The wisdom of little detours
“Eventually you will see that the real cause of problems is not life itself. It's the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes the problems." ~Michael Singer
Just finished recording a Rebel Radio podcast with Cindy Van Arnam (it will be out soon) and according to my numerology chart I’m a planner.
No surprise here - that’s what I do. Set up models for existence. How things (life) should and should not turn out. Long “to do” lists to make sure things happen.
And when anything deviates from these plans I get upset. Knocked off course. Adrift.
The problem? The models.
We need to throw them out.
But me? I get stuck in the difference between what should be and is. I think it’s because I secretly relish it. I like to wallow. It feels like a friendly place.
I was in one of these funks at the end of a long day when a ping of a text interrupted. “Think I’m gonna check out fog over the sound. Want to go?”
Despite my internal Eeyore, I replied, “Yes.”
We parked in the shopping center between the empty Olive Oil store and the pond. My eyes drifted over to the faded blue rowboat on the far end. It’s always there – but I’ve never seen anyone use it.
Only three days ago the deck was occupied by families reveling in the relaxed freedom of the last precious days of vacation.
Now we’re alone.
The fog is dense, but we can make out a par 3 length of water. Clinking metal and a distant foghorn invoked scenes from murder mysteries where heroines discover bodies alongside dark wooden docks.
Suddenly from the right, a large bird with long legs and wings flew into view. It could easily have been an extra on Jurassic Park.
He landed in a marshy nook to the left. Then a second one settled about 200 yards from the first. We’ve seen herons in the sound before – but never two at once.
It felt like a gift.
In our hurried movements to capture the birds for Instagram, the second heron flew away in disgust. But the first remained. He flew to the dock and walked purposefully toward the middle. It was like he knew what we needed to get the pic we craved (above).
The next day I googled what herons symbolize - the end of one stage of life and the beginning of a new one. And those with a heron animal spirit exhibit balance and stability, self-reliance, tact, wisdom, and knowledge.
If I’d stubbornly continued to wallow – I would have missed the moment and the heron's message.
We need to stay open to the possibility of little detours. Opportunities to escape our plans – not by plane or train (because sometimes we don’t have the time or money) – but to a park, pond, or passel of planks by the sea.
A mindful moment away from the past and future.
A glimpse that maybe, just maybe, everything will be all right if we can stop and notice our place in the order of beings.
Everything is going to be okay
At first, it sounded like someone cutting grass on the ceiling. But grass doesn't grow on the ceiling - right?
Maybe I'm dreaming.
Then I noticed the rhythmic whirring.
The sound quickly faded and I fell back to sleep.
When I heard it again at 4 AM my first thought was, "It must be a Lifeflight helicopter from Chester County Hospital" (the hospital is less than a mile away).
I pushed off the suddenly suffocating covers and rolled onto my back. My mind filled with memories. Last moments. Last words. All before someone I loved was taken away in a helicopter.
Afterward? Our lives were never the same.
Before waking twice to the helicopter sound, I planned on skipping writing a blog this month. It's been busy at work, and any spare time focused on the Kripalu retreat I'm leading next month around tools I learned writing my book - managing change, overcoming tragedy, and what to do when triggered.
One of the tools is RAIN. Here are the steps and how I used them:
Step one - Recognize what is happening. Sometimes this is hard. But that day - I was fully aware of the trigger. Check.
Along with this step, I seek comfort - like curling up with a pillow - or my favorite being.
Step two - Accept or Allow the feelings. Okay - I live close to a hospital. I've seen these helicopters before. But haven't heard them at night when I'm a little (a lot) more vulnerable. I need to allow the feelings. Resisting only causes suffering.
Acceptance is the first step to recovery.
Step three - Investigate. How did I feel? Sad. Bereft. Like I was living one of the worst days of my life all over again.
But my rational brain knows that isn't happening. I'm safe at home and no one is bothered but me.
Step four - Nurture. One of the quickest ways to nurture is breathing meditation and mantras. A simple breathing meditation is the extended exhale breath (inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 8 counts). While doing this I added the mantra, "Everything is going to be okay." It's amazing how this simple sentence brings so much relief.
It takes several rounds of breathing, mantra saying, and a little EFT tapping, but eventually, I'm less bothered.
And after writing about the helicopter in my journal, I go out and perform a favorite self-care act - walking with my dog Jake.
We're only a few blocks on our trek when I hear the flying lawnmower propeller noise again.
I look up and my chest softens.
It wasn't a helicopter after all. It was a military plane. Probably clearing air space for President Biden who lives nearby.
My mind had conjured the helicopter - and left unchecked - the incident could have derailed my day (or longer) with distraction, or released an aggressive action or words with more permanent impact.
By identifying and dealing with unexpected trauma triggers like this - we become more than what happens to us. We grow stronger.
And if we teach these tools to those around us, our loved ones and communities may benefit...the world too.
(Please note this approach works for me, but your needs may be different - so no pressure. Take what helps and leave the rest. :)
"If you are filled with anger, you create more suffering for yourself than for the other person...So you try to bring peace within yourself first. When you are calm, when you are lucid, you will see that the other person is a victim of confusion, of hate, of violence transmitted by society, by parents, by friends, by the environment. When you are able to see that, your anger is no longer there..." ~Thich Nhat Hanh
The email sat in my inbox for weeks. Read. Unanswered.
Rare for me. My favorite hack is handling emails when they arrive. Responding, acting, deleting.
Yet I let this one go. The deadline passed - and then they extended it – as if questioning the unsteady boundary I’d erected.
What was the email about? Happiness. A request to create a video with our definition of happiness.
It’s been an exhausting summer. I’ve been dealing with changes - which feel like losses - and they're:
So, I’m not really in the mood to create a happiness video - and am kinda resentful of the request.
Why is this bothering me so much? Is it really the video? Or anger around the loss / change I am dealing with?
I must confess something - I watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I could give a lot of defensive reasons why – but at the end of the day – it’s a guilty pleasure.
This season Lisa Rinna has been navigating grief around the death of her mother. And has been angry over another cast member’s public denouncement of her and her husband not thanking her for tickets to a widely celebrated charity event. The anger stems partly from her husband Harry Hamlin being named in this – she is very protective of him.
The other cast member has apologized repeatedly for her behavior. But Rinna can’t let it go. And has been filmed having rage spirals about it – which were aired as they make for good TV.
She has been uncomfortable with her behavior (and other things she has done on social media) and ties it to grief over her mother’s death. I would suggest it is grief anger, and the requirement of the show that she continue to film and be with people who don’t have her best interests at heart. She needs a safe community right now, not those looking for more airtime.
Which brings me back to my anger over the happiness question. Even though I know happiness is something that can be pursued – I’m not ready to embrace it. Much less record a video about it.
And pretending to be happy or normal when we aren’t is a horrible thing. It can lead to numbing with alcohol, drugs, and peanut M&Ms. It feeds the anger that we already have around our world falling apart. Around this thing shouldn’t have happened to us.
It's important to recognize the anger and resentment that comes with grief. Because even though it can cause collateral damage to others, it hurts us most of all. Especially if we live in it too long. Better to feel it, express it healthily (writing works BTW), and move on.
Let the universe and Karma take the reins. What's happening (no matter how painful) is supposed to happen - to help us evolve and grow (if we can only get out of the way long enough for that to happen).
Is happiness the opposite of grief? Is it something to aspire to?
But there’s stress in trying to be joyful. My grief hack for this is to try to be a little happier each day - to find the calm that Thich Nhat Hanh refers to above.
Mario Sirois calls it 3% happier. Which can be walking with my dog (shown above). Or reading a little Natalie Goldberg each morning. (Or watching a group of Beverly Hills women work through their issues).
That feels doable when the idea of happiness feels overwhelming. Insurmountable.
Walking Jake the Wonderdog? Possible.
I never did turn in that Happiness video. But I did walk Jake every day this month.
And I’m okay with that.
Hope this is helpful.
P.S. If you're looking for a peaceful getaway, tools to manage change, and a community of seekers doing the same, please join us for the Managing Change With Grace retreat - October 2-4, 2022 at Kripalu.
Hope to see you there.
When drama comes a knockin'
As mentioned last month, I'm going through something.
And since my book “We’ve Got to Stop Meeting Like This” was published, I’ve been asked repeatedly how I got through the difficulties I described? How did I keep going?
I think of these times as being on the razor’s edge. The brink between normalcy and chaos.
Sane - and less sane.
The time when we are at the brink and need to soften when we really want to jump, run, scream.
It's a place where our skin comes off. Our blinders too. We see and feel things clearly, viscerally - and our ability to express gracefully or guardedly is lowered.
During times like these, I fall back into a list of learned habits and self-care mechanisms.
In other words, as the well-worn mug above suggests, I "trust the process."
One of my favorite process tips: Don't lean into the drama. Even though past trauma and conditioning can make it feel familiar. Comfortable. But toying or engaging with negative energy can cause a figurative (or actual) hangover. And disrupt healing.
Recently I attended an outdoor concert. I looked forward to it all week. And it had all the right elements. The weather was cool and breezy. The band upbeat. The WaWa panini delicious. And to top it off – a spontaneous dancing love train broke out.
But in the middle of the event, a person came over and made an offhand comment to me.
It had to do with my appearance – my weight. I'm sure it wasn't meant to sting, but it did.
A reviewer of my book complained that I didn’t go far enough into my weight battle. That I tiptoed on the edge of it but didn’t share that pain. And she was right. Those pages fell onto the cutting room floor. There was so much else to fit into those 299 pages that my tango with 200+ girth felt superfluous.
And I'm not going to go into it here beyond the fact that I am healthier than I've been in years largely because I've finally befriended my body (because of yoga teacher and therapy training) and gotten off the sugar roller coaster by becoming sober. That said - I will likely always be a Large or double-digit size - and I'm okay with that most of the time.
So, let’s get back to the comment.
When the words landed my eyes widened and my face grew warm. I looked around to see if anyone else heard, but they were caught up in other conversations. And as happens with people who are clumsy with their words, the commenter was on to a new subject before I could say anything.
So I remained silent. Nothing I said was going to change anything. Eventually, the band launched into a familiar song and the commenter danced away.
Since I noticed my uncomfortable feelings, I didn't do what I sometimes do afterward - binge on sugar or salty snacks - or drink away my upset. Instead, I watched some Real Housewives (living vicariously from their witty retorts), meditated with Reiki (to release the energy) before bed, and woke up hangover free (which gave me the time and awakeness to work on this piece).
The takeaway? When you’re going through dukkha - and someone throws more at you – duck. Don’t make everything worse by responding in kind or letting it sabotage your self-care. We just regret it afterward (and the incident probably won’t matter that much in a week, month or year).
We cannot change people. They have their own worries and will behave and speak from them. We can only control our actions – and inaction (which is sometimes the best option when the grievance is relatively harmless).
Hope this is helpful.
Will be back next month with more insights from the razor’s edge.
May they be of benefit.
I've had a terrible week (and please note this was written before Friday's Roe v Wade news).
Sometimes I think the universe is testing me. Hey - you want to lead a workshop on Managing Change With Grace? Well, let's see how you handle this mess. Does your approach still work? Can you still keep it together?
Do I still want to wallow? Yes.
Have I been significantly less patient with stupidness? Hell yes.
Am I sitting most of the time unshowered in my workout clothes and a Gino's baseball cap watching HGTV? Of course.
But I didn't drink wine (for over 480 days now) or have one of my famous late-night junk food binges.
Self-care and leaning on others.
Within minutes of the event that derailed everything, I was reaching out to my support network. And later when action was no longer necessary, I walked three miles, took a bath, ordered salmon for dinner (omegas are amazing), and went to bed early. And every day since, no matter what, I've done something for myself (and spent most days working in the garden - which looks amazing btw).
When in crisis, we have to take care of ourselves first so we can make the next best move. And keep applying self-care so we can do the next best thing. And the next.
What does self-care look like? It is unique for everyone. For me it is eating regularly, limiting caffeine, sleeping, taking a walk, listening to happy music, creating, playing or singing music, mulching a flower bed, or whatever keeps me busy so I don't wallow.
Because even though wallowing feels good - it's not helpful. Things will get better. Largely because we eventually accept what is happening - and set up healthy boundaries.
You know this - but here it is again - we cannot change what others do we can only change ourselves.
We have to set up limits. Take a pause or exit from people who do not support us, stop trying to control situations, and stop pursuing addictive behaviors which only make things worse / last longer (including drinking, taking illegal drugs, eating cheese puffs, and social media).
Instead, as Pema Chodron says, we need to make ourselves stronger - by eating healthy, sleeping, and feeding our souls with light.
Then we will be able to do the next best thing for ourselves, those we love, and the universe.
It's not easy - but we can do it.
Hope this is helpful.