Friday, August 27, 2010

Nothing Can Ever "Unhappen"

Some times many ideas and pieces of advice you've heard over the course of your life suddenly align themselves like a constellation of stars and paint a picture. It may be a picture you have known all of your life, but never fully comprehended until just that moment. That happened to me recently and when I tried to explain my newly learned concept to Art, he nodded and said, "Yes. Of course." Like I had simply said the sky is blue or fire is hot, when, to me, I had mapped out an entire network of why life can be so difficult to navigate.

In case you, like me, find this a more complicated, "I could get lost in the woods" sort of journey; I want to drop bread crumbs at each turn I think bears watching or noticing. I think my own journey began at the first bread crumb, "forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, not something you 'bestow' on somebody else." That tidbit of information first caught my attention on the Dr. Phil Show. His guest was a woman whose husband had cheated on her. Now I have another whole complicated network of opinions and beliefs about infidelity - none of which will appear here. What was important about the show was what happened when Dr. Phil tried to make the woman hear and understand the concept about forgiveness being a gift you give yourself. Rather than considering, embracing or finding relief in the idea, she was hopelessly stuck in the notion that if she forgave her husband it would mean he "got away with" cheating on her. Sitting in the comfort of my living room, far away from this woman who wasn't even among my sphere of acquaintances, let alone friends, I didn't know if I wanted to bang my head against the wall or throttle her. "He already GOT away with it." I screamed at the television. "Now you just have to decide what you're going to do with your life going forward. Stay with him or dump him." My money was on "dump him" because I couldn't see any way a person who was as stuck as she was could possibly ever find comfort or love in his companionship. I could see my way out of part of the puzzle she couldn't see. "Fish or cut bait" that's how I saw it. But even though I hadn't really realized it yet, I hadn't fully embraced this notion of forgiveness being a gift you give yourself. All I could see was the inertia present due to the corner she had painted herself into.

I think it's time to drop another bread crumb, here.

Anyone who has ever heard anything about a 12 Step Program has heard the concept: "The first step is admitting you have a problem." Many of us, knowing that we don't have a drug or alcohol problem, hear that phrase from the safety of a mind that feels it is information which doesn't pertain to me. We may joke about it occasionally with a friend who really enjoys chocolate or golf or "Survivor," jostling them with a friendly elbow telling them it is time to "admit they have a problem." We may hear about a friend of a friend or someone on television who is struggling with addiction and shake our heads feeling sadness about the destructive need to "hit bottom," but it is still a concept about others rather than something we consider about ourselves. Think about the woman on the Dr. Phil show: if you asked her if she had a problem, what would she say? She would tell you her problem was her husband cheated. She would say he was her problem. But is he? Isn't her problem really that she can't let go of the fact that he cheated on her?

Bread crumb time. . ..

I first heard this from Andy Andrews, I have since seen it enough places that I'm not sure where the idea originated from, but the concept is "your best ideas got you where you are today." The advice is to look for mentors or experts who can give you other ideas because no one was looking to screw their lives up. No one actively pursues "how can I make my life as miserable and messed up as possible." It was their best thinking that got them to this place where they are unhappy. Now, if we consider the woman on Dr. Phil again, perhaps you can see why I begin to think this is so complicated rather than easy like Art does. Her best ideas got her to this miserable place where she can't let go of the fact that her husband cheated on her because then "he'll get away with it," but she also can't figure out how to punish him or what to do about him in order for her to stop feeling the pain. On some level, she knows this and she has gone to a mentor or expert, Dr. Phil; but she can't implement any of his advice because the two of them have not reached an agreement as to what exactly the problem is.

It's probably time for a small crouton here in the form of the definition of insanity. Albert Einstein once said "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Maybe it's just me, but I think if you can apply Einstein's definition to anything you yourself are doing??? You might want to go back to "admit you have a problem" although you still might have problems identifying what the problem is. Look at it this way, if you can apply the insanity definition to yourself, YOU are the problem. Not outside forces like your parents, your spouse or the government. It is something YOU are doing or, more likely, something you are thinking.

Bread crumb.

I'm sorry; I don't know who introduced this next notion to me. It could be Eckhart Tolle; it could be Wayne Dyer. When I heard it, I felt an awestruck realization of truth. The idea is: "what everyone who has had something bad happen to them in life - they've experienced abuse or a spouse cheating on them or rape or whatever bad thing you can think of - if the person has experienced it and just can't get over it or past it - what they really want is for the event to have never happened." I knew the truth of it. I knew that was actually how I personally felt about some of the more unfortunate events of my own life. But simultaneously, I also knew that it is absolutely crazy to want that. Insane. Because that is nearly the definition of the grammatical concept of the past tense. It HAS happened. Not "will" or "is," but "did." Done, over, and out. Oddly, the notion what I actually wanted was "cuckoo for cocoa puffs" or absolutely bonkers gave me an odd sort of relief. It gave me the freedom not to want it anymore.

We're nearly there, just a few bread crumbs left.

So here you are, stuck banging your head against this wall of an event that can never "unhappen" feeling miserable. You can't have what you want, but what do you have? Thank you Eckhart Tolle, you have "The Present Moment." All you have is this moment. Whatever that bad thing was, it isn't happening in this moment. The only thing that can drag that bad thing to this moment, is you; and there are so many better things you can do with this moment. In this moment, you can choose to listen to that mentor or expert and take the steps to effect a change in your life. In this moment, you can take stock of your surroundings and realize not only is the bad thing not here, but you are safe and blessed with comforts you previously never really noticed. In this moment, you can choose not to be a scared, sad victim. In this moment, you can choose life.

That might be enough. Maybe we don't need any more bread crumbs. But I have one and it's a good one. Perhaps it is the bread crumb that can lead you back to the present moment when the boogie men and gremlins from that past bad thing try to drag you back into its grip. Because it happened. It isn't going away and whatever mistrust you nursed into life or whatever survival skills you nutured as coping mechanisms; chances are they are here to stay as well. At least just a little bit. There is a sad but excellent chance you will not stay in the present moment, but will have to gently nudge yourself back here. So consider my bread crumb.

In Alan Ball's "American Beauty" there is a beautiful scene about an abused boy who finds beauty, spirituality and transcendence in a video he has made of a plastic bag being blown about by the wind. About the video, the boy says, "Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember... I need to remember." I loved the scene from "American Beauty" and coveted a plastic bag moment of my own. Since one of the hats I frequently wear is that of a photographer, I have been nearly obsessed with capturing my own plastic bag moment on film. Only a week or two back, I realized I have been so numb and absent from the present moment that I already have had - I won't say "my plastic bag moment" because I don't think you need to be limited to just one - but I have had a plastic bag moment and captured it on film.

Several years back I went on a weekend vacation to Lancaster, California, to witness the Poppy Festival and California Poppies in the desert. On the way to Lancaster, I drove up the Grapevine and through Gorman, California. Some years, and I was lucky to have gone there during one of those years, for a brief few days the hills of Gorman are painted in color as if dropped right out of a painter's pigment jars. No artist could paint a scene as magical and fantastic as the one you see - live and in person - in front of you. I knew I was seeing one of the best things I had ever seen.

But wait a minute . . . . where's the bread crumb?

It's just this. Bad things happen. Bad things may happen to you. Nothing happens out of this "present moment." It happens, it is done and we may be many moments away from what happened. You can choose whether to ever think of it again. But you know what? Good things happen in this moment too. "Plastic bag moments." In one of my moments, I witnessed the beauty of Gorman, California and I can choose THAT to think of again. " . . . . it helps me remember. I need to remember."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


On July 1st, I started the P90X exercise program. I didn't start it because I'm an athlete; I'm not. I didn't start it because I wanted to be an athlete; I don't. I started it because I want to be strong. I wanted to regain strength I felt I had lost over the years. I wanted to build and rebuild muscle. I wanted to look and feel capable. Less than 30 days into the program, I found myself waiting at the emergency room for a family member who had had a stroke, desperately searching for strength and capability.

There is a moment during Stretch X, where you are performing some sort of complicated maneuver that is stretching your gluts and Tony Horton talks about discomfort. It is a longish, rambling quote spoken by a man who is feeling the discomfort that he describes: I don't think I can quote it directly, but I can paraphrase it. Horton says that he feels discomfort and asks "so what do I do? I don't think about it. I breathe." He explains that every time you breath out a muscle releases slightly which, of course, would remove some of the discomfort, but that you can't breathe out unless you breathe in . . ... "So breathe."

So that's what I did. That advice got me through the day and I realized even if Tony Horton had created a mini catalyst in my brain, it had been advice I had already been using before I had ever heard it. I had done that in the dentist's office when a cleaning seemed too long or too uncomfortable. I had used it when heavy traffic suddenly felt like a parking lot and I wanted to throw open my car door, scream and run off into the distance.

Anytime I had felt pressured and too fragile not to break, I had used it.

There will be times where you feel such physical or emotional pain that it is as if half of you has been crushed and you don't know if you want to die or crawl away from the part of yourself that is gone. Breathe.

There will be times when the fear and discomfort is so real and strong you will think you would willingly chew your own arm off just to get away from the trap that you've found yourself in. Breathe.

I can't promise it will make you a better person. I can't promise it won't happen again or again or again. I can't promise it will be easy the next time. But I can remind you of the Nietzsche quote we have all surely heard by now . ..

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

The key to being stronger is surviving what is in front of you.

Just breathe.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about all of the advice I've received over the years - even if it was disguised as simple conversations or opinions. It seems to me that some of it applies to more circumstances than the one in which it was given. So today I come to the advice given to me by two very different boyfriends about driving.

"Don't get ahead of the evidence" has almost become one of Art's favorite sayings. While we were still watching CSI, he frequently would point out how the plot went awry when a character "got ahead of the evidence." What does that have to do with driving? Well, it corresponds nicely with and conveys the same message as "don't overdrive your vision," another Art favorite. In both instances, the individual is being cautioned about getting too far ahead of themselves . . . making wedding plans when you've only had a first date, assuming that you just can't lose any weight when you fail to lose a pound the first day . .... Getting ahead of yourself fails to recognize that much of life depends on laws of averages. There will be good days; there will be not so good days. Bank on all good days and prepare to be broke; bank on all bad days and prepare to be broken hearted. Overdriving your vision makes you susceptible to hitting animals in the road, driving off the road entirely or getting into accidents. Both in driving and in life, getting ahead of the evidence diminishes your capacity to predict the future and adjust to it.

But sometimes, it does pay to look ahead. A long time ago, my college boyfriend Pat and I were driving along the Sonoma Coast. I was behind the wheel and I think he was urging me to pass a car. The Sonoma Coast is as curvaceous as a young Marilyn Monroe and I am lucky if I don't get sick, let alone have the courage to pass a car. We were probably on the cusp of an argument when he pointed out a long snaking, loop back of road ahead. He pointed out that, even though I could barely see a car length distance immediately in front of me, I could predict the traffic ahead because the loop back created essentially a long straight away length of traffic I could view and predict. So despite the fact my immediate vision was blocked, I had gained the capacity to predict the future. Of course it isn't an infallible future vision. All it would take is one car pulling back onto the road from the shoulder or a car emerging from a driveway I didn't see and I could have a nasty surprise, but in cases where an individual's vision is lacking, it could give a means to begin forward momentum. Remember that nasty first break up? What if you had seen the long road your life would take in the future? Would it still have seemed like the end of the world? Awareness that unpleasantness or unhappiness or pain is happening in this moment only and there is an entire stream of moments drifting along in the future, each with their own separate potential to be good or bad or neutral, can be a great equalizer or neutralizer in moments of panic. Watching the rhythms of life and reflecting on their patterns can help you outlive economic failures, make money in down stock markets, buy goods at discount prices, never run out of toilet paper (lol) . . . the possibilities are endless. Observing the rhythms of the road can help you navigate highways; observing the rhythms of world and the people in it can help you navigate life.

The challenge, then, is not what we see or how we see it; but to use the proper vision at the proper time.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


A long time ago I took one of those Globus Gateway bus trips in Ireland. I became great friends with the tour guide, Paul Rose, and he said something that had a lasting affect on my life. Jet lagged and tired, spending hours driving around countryside that didn't look too much different from my own native Northern California, I had dozed off. Passing by handing out chocolates or examples of Irish linen or something, he nudged me and reminded me I was missing the countryside. I mumbled something about being tired and he said cheerfully, "Ah well, it's your holiday and you can spend it how you like" and moved on down the aisle.

I think that was the first time that idea was presented to me in that way. Prior to that it was all "you should," for example, "your parents paid for this trip, you should be taking in as much as you can from it . . ." lol. The only time choices were pointed out to me were when somebody felt I was making the wrong one.

The wrong one . . . it has taken me a long time to realize that there really are no "wrong choices." Oh sure, if you decide to strip naked and run out into traffic, you are likely to have a bad outcome. It could be considered a "wrong choice." But for so many things we hem and haw about, spend hours worrying and deliberating about; there is no wrong choice. Most of the time, if the choice has a bad outcome, it could even be due to unforeseeable circumstances unrelated to the choice itself. Of course, sometimes choosing one thing means you miss out on something else. Two weeks vacation in Hawaii probably means you will miss out on two weeks vacation in Alaska . . . at least until next year. But too often we spend most of the two weeks in Hawaii lost in a critical evaluation and judging if we made a mistake so that by the time we return home, it's like we never took a vacation at all and we're counting the days until next year.

We approach choices with superstition and fear and we live them out with "if only's," "what if's" and regrets.

"What if" instead we approached our choices like there could be no wrong ones? What if we saw that the only wrong thing about a choice was not living it whole-heartedly and supporting it? What if the only reason so many choices look wrong to us in the rear view mirror is because we never learned to follow Tony Horton of P90X's advice and simply "Bring It?" What if we realized that staying in the indecision and not choosing at all, was actually making a choice? What if we could look back and not wonder what would have happened if we had taken the job, married the girl, finished college, gone to a different college, chosen a different major, gotten better grades, applied ourselves more . . .. .. . . .. infinitum . . .

What if we could simply say (and believe) "that's my choice and I'm sticking to it."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Much Ado about Farmvlle

You can’t please everyone, but Zynga’s “Farmville” has managed to make an estimated 75 million people happy; and that is despite the fact it can be as buggy as I’m supposed to be when I get old (according to a recent Facebook quiz, “What kind of demented old lady will you be?”)

Just like all popular things, Zynga games have drawn fire from other Facebook users in the form of groups like “I don’t care about your farm, your mafia family or your fish-tank,” even though there are blocks people can set on their accounts so they don’t have to see what are apparently unsightly posts asking for fertilizer or announcing free Mystery Eggs. I wouldn’t know how to activate those blocks; I like watching people’s walls for what they’re really like. I don’t need to pretend that humanity is smarter or uses their time more efficiently than they do.

In my first days on Facebook, I drew fire myself for playing too many of the silly quizzes. I work a job that has a lot of waiting until I have to do the next thing. Anything, from books to DVDs or Netflix to Farmville or quizzes on Facebook, that fills that empty, “I’m stuck here, but I have to wait until I can do something” time is much appreciated. My posts, however, weren’t appreciated by everyone and I was cut by at least one “friend” because he felt I wasn’t doing the work I was supposed to be doing.

Truthfully, I avoided Farmville myself for quite awhile. I had been stung by a Mafia Wars “invite list” phish on Twitter - not once, but twice. After feeling foolish and having to tell hundreds of people that I didn’t actually have a mafia crime family, I was hesitant to click on almost anything. But friends who were playing Farmville kept sending me chickens, goats and cows, and it has often been pointed out to me that, at heart at least, I am quintessentially a people pleaser. So I just had to send apple trees, picket fences, and rabbits back to them.

Now a level 34, with the largest plantation currently available, I must admit I find (and found) Farmville posts on walls far less disturbing than all of the remarks of “insomnia,” “societal rage,” (the equivalent to road rage, but aimed at anything else from that annoying co-worker to the unhelpful salesclerk,) or a generalized depression that is evident daily at Facebook. I also have to admit that I find Farmville a delightful, adult equivalent to finger-painting or coloring books; and I wonder, if more people played Farmville, would all that depression subside?

Certainly there would be fewer bumper stickers begging, “Don’t be a hater.”

And yet, alas, there will always be haters. For anything you enjoy doing, do it with extra zeal, because for each and every one of you, there are at least three people who hate it and another one who hates you for doing it. It is simply what the haters enjoy the most; just like all those Farmville players seem to love those Mystery Eggs.

As for me, I like to watch. The haters, the players, the poor depressed souls - it is all part of the human ant-farm that we know as the internet. No one part is less “human” than another; although whether or not they are “humane” is another story.

And as for Zynga? If you happen to decide to go public, I’d like to see you release at least 100 shares in one of those wonderful Gold Mystery Eggs.

That would be something to watch.

And play for. . .