Building community in a changing world

May 12, 2021

Starting Again in Your Life

As someone who tries to consistently approach each day with “Beginner’s Mind” – not easy to do with all those stories we tell ourselves – I found this dharma talk from Jonathan Foust to be one that I treasure. It has particular appeal to me because I left a job that I was closely identified with about 15 months ago and that was a real challenge. It sometimes still is.

Over the past few years, Jonathan has shared the advice to “not chase shiny objects” when you’re making a big change like the one I did. And as he notes, that can be a real challenge. Particularly for me because I like to dive deep into whatever project, whatever cause, I decide to pursue. So it’s difficult to pause and let the moment pass without jumping in with two feet.

At the 31:52 mark, Jonathan makes these points about starting again:

1. Recognizing that it’s about what’s happening, but also about how you’re relating to what’s happening. What is your perception?

2. Understanding the reality of what are the challenges that you face right now. In the short term, what support do you need to move forward?

3. Learning what’s important to you. What are your values? What is calling you? What has heart to it?

4. How do you move forward? What are the next steps? Your priorities? What allies would be useful? Do you need training or coaching? How will you feel at the end? Creating the habits to help you fill your cup.

May 4, 2021

Put Down What You Are Carrying

If you know me, you know that I am “driven.” I’m driven in my professional pursuits, in my very active lifestyle. I’m often up before 5 am and I’m off. But yet, I like to think that I am fairly laid back. Perhaps I’m fooling myself.

But I do remember a time when I wasn’t driven. That I truly led a life of “haven’t thought about tomorrow.” In high school, my chum Perry – God rest your soul, brother – and I would drive around with a quarter gallon of gas in the tank, wondering when we would run dry. (Yes, it would run dry.) It’s idiotic, I know. But there was a thrill to it and I wouldn’t dare do something like that now. Anyway, it reminded me of this song by Trevor Hall (with Brett Dennen pitching in)…

April 27, 2021

Languishing? The Challenge to Stop Being a Hermit

Like many of us, I’m struggling with the re-entry into society. Although I wouldn’t classify myself as an introvert, I have anti-human tendencies like most. And now that I’m among the lucky who are vaccinated, I’m pushing myself to get back out there. It’s not easy.

This NY Times article entitled “Feeling Blah During the Pandemic? It’s Called Languishing …” touches upon this phenomenon. Here’s an excerpt:

Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in the history of Harvard Business Review was an article describing our collective discomfort as grief. Along with the loss of loved ones, we were mourning the loss of normalcy. “Grief.” It gave us a familiar vocabulary to understand what had felt like an unfamiliar experience. Although we hadn’t faced a pandemic before, most of us had faced loss. It helped us crystallize lessons from our own past resilience — and gain confidence in our ability to face present adversity.

We still have a lot to learn about what causes languishing and how to cure it, but naming it might be a first step. It could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience. It could remind us that we aren’t alone: languishing is common and shared.

And it could give us a socially acceptable response to “How are you?”

Instead of saying “Great!” or “Fine,” imagine if we answered, “Honestly, I’m languishing.” It would be a refreshing foil for toxic positivity — that quintessentially American pressure to be upbeat at all times.

This excerpt offers some help:

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.

An early-morning word game catapults me into flow. A late-night Netflix binge sometimes does the trick too — it transports you into a story where you feel attached to the characters and concerned for their welfare.

While finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work are all possible remedies to languishing, it’s hard to find flow when you can’t focus. This was a problem long before the pandemic, when people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. In the past year, many of us also have been struggling with interruptions from kids around the house, colleagues around the world, and bosses around the clock. Meh.

Also see this NY Times piece entitled “How to Feel Better,” suggesting using cooking as a way to get into some flow…

April 22, 2021

Be Aware of Your Growth During the Pandemic

So let me start by being embarrassed. I pulled these pearls of wisdom from a Jonathan Foust dharma talk a while ago – but I forgot which one! Anyway, Jonathan talked about the notion of post-traumatic growth. To find the resiliency inside and resist the urge to get over your pandemic trauma without taking in the lessons learned. Don’t just simply move on. Be that trapeze artist and sit with the trauma. Give yourself permission to grieve. Let it get big. Really big.

This is an analog of the idea that it isn’t wise to suppress anger, that’s what makes people sick. Emotions are energy waves. So take this experience – which likely is not a “happy place” – and allow it to be transformative. That is if you’re tired of own story. Use this as an opportunity to break the habit of being yourself.

So following up on this blog, here are five lessons I’ve learned from the pandemic that I am striving to keep in my life:

1. Walking the neighborhood – I’ve always walked the neighborhood since we have a dog. But during the pandemic, I really walked the neighborhood. I now appreciate the beauty of waving to strangers much more. Of just being outside.

2. Being with like-minded people – Lucky for me, I was in a “Year of Living Mindfully” program when the pandemic started. We moved our meetings online like everyone else, and that community became that much more important to me as a lifeline to sanity.

3. Enjoy the quiet moments with myself – Meditation makes you more aware.

4. The joys of pickleball – I resisted for a spell, but I’ve come to enjoy the competition that was so much a part of my life for decades. My hoops friends made the move outside and learned a new game.

5. My loving wife, boys, dog and family – My relationship with my wife only grew stronger during the pandemic. We didn’t miss a beat and I try to be aware of how special that is. Our boys were in far-flung places but the family stayed very connected. My side of the family conducted weekly Zoom calls for the year. And Willa, our dog, became a big part of the lessons learned. She didn’t know anything about the pandemic – I think – and watching her have that mindset was very informative…

April 15, 2021

Throwing Yourself Into the Scary

The pandemic definitely is forcing many of us to take a hard look at our lives. It’s hard not to be depressed, particularly as climate change, racial injustice, the possibility of an endless pandemic are all too real.

I recently read something where the author urged us to make at least one hard decision in our life. I’m spacing where I read it – but it made an impact. Of course, many of us make hard decisions all the time – we’re often forced to do so. But this particular notion was about taking a big risk to try to better align your life with where you perhaps once saw it. That kind of thing.

An obvious change of that nature is quitting a job you don’t like anymore. Or maybe you never did. This article about quitting discusses that. Changing a relationship. Having a child. Getting a pet. Jumping out of a plane. The list is endless. It will be interesting to see how many people decide to make big life changes – if they haven’t already – once they’re vaccinated.

For me, I left a comfortable job to go seek my fortune in “Just Saying Yes” right before the pandemic hit. So I never got to say “yes” too often – but I did realize that I’m the type of person that needs to be working. In addition to launching a free instructional video site for those in my field a few months ago, I just took a job with a law firm ranked among the “100 Best Places to Work” – the law firm ranked highest on that list (there are four firms listed, believe it or not) to do something experimental and innovative.

So I’m really leaning into my passion – being among like-minded people, striving to build community and educate in a way that is truly genuine. I am a lucky man…

April 6, 2021

Grasping for Straws with Astrology

I’m a wee bit superstitious, unconsciously relying on “signs” when I feel challenged to rely on my own intellect. I guess looking for a sign is some form of intuition. Anyway, I almost never look at my horoscope – but yesterday I decided to take a peek and it fit the bill:

With the Moon in Aquarius, you are relying on strange coincidences, surprises and synchronicities that are all around you, and feel like you must protect yourself from issues that aren’t rewarding enough. This is a good moment to decipher the stars or numerous events that took place in your life, so you can collect information and get deeper understanding for your own situation.

Don’t waste energy on superficial contacts and small talk. Things that are difficult for you don’t have to be overcome and you can simply commit to those that make you calm.

Of course, I’m well aware of confirmation bias and that we imprint our own motivations – consciously or subconsciously – into most of what we do. But I’ll take what I can get…

March 24, 2021

An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Last week, I blogged about a recent dharma talk from Jonathan Foust about managing your energy wisely. At the 43:36 mark, Jonathan delivers one of lessons that I just love – “an autobiography in 5 short chapters” – here’s a summary:

1. I walk down the street and I fall into a deep hole in the sidewalk.
2. I walk down the same street, I pretend I don’t see the deep hole and I fall in again.
3. I walk down the same street, I see the deep hole, I still fall in. It’s a habit.
4. I walk down the same street, there is a deep hole and I walk around it.
5. I walk down another street.

March 19, 2021

Cultivating Vitality

As always, I loved the latest dharma talk from Jonathan Foust about managing your energy wisely. Here are a few of the many nuggets:

1. You have finite amount of energy & time. How are you gonna use it?
2. You should balance how you challenge yourself with some recovery time.
3. Ask yourself: “What’s between you and feeling vital”?
4. The key is slowing down &amp figuring out what you really want. Otherwise, you are doomed to learn the lesson over and over again. You’ll have constant anxiety wherever you go.
5. It takes energy to stay on the path of knowing what you want and really pursuing it.
6. The more you practice, the more confidence you gain that you can sit with anything.

March 9, 2021

Weary in Spirit

“We all know at times what it’s like to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted.” – Emma (2020 movie)

Man, this has been a bear. As we get closer to the end of the first quarter of ’21, I can see the end of the tunnel. But sometimes I feel like it’s a mirage. The trauma we all feel undoubtedly will continue beyond when things get back to “normal.” There truly is a ‘new normal’ coming. And getting used to that idea is tough. Real tough sometimes.

This note from Elizabeth Lesser about “Facing the Grief in Our Hearts” captures that sentiment nicely and offers an interesting insight: allowing the grief. Here’s an excerpt:

I know I am not alone. We all have lost so much. For some, the losses are big: the lives of loved ones, family we can’t be with, our own health, our jobs, school for the kids, financial security, physical safety, mental stability. Some of the losses are more subtle: routines that keep us grounded, predictability, companionship, pleasure. The disruptions pile up so that we don’t even know how much we have lost, what we are feeling, how much grief is gathering in our hearts.

It may sound like a counterintuitive strategy to turn and face the grief. There’s a lot of advice and inspiration flying around about NOT doing that—about being strong, hopeful, positive. That’s all good. I’m a big fan of strength and hope and positivity! But I have found that unless I get in touch with my very human feelings of sadness; unless I tip my hat to the reality of loss; unless I let myself mourn…the inspiration stuff is a layer that wears off pretty quickly.

March 3, 2021

Time Management & Mindfulness

I learn a lot about technology from Steve Dotto and his “DottoTech” site. Lately, he’s shared his wisdom over a 4-part webinar series devoted to explaining how to use tech tools for time management. Flow state, time audits and focusing. The “Pomodoro” technique.

Interesting stuff, but I’m a little scared to even attempt to improve my level of organization because I’m a tad OCD. I have my “to-do” list on paper and I always beat expectations. Every day. So I worry that by becoming more organized, I will actually spend more time working, not less. I’m not someone who needs that.

Then again, it would be good to track how I spend my time as that’s the definition of mindfulness. Conscious of what I do, day after day. So I’m going to give the pomodoro a try for a week and see if I improve my work lifestyle. Or if I get too wrapped up in the stats…