Sunday haiku – stories

The stories we tell.

Minds running on full throttle.

We can let go now.

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Window onto the sea in Cornwall, England. Photo taken by mexi-minesotana, September 2018.
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You Must Be Dreaming

The title of today’s blog is the chapter title from the book Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love your Life by Lauren Handel Zander. As some of you know, I have embarked on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group, and I am going to be brave and share some of the “resistance” that is coming up for me right now.

Maybe you will have some advice for me. I am not sure. Maybe writing about my resistance to dreaming will help me get through the obstacles that my mind is constructing against the goal.

My first assignment was quite lengthy, a short bio about myself (which was not short, I actually wrote 12 pages) and a chance to dream about 12 areas in my life. This included: self, body, love, spirituality, career, money, time, home, family, friends, fun & adventure and community & contribution.

genie bottle dream
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After writing our dreams for these areas I needed to rate each area and then write out the current reality and to explain why we gave ourselves the current rating. Then I was asked to explain why I have not been able to realize the dream in that area of life so far.

This is not “easy” homework! I enjoyed writing the biography. That was fun, and I have been practicing my writing skills, so though it was quite a trip down memory lane, it felt good. Telling the story of our lives can be very revealing for a coach or therapist. Since we are the authors of our own lives, I am sure that someone reading can learn a lot about what we think about ourselves from reading the stories we tell.

The dreaming part was HARD for me! I started to do it and realized that I am pretty happy with my life overall, and that dreaming seemed indulgent. Shouldn’t I just be grateful for having more abundance in my life than most people in the world? Is it really okay to want more for myself?

I started the assignment, and then when back and read the areas the next day and realized those “dreams” I had written down did not really inspire me. It was much easier to write about where I am currently than it was to risk writing down my dreams. So I re-did that part of the homework a few days later and tried to dream bigger.

dreamy baubles
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I believe that writing down our dreams, really imagining vividly what they look like, sound like, taste like and feel like can be a key to achieving them. Sometimes, as Martha Beck would say, it can be painful to dream. If it has been some time since we actively pursued our dream, we may feel sad or regretful about giving up on a dream.

Or I am finding that I  absorbed some lessons about dreaming that include: “Sometimes you can’t have what you want. You should be happy with what you have. Not everyone can have their dream. Some of us have to work for a living.”

During my first session, my coach picked one of my lower-rated areas and asked me to read my dream out loud. I did. It sounded lame. She asked if that really inspires me. No, not much. So my homework for the session (we meet every 2 weeks) is to re-write that dream for what I envision one year from now. It is supposed to give me goosebumps.

dreams about money
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Since the topic is money, she asked me to include specific numbers. I need to also write where I am now, including specific numbers as well. I will talk with my husband about this topic as well, and align on responsibilities about money stuff.

Simple, right?

I wish!

The resistance that comes up for me is all about: shouldn’t I be working the career goal first? What if I work out a money dream and the career aspiration doesn’t follow? Since I make good money now, what if I paint myself into a corner regarding goals and then I don’t make the choices I want in my career? And if buying a home is in the one year goal, what if we do that, and then things don’t work out with my career change goal, and then we have a harder road in the future? What if? What if? What if?

See where my brain goes? Yikes. That’s what dreaming does for me.

do your homework

All those areas of resistance and fear come up. But I am going to stay with it. I am going to write out my money dream for a year out, and then respectfully listen but then ignore those voices for a bit. At least until I finish my homework.

Do you dream regularly? Do you write down your dreams for the future? Do they excite you? What gets in the way of dreaming up what your heart desires? I would love to hear what types of strategies you use to get past any resistance you may have to dreaming.

 

 

Sweeping mental clutter

I am amazed sometimes when I go quiet and meditate at the thoughts and mental chatter that run through my head. It reminds me that while I aim to clear physical clutter in my life to help me with less external distractions, the mental clutter is also worth sweeping out.

sweep
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We all have thoughts and beliefs that run though our minds like old tapes, playing the stories we learned over time. They are a product of what we learned as young people, explicitly or implicitly by what we observed around us. Many of us do not question these thoughts and beliefs. They become part of us, and influence how we live our lives.

But I have been questioning my thoughts and beliefs much more regularly these days. Why is it we believe “there is never enough time” to do the things we love to do? Is that really true? What if that is a convenient excuse for not taking the risks in our lives that would allow us to live more fully in our joy?

What if we turned those thoughts around or tried on different thoughts than the worn-out ideas that make us feel tired and defeated? One of the amazing things about meditation practice is to realize that we have much more choice over our thoughts than I had realized was possible.

Our thoughts drive our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions and therefore determine our results. When we realize we are not our thoughts, but can decide consciously whether to think certain thoughts, we take back control of our lives. We realize our circumstances do not determine our reality. It is our thoughts about those circumstances that have substantially more power.

Human beings are wired for story, as Brene Brown tells us. We strive to make sense of the world so our minds develop stories to explain and interpret circumstances. We all do this, and it is an adaptive phenomenon for human evolution. But sometimes these stories do not give us a complete picture, and need revision. The challenge is that we have told ourselves these stories for so long, they seem like truth.

It is worthwhile to examine personal narratives and long-held beliefs that no longer serve us. I write a daily journal in which I often do a “thought download” when I feel agitated about something, since I realize that is usually an indicator that I am “spinning” thoughts that do not serve me. That is often enough for me to become conscious of some thought causing pain and to question that thought.

Byron Katie teaches a practice of inquiry, in which you question a thought or belief and ask yourself 4 questions:

Is it true? 

Can I absolutely know that it is true? 

How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?

Who would I be without the thought? 

Then she encourages one to try some “turnarounds” of the thought if we realize we cannot absolutely know that thought it true, or we realize it causes us suffering. This is worth practicing if you suspect some of your thoughts may need sweeping out or cleaning up.

What is beautiful about this practice and these realizations is that we begin to understand that changing our thoughts is easier than changing our circumstances. We do not have to find happiness and contentment “out there” somewhere. It is within our grasp, and can be realized inside of ourselves.

Also, when we change our thoughts, and therefore our feelings, we act and behave differently. We act with more love and generosity, and we begin to attract these qualities around us as well. We begin to see that grasping onto things makes us close down, while opening and sharing allow us to tap a well of resilience within us.

As you consider sweeping out the clutter of your physical life, take some time also to sweep the clutter that may be residing in your mind. See how much benefit this can have in your relationships and in living a more joyful life. I know you will not be disappointed.

 

 

Living our delusions

We are all delusional. Human beings create our reality, and we do it through thinking certain thoughts, imagining stories and inventing explanations to account for what we do not understand.

Delusional kitty
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The lines between objective truth and subjective reality are thin and blurry. There are facts, that is true. But there is also spin. There are conceptual frames for understanding the world. These are actually more important than facts, in many ways, because they shape our world views.

George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist and linguist at UC Berkeley explains this well in his books on Metaphors We Live By and Moral Politics, he explains how humans take in new information and either accept and incorporate it or reject and disregard it. (Back in 2006 this was the subject of my Masters thesis on Mythical Condensation in Electoral Politics. Maybe someday I will dust that thing off, revise it and try to publish it, since I think it is more relevant than ever.)

A decade ago I used the Wellstone campaigns as a case example to illustrate mythical condensation, and I began to understand how the marketing can be more important than the product. Think about the Coca-Cola and their “Open Happiness” campaign that they used for many years. Carbonated sugar water is not happiness.

Wellstone button - Stand up keep fighting
A favorite Wellstone campaign button

One might argue that the ubiquity of carbonated sugar water is actually the source of diabetes, obesity and perhaps many other diseases including cancer and dementia. But does reality matter? If we strongly associate Coke with happiness, and this overrides our knowledge of the toxic effects of the substance, then the facts become irrelevant.

We are wired for story, as Brené Brown explains in her work. It is stories that create coherence in our lives, that allow us to connect our experiences to our understanding and make sense of it all. So in politics and in life, we do our best with the story-lines that make sense to us, and this becomes our “short hand” for making sense of the confusing and overwhelming onslaught of media.

Sometimes we have to question these story-lines and ask whether they could possibly be concepts we choose to believe, rather than facts that are objective. It can be hard to know the difference!

Here is a simple example: “I don’t have time for…x.”  In actuality we have time for everything we NEED to do in a day. Technically to survive, all we need to do is breathe. Humans are well adapted to go a day (or even a few days) without food, as our ancestors did for generations.

So really, all we have to do in this moment to survive is breathe.  Everything else we tell ourselves we HAVE to do is a lie. We *choose* to do what we do, most of our are not compelled to do anything. Granted, if we choose not to go to work, we probably will not have a job long-term. If we choose not to pay our bills, there will be consequences.

But the delusion that we HAVE to do anything right now besides breathe is a fairly common one. Maybe you have even caught yourself using this. What if we questioned our beliefs and our story lines more often? What if we challenged our own thinking and our own assumptions? Would we be able to get outside of our own delusions/belief systems and better see other people’s world views?

It is kind of a radical notion, that we are all delusional. But I ask you to consider your own reality and the stories you tell yourself. What if you “tried on” different stories? How might this change your perspective and daily experience?

 

 

Happy birthday, Mom

Today is my Mom’s birthday. I want to write about her to honor her today and let her know what she means to me. Mom is my earliest teacher and one of my best teachers. She is an advocate who has always been in my corner, and I am so grateful for her. Mom was the youngest of three siblings in her family, 9 years younger than her older sister and ~4.5 years younger than her brother. She was not spoiled as the youngest, and in fact probably had a tougher road than her siblings in some ways.

I do not know a lot about Mom’s childhood, except stories of mean cousins that bullied her sister, her brother and her. I know she loved to play outdoors (as people in Northern Minnesota tend to do) and that she had a wicked case of poison ivy once. This led to a fierce allergy, and treatment via layers of calamine lotion, which could be scratched off with a hair brush.

Mom attended college in the 60’s and one of my favorite stories was how my Grandma had decided to attend college at that same time as well (when Grandma was in her 50’s). For Mom, college was an expectation, from her parents who knew that education was an asset. She did not love school, but she enjoyed studying music and Spanish. In contrast,  Grandma had always wanted to go to college, but raising a family starting at age 23 during the depression did not leave resources to be spent on college. Also: women were not expected nor encouraged to go to college in the 1930’s.

So my mother had to cope with her own mother attending classes with her, and Grandma being absolutely intrigued and engaged with the opportunity. I daresay Grandma was probably a teacher’s pet in some ways. Because this was a path Grandma chose, she wanted to maximize the experience, so she was one of those students who did ALL the reading, and sometimes challenged her professors with her questions. Mom was not quite 18 when she started college, much younger and probably not as devoted.

However, she was devoted enough to study to become a Spanish teacher (and perhaps music as well) and she completed her course work quickly enough to finish in only 3.5 years. Since she finished early, she bravely determined she wanted to go to Mexico in order to study Spanish on a more immersion basis. In 1965 they opted to spend a summer (or maybe a year, I will have to check) there to truly experience the language. Since Mom also wanted to be able to teach her students music someday – songs are a great way to learn a second language – she sought some guitar lessons in the town in Northern Mexico where they lived (Saltillo).

I keep reflecting on what a brave thing this was to do in those days, to go to a foreign country and to sign up for classes in another language! We take for granted in our generation the ability to Google things, to research everything we want to know on the internet. In the 1960’s that just was not a possibility. One had to have a certain amount of trust that things would work out in order to embark on these sorts of adventures. But embark she did, and of course there is a story I may tell at a different time of her meeting my Dad, who was her first (and possibly only) guitar teacher.

There are a good many stories about their time in Mexico, my Mom and my Grandma, and perhaps I will ask Mom if I can write more about those. Suffice it to say, my Mom taught me this early lesson in being brave and following my curiosity, by her early example. Mom has always had a generous heart, and she fell in love not only with my Dad but with his family as well. Not all of my Dad’s sisters liked Mom. After all, he was the oldest brother in a family of 7 girls and 4 boys. The younger ones were particularly suspicious that Mom was going to “kidnap” their beloved brother and take him back to the States with her. Indeed that is the story my Dad sometimes tells, but the storyteller weaves the tale they want to tell.

My Mom taught me to be grateful for what I have, and to express that gratitude openly. To this day, I tend to write thank you notes for birthday gifts, Christmas gifts and most recently, wedding gifts. I do not always get around to this, and usually I feel a bit guilty about that, but I have compassion with myself. It is actually a rare art, hand-writing thank you notes these days, but I am glad it is a practice she instilled in me.

Mom taught me to be kind to people, no matter who they are or what their station in life, and Dad very much reinforced this message as well. She still is one of the kindest and most generous-hearted people I know. I only wish she could be kinder to herself sometimes. She is the type of person you can rely on when you are down, to try to cheer you up. She has deep empathy for the suffering of people, and she is thoughtful about sending cards to friends, in good times and bad. My sister and I thought she should own a greeting card store, she had such a knack for picking out the right card to say just the right thing when it is needed.

After spending a few years teaching after her return from Mexico, and after my Dad got his degree here in the States (a second bachelor’s after his first one completed in Mexico), she decided to stay home. She wanted to raise her family and devote her time to this endeavor. In the 70’s that was a somewhat radical act, given that most women were insisting on working outside the home, even with children. But Mom really wanted to BE a Mom, and I am still grateful for all the time and energy she gave to my sister and me. I could probably write an entire book (and someday I might) on the lessons my Mom has taught me over the years. For now, I just want to express profound gratitude and wish her a happy 73rd birthday. Thank you for everything, Mom.

Happy birthday, Mom

 

 

 

I want the boy toy!

I am always pissed off when I go to McDonald’s and get a happy meal. (For the record, I do this probably 2-3 times a year, when I get one of those cravings for their fries, and I figure a kid-sized dose will not harm me much.) They ask if I want a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.” So I have taken to saying into the drive through lane “I want a boy toy” in a very ironic voice. Usually people don’t get the joke… But it always annoys me. I never wanted the fairy tale princess! I want the damn transformer!! Seriously, I can’t believe they still “gender” the toys!

transformer.jpg

Halloween season always reminds me how incredibly annoying it is that costumes marketed to girls still title heavily toward princesses and “cutesy” things. Meanwhile boys costumes get all the cool weaponry and usually involve super-heroes or characters that out saving the world. When I heard Christopher Bell’s Ted Talk: bring on the female superheroes a year ago it had a big impact on me. Toward the end (the last 3 minutes) his story still brings tears to my eyes. Well worth the watch if you are concerned about the impact of media on our gender constructions in this society.

The disparity in the types of toys that are marketed to boys versus girls starts a long process of determining the types of activities which are expected and encouraged. Companies such as the Walt Disney company, which has made a tremendous amount of money since 1937 selling princess “gear” to girls. Princess Leia does not fit with the public pedagogy of the other princess stories, so there are zero pieces of merchandise with Princess Leia. I am curious about Rey, who is undoubtedly an up-and-coming woman superhero. Will she be more available as this Target display suggests?

Rey at Target display

While there are female characters in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, still the merchandise available is for the male superheroes, not the female ones like Gamora. What message does this send to girls? And what message does it send to boys? When t-shirts that show a scene from the movie that were originally featuring Leia against the Dark Lord are replaced with an image of Luke, we have to wonder: why is she always erased?

In the board rooms and the places where decisions are being made, women are still very much in the minority. When I am in meetings with other leadership at my company, typically the ratio is 5 or 6 to 1, or sometimes if we are lucky, it is 4 to 1. The pipeline for STEM careers, especially in science and engineering are not as large as for men (I am sure to write more about this in the future). But in leadership, it is even harder to scale those steep walls. When the brave and courageous images we receive and consume in our media-oriented society are all men, I believe this hurts women and girls. We do not have as many role models of ass-kicking, confident, and steady leadership to help us conceptualize our own possibilities as leaders. 

I was really excited to go to the Wonder Woman movie this year, and for the most part I was not disappointed. While a number of feminist critiques have been lodged against the movie, I still think the fact that it was made and wildly popular underscores our need for more female images of strength and power. I know for sure that is a “product” I will buy. And I believe if we transcend the “princess” images and open up more possibilities for girls and women, they will begin to claim their corresponding roles in leading in this world. We cannot afford to leave behind half of the wisdom of this world by suggesting they are any less capable than men. The challenges and problems of this planet depend on valuing and fully utilizing all of the talent we can muster. 

 

The good old days

If you have not listened to the Hidden Brain podcast, this one will really get you thinking. The episode that aired on October 16th on “nostalgia” really got me thinking. The concept of nostalgia was originally treated as a mental/emotional disorder, people who are stuck in the past and cannot move forward. 300 years ago it was a brain disease of demonic cause. Marketers started using the concept in order to help sell things early in the century, because evoking emotions is an effective “hook” for people.

There is this feeling of sadness and loss, but also a sense of sweetness or fondness for something that used to be a certain way. Of course, our memories tend to be edited by our minds. The harder things fade into the background but the redemptive portions of the memories are what survive into the future. Nostalgia involves some re-writing of the past, in a way that tells us a story we can make sense of, that helps define who we want to be. There is always a shaping of our own narratives, a selection that allows us to make sense of our lives.

Donald Trump capitalized on some sense of nostalgia during the “Make America Great” campaign. For some of us who were horrified at that idea, we think of the “good old days” when powerful men could demand sex with their employees without ramifications, or when black people could be denied a seat on a bus. The good old days for some of us were not exactly good. We are grateful that social movements and history have moved us forward.

good old days

The nostalgic urge is something that the Donald has manipulated and used very effectively is something we need to understand. It is a psychological phenomenon that is very key to how the election was one. Clay Rutledge, a psychologist interviewed on Hidden Brain, explains that nostalgia serves a function. It actually applies to people who are experiencing a certain amount of distress, and that it may help people restore some type of psychological well-being.

To me, this is a topic that bears understanding, because it obviously had a tremendous impact on the election, and has impact on people’s purchasing decisions, and the ability to manipulate our “collective historical nostalgia.” While recollections of our past are inevitably edited, and do not have all the details of the negative parts of that. History is often “whitewashed.” Nostalgia does actually have a function toward orienting us toward the future, and it mobilizes people. If nostalgia is as widespread as it seems, there may be a function that is protective for individuals and communities. I know I will look to learn more about this, and will share some thoughts in a future post.

Happy Saturday, friends! May you stay firmly rooted in the present, even as you look back fondly, and keep your sights on the future.

 

Me too. And unlike any.

I have been reading posts from roughly 80% of my women friends on facebook and some men too on their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. By some miracle I have never endured the former, but I have endured the latter, as I think perhaps 98% of women have experienced. This is why, for so many of us, it was a shock, a slap in the face when the country elected a man who has bragged about assaulting women. He has openly demeaned women and belittled them for their appearance and their attitude, when it did not suit him.

So many courageous and beautiful women have had to endure insults, or sometimes just being ignored because we are women. So many outstanding, over-qualified and amazing leaders have endured criticisms, unwanted invitations and other much worse conditions. My heart goes out to all the women and men who have endured unnecessary and unjustified pressure, due to someone in power over them. Because that is all of us, and we are in this together. The violation that occurred was real. And it is wrong. And in the end, it will give you the fuel to stand up for yourself and for others.

We will not tolerate this behavior. It is wrong. It is unacceptable and we all join together to speak out against it. The tide of history is moving, once again. It moves in waves, it moves in cycles, and according to the gravity of the moon. But nothing ever stays constant in this universe. All is evolving.

I was introduced yesterday to an awesome video of Misty Copeland for the Under Armour campaign but it has such beautiful poetry by Saul Williams. It is part of the UNLIKE ANY campaign and there are 5 other women athletes. These are short 1-minute videos that I recommend to any women needing a reminder of how strong we can be, how our challenges and our stories determine our heroism. Nobody can tell us what we are worth, and yet we find it within.

Unlike Any

I have no idea whether any of these women would be part of the “Me too” campaign. Since 80% of my women friends are, it is likely that there are a few would join. But the beauty of that fact is that our strength goes so far beyond. There is a graceful WILL underneath all of these experiences, a strength that is divine, that is feminine. That rises above.  From Saul Williams (in the Misty Copeland video):

The oppressor’s gaze

ain’t all eye-seeing

I’m unlike any.