Monday, February 23, 2009

Laughter and Forgetting, Tulips and Army Tanks

Today I was reminded of a great book that I read in university - The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - written by Milan Kundera. At the time of reading it, we talked about whether it was a political story, or was it a story of the human experience. I said it was political, since it was a story about the coping mechanisms that people use to survive horrific circumstances brought about by war and oppression.

Years later now, it occurs to me that the story was also about the human experience. I see parallels and similarities to the way people cope with that which they cannot control. In our society, we do not live under the threat of war every day, thankfully, but we do live with the threat of economic downturns and the related disasters. We are conditioned to fear the worst, so that when it occurs, we are prepared.

In Kundera's book, he writes about army tanks rolling past a woman tending to her flowers. I remember thinking, that would be terrible. But it was understandable, since she couldn't control whether the tanks came or went, but she could tend to her garden and possibly create something positive in a world gone wrong.

Kundera's metaphor is true today. Metaphorical army tanks plough through our lives, threatening the garden that we have cared for - our livelihood, our health, and yes, even our self perception. It is terrifying to think that one person can control another simply out of a need for self survival. It is even more terrifying to think that people can and do act out this insecurity every day.

So what are we to do? Wait for it? No. We do what Kundera's character did. We tend to our tulips, and laugh when we can. We look for the positive, and choose happiness. We try to live a good life, and remember that when doors close, another one opens. We do things to mitigate our personal risk at work and in our personal lives, thereby taking as much control as possible. And we look out for each other, and help those we can.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best Day Ever Status Update

When I say, this is the best day ever, people tend to look at me like I have a learning disorder. I have since learned that Sponge Bob Square Pants actually has a song about this. Good for Bob.

I have noticed that when I say that, people smile. They actually seem momentarily relieved. Like there is some hope. A vacation from the toils of the moment.

The times when I said, "This is the Best Day Ever" actually turned out to be good days. Yes, things happened like they do every day - it's still winter, for example, and people still drive like they got their license out of a Cracker Jack box - but the effect was still positive. I enjoyed the people in my day more, and every encounter. Work was more fulfilling, and coming home was great too.

So this makes me wonder, why don't we approach more of our lives this way. Why is it so hard to say these words. Do we enjoy the drama that bad days bring. Do we live for drama?

Brand New Me

OK, I am a Partridge Family fan. I admit it. I had a crush on David Cassidy when I was 10. One of their best songs, "A Brand New Me" begins . . . "Come on down, off your cloud, why should you be a face in the crowd . . .". This is a classic song, and a classic question.

I am resurrecting the "brand" new me concept, to step back and take a look at what this is all about. Of late, I have come to the conclusion that we are very busy at watching each other, and opining about the state of one another. We look at the way others look, the clothes they wear, and we judge that. We wonder how is that one person can be promoted or recognized for something, and others are not. We gauge our own personal success by the success of others. And the funny thing is, if we are all doing that, and being envious of each other, or critical, how do we ever really see ourselves. With all this activity going on, we create a whirl of calamity around us, and we are therefore never satisfied or content. I would describe these juxtaposing forces as calmness, versus calamity.

My coach and mentor recently gave me an assignment to observe these feelings, and to note what is happening at that exact moment. In doing so, I have come to some conclusions about self perception and interpretation, both internal and external, and how we are pushed and pulled by these forces without even realizing it.

I would use the word impulses instead of feelings. Impulses are kind of like electrical waves of emotional shifts and changes. If we were to be hooked up to a monitor, you would see the line level at "calm" and increase or spike at "calamitous." A hurricane is calamitous. A sea is calm. A storm is calamitous. A breeze is calm. A scream is calamitous. A laugh is calming. You get the picture.

So here are my observations:

  • Calm = the sun, the sea, warm breezes
  • Calamitous = icy cold wind
  • Calm = yoga (an exercise in focus and blocking out noise)
  • Calamitous = the Treadmill (running on the spot and getting nowhere)
  • Calm = being in control, understanding the situation, being informed
  • Calamitous = out of control, no understanding of what is happening, and being misinformed or uninformed
  • Calm = accomplishment
  • Calamitous = directionless activity
  • Calm = contributing to something that helps someone; being part of something positive
  • Calamitous = non - truthful reactions / actions
  • Calm = building toward a greater good, a positive outcome
  • Calamitous = idiocy and blind ignorance
  • Calm = recognition for accomplishments and contribution
  • Calamitous = seeing my work end up on someone else's paycheck.
  • Calm = working toward something.
  • Calamitous = reacting to something that is outside of my control.
  • Calm = live and let live.
  • Calamitous = my way or the highway
Conclusions about Calamity

When we give in to these "triggers", we give up control of ourselves. The storm takes over, and we are powerless but to go with it. When we lose control, we lose our ability to manage the outcome. Regrets always follow. Triggers are external factors but we can control how we react. My dad always says, "you can't change others, you can only change yourself." Knowing what triggers us and how we tend to react is the key. Do we act out negatively against ourselves, through vices such as work, food and cigarettes? Or do we act out negatively against others, through such vices as anger and exerting control on others over whom we have more power? Self perception has a lot to do with this. Triggers are effective because they attack something about us. In short, triggers are our ego working against us. Ego is fear. Fear is loss of control.

Everyone has a storm brewing from time to time. We can't help but feel the force of external factors that we cannot control; we are threatened by the possibility of being out of control all the time. That's why balance in life is important. And to me, balance is created when I do more of the things that give me joy, and less of the things that don't. The other aspect of balance is knowing that sometimes we have to "suck it up" and just do the things that we don't want to do, but have to do. To me, dishes are the metaphor for this - my grandmother taught me when I was 7 that sometimes you just have to do dishes.

We judge each other harshly, but in reality, everyone is looking into his or own mirror, and not looking at anyone else. I noticed this when I was at the beach in Brasil. People of all shapes and sizes were wearing bathing suits smaller than mine. I could have been sans suit and no one would have looked twice. I thought back to our local beach and judging that we think is going on. I came to the conclusion that we are watching ourselves. They are not watching us.

So, where is all this leading to?

Getting back to the "Brand New Me" opening, the place to begin is self acceptance. Say it out loud with me - "I am not perfect, but I am not broken." Next is to get busy living a plan - or living on purpose. Have a vision for the future, and take the time to break it down into specific things:
  • What are the goals that will help you to achieve the vision?
  • What do you need to remember to do every day and never forget to do?
  • What do you value - in other words - what lines will you never cross to get to your vision?
  • Finally, what is the first thing that you need to do to get there?
This is harder than it looks, but as a wise person said to me just today, "baby steps, sistah, baby steps." Ask for help - someone who can keep you on task and help you ask the tough questions.

Finally, make choices today that will get you to the place you want to be. Document the "triggers" or things that will cause you to react and possibly take you off plan. That could mean not shopping out of boredom, smoking, or diving into a big bag of salty snacks.

You will find yourself at the threshold of decisions, so be prepared to make them. Inevitably, you will have to decide the following:

  • Identify what makes you feel calm and what makes you feel stormy?
  • Analyze the trends. What would you have to do more of to be more calm? What do you need to stop doing or allowing? What do you need to start doing?
  • Do you want to stay the way you are?
  • Do you find the current state intolerable?
  • What changes will you have to make?
  • Do you have the courage and support to make those changes?
  • Do you understand the risks, and are you prepared to manage them?
  • Are you committed to this so that when the unforeseen occurs you will not abandon your plan?
Answering these soul searching questions will help you to identify options, or directions. Then you need to ask yourself these questions:
1. Which option is acceptable and creates more calmness than calamity in your life?
2. Which option is not and creates more calamity?
I realized that calamity is not an option for me. Life if too short.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Best Day Ever - Status Report

could fly to work from there. (Our local flyer had the day off apparently). Our youngest daughter came with us and slept all the way there. We spent the day in Saskatoon and shopped her favorite store. We actually had the whole store to ourselves for 1.5 hours, and we bought so much we actually had to rethink our purchases. In the end, we got something for everyone, which we will share. Then, we went to Booster Juice and celebrated with wheat grass shooters and Acai before driving back to Regina. Later this evening, both girls and I went for Sushi and it was very enjoyable to be together. I made the statement, This is the best day ever, and both times the girls laughed. The first time, Sara looked at me smiling, like she felt sorry for me as I am such a big nerd, but she joined in. Caitlyn smiled and laughed too. The BDE impact is this: Smiles, decreased stress, decreased anxiety and increased cooperation and tolerance. hmmmm.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Best Day Ever Experiment

While holidaying in Brasil recently, everyday I would say out loud - "this is the best day ever." Everyone would look at me at first, like I was crazy. Didn't I notice that it had rained for 2 days straight. Were we not dripping in sweltering heat together, literally unable to wear underclothes? Where we not all scratching our freshly pierced skin in unison after an onslaught of some strange Brasilian mosquito?

Yes to all of that. And it was great. Everyday was the best day ever, because every day was another day that I was in Brasil. A place that I never planned or imagined that I would ever be. And here I was. Ecstatic, and loving every moment of the experience, good and bad.

When it rained, we ventured out in the rain and got wet. When it was sweltering hot, we jumped in the pool, or sought out a palm leaf to stand under for a while. Every moment was a gift. Every day was the best day ever. For 2 weeks, I would exclaim "This is the best day ever" and I at first the reaction was mixed. Some of my travelling friends looked at me and smiled pitifully at me, wondering if I had gotten too much heat, or consumed one too many mangoes. Others rolled their eyes and grunted. And others laughed and played along with me. Pretty soon others were saying it too and even being creative about building the statement into their conversations - "if we do this or that, it can be the best day ever."

Even leaving Brasil was the best day ever, because it was a new experience. We could speak the language a little better, understand how to navigate the world that we were in, and we were going to be returning how to the things we were all missing - our families, our homes, hearing English again and being able to speak to others, and even our favorite foods and restaurants.

So I promised myself that I would continue this experiment and see what changes in my life. Every day, I promised that I would say out loud at least once - this is the best day ever.

OK, so I have to admit the first shot of freezing winter that I could feel through the windows of the airport in Saskatoon kind of took the enthusiasm away for a while. Once I hit the temperatures in Saskatchewan, I was not feeling "best day ever-ish." Let's just say I had a rough landing.

But now after one week, I am acclimatizing, and ready to begin the experiment. Every day from this point on, I will say "this is the best day ever" and say why. I am going to document reactions - mine, yours, the store keeper - whoever happens to be in my path.

Today is the Best Day Ever because I ready for new start to see the world with fresh eyes again. Let's begin.