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To book, or not to book…


My first book, The Courage to Trust: a guide to building deep and lasting relationships (2005) came into being as a result of a phone call from the acquisitions editor at New Harbinger Publications in 2002. WOW! A cold call from a publisher inviting me to try out my ideas on trust and betrayal! How easy is that? Well, in only a mere three years, a book was born. It’s done well, in terms of sales for self-help category, 35,000 is pretty cool.

Somehow ten years went by, during which I almost forgot that I’m a writer. And now again, a call from the same folks: “I’ve been thinking about a book and I wonder if you’d like to work on it? It’s about how to become vulnerable.” Like a zillion others, I have been following the research of Dr. Brene Brown, who has studied vulnerability and self-esteem issues for many years. I read from her book Daring Greatly at my workshops, and send the links to her TED talks to the most unlikely of characters… they all thank me.

To be clear, an invitation to play at publishing a book means hundreds of hours of my own book searching, drafts and outlines sweated over (and some tears). And loving and hating what I wrote. And starting all over again. But, there is the possibility of a book here, and I ask for you to wish me luck.

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 I just spent an hour cleaning out my journal and as a side effect, reviewed my goals and to-dos for the past six months. Some I accomplished, many not, and I felt a perplexing mixture of pride and defeat. I then recognized something rather obvious about my “to-dos” and it struck me as important to remember:

Some goals are to be DONE. Checked off, completed, high-five, wahoo!

Most are constantly in need of DOING.

It takes courage and intense focus to take a big step: start or grow your business, paint a wall a new color, sign up for a class, start a book, get married (or divorced), buy a car, plan an adventure.

But the real struggles come with the goals that require constant maintenance, those that must be done regularly, in perpetuity, forever, never get to take a break…. Many aren’t even worth an “honorable mention” to the world outside one’s own head. This is the arena of the start/stop of resolute habits: eating for health, exercising, daily flossing, weekly desk clearing, weeding, paying bills on time. To my mind, many of these are not worth the worry and self-loathing that they incite. Rather they stem from, and contribute to, toxic perfectionism.

            It could be lovely to move through each day, and without thinking simply put things back where they belong, do sit-ups and walk in nature a bit, and find the time for all the niceties. But having a neat desk or ideal weight cannot be the ultimate measures of a meaningful life (please the gods, let that be so!). They can either support, or detract from, the exciting ideas. Unfortunately, this category also includes the very big deals, the ones that can build or destroy the chance for your dreams to come true. These are habits can endanger your basic well-being, or connect you with what you want most, and the pressure of facing them doesn’t ever go away for long. Life will keep bringing these back to choose again and again and again.

  1. To stop: smoking, eating compulsively, drinking alcohol/taking drugs, or spending more money than you make.
  2. And to start: conscious breathing or meditating, getting outside, writing down thoughts, keeping promises to self and others.

            These are not a cookie-cutter listings: we each have our own knowledge of what our inner selves know is “right just for me.” We only  have to follow our self-loathing or peace of mind to know what is what.

            This big problem with these chronic life changers is that they do not have the built-in power of a newly minted commitment. Anything that requires us to refocus on them daily too often morphs them from new habits into dreaded chores: we lose sight of the pain they caused, and have not fully received the joy they bring. At the beginning it is easy to love the new behaviors. Then we get overconfident, skip a day, then two. Soon comes the horrifying moment when we cannot imagine how we every managed to maintain the routine, the ability to say “No, thank you”, or to look forward to a walk every day regardless of the weather.

            This isn’t your fault, really. This is 100% human conditioning, undoubtedly encoded in our DNA. The brain cannot sort and prioritize automatically: it wants to forget the pain of living the old ways, and think that everything is fine. This is why we rely on daily reminders, readings, encouragement from others, and tangible rewards. Or else our brain moves to the next immediate source of pleasure, even if we know it will ultimately cause more pain. Why in hell would anyone who has managed to quit smoking ever think she can just smoke one and be okay? Why would she want to smoke just one?

            Many who have never benefited from support groups wonder why people continue to attend twelve-step meetings when they’ve been abstinent for a decade or more. “How do you think I’ve stayed sober?!” is the standard response. At Weight Watchers the other day, the leader showed us her fat photo, and announced “I’ve been within five pounds of my goal weight for over ten years. You want to know how? I’ve been coming to meetings and writing down my food both as a participant and as a leader, consistently; and I know that without it I wouldn’t have been able to keep if off.” Not everyone has to attend a group meeting. For some of us it takes a courageous act of getting on the scale every day, or getting a dog so we have to walk. Maybe we make a promise to a grandchild who asks us to quit smoking, and we “do it for someone else.”

            Do whatever it takes. Because then you’re free to go for the lovely goals and dreams.

            

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This simple (ha!!) story from The Pocket Pema Chödrön, is on page 72. I love how specifically she details the actions that scared me, all of us, as children. “This is how I make you do what makes me comfortable and keeps you from knowing how important you really are!” could have been the thought bubble over every parent. I know how easy it is to believe that someone, anyone, on the other end of a phone call, my spouse, a clerk in a store, would do these things and I would be powerless. Of course, that is such a ridiculous thought, it adds in the element of shame and “what is wrong with me!?” As I said, “simple??”

HOW TO DEFEAT FEAR

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.

The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”

Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”

Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”

Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.

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People often ask me about how to increase self-confidence so they can try new things. They imagine confidence to be a magically acquired inner quality, and that successful people are naturally fearless, willing to try new experiences, managing to look cool in the process. The real path to self-confidence is to develop COMPETENCE with practice, trial and error. To dare to follow your dreams requires the willingness to look foolish, to risk failure and rejection. Our mistakes are requirements for wisdom and true confidence. Of course, His Holiness manages to say this with much more elegance and simplicity.

Warm-heartedness reinforces our self-confidence – giving us not a blind confidence, but a sense of confidence based on reason. When you have that you can act transparently, with nothing to hide! Likewise, if you are honest, the community will trust you. Trust brings friendship, as a result of which you can always feel happy. Whether you look to the right or the left, you will always be able to smile.

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What is it about Rumi?


I came across these quotes, scrolling quickly, then slower, then I stopped and realized I was being reminded that nothing is more important, ever, than stopping and letting in pure beauty, wisdom, or love. Enjoy…

“What keeps us from joining the dance

The dust particles do?…”

*

“We should split the sack

Of this culture, And stick our heads out.”

*

“I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door.  It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!”

*

“Hear what Sanai said:

Lose your life, if you seek eternity.”

*

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

*

“Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

*

“If you’ve opened to…love, you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.”  Amen

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Just last night I was trying to explain this idea to my beloved teenager. Quick to anger, quicker to make assumptions, he was being cooked in his own stew of confusion. I offered my own experience that patience was a virtue, but BEING patient was a skill. Then this morning I find far more elegant and usable guidance from the beloved Pema Chodron.

THE COURAGE TO WAIT When you’re like a keg of dynamite about to go off, patience means just slowing down at that point—just pausing—instead of immediately acting on your usual, habitual response. You refrain from acting, you stop talking to yourself, and then you connect with the soft spot. But at the same time you are completely and totally honest with yourself about what you are feeling. You’re not suppressing anything; patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself. Pema Chodron

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Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.  As stated by Marianne Williamson

Is this true, that we are all open to giving and receiving and being pure love when we take our first breath, and soon after the lessons begin to convince us that we have to be perfect to be loved?

This fits, I think, when trying to cope with my own fears of rejection. When I place my guilt/shame/anxiety in a crucible, and cook out all the what ifs, what I end up holding is the fear that I have blown the chance to be accepted and loved. I know, I know, that “no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes.” Yet, it is much easier for me to forgive others than to accept my own imperfections, because rejection is the greatest fear, tantamount to death our ancient DNA structure.

Marianne stays consistent with The Course in Miracles core teaching that we have two choices: love and fear, that to give energy to complicated variations of feelings only prevent us from reconnecting with Divine, with our own Best Selves.
Can it be so simple? That we can choose to focus on love rather than fear? I didn’t say it was easy, but perhaps it helps to simplify.  Today I wish it so for me, and for you.

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An essential part of my personal and professional practice is in hospice. Since 1978 I have worked or volunteered with the seriously ill and dying, providing support to patients and families. Every hospice volunteer or worker knows that the real gift is not in the giving of service, but in the lessons and love received. I  recommend this book to everyone, because we all will face the end of our days, and the days of many we love.

Thanks to Judith Keyssar, RN director of a hospice program in SF, for this marvelous read. “Last Acts of Kindness” tells the stories and lessons from the bedside of hospice patients, and just won a national award (to be announced in January 2012). Comfort, love, and hope on every page.

Last Acts of Kindness
by Judith Redwing Keyssar
LESSONS FOR THE LIVING FROM THE BEDSIDES OF THE DYING  www.lastactsofkindness.com

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I took an actual vacate-tion this early autumn. Two weeks with no obligation to be productive. For fifteen hundred miles in a comfy rental car, no schedule or itinerary, I loafed and lingered, knowing I needed a decisive break from fixed routine. And yet, an odd sense of guilt, of not being productive or useful, haunted me. And that reminded me that guilt is rooted in fear, specifically the fear of being found unworthy, useless.

Knowing that guilt over relaxing would not serve the Greater Good, I persisted in my goal of escaping being over-responsible. (I am aware of the irony of making goallessness a goal.) I didn’t even write in my journal for much of the trip. Instead, I saw the trees change colors for the first time in my life, pulled over dozens of time to take pictures and sometimes left my camera, and simply cried at the beauty of it all. I discovered XM radio, where several classical, comedy, and NPR stations vied for my attention. And the silence crept in a little each day, until I would realize I hadn’t turned on the radio for half an hour or more. I didn’t want to hear the news, even music distracted me at times from simply seeing, and being at home within myself.

Beyond words and knowing, the antidote for pressure might sometimes be silence, a soft and sacred space.

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I frequently find myself lost. I seldom have a complete  certainty of where I am on the planet. Whether in parking lots, department  stores, or most recently in Golden Gate Park by the museums, if it weren’t for people who know where I happen to be at that moment, and what direction might get me to where I want to go, I wouldn’t “be here now.” It has to be brain damage from… drugs? car accidents? brain surgery? I’ve had them all.

For the most part I have learned not to panic. Being clean and sober, finding myself in  totally foreign landscapes can be a sort of high, at least Twilight  Zone-esque.  I used to feel shame,  frustration, and self-deprecation in these circumstances. I’ve learned to surrender  during these misadventures, telling myself that the spiritual warrior learns to  “enjoy the journey.”

I fear the disorientation may be getting worse. My only hope is that I lean toward the style of  the absent-minded professor whom people find adorable. There is a terrific story about Albert Einstein. He was walking on the Princeton  campus when a student asked him to discuss a theorem. After a cheerful and engaging conversation, Albert said, “And now, if you wouldn’t mind helping  me? When you stopped me, was I walking toward or away from the Science  building?” When the student replied, “Toward, sir.” “Ah,  then I’ve already had my breakfast.”

I once  heard the term pronoid, defined as a  person who has the sneaky suspicion that everyone wants to help her. This is me, how I was raised. My family subscribed to Will Rogers’ philosophy that a  stranger is just a friend you haven’t met. This core orientation allows me to fearlessly ask for directions, and given that I tend to go in circles, often from the same person twice.

There is sufficient scientific evidence proving that assisting other people reduces stress, so perhaps I am doing a service to let  the helpful help me.

At times, I recognize this attitude may be irresponsible, being cavalier about a character defect that I could improve. I’ve avoided putting it on the long list of issues  that bother me much more; those having to do with kindness, acceptance of  things I cannot change and the like.

After hearing my story about being lost in Golden Gate Park, my friend Alice gave me a  portable GPS.  Perhaps my energy would best be spent in learning to program the thing. It’s wonderful also to depend on the kindness my friends.

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