocate. To weigh out all your options. I feel really good that I have heard all the pros and cons of my next move.  I’m glad I have trusted friends and family to confide in. In the end though, it really comes down to me. I need to make the decision. The answer is in me.

 

  • Faith.  I realize now that serendipity is always conspiring to help me. The Universe is in my corner and some pieces have fallen into my lap to help me forward; actually leaps forward. As they say, “Let go and let God.” So, while I was gnashing my teeth in worry and fear, I learned to embrace the idea that there is a greater plan and I am at the center of that plan. It is freeing to release the pain of fear and uncertainty and know that, if I have faith in myself, the Universe will conspire to help me. The answer is in me.

 

  • Willingness. As Benjamin Foley writes for Medium.com, “Wisdom, in my opinion, is the willingness to live the questions of life with an acceptance of no immediate answer. In a world of immediacy, this is a difficult accomplishment, but one that is enormously important if you are to create anything of value.” As my trusted friend Janine says, “You don’t need to make a decision until you need to make a decision.” This means I need to be willing to be patient. Not my strongest suit, but knowing that the decision will appear before me, when it is needed, is powerful. The answer is in me.

 

I have said over the past year that “you can’t push a rope.” What will be, will be. Trust your intuition, listen to your gut and find the answer in you.

Are you alright…right now?

I bet you are. Mostly because if you are reading this you are not being chased by the police, or an elephant or even a shark. If you are in the middle of a major medical procedure like heart bypass or having your gall bladder removed, you are probably not reading this. The truth of the matter is, most of the time you are alright right now.

I’ve been reading Just One Thing by Rick Hanson. It’s a book of simple practices to add to your life to develop a buddha brain. A buddha brain, as defined by Dr. Hanson, is using neuroscience and emotional balance to create happiness, love and wisdom. Couldn’t we all use a dose of that? Well, this is lesson 42, which is titled: “Notice that you’re alright right now.”

Here is how to implement this into your own life:

PauseAs I write this, it’s ten days before Christmas. I’m busy putting up the Christmas Tree and I can’t seem to get one strand of lights to work. I’m not sure if I have bought enough presents for both my kids, my house is getting repaired, and I have huge financial decisions looming on the horizon. I know you have similar preoccupations. It may be a medical decision or the unknown leak under your car. There is something preoccupying your head. Press pause. Stop. This very instant. You may think you don’t have time, but unless you are in the middle of performing brain surgery, you have time to pause. So pause.

Sense.  Now that you have stopped your monkey brain from ping ponging from issue to problem to disaster to worry, scan your body. How is your big toe doing? Still there? Any pain? What about your ear lobes? Still hanging in there? Slight pain in your back from that workout yesterday? Ok. But you are doing okay for the most part. Sense it. After I read this lesson last night, I was snug under the covers of my bed. That’s a wonderful feeling. Sense the moment. Right now.

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Stock.  Take stock in the moment right now. Is there a roof over your head? Do you have food in the fridge? Shoes on your feet? People you love and care about? When you take stock, you figure out that it’s not so bad. In the past few months, I have gone down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing my financial situation. When I do that, I am diminished. Reduced. Small. A victim. But when I take stock in the moment? I am a badass. I have the tiger by the tail. How would you rather feel? I thought so. Grab the tiger by the tail and take stock in how much you have.

Relax. As Dr. Hanson writes in Psychology Today, “This background of unsettled-ness and watchfulness is so automatic that you can forget it’s there. So see if you can tune into a tension, guarding or bracing in your body. Or a vigilance about your environment or other people. Or a block against completely relaxing, letting down, letting go.” This is going to take practice. We are so hardwired for scanning the environment for threat that relaxing into the moment is against our biology. Feel your shoulders, let them sag. Relax your jaw. Let your thoughts go like balloons into the blue sky. Breathe. Try it. I’ll wait. There is no rush.

 

So how did that feel? Pretty good, huh? Check in throughout the day. Is everything alright right now? Maybe it’s at the top of the hour. Maybe it’s when you wash your hands. The important thing is just to notice

Gate B4 at Hartsfield International

My son, Benson, and I arrived at our connecting gate to Raleigh-Durham. We were about an hour and 15 minutes early for our connection and sat down next to each other pretty close to the gate for our final leg home after spending Thanksgiving in Seattle. Benson settled into his iPhone and I sat skimming Facebook. Then a woman in a wheelchair was placed next to my seat. The wheelchair agent looked at the woman and said, “Are you all set?” The woman in the wheelchair was silent. The wheelchair agent looked at me with an expression of Well, I guess that’s it and left.

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About 5 minutes later, the woman in the wheelchair started speaking in Spanish. I wasn’t sure who she was talking to but there was no one around responding. I spoke up and asked, “¿Hables ingles?” (Do you speak English?). She replied: “No” and asked where the wheelchair agent was. I responded in Spanish that she had left. The woman then explained that she could not see. So there I am, sitting at gate B4 next to a blind, Spanish-speaking woman in a wheelchair. I felt, at that moment, that I was the only one in the world responsible for this woman and that I needed to make sure she got where she intended to go.

Here are my lessons from that experience:

Language.  It’s been over a decade since I had to speak Spanish on a regular basis as the Human Resource Director for a Mission Foods tortilla manufacturing plant. My Spanish is rusty. It did not matter. I had enough to figure out that she didn’t speak English, she could not see and that she was headed to Raleigh-Durham. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the perfection of speaking another language, reminding yourself to use the correct tense and the proper form of “you” (tu is more familiar and usted is more formal). It didn’t matter. Language is language, and any form of communication was better than what the rest of the folks sitting at the gate could provide. I know if I was in Miami, I could have found someone to help me out. But messy and imperfect or not, we were able to communicate. Use the language you have right now and quit worrying about whether or not it’s perfect.

Information.  It was important to relay basic information like what time it was, what time the plane would leave, and where it was headed. I was glad that she was at least headed to Raleigh-Durham. I wasn’t sure what I would do if she was at the wrong gate. I kept updating her with the time and what was going on at the gate. As soon as the gate agent was there, I walked up to her to let her know that: A. This woman did not speak English and, B. She was blind. This was important information and the gate agent thanked me. She said that it was not indicated on her ticket at all which would have helped everyone to make sure she got where she wanted to go. Be sure to relay important information.

Connect.  The extent of my airport Spanish was exhausted in about 2 minutes. So, I decided to ask where she was from, where she was headed, and what it was for. Turns out, she was headed to Burlington, NC and lives in Veracruz, Mexico. She was headed to Raleigh-Durham to meet her brother, her niece and her sister. They were coming from various parts of the United States for a reunion. Her journey had taken her from Veracruz to Mexico City to Atlanta. Now she was hoping to make it to Raleigh-Durham to meet her family. I was astounded that she had traveled so far all by herself. I was glad that I connected to her story. If I had not spoken Spanish, I would have thought she was a crazy woman, because it’s not necessarily obvious when someone is blind. She didn’t acknowledge people because she couldn’t see them. Take the time to connect.

Responsible.  As soon as they started boarding the plane, the gate agent came over and took the woman in the wheelchair onto the plane. I was relieved that she was on the plane. I never saw her when I boarded later and never saw her get off. I saw several wheelchair agents by the airplane door with various names written on paper as I exited but I had never asked her name. I felt responsible for her. How would I know if she met up with her family or not? I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I got to baggage claim and I saw her surrounded by family as we all waited for our bags. It’s amazing how we can feel responsible for something completely out of our control. I wasn’t that woman’s daughter or sister. I was just another human who happened to speak Spanish.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that this had a happy ending. I’m sure she would have made it to Raleigh-Durham without my help but it felt so gratifying to be a part of the end result. It also made me appreciate that we don’t always know if someone is disabled or doesn’t speak the same language. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions and not investigate further. I’m glad I did.

Thoughts on Seattle

My son and I spent Thanksgiving in Seattle with my daughter and her boyfriend. It was a first-time trip for my son and probably my fourth. My daughter moved to Seattle this July and it was fun to have her as the tour guide for her new stomping grounds. To see the city as a resident rather than a tourist.

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Here are my observations about Seattle:

Rain.  This is by far the rainiest it has been on a trip to Seattle for me. Cold, windy rain. It’s funny but because of the rain, I realized how the city is built around rain. There are coat racks and umbrella racks by the doors of most of the establishments we went into. It reminded me of Phoenix with its covered parking spaces; obviously used for different reasons. Seattle has set up the infrastructure that works with its weather. Somehow it makes it all more tolerable. By the third day, I was just expecting rain at some point and carried along my umbrella. This apparently, is a sure sign of a tourist. Seattleites usually just wear raincoats. By the end of my visit, I had purchased said raincoat with a hood because carrying an umbrella is a wet, messy drag. Adapt to the rain because you know it’s coming.

Coffee.  I have been to plenty of cities with ample coffee shops but in Seattle coffee is an art. It’s where the gourmet coffee industry started. Whether it was a freshly brewed pour-over coffee, a latte or a cup of coffee at a local diner, it was all terrific. You can’t serve Maxwell House in Seattle, only the best will do. There are the ubiquitous Starbucks everywhere, but we found a place called La Marzocco Café, which was a coffee shop inside a radio station studio. It was amazing. The kind of place to sit down and relax while you watch it rain outside and listen to great music from KEXP. It is a must-see in Seattle. My son and I ended going there several times to chill out and relax. It’s within walking distance of the Space Needle, so even tourists can make their way there. My daughter’s boyfriend, Kevin, made several pots of delicious coffee at their apartment. Be sure to relax and enjoy the coffee.

Transit.  There are many modes of transportation in Seattle, and my son and I used Lyft for most of our journeys. Walking is another popular mode, and once you have purchased a raincoat (see bullet one), it’s really not that bad. Plus, walking with an umbrella becomes a game of strategy on crowded streets, so I highly recommend wearing a rain jacket instead, just so there isn’t collateral damage as you make your way on foot. Kevin and his brother Brian suggested we take a bus from Pike Place Market to their apartment in Ballard. We had a whole afternoon together with no rush, so I was game. I have to say I was skeptical. I can’t remember the last time I rode a bus, but it was cheap ($2.50) and took us to within a half mile of the apartment. There is a certain Zen to riding a bus, as the world rolls past and riders stare blankly ahead, or intently at their phones. I was glad I had the experience, since my daughter rides the bus to work every day and I now understand the appeal. There is this transition from home to work or vice versa that frees up time for thought and reflection that driving doesn’t.

Food.  We had amazing food all week. Whether it was a diner near the Space Needle, pho at a local Vietnamese restaurant, or tacos at a Mexican spot. When we were walking around Ballard one night there must have been twenty plus restaurants we passed. I would have eaten in any one of them. There is something comforting about walking in the rain (again see bullet 1) and ducking into a cozy spot for some delicious food. Pike Place Market (with the world-renowned fish throwers) has an amazing assortment of everything, from chanterelle mushrooms to Dungeness crabs to moon drop grapes. I’ve always thought of the San Francisco Bay Area as the food mecca of the world, but Seattle could give it a run for its money. It was ironic that several of the places where we ate were Southern in theme. Whether it was shrimp and grits, biscuits or collards, I didn’t feel like I was a 6-hour flight from home. I think the cold rain makes food taste better. The pinnacle of food was our Thanksgiving meal with Brian and Natalie at the helm.  There is a peace in letting go and not being responsible for the biggest meal of the year. I don’t need to worry about whether the turkey is carved. Turns out, it is still delicious, regardless of how it is carved.

It was a great trip with the highlight being a trip to the Japanese gardens at the Washington Arboretum and spectacular Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. There is always something fascinating to do in Seattle, regardless of the weather. What are your favorite spots in Seattle?