Friday, October 29, 2010

Qwest for the Best

"Do not present a false and unworthy picture of yourself to others, and do not accept such a picture of them yourself."

A couple of weeks ago a man came into the credit union on a Saturday and walked up to my teller station. I was not having a good day. 

I was still recovering from my write-up and feeling a bit insecure and unsure of myself at work and I had not gotten a good night's sleep so I was very tired. 

I had helped this guy before and he always seemed a bit arrogant to me, but I had never had a particularly negative interaction with him. 

As I did his deposit I asked him how his day was going. His response was, "Obviously better than yours since you're working and I'm not." He said it not with empathy, but with glee. 

The same glee my sons use when talking to each other about something they have that the other one wants. "I got to watch TV and you didn't....I'm going to a birthday party and you aren't....I have enough money to buy a new Lego set and you don't!" 

He couldn't have made it much clearer if he'd thrown in a, "Na-na-na-boo-boo."

I paused - and bristled - for just a moment, then straightened myself up and smiled, continuing to process his transaction, but saying nothing. 

Inside of course I was thinking, ASS-HOLE.

I finished his transaction, handed him his cash and said, with a terse smile, "Have a nice day."

His response? "Thanks, I will. Better than you I'm sure now that I've ruined it for you." Again, with the glee.

That did it. I smiled, a wide, but angry smile and said very clearly, "You didn't ruin my day. If I didn't want to be here I wouldn't be here."

I could tell he was stunned as he stammered out, "W-w-ell, that's a really good attitude to have." I nodded, but said nothing more, silently sending him on his way.

When I went home that afternoon I told my husband about the immature ASS-HOLE I had at my station that day. Then I pretty much forgot about it.  

But guess who was back at the credit union and back at my teller station this Saturday? 

As he walked in, he looked in my direction and I could see it in his eyes: he expected me to hate him. He expected me to treat him poorly, with disdain and vengeance. 

In that moment I felt a wave of compassion for him so great that it actually made me smile a big, wide smile. 

I greeted him warmly, "Hi! Come on over."

And what came next was priceless. The surprise in his face at not being hated made him look like a little boy, expecting to get into trouble for breaking his mom's best China, who gets a big hug and an "it's okay" instead.

When I asked him about his day he told me he was taking his kids on a tour of Qwest Field and I said I thought my kids would love that. He fell all over himself, promising two or three times to tell me how it was the next time he came in. 

I was so glad in that moment that I had not presented a false and unworthy picture of myself or accepted a false and unworthy picture of him, but rather looked for - and found - the best in both of us.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monkey mind at the Day Spa or, My Write-Up the FINAL Chapter

"The greatest gift we give to anyone is our is dishonorable to expect that others can't handle it."

--My friend CF, in a psychic reading

Last Thursday I had the day off from work and I decided to spend it at a local day spa, soaking in the waters and getting a scrub and pedicure. 

My intention was to devote myself to relaxation and meditation for one whole day. 

However, once I was bathing in the still waters, I found that my mind was on fire with the injustice of my write-up and thoughts and ideas about how to handle the upcoming meeting I had requested with my supervisors about it. 

I just couldn't stop thinking about it, worrying it to death and running through all sorts of scenarios and conversations in my head. My ego had grabbed onto this situation and was hanging on for dear life.

Later that night as I reflected on my day, a part of me was disappointed that I had spent so much of my time at the spa in my monkey mind. But as I looked more deeply into how I felt, I realized the benefit that I had received from all the time spent "worrying" the problem. 

As I looked ahead to my meeting with my supervisors the next day I realized that my primary goal was no longer to defend myself against the accusation of being imperfect or even to have the write-up removed from my record, it was to communicate openly and honestly and WITH LOVE how I was feeling. 

And it was the process of going through all the scenarios in my head at the spa, composing a number of "drafts" of my speech, each one kinder and gentler than the last, that had allowed me to get to the point of asking the question: How could I do it with love?

I really had no idea. I have rarely spoken up for myself with love. I usually stuff my feelings and stuff my feelings and stuff my feelings, until I am so angry that I can't hold it in any longer and I blow. 

What I want to say comes out in a spew of hate and anger that frightens the person on the receiving end and, while it sometimes leads to the outcome I want, often takes longer and costs more in terms of my relationships than I would like.

So, how did it go?

It went great!

My supervisors listened, validated my feelings, and reassured me that overall I was doing a great job and they were really happy with my work. 

I left the conference room with a new-found respect for both them and for myself. I really couldn't ask for much more than that. 

And I owe it all to that monkey in my mind.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Following the Rules

"How long was I going to wait to keep score by my own rules?"

I have always been a rule follower: Color inside the lines. Get good grades. Be a "good girl." But to my seven year old son I am a rogue, a roust-about, a rule-breaker.

My crime? I parked - for all of two minutes - in a no parking zone while dropping off a video recently. 

Our local video store is in a dense area of the neighborhood where parking is scarce. They do, however, have a parking lot, which is the only thing that makes actually returning a video in person palatable. 

The parking lot is often full, however, so on one recent occasion I found it necessary to park in one of the adjacent spots reserved for a local real estate company. 

You would have thought I decided to rob a bank.

My son was screaming and yelling, "No, mom! Don't park here. You'll get a ticket. No, mom. It says 'No parking for the video store.' NO-O-O-O-O!!!"

"It'll be fine," I toss at him before jumping out of the maxi-van and running into the video store (I'm more worried about leaving my 7 and 8 year old alone in the car for two minutes than I am about getting a parking ticket). 

I return shortly to find that the kids are all right and I have not received a ticket. Whew!

But he doesn't let it go.

"Mom, why did you park here? It says, 'No Video Store Parking', Mom, You could have gotten a ticket, Mom." For some reason repeating my name over and over seems to make him feel better.

So I try and explain "risk analysis" to my younger son. The chance that someone from the real estate company will come and want to use that spot is pretty slim if I am going to be parking there for only two minutes at 5:45 pm. If we had arrived at 8:30 am, however, and were planning to stay for twenty or thirty minutes, I would have made a different choice. 

The look on his face tells me he doesn't get it at all.

And at age 7 that's probably a good thing. Seven is still well into the period of your life when you think everything is black and white and you are relieved that it is. 

Forty-one, however, is a whole different ball game. At least it is for me. After forty-some years of playing by the rules I find myself wanting to "go rogue" in all sorts of ways. I feel hemmed in by the practices and policies of my youth and upbringing: Be nice. Play by the rules. Don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Why the hell not?

Life is too short to live by someone else's rules. Now is the time to discover what you think, what you believe, what you know to be true. And to live by that. 

That is not to say that certain basic laws don't apply: "Do no harm" seems a good one. "Thou Shall not Steal" still works for me. But what about "Thou Shall not Kill?" As it applies to people it is a no-brainer, but what about animals? How do I feel about this one in the greater context? 

I eat meat, but I don't kill it. Does that make it all right? What about bugs? Spiders I carefully and gently lift onto a sheet of paper before pushing them gently out the door; mosquitoes I slap swiftly, smearing their blood across my arms.

The answer is, of course, that there is no ONE answer. Everyone gets to decide for themselves the rules they live by. 

Here are the ones I am trying out right now: Speak your truth in the moment. Listen to others. Be kind. 

Not nice, but kind. There's a big difference. Niceness implies a sugary sweetness born of untruth; Kindness a gentle honesty that leaves the integrity of both individuals intact.

What about you? What rules are you living by?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Finding Happy

"Finding yourself happy in the place where you are is the best way to know where you're supposed to be." 

--From the Guest Book in the Ladies Room at Thrive

There is a new restaurant in Seattle that I absolutely LOVE. It is called Thrive and the food served there is organic, vegetarian and raw.

Many of you are probably thinking, "Ew!" But you have no idea how wrong you are.

Friday night I had one of the best meals of my life: a Coconutty smoothie (their signature smoothie) and Awaken, a warm grain bowl of steamed Bhutanese red rice and quinoa tossed with marinated kale, avocado, toasted nori, scallions, seasonal veggies, and dressed in their house-made sesame-ginger sauce. They describe it as, "cliff-jumping for your taste buds." I call it the perfect meal.

Tasty and filling, without being too much food, my whole body felt ALIVE after eating. I wanted to eat more, and at the same time I was utterly satisfied in a way I hadn't been by a meal in a very long time - maybe my entire eating life.

As I do, I started to think about how I could make this kind of eating a permanent part of my life and the life of my family. I fantasized about serving my children raw, home-made granola with strawberries and almond milk for breakfast, warm brown rice with heaps of veggies and a special sauce for dinner with homemade raw, date-paste and carob cookies for dessert. We would all be so healthy!

Later that night we went to a movie. I was determined to sip water and eat the date-paste, chocolate and walnut granola bar I had in my purse as a snack, right up until the point where we swung open the doors of the movie theater and I could smell the popcorn.

Popcorn! It's a definite weakness of mine and I didn't pause for even a second to consider the raw, chewy goodness waiting for me in my purse before walking right up to the counter and ordering a large buttered popcorn and a Sprite.

Sitting in the dark movie theater, watching a new Aaron Sorkin project come alive, and eating the warm, buttery kernels one after another was an entirely different kind of bliss, but a kind of bliss just the same.

My body didn't feel as alive after eating the popcorn as after eating the veggies and rice, but on some level, I did. 

Sometimes happiness is a healthy meal, and sometimes it's an unhealthy snack, but hopefully it's always right where you are.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stop Making Sense (of it all)

"Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do and die."

The original quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem is: "Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die," but it is often paraphrased, "Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die." The version I have used is a combination of these two that came to mind as I continued to ponder my write-up from last week and to try and make sense of it.

When it first happened, I was absolutely certain that the person who had unwittingly received an extra $100 would return it to the credit union and my record would return to its unblemished state. I was certain of this because I am the person who ALWAYS returns the money. Whenever there is a "bank error in my favor" I always let someone know. 

So, according to the laws of Karma as I understand them, this was a no-brainer, the person would discover the error and return the money. Except....they didn't.

This shook my world a bit and I had to come up with another explanation for this aberration in the workings of the Universe.

Here's what I came up with: 

1) This was a "correction" from the Universe for judging a co-worker who has trouble balancing and makes a lot of mistakes on the job. Kind of a, you think you're so great, well try this on for size, kind of smack-down from the Universe.

2) This was a chance to "trust the Universe," to push the pause button on my anxiety and just see what happened next and to continue to trust in the possibility that someone would return the money after a few days or weeks had passed. 

3) This was a redress of grievances for loosening my policy of "working at work." In the past I had always worked on only work things at work, but recently, as I noticed how much time my co-workers spend on Facebook and Google and Flicker while working, I had begun to relax my personal rules a bit and check my email or work on some writing while at work. I didn't feel entirely good about it, but I was still justifying it with the old, "everybody's doing it."

As the days went on I thought about each of these possibilities and tried to decide which one was "right," but there was no one answer that overwhelmingly spoke to me and seemed to be "it." (Though I did finally settle on #3 as the most likely and have returned to my former policy with good results so far.) 

That's when this quote started to repeat in my head. "Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do and die."

It reminds me of a game I used to play with my younger son when he was around 4 or 5 years old. He would ask me a question and keep asking the next question and the next question and the next until we finally got into a loop that went like this: 

ME: "I don't know."

HIM: "Why don't you know?"

ME: "Because I'm not God."

HIM: "Why aren't you God?"

ME: "Because God made me human."

HIM: "Why did God make you human?"

ME: "I don't know."

HIM: "Why don't you know?"

ME: "Because I'm not God."

And so on and so on until one of us (usually me) got tired and we stopped. 

This is exactly what I was doing with God over my write-up. 

ME: "Why did this happen?"

GOD: "It is not yours to know."

ME: "Why not?"

GOD: "Because you're not God."

ME: "Why not?"

GOD: "Because I made you human."

ME: "Why?"

GOD:"It is not yours to know."

And so on and so on and so on. Until I go crazy or just let it go....because sometimes ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do the best we can with the life we have been given and then, eventually, to die.....when presumably it will all make sense.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seeking Perfection

"There is no perfect situation. You must make the best of whatever your situation is."

--The Universe during a meditation

I am always seeking perfection: the perfect day, the perfect plan, the perfect organizational system for my desk or sock drawer or closet. The problem with perfection is, it never lasts. Never! 

This is one of my primary beefs about this life of ours. Nothing we do is ever done. Complete. Good enough. Because tomorrow, everything changes. And then we have to. 

I was lying in bed last week trying to meditate, but really working on what to do about my younger son's school situation. He is in first grade at our local elementary school and he is bored. He's been bored since last year and I was hoping things would change this year, but nope, still bored. 

So I have been going over in my head all of our different options: keep him at this school and hope things get better, move him to a more academically challenging public school and hope that helps, move him to a more academically challenging private school and hope that helps, move him to a freer (like Waldorf or similar) school, home school, move to a different school district and take his brother out of school too...

Each of these options has pluses and minuses, but none of them is perfect, and I was lying there getting really agitated during my "meditation" time when this little quote came floating by out of nowhere. 

"There is no perfect situation. You must make the best of whatever your situation is."

And it just made sense to me. It didn't change anything. It didn't give me the answer, but it just let me know that right now I don't know and maybe someday I will. And maybe the decision I make then will be perfect for awhile, but then it won't and once again I'll have to make the best of whatever that is.

Because this is the game we call LIFE. And, baby, it ain't perfect. But maybe, just maybe, that is perfection...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Changing the World

"When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country and, who knows, I may have even changed the world."

--Inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abby (1100 AD)

Reading this quote always makes me breathe a huge sigh of relief. 

I am introverted, easily overwhelmed, and need a good deal of rest and alone time just to deal with my life. I am always amazed at stories of people in my same situation (middle-class, middle-aged parents with elementary-aged children) who are adopting twelve children or organizing fund-raisers to build schools in Africa or traveling around the country raising awareness about some good cause when I can barely manage to spend one hour a week in my kids' classrooms helping their teachers. 

Sometimes I feel like the planet's laziest, most under-performing humanoid.

But I am working on my shit 24/7 these days. Ever since my "awakening" - aka the birth of my first child and the two years of sanity-destroying sleep deprivation and insomnia that followed - I am trying every moment to be the most present, grounded, and awake person I can be. 

Sometimes that ain't much. 

But some days it feels like I just might be sending out a wave of light and love big enough to spark a change in my family, my community, my country and maybe even the world.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Escaping the World of Illusions

"Look only at possibilities and not at material illusions. You are powerful and can overcome any situation using a positive mindset."

--Doreen Virtue from her book Angel Numbers 101, entry #616

I got "written up" at work last week. Written up! I'm 41 years old and I have never once been written up at work, until now. 

During, I took it stoically, as my mid-Western up-bringing had taught. Then, all emotional hell broke loose.

First I was sad. I went back to my desk and cried quietly - despite my friend Karen's sage advice: NO TEARS AT WORK - tears dripping down my cheeks while I stared at my computer screen hoping no one would notice (and thanking God I don't wear mascara).

Then I got angry: "How dare they! I'm a good employee. Was that really necessary?"

Finally, underneath the sadness and the anger, I discovered the hurt. And that's what I am nursing now, the hurt.

And it's hard. Because I loved my job.  I still love my job, I think. But maybe not as much as I did before....

I work part-time as a teller at a local credit union to earn a bit of extra cash, get my health benefits paid for, and still have the physical and emotional resources left over at the end of the day to be there for my kids. 

It's not a glamorous job or anything I trained for, but it was - is? - perfect for the phase of life I am in right now: the post-baby, pre-teenager, the kids still need me, but not quite as much and oh, by the way, the industry my husband is in may just have the bottom fall out of it any day now, phase. 

So I'd like to keep my job, but I don't know if I can. I feel like I've lost that lovin' feelin' and my mojo all at the same time. 

I used to be completely confident that I would balance at the end of the day and I counted my till knowing it would be right on. And then.....there was the day a month ago when I was off one dollar. A measly dollar, but still, it stung. I was no longer batting a thousand. I wasn't perfect. I was human. 

But it was only a dollar and I was able to move on. 

And then there was the day - almost exactly a month later - when I was off by one hundred dollars. Not a measly amount. Enough to raise the eyebrows of my supervisors. Enough to get written up. 

Written up! Me! It just doesn't happen. But it did. 

And now I have to figure out how to deal with it. 

And, yes, there is a part of me that realizes spending even two minutes worrying about this is absolutely ridiculous. 

In the scope of a credit union teller's till one hundred dollars is a lot of money. In the scope of pretty much any other economic measure, it ain't much (As my loving husband said when I told him about it, "Don't even talk to me about a hundred bucks, we had to write off ten thousand last year.").

And this is before you even consider that as a believer in the New Age view of life, on some level I consider this whole thing an illusion created by my soul for my learning. This is nothing more than a morality play in which I am both actor and audience.

But old habits die hard and I wasn't raised to get written up at work. Or to take that well or lightly.

So what's the moral of the story? 

I guess it would be this quote. This is the "angel message" that I received when I left work that day, at 6:16 pm, "Look only at possibilities and not at material illusions. You are powerful and can overcome any situation using a positive mindset."

There are few - if any - material illusions in our culture stronger than work and money. And no doubt that what is called for here is a positive mindset. Or as my friend Jefferson said when I told him about it, "Let it go. Just....Let it go."

I'm trying Jefferson, I'm trying.....

Monday, October 11, 2010


"When in conflict with someone ASK:  What do you need to give me what I need?"

We have been working with anger in our household lately.

Managing my own anger has been a struggle for me ever since my first child was born. It was as if his birth - or at least the sleep deprivation that went with it - unleashed my anger.

I was mad at my husband. I was mad at my baby. I was mad at EVERYONE.

Mostly, of course, I was mad at myself.

What I finally realized after much reading and meditating and class-taking and soul-searching was that my anger was me sending a message to myself, pointing out where I needed to make a change, set a boundary, or speak up for myself.

So often I would end up angry and in conflict because I thought I couldn't both get what I wanted or needed and give the other person (my child, my spouse, my friend) what they wanted or needed, but I have found that this is rarely true. (Props here to my husband who already knew this, and had been trying to teach me for years ;)

It may be true that we both can't get everything we want or need, but with good communication we can usually each get some part of what we want or need.

So now I am trying to teach this to my sons.

Especially my first-born because he is starting to want things, to ask for things, beyond his basic needs and to get angry when he doesn't get what he wants. And, of course, his anger looks a lot like mine - screaming, slamming doors, walking furiously out of rooms - because he learned how to do anger from me when I didn't even know he was watching.

The irony is, I don't understand his anger. I mean, I understand it because I have felt it, but I don't understand why he is using it on me.

I pride myself on being a reasonable parent. I try to listen to my sons when they talk and to give their wants and needs the same consideration I would give a request from my husband or a friend. But the past 8 years of reasonableness are getting me nowhere these days except on the receiving end of loud screams of, "I hate you!!! You're so stupid!!! You don't love me at all!!!"

None of my initial reactions to this new phase have been very effective: laughing it off, ignoring it, yelling recently we have implemented a new plan: STOP. TELL. ASK.

STOP yelling. TELL me how you are feeling. ASK for what you want or need. 

It's our version of "What do you need to give me what I need?" and it seems to be working, at least a little bit. It doesn't stop the initial barrage of screaming, but it does help it to de-escalate pretty quickly and move into a place where we can each get a bit of what we want or need sooner. 

And sometimes, that can feel like a miracle.

Friday, October 8, 2010

In the Shadows

"All the shadows step in with every step forward."

--JM, Verity Credit Union Member

I have recently started a meditation practice whereby I get up twenty, thirty, sometimes even sixty minutes early, most mornings to sit quietly and still for whatever time I have available. 

I love this time and find that I look forward to it like I look forward to a hot cup of tea or a long nap on a Sunday afternoon. 

However, it isn't all light and love once I get up from my little meditation pillow. I am finding that my "stuff" is coming up fast and furious since starting this practice. My anger, my frustration, my insecurities, my issues with people, etc., etc., etc. 

The other morning after an hour on my meditation cushion I had to get ready for work and in the midst of getting ready my husband and sons woke up and started rambling around the house. 

The kids needed breakfast, my husband needed attention, and I just needed to be left alone. Words were spoken, a misunderstanding ensued, and I left the house feeling bad, bad, bad. 

On the way to work I felt as if my heart was going to implode from sadness at how our morning had gone. Normally I would have taken a deep breath, steeled myself for the day ahead and tried to forget about it, but this time, I went the other way. 

I took a deep breath and inhaled my sadness fully and completely. I felt it deep in my heart and the tears started to flow. As I walked and cried, the sadness increased exponentially and I knew now that it wasn't just my sadness I was feeling, it was the sadness of the whole world. It was all the sadness. And it hurt my heart, but I stayed with it - walking, breathing, feeling. I felt like it was never going to lift. 

Then, about ten minutes into my walk, it did. The sky of my heart opened up and the sun started to shine, ever so slightly, inside of me. By the time I got to work three minutes later it was as if it had never happened. I felt light and happy inside and had a fabulous day. 

In this modern Western life of ours we learn to avoid the shadows - the sadness, the anger, the grief - but only by walking through the shadows can we once again find the light.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Being the Good Witch

"There are souls in this world which have the gift of finding joy everywhere and of leaving it behind them when they go." 

--Frederick William Faber, from the website of  West Coast Mystic Arts 

The other day I was telling an acquaintance of mine a plan I had in the back of my mind to run the upcoming Seattle Marathon without training, as a kind of meditative endurance exercise. 

[A bit of background, I ran the Seattle Marathon last year. It was my first marathon and I had an absolute blast running it. I ran slow - my time was 5 hours 38 minutes, not even within shouting distance of qualifying for Boston - but steady and finished feeling strong and healthy.] 

Needless to say perhaps, she was not supportive, and immediately unleashed upon me countless reasons why this was NOT a good idea, sure and certain injury the most compelling. I WOULD get hurt, there was no doubt about that. 

As I stood there listening to her an image came into my head of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz and I could feel her cursing me with her long, pointy green finger. I laughed inside at her fear and her need to curse me with it. 

After she left, however, I thought more about it and remembered that just the previous weekend my husband had wanted to do a triathlon without training and I had discouraged him and cursed him with my fear in just the same way. 

As I thought more about it, I remembered countless times when I had been the Wicked Witch of the West to someone's Dorothy, cursing their hopes and dreams with my fears. I had done it to my husband, my sister, my friends, my children, myself. 

Then I remembered the antidote to the Wicked Witch: Glinda the Good Witch. Blond and beautiful, she is hope incarnate. At that moment I decided I want to be the Good Witch, blessing my friends' and family's (and even my acquaintance's) hopes and dreams with light and love and moral support.  

Next time someone comes to me with a hope or a dream, I am going to try and leave my fear behind, wave my magic wand over it, and wish with them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Happy Blogaversary!

Today is the one-year anniversary of this blog and that seems a reason to celebrate, but also to reflect....

I am proud of what I have accomplished in the past year. Posting three times a week for one year without fail is something I wasn't sure I could do when I started (I had tried blogging a few times before, but always found I petered out after two or three posts). I did it!

"BUT," says the voice in my head, "You haven't REALLY been writing, you've just been posting quotes from other writers....."

Which is true. But. I have my own BUT for that voice.... just doing that has been an exercise in practice and discipline and has been laying the groundwork for what is to come next.

So, what IS to come next? I had grand plans for a total redesign - maybe even a name change - for my blog, but here we are at the one-year mark and I am nowhere near ready for any of that. So this year I am just going to make one small change and build on that over the next year.

This year I am going to add some writing to each post. It will most likely be a brief comment (somewhat like I sometimes post in the comments section) on why I chose the quote or what it means to me, how it helped me grow.....whatever seems appropriate for that quote, that moment, that day. I hope you will enjoy reading what I have to say.

Happy Blogaversary to you too! Thanks for tuning in.

Love, Lara