I just gave a heart health awareness month talk at my workplace. I discussed my case and the changes I have made in my habits. Someone asked, how do you keep from getting bored while exercising? I learned that when I walked with an iPod in my ears, especially when I walked with the dogs, I was anxious and irritated. I would be in my head, lost in the music, then my dog would chase a squirrel, and I would be awaken from my somnambulist trance. This seemed so counter-intuitive. So went without the iPod. I was more aware of my surroundings, the dogs, the sounds around me, the crunching gravel under my shoes, the wrens roosting in the sycamores. It occurred to me that I was in fact absent. It wasn’t the dog’s fault that I was irritated, it was my mind set. I lost the iPod and found focus. My dogs were my teachers. So now, when I exercise or am alone or have time to reflect, I pay attention to things and people and noises and sights and other things that catch my attention. I became aware of this ancient idea of Mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Where ever You Go, There You Are.”
When I was younger, I used to play tennis with my mom and her lady friends. We would play and her mind was far away…occupied with mom things. She reminds me how I used to say, “Mom, be here.” Oh how easy it is to see it in someone else. My daughter helps me with that. We have this favorite movie, “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.” If you haven’t seen it, it is worth a watch. Below is my favorite line from the movie. Spoiler alert, it is from the end of the movie. It characterizes the sentiment quite well.
Norah :Are you sad we missed it?
Nick : We didn’t miss it, this IS it. Come on, you wanna go home?
Found this book at the used book store. While it is 44 years since its publication, it is just as applicable today as ever. A recognizable and relatively low-stakes game is called: “Why don’t you…Yes but…” It involves one person (let’s call him Bob) sharing a problem with one or a group of people. The others offer advice on how Bob might solve his problem. Here is an imaginary excerpt: “My son just won’t clean his room.” Friends say: “Why don’t you ground him until he does it?” Bob says: “Yes but, I have tried that, he becomes like a hermit and and still the room stays trashed.” “Why don’t you take away his phone?” “Yes but, he contacts his friends through his Xbox.” “Why don’t you take away his Xbox…” and so on. What I find so curious when I see this (and unwittingly participate in this, sometimes as the Bob character and sometimes the advice offering friend) is most of us are just unaware of it. Does Bob want to solve his “problem?” I wonder. As Dr. Berne points out, Bob gets joy from rejecting suggestions. Isn’t that odd? And yet it is so. It reminds me of another game I have seen/participated in. A colleague/classmate/neighbor will complain, “I am exhausted. I was up so late last night with a colic/working on a paper/sewing uniforms for the play. .” “Why don’t you get help/take a break/plan better?” “Yes but ….” As Stanley, my friend from Abingdon, VA and fountain of folk-wisdom, used say: “are you complainin’ or braggin’?”
I met a coaching colleague today at the Frederick Library. We have interacted by email but never seen each other. I was outside the building making a phone call when, unknowingly, she walked by to meet me at the inside staircase. I finished my call, went inside to the appointed place and saw someone I figured was her. We introduced ourselves. She admitted to me that she saw me in front of the building and assumed I was one of the many loitering homeless people who populate the front of Frederick’s downtown library. I was (and still am) in jeans, a sweatshirt, and crocs. She , like me, is an executive coach and makes a conscious effort to notice what she notices. She was a little embarrassed that she assessed me as homeless and I was a likewise to be called out for looking so schlubby. Fortunately we were able to have that discussion and move past first impressions to a more robust exchange.
In Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”, he discusses how our brains often function to make decisions quickly and less often slow down to be more deliberate. He calls it system 1 and 2. System 1 is designed to make rapid assessments for survival. We take a little available data, instantly make a coherent story, and assess the threat. It happens so fast we tend to be unaware of it. And in many cases we are wrong. See the optical illusion below. You have likely seen this before. Our quick assessment feels so right. One does look longer than the other. Alas they are the same length (system 2 is more inclined to use rulers). So what did I learn? Perhaps I could dress a little better. Also to be grateful for people who can withhold judgment. Thank you Linda.
Just finished reading Pete Townshend’s autobiography, “Who I Am”. I enjoyed many stories of his craft through the years. His penchant for smashing his guitar was inspired by the German auto-destructive artist named Gustav Metzger. He talked of following an Indian teacher named Meher Baba (the song Baba O’Riley is derived from that name). His marriage was in trouble. He discussed it with his spiritual guide who asked is there any love there. Pete said, “a little.” The guide responded, “a little is enough.” He wrote his best (and only real) love song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBRG-KI_UWk
It is my favorite song of his for many reasons. Mostly, because it is about possibilities.
I went for a walk today, like every other day, with the dogs, on the trail, by the lake. There is something comforting in the routine. Something liberating about knowing what to expect and allowing my brain a breathing space. New experiences are fine yet routine gives one a chance to explore inner space. This may run counter to your intuition. Isn’t new and improved better? Perhaps. Consider Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice” < http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html > where he describes how novelty and choice can create anxiety. Too many investment options actually causes retirement planners to become paralyzed by all the choices and opting out of the plan (watch Schwartz’s Ted video for a fuller explanation).
Hiking the same tract over and over, I can be fully present. I am mindful of my environment, my dogs, my self, the gravel crunching underfoot, the subtle changes in landscape day by day. Not distracted by the unfamiliar and not hypnotized by an iPod. I actually used to hike with the iPod. I was less refreshed and more anxious afterward even losing my patience with my dog because she took me out of my digital trance. I ditched the iPod. Hiking in new places offers an exploratory experience and I must be on guard for unknowns – different trails, rocks and roots, steep terrain. And that is fine but it is not freedom, it is preoccupation. The mundane offers its own type of joy.
They say ‘eyes are the window to the soul”. The Jersey cow (featured in the banner of this blog) has the largest and most expressive eyes of all cows. The eyes say a lot. Sincere, phony, engaged, understanding, disinterest, concern, ennui, contempt, grief, pain, elation, arrogance, humility, optimism. They broadcast what is going on inside of us. This instinct is so core to human awareness that even babies sense it. A Jersey cow’s eyes convey to me calm assertiveness; a state of being promoted by the dog whisperer, Cesar Milan. What are your eyes conveying? Below is a drawing by my Aunt Virginia Cantarella (an ophthalmic medical illustrator) of her own eye.
You cannot read the label of the jar that you are in…
Tell me about your blind spots. Of course you can’t because you are blind to them. What are people trying to tell you about you that you are simply unable to see? Your dog won’t tell you, she is too engaged in hero worship. Humans will tell you. They may tell you in ways that are subtle or uncomfortable. “Uncomfortable” is a signal. It’s telling you something. You just have to want to figure it out.