How Is Your Election “Hangover”?

Looking at the numbers from last night’s election it would be easy to state that about half our country is jubilant today and the other half feels despondent. .

Yet, looking at the exit poll numbers, it looks as if there is a third group that is equally large.

People in this group might feel a kind of indifference at the election result. Like there was no good choices anyway.

So if this is true, our populace in America today is almost evenly split in three groups: One that feels post-election triumph, one that feels post-election blues, and a third group that is coping with post-election indifference.

People in the triumphant group might be liable to “shout it from the roof tops” as if it were some sort of personal achievement that the “right man won”.

People in the group that feels defeated might feel profound loss and, as someone tweeted last night, a sense of “the world is over”.

The people in the third group might feel a variety of emotions from cautious optimism to moderate resignation to downright anger at not having someone in politics they can believe in. For many in this group the reaction might be a lack of interest and a sense of disengagement.

No matter which group each one of us are in, I think today calls for a reality check.

Our perceptions color our reality. For instance, it is clear that you can have two people watch the same movie and have completely different interpretations of what they saw.

Likewise our next four years can be colored by what we choose to focus on.

If we walk around in a exhilarated self-righteous daze, we will probably get disappointed at every “set-back” and every obstacle in the President’s future way.

If we see our world through fearful, hurt and disappointed lenses, we might find “scary” and “alarming” signs around every corner – and take them to mean things they don’t.

If we are indifferent we might find a place of resignation with our own ability to make a difference and our country’s leadership in general.

Maybe if we step out of our groups for a moment and look at our lives, it is good to remember that things to a large degree depend on our interpretation of them.

We can choose to step out of our assumptions and beliefs at any point in our lives. Instead of seeing ourselves and our world through the lenses of Republican defeated, Democrat victorious, or Independent indifferent – who are we really?

We all want to enjoy life, love and be happy. We want the children of the future to have opportunities for the same. It is blood that runs through our veins whether we are Democrats, Republicans, Christian, Muslim, American, Asian, African, Buddhist or Portuguese.

I wonder how our interpretations of the post-election season change if each of us step out of the tendency to segregate and divide – and instead step into a place of appreciation for our own individual blessings and our collective possibilities as a nation, and as citizens of the world too.

What can each of us do for peace and prosperity in our own lives, in the lives of our friends and neighbors, for our country – and indeed for the world in general?

If we take off the blinders of interpretation, we might actually be able to see choices and opportunities that we didn’t even know we had. If we step out of the jubilant fog, the defeated haze or the indifferent murkiness, we might actually find that each of us can make a real difference.

This difference might be just sending our neighbor a friendly smile even though he or she had that sign in the lawn that really irritated you for months.  Or it might be simply going to work comfortable in your own clothes appreciative of each moment, each blessing and finding yourself impervious to the despondence, jubilation or indifference all around. Just appreciative of what is. And the possibilities that we all have to make a difference.

It starts right here and now. With you and me.

Good Grief! I Am Falling!

Yesterday morning I was walking at 4:30AM. It was foggy and dark. A delicious time to walk in peace and quiet. The fog was like thick oatmeal and the dampness of the air was invigorating, sprinkling my face with a cool mist. I was lost in thoughts as I walked. I felt connected to all and nothing in particular.

And then I got the brilliant idea: to break my meditative state and

….drumroll……

check the e-mails on my phone!

Now if I had stopped, or even slowed down, to glance at the ever-present piece of technology, well – that would have been one thing. But of course I didn’t. I walked on in the fog.

All was well until suddenly an object reached out and grabbed both my legs and abruptly stopped their forward motion and enveloped them in a sharp, unforgiving, agonizing pain. The top of my body was well on its way to the next step – and my legs were hindered by this mysterious object.

“Holy s… I am going over – gosh this hurts

My survival instincts were in full attack mode. What on earth was happening? Did someone grab my legs with metal thongs, and next thing I know I am going to be hauled into an unmarked white van never to be heard from again?

Time slowed down, as it tends to do in these types of fight or flight experiences. All I could do was to try to balance myself somehow and not fall over. I was flailing in the air, making the most ungracious moves to remain standing. I did not want to drop the phone on the hard sidewalk concrete either.

By some amazing grace, I managed to not topple, and also to keep my phone in my hand.

It was time to assess what had “grabbed my legs”.

I looked down to see an innocent, yet very unmovable-looking fire hydrant! It was down low and I had not seen it in my phone-absorbed awareness. Well, at least I did not have to fight off the imagined guys in the white van… However, what I never realized about fire hydrants is that they have really, really sharp bolts on them. HUGE bolts, which on this one were covered in black, oily grease. And on both my legs were now big black scrapes and throbbing bruises from these contraptions.

It hurt like crazy.

Now the old me would have frozen. I would have been enveloped in pain and bent over – stopped in my tracks. My first thoughts would have been along these lines:

-“Crap, I am just so stupid! I know not to walk in fog and look at my phone at the same time- Duh!”

-“Jeez, I wonder who saw that? That must have looked ridiculous… maybe someone is having a good laugh at me?”
– “I am just such a klutz!”

-“Why does this kind of stuff always happen to me?”

I would have been petrified by the pain, and humiliated by my own thoughts. The walk would probably have ended with me limping home – or calling a cab. I would have felt like crap. Icepacks would have been applied and I would have been there in my house feeling victimized by the stupid hydrant that happened to be in my way.

What was interesting about this experience this time, was the fact that after I assessed the damage, I actually managed to just keep walking. As my legs throbbed, I seemingly moved through the pain. Words popped into my head that were very different to how I would have responded for most of my life. I felt grateful for my body’s ability to balance itself. I felt competent that I had managed to hold on to the phone and not fall. I thanked the Universe for giving me this reminder that my walks (especially in the fog and with jet lag) are for feeling connected. A connectedness that does NOT involve technology! How lucky was I that I could receive this reminder without falling off a cliff or getting run over by a car?

As I kept walking, the pain became a warm almost pleasant tingle. It was as if the blood, rushing through my body, allowed the pain to transform into this awareness of new lessons learned.

There is a saying that goes like this:

“Pain is inevitable – Suffering is optional”

And yes, we certainly cannot escape pain in our lives. It is a fact of life. From beginning to end, we will run into episodes of hurt. It is what we do with it those painful experiences that makes a difference: Pain is what the world does to us. Suffering is often brought on by what we do to ourselves by how we react to it. By how we think about the it. By what we take the pain to mean.

In coaching, when we experience pain, we often look for “what is real” about it. What is inevitable. And then we work to separate “what is” from what we take it to mean. Often we feel liberated and lighter when we free ourselves from our self-imposed interpretations and assumptions. And our suffering lessens.

What might you take the “fire hydrants” to mean in your life?

Glass “Half-Empty” Blues

“I am just sick of negative people!”

I overheard a person the other day that was complaining along those lines. And the more she complained the more the other person looked ready to run away. And many times we do this: we are not aware that we are sending into the world the exact thing we profess to dislike ourselves.

Negativity is not inspiring and rarely brings with it anything constructive.

Here is a well-known story from the oral tradition of the Cherokee Nation:

A Grandfather from the Cherokee Nation was talking with his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight between two wolves.”

The young grandson listened intently.

“One wolf is anger, envy, war, greed, selfishness, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment, inferiority/superiority, false pride, coarseness, and arrogance. He spreads lies, deceit, fear, hatred, blame, scarcity, poverty, and divisiveness.”

The other wolf is friendly, joyful, loving, worthy, serene, humble, kind, benevolent, just, fair, empathetic, generous, honest, compassionate, grateful, brave, and inspiring resting wholeheartedly in deep vision beyond ordinary wisdom.”

Grandfather continued; “This same fight is going on inside you and inside all human beings as well.”

The grandson paused in deep reflection and recognition of what his grandfather had just said. Then he finally asked;

“Grandfather, which wolf will win this horrific war?”

The elder Cherokee replied, “The wolf that you feed!”

Many of us intend to feed the joyful and loving sides of ourselves. Yet we still “fall into” being negative. Our family, partners, friends and business associates are on the receiving end. And if our intentions and actions don’t line up – it doesn’t matter how well we mean it – it is our actions they respond to.

So how do we change this habit of inadvertently and unconsciously getting side-tracked into fearful and divisive actions, no matter how well-intended we might be?

A new practice takes time to become a new habit. And “feeding our inner wolves” is all about practice.

In coaching we look at what habits we can change. By doing this, we also modify how we perceive the world. We have a choice if we want to see ourselves living out a self-fulfilling travesty or experience forward-moving momentum.

According to the law of attraction, like attracts like! And so feeding our own inner sense of love and worthiness attracts it into our lives. Feeding our own sense of fear and dread likewise attracts that which we do not want.

It can start simply. By starting to listen to the statements we make almost without even noticing:

“I will never figure this out.”

“Why even bother!”

“It is a scary world we live in”

It is not about whether these statements are true or false. It is a matter of sending out statements that affects the way we think, the way we feel and ultimately the way we act. And our world responds accordingly. It mirrors back to us, what we put out.

An example of another way to express the feelings at the root of the above statements could be:

“I love learning new things”

“If I don’t try I will never know.”

“I am thankful for ……. in my world”

Some of my clients install an internal “Eeyore alarm”. And when they feel tempted to make a negative statement, they remind themselves that here is an opportunity for reframing in a new way to get a result they really want. As they start aligning their intentions with their actions, their world starts responding accordingly.

Over time and with practice, it becomes as natural as riding a bike – and as perceptions change, so do lives.

 

 

 

An Over-Looked Key To Success?

Maybe you watched the other night as Nik Wallenda braved the wire stretched across Niagara Falls?

Obviously, it was amazing to watch a man live his dreams, to plan, to focus, to build a team, to risk it all, and succeed!

All of the planning steps he took before he even put a foot on the wire obviously contributed to his victorious walk across the divide.

I think there was yet another aspect to his success:

Nik’s absolute calm before, during and after this momentous and high pressure gig was awe-inspiring.  As I listened in to the dialogue between Nik and his coach dad there was an aspect of Nik that stood out to me: His amazing gratitude and appreciation for the moment!

As he walked, he was pushed and pulled by unforeseeable wind gusts, drenched in mist, having to walk a swinging metal rope over the deafening water masses that were gushing below him. Through it all he simply kept affirming his gratitude, and his thankfulness for the moment!

Neuroscientists has discovered that we actually directly affect the plasticity of our brains with our thoughts. Their research shows that we can re-wire our brains to change our emotional style (Richard Davidson, Ph) and change our propensity for having negative expectations and (Rick Hanson PhD) how this affects our experience. This research is showing real changes in the brain – when people repeat various desired practices over and over. Giving a whole new meaning to “mind over matter”.

Robert Emmons PhD has found through his research that people who write a brief gratitude journal daily (or even incorporate grateful thoughts into their morning and evening routines) generally had better success toward reaching important personal goals both academic, interpersonal and health-based!

There were plenty of other benefits to this simple exercise in practicing gratefulness. I believe we saw one such benefit crossing over Niagara Falls in perfect composure the other night!

To start your own gratefulness practice you can simply make it a habit to start your day with a positive affirmation or prayer. A thankful appreciation for your life. Many of us treat prayer as a wish list. And by doing so we are really adding a sense of “lack of” and a sense of “if only” to our attitude. So gratitude can simply be to state what you are thankful for in your life (your health, your children, your dog, roof over your head, nice weather, etc.) By little by little changing your awareness to include what works in your life, you also start re-wiring your brain to actually experience, appreciate and indirectly attract more of what you want!

At night likewise before you go to bed, just list in your journal or simply in your mind three blessings from your day. On really bad days, it can simply be – the coffee was perfect this morning…. I dare you – there will always be something positive in your day – and by finding it and focusing on it, you will become more appreciative, happy and relaxed. You will be able to experience your own success – and also attract more of it!

When Nik successfully had completed his walk, he was asked by the border agents in Canada what was the purpose of his trip. He answered that he was seeking to “inspire people.”

He certainly inspired me –  and what a great example of living your dream with a thankful attitude – one step at a time!

Do You Do This?

I almost fell down and busted my rear as I was reaching over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.

My son heard me yell and came and took this snap shot of me… By then I had composed myself!

I was balancing on my step stool while attempting to cut the grape vines that grow like crazy. I was reaching (well it turns out over-reaching) to get to the vines growing on the other side of the fence. It was my intention that this cutting action would enable the vines on MY side of the fence to yield more – and also to reduce the growth of “my vine” into my neighbor’s much neater yard.

And as I was stretching and reaching wearing my slippers (I know… not smart) on the top step of the stool…. well…  let’s just say it was close to disaster.

And it dawned on me that this is what we do so often. We “reach” to control our kids, who are seemingly growing out of control in areas we are uncomfortable with, we “reach” to control our spouse, who is not acting appropriately (for our taste anyway), or we “reach” to control our co-workers or employees so they can stay within the perimeter of what we find is the “best” way.

And this is all fine and good. A certain amount of trimming is needed for the vines to yield. Focus is needed for us to be able to carry out the things we want to do. Helping others to achieve their goals is a fine intention.

Yet at a certain point, we have to let go. When we over-reach and try to control that which really is out of our control – that which is beyond our reach – we run the risk of figuratively speaking falling down and busting our buns!

The Serenity Prayer comes to mind:

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

As I write this – I send a thankful thought to the Universe for the lesson.

A Love-Affair With Gossip

 “Gosh, I wonder what Emilia was thinking the other day when she wore that red polka dot top with the pink striped pants… It must be that boyfriend she has started hanging out with – and did you see that her eyes matched her pants too? Ha-ha…. I think that she must have been up all night… – that new boyfriend and her might be doing a bit too much partying – No wonder she lost her job…”

You find yourself in a small group and one person starts by talking about somebody who is not present. Soon the next person chips in and then you find yourself adding your comments. Then conclusions are being drawn about what this person does, why he/she looks the way they do, and act different, etc.

Be honest here… It feels good, right?

You and the group gossiping are in effect engaging in a ritual that serves to confirm each other. You add a layer of confidentiality and trust to your little group. By doing it you signal that your values are shared and therefore they are valid and good. You belong to the group. You feel accepted and safe right then and there.

This is an ancient pattern we humans historically have used to survive. Edward O. Wilson, a pre-eminent biologist and professor at Harvard, finds in his recent book, The Social Conquest of Earth, that the human drive for belonging to a group is fundamental to the success of the human race. Wilson finds that we humans naturally seek out the pleasant consequences of what he calls eusociality. Through our evolution we have learned that we thrive when we belong to a definable tribe that defends itself against outsiders.

Wilson’s theories add to and complement Darwin’s theories of individual selection – and define the human race as intensely social as well as driven to succeed personally.

Gossip serves a purpose to confirm each other in our sense of belonging to a group – and the ones who are outside of our group as foreign and odd – not safe for us to engage with.

Ultimately this is the same drive that allows us to go to war for a cause and sacrifice our life for the perceived common good. It helps explain why soldiers wear a uniform and march in step; the identical appearance helps support the notion that they are part of a shared and greater cause than their own.

So no wonder that the urge to gossip feels so compelling! We feel a sense of reward when we confirm each other in how we “get it” – and others just don’t!

Still many of us feel guilty after we have engaged in gossip. The quick thrill of it wears off after we get back to our desk or get back home. We feel like we betrayed our Inner Wisdom by doing it. We beat ourselves up about it – and promise ourselves we won’t do it next time. And many of us still find the urge irresistible and do it again and again!

I do believe it is important to understand what we are up against when we combat the urge to tittle-tattle at the water cooler! It is an urge wired deep into our brains for the survival of our kind!

Here is a strategy that I use and recommend to my clients when they find themselves in a tempting opportunity to gossip:

  1. First simply acknowledge that now you are partaking in an ancient ritual that is hard-wired into your brain. It is designed to give you a feeling of safety of sense of belonging. (This understanding often by itself leads to an internal chuckle and a fondness of our need, as a species, for each other.)
  2. Decide whether your engaging in gossip will ultimately benefit you and the group. If not:
  3. Find a way to feel you belong to the group by not excluding or back-stabbing others (you can lead the conversation to a place of shared experience that doesn’t involve putting anyone down.)

By making the choice that is really going to give you most long-term satisfaction you avoid the mental “hangover” later! And you start establishing a new aware pattern of behavior. You help others find more meaningful ways of enjoying togetherness.

Ultimately, our survival as a species might depend more on our ability to find common ground with each other than by engaging in tribal warfare on any level!

How A Bad Pentecost Experience Lit Up My Memorial Day

I was (late) on my way to church yesterday and found myself annoyed at the dust in my car. IT was FUNKY! Then some dude cut in front of me and “made me” miss an opportunity to blast through the intersection, just as the slowest light in town was turning red.

Finally once ensconced in my pew I had an old and VERY LOUD man, whose “amazing” vibrato over-powered and totally blocked my ability to hear anything else. He was RIGHT behind me. My entire church experience now awash in the powerful, all-encompassing pompous oscillation from his enthusiastic vocal cords!

It was NOT my day!

It was Pentecost Sunday – and Memorial Day right around the corner. My kids were wearing pants that were too short and had holes in them – my teenage son, I just realized, was wearing a t-shirt with ANIMAL from the Muppets on it. I hadn’t caught it before we headed out.

Oh, boy!

So here I was, still sneezing from my dusty car with my kids proudly proclaiming my lousy mothering skills. I was late due to the dude who cut me off! And now at church all I could hear was the 80-year old wanna-be Pavarotti with his swinging power-tenor booming in my left ear. RIGHT behind me!

Some days just suck!

At least Pavarotti was quiet during the sermon. Well no, actually he was not quiet; he did some sort of heavy, snorting type of breathing, but I could tune it out long enough to actually catch what our minister was saying:

Pentecost! The 50th day after Easter, and a day that the disciples, who felt depressed at being left behind, suddenly found that they could speak to anybody – and make themselves understood in any language! They gained this magnificent ability to communicate the message of love across any language or cultural barrier. Wherever and to whoever they spoke, people understood them no matter the nationality!

This year Pentecost and Memorial Day coincide.

And it reminded me of the simple message that IF all human beings were able to communicate a message of love across cultural and language barriers to each other – there might be no need for a Memorial Day – because nobody would need to travel the world killing people who are different from them, who have different political systems or who just makes them feel afraid.

We might instead realize that we are all people who love, eat, snort, sing, have dusty dashboards and shabby looking kids…. The human condition is a common attribute we share! We are more alike than we are different – no matter where or who we are.

Except, of course, many moms have much bigger problems than dusty dashboards….

And then I realized that if I was going to wish for peace – it would have to start with me! How can I ever make my deep wish for peace understood by others if I am mired in my own crap? How can I ever do conscious acts of love and compassion, if I am so busy worrying about dust on the dashboard? Or too over-involved in concerns about how I or my kids seem to others?

I think the blinders came off a bit in that moment.

I saw myself hurrying angrily to get to church embodying the strangest of paradoxes: A stressed out person on the way to meditate on peace!

I realized in a flash that my kids had picked their clothes with care and actually found the only pieces of red clothing – the liturgical color of Pentecost – holes, Animal and all! They had actually put thought into this fashion display!

I found a place of loving appreciation for the dear octogenarian singer behind me. It dawned on me that he was thrilled to be alive and to go to church and let his voice celebrate every breath in his body! Maybe he had recently had a brush with his own mortality? And here he was, celebrating his heart out – happy to be alive!

And I found I could celebrate every breath with him – and if his voice was all I could hear – then it was the most beautiful, life-affirming sound in the Universe!

It was a reminder of how we so many times get in our own way! We carry on with our internal “rag-drag” dialogue and miss the beauty all around us!

So maybe peace on Earth starts with each of us? If we are to experience peace – could it be that we have to embody it first? And whether there is dust on the dashboard, holes in our kids’ pants or other nuisances around us – it ultimately only is what we take it to mean.

Maybe the best memorial we can give to those who died in war is to help the ones that come after us to live in a more peaceful and loving world. And maybe it begins with me. And you!  With each of us individually first!

Happy Memorial Day!