Thursday, August 27, 2015

Using My Left Hand


Two months ago when we moved from Colorado to California, I suffered a hand infection (cellulitis) and for a week kept my right hand elevated while IV antibiotics were administrated. During this time I didn’t do any writing, but I checked email and sent messages. I suddenly learned to do things left handed. As an example I operated my computer mouse with my left hand. At first this felt unnatural, and I couldn’t keep the cursor in the correct spot, but with practice I became almost as proficient as with my right hand. Now that I’m fully recovered, I’ve continued to use the mouse left handed. Who says older people can’t change?

 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Motivation and Procrastination


For me motivation is an inner engine that doesn’t let me procrastinate.  I have a strong work ethic and want to get things done before I play.  My mode of operation is to get job-related activities and chores done first and then reward myself with free time to relax and read.

This is good in that I get things done and have completed numerous manuscripts as a writer because of it.  The problem is that sometimes I don’t get to the relaxing part.  The other issue is that I get compulsive.  My project-orientation gets carried away and I find myself “doing” more than “being.”

But I do procrastinate about things that involve confrontation.  After awhile though, my inner engine keeps reminding me to resolve the outstanding issue, so reluctantly I get up the courage to take care of what I need to do.  I also procrastinate about things I don’t feel competent in doing, like fixing the sprinklers and other plumbing projects.

So what motivates me?  First, to take care of my responsibilities.  Once I accept a responsibility, I want to complete it and not leave it hanging.  Second, to do a good job.  I take pride in my accomplishments and want to make a positive contribution.  Third, getting pushed around by “shoulds.”  I should be a good writer, husband, father, grandfather.  Fourth, fear that I don’t want to look incompetent.  So a mix of positive and negative motivation.

I can be very disciplined in carrying out my responsibilities.  I regularly exercise, take care of my writing projects and follow though on my commitments.

For me the challenge is to draw the line between discipline and compulsiveness.  My discipline can get consumed in preparing for the future rather than living the moment.  I run the risk of losing sight of the people when focused on my projects.

In the busy-i-ness of daily activity, I need to learn to stop, take a deep breath and notice the beauty and life around me.

Learn from the past.

Plan for the future.

Live the present.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Impermanence and Attachment


When something gives me pleasure, I want it to last.  Yet the universe marches inevitably toward entropy and chaos.  Material objects fall apart, people age and die, relationships change.

I may experience something and say to myself, I wish this moment would last forever.  But moments move on and so do I.

I may cherish a five year old child, but that child grows into a teenager and then young adult.  It doesn’t mean that the child is better or worse, just developing and transforming.

I often feel a pull toward the status quo, things I’m used to.  I don’t want the hassle of adapting to something new.  This way has always worked.  Why change now?  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Yet as I age, circumstances change and I’m faced with the realization of a universe of impermanence.

How do I react?  Do I cling to the past, relish “the good old days,” pine for something that no longer exists or do I move on?

We can become prisoners of the past, and we can be so attached to objects or people that we are over-protective and fear-ridden.

There was a man who loved his valuable stamp collection.  He spent hours working with it, adding new stamps.  Then he became concerned about how valuable it was.  He considered getting a lock box at his local bank but worried that the bank might be robbed.  He thought about hiring guards to protect his stamps, but feared the guards might turn and steal from him.  He installed an elaborate security system and barricaded his home.  Then he became afraid to leave his house because someone might try to break in.  He woke up every morning in turmoil and raced down to his den to verify that his stamp collection was still in his wall safe.  Then he became fearful of even taking it out of the safe.  He was so attached to protecting his stamps that he never looked at them and never gained any pleasure from them again.

Compare this to a person who has few possessions but is free to go and enjoy whatever he wants.

Attachments tie us down and limit our freedom to move.  If we get chained to things or tied to the status quo, we lose our vitality and ability to live life.  We’re locked in the past instead of living now and enjoying the impermanence of the moment. 

So I need to remind myself to rejoice in change.  Embrace it instead of mourning the loss of something that no longer exists.  And I think I’ll continue to collect memories instead of stamps.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rabbits and Being Present


In the rush-rush of daily living, I find it very easy to get completely absorbed in the minutia of planning for the next meeting or fretting about something unsaid in the last phone call.  I often find that I’m ping-ponging back and forth between the past (things that have happened) and the future (getting ready or anticipating what will happen) while completely missing the present.

While in Orange County, California on a business trip a number of years ago, I tried to focus more on the moment.  As I walked both mornings, I concentrated on being there rather than planning things for the day or regurgitating what had already transpired.  And what did I discover?

Rabbits.

In the neighborhood behind the hotel, I spotted two rabbits hopping across the street.  They came to rest to nibble the grass of a well-groomed lawn.  One black rabbit and a gray one.  As the superstition goes, don’t let a black rabbit cross your path because you might pay attention.  A block later I spotted another four rabbits, sitting in a yard.  I came to a nursery and found over thirty rabbits of various sizes, shapes and colors luxuriating on a well-nibbled lawn.  The next street had half-a-dozen dog kennels, right there in the middle of a residential area.

I noticed crows sitting on power lines, felt a gentle breeze ripple across my bare arms, smelled the aroma of bacon being cooked, heard the chirping of birds amidst the periodic barking of dogs from the kennels.

It was exhilarating to be present on my walk.  So much to see, hear, feel, smell.  How unusual.  Rather than being consumed in the thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, it was a joy to be there in the moment.

Instead of being locked into recordings playing in my head about “What I should be doing,” or “What if?” or “I forgot to do. . .” I was paying attention to what was going on around me.  My feet were moving, I was breathing deeply and I was alive.

No big exciting event, no epiphany, just the calm realization that it was good to be there, being me at that moment in time.

The typical problem is that I get wrapped up in the busy-i-ness of daily activities and writing projects and am not aware of what goes on around me.  I experienced this over forty years ago when we lived in Southern California.  I was driving along the freeway one winter morning and felt strange.  Something was different.  Then I realized I could see the mountains!  Mount Wilson with a cap of snow appeared in the distance.  It was one of those rare clear days, and I could see over the whole Los Angeles basin.  At first I was disoriented.  I had become conditioned to the tunnel vision of not being able to see beyond the usual layer of smog.  I was awed by the visibility of this unusually clear day.

This pattern is repeated over and over again.  Our field of vision is narrowed to the point that we don’t see what is going on around us, don’t feel the presence of others, don’t venture out of our cocoons.

Open your eyes, ears and other senses to the possibilities of the moment.  And you’ll see the rabbits. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Golden Rule


It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s valuable and something we can measure ourselves by.  But what does it really mean when someone says, “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you?”

This way it’s usually stated isn’t quite correct.  How would a masochist act in interpreting, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  He’d hurt someone because that’s what he’d like done to himself.

The true meaning is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Consequently, it needs to be restated as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you were in their circumstances.”  It’s not what you want, but what the other person needs.  If someone is lonely, offer friendship.

It is universal.  That’s why it appears in so many different religious traditions.

The problem in the world is that we’re all so wrapped up in our own wants (our frame of reference) that we don’t pay attention to the needs of those around us.  By reaching out, we move beyond our own closed system of daily problems and can benefit from the giving.

But for me, I forget this with my busy life, packed agenda, overbooked schedule, writing projects and book promotion.  I have to be aware of not being consumed in the “doing” of daily life and miss the people around me.

That’s why it’s worthwhile to stop, take a deep breath, look around and remember the Golden Rule.  It’s a benchmark we can measure ourselves against and an ethical standard for a more fulfilling life.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Prayer: I've Got a Branch


For me, prayer is an affirmation and expression of thankfulness, not a petition. 

When I was in elementary school, we attended a chapel service once a week.  I remember sitting in the auditorium listening to Reverend Rewick, singing hymns and generally not paying much attention.  From all those hours there, I remember one story.

A man fell off a cliff and as he tumbled down he began to pray.  “Dear God,” he beseeched.  “Help me.  I don’t want to die.  I promise to be a good person and not do anything bad again.”

He continued to fall and his prayer became more fervent.  “Dear God, please save me.  I’ll do anything you ask.”

He still fell and as the ground got closer he pleaded again, “Please help me, God.  I’ll dedicate my life to your service.”

Eight feet before being dashed against rocks, he saw a branch.  His arm shot out, he grabbed the branch and came to a stop a foot from the ground.  He gasped for breath, then said, “That’s okay, God, I’ve got a branch.”

I know that I ask for help in the difficult times and then cruise along mindlessly when times are good.  Like taking good health for granted.

We used to do a grace at dinner which was the most basic of prayers.  We held hands and said together, “Thank you.”

At its core, prayer is this affirmation, a thanks for life and all we’ve been given.

Sometimes before going to sleep I’ll say a prayer.  It’s a simple mantra.

“Dear God, thank you for everything you’ve done for me.  Give me the strength to do what’s right and to love those around me.”

That says it all.  The only other thing I could add is not “thanks for the fish,” but  “thanks for the branch.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Changes


My wife and I have just gone through a major change by moving from Colorado to Southern California. Many friends have asked why we moved into a drought area. Simple reason. Our daughter has had her first child, and we’ve moved nearby to help with child care. This will be our first grandchild that we will be close to in geography from day one.

My writing has been on hiatus with all the preparation for the move, the move itself and then all the action items of settling in. This process became more complex when I was hospitalized immediately upon our arrival in California with a hand infection and two weeks of IV antibiotic treatment. I’ve bounced back, and we’re getting acclimatized.

On the positive side, we have a new grandson and everyone is healthy and doing well.