Organized Chaos

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. She's been drifting from project to project for almost a year, looking for that one big break that would lead to full time employment in her industry of choice.

For the last six months of her search, she's sent out application after application, and received very little feedback, and no career job offers. And every once in a while, she starts to worry that maybe she isn't good enough, maybe THAT JOB will never appear, maybe she's in the wrong field, or saying the wrong things... It's hard work to search for work-- and the longer you look, the harder it gets to keep your energy up. To feel that there is a place for you in the world, and that you are offering something truly valuable to the world in exchange. To continue valuing yourself, and your skills when it seems like no one else does.

Finally, we sat down together, and looked at the goals she started with, and how they've changed in the last six months. It was a funny thing-- if she'd actually received job offers for any of the positions she pursued, she would have moved to another state-- probably an airplane ride away. Together, we noticed that when she (momentarily) put aside her concerns about a stable income and a career in her chosen field, she's actually glad to be here now.

Here, her network of friends has expanded to include some really wonderful, caring people. Here, she has learned new skills, and honed professional knowledge outside of her chosen profession. Knowledge and skills that will be beneficial to her on ANY career path. She's also a lot closer to her family here, and with a very ill mother, she doesn't feel right moving too far away. Taken in that light, NOT getting any of the jobs she's pursued has actually brought her closer to her goals. It's even created a space for new job opportunities closer to home. Ones she didn't even know existed when she decided what her career path should look like, six months ago.

She's a little more willing to believe that things will work out well for her now. She's not so worried about fitting into that "plan" she made before she knew about her mom's illness... before she learned just how much more she really has to offer the world than what her formal education might imply. Her life can still be chaotic, and she still has legitimate concerns about generating a regular income for herself... But now she doesn't doubt herself quite so much-- and she has faith that there is a valid reason for her to be where she is, to be doing this instead of that.

I like to think of the universe as organized chaos. It may look and feel chaotic, even mindless and directionless, from the inside... But in many cases, there are still too many good happenings, too many wonderful coincidences for them to REALLY be all coincidence. Call it karma, call it luck, call it god, call it whatever you want-- just be willing to withhold judgment (or change your opinion later on) for a little bit longer. It may be that the situation that so worried you-- or that you NEVER want anyone to have to experience the way you experienced it-- It may be that having gotten through that tough time is the very thing that will allow your life to be so much better down the road.

I'm the first to admit that (pardon my blunt language) shit happens. ...but I've learned to see that sometimes we are able to use that very shit to fertilize the garden of our dreams somewhere down the road. It doesn't make it okay that the bad thing happened to us-- it just makes US okay once the bad time has passed. Organized chaos.


Balancing the Ecosystem

Another aspect of failing to see the forest for the trees applies to our health. That little and all-important microcosm of our community or or office or our home, or our individual bodies. How many times have we said, "I just don't have time to exercise today," or "I'm too tired/grumpy/busy to cook a real meal tonight-- maybe tomorrow."

We all know that ONE DAY here and there really doesn't make that big of a difference. Sometimes the amount of stress a person saves by just eating those french fries in the car on the way to soccer practice is WORTH missing a helping or two of vegetables. But we don't stop to look at the big picture. We don't calculate that actually, we haven't gotten our full four helpings of vegetables a day in ...oh... six or seven years. We may actually exercise so irregularly that each time we do, our body hurts and our lungs and heart and muscles and joints protest painfully, unaccustomed to such sudden abuse.

One day passes, and there are more to take it's place. But a year is made up of those days, and our lives are often measured in years. The same is true of a forest. One tree more or less doesn't affect the health of the forest as a whole... but a forest is made up of many trees. If we cut down one tree a day for a few months or years, suddenly there will not be any forest left at all. If there is something you have always wanted to do for yourself-- learning a new hobby or taking 20 minutes every morning for yoga-- maybe now IS the time to start... because if not now... when?

It is important to balance time for exercise and time for work and time for play and time for rest. It is important to care for your children, and also your spouse and your friends. To stimulate your mind with new and exciting information or ideas-- while also upholding your long-term day-to-day responsibilities. It's important to set aside time for yourself in all that, too.

It's one thing to tell our children to behave respectfully toward their fellow man, and another to model that behavior in the midst of rush hour traffic. One thing to tell our children we want them to become responsible and caring adults-- and another to interact with our children and our community in a mature and productive manner.

No matter what a mother gives up so that her children can have more, if she doesn't model for them a healthy lifestyle and a healthy self-respect, chances are that her children will believe it is a mother's role to sacrifice herself for her family. And a healthy family is not about martyrdom. It is about open respect, shared joy, and deep appreciation for each other-- even for each other's differences. It is about sharing life's challenges as a group so that no one person has to bear the burdens alone.

How healthy is your ecosystem?


The Forest for the Trees

We all do it. We get caught up in what's happening THIS INSTANT and forget to take in the bigger picture. Our emotional reaction to what someone tells us totally blocks out our awareness of why they told us that. Or we apply a general comment specifically to ourselves, and then we worry about what that comment implied...

We argue with a loved-one and get so caught up in the emotions of the moment-- how unfair they are being!-- that we don't notice how tired and overwhelmed they are feeling about a big project at work and their mother's failing health. We don't know that maybe they are thinking more about what will happen financially if they lose their job, how scared they are about their mom, and not thinking at all about how much you needed one pair of jeans with no holes in it that you just spent $60 to buy. On sale. Somehow, today, $60 is a lot of money.

If you don't understand someone's emotional reaction-- ask them questions. Recognize that they may not know where their feelings are coming from either, and might even appreciate an opportunity to figure it out. If you are hurt by their tone of voice or their assumption or their lack of support, share your perspective with them. They may not realize how their words and actions affect you.

You don't have to be a mind-reader to have a pleasant conversation. Instead, learning to gently uncover the root of the emotion expressed-- and learning to express your emotional response to a situation in an honest and respectful way-- often diffuses such situations before they become deep-seated grudges, and allows for deeper and more caring communication to evolve. I've noticed that sharing your needs or feelings and having them ignored can often teach us something important about the situation, too.

Conversely, we can spend our whole life examining every aspect of a single tree. We can become an expert on that tree, and talk about it at great length... without ever realizing that it sits in the middle of a grove of similar trees, in the middle of a forest. That those trees also have a great effect on the health, longevity, and stability of the tree that we've focused on so exclusively.

Without balance-- without the healthy interaction of the whole forest ecosystem, that one tree would fall in the first high wind of the first winter that it lived. It would dry up or burn up or rot out, but for the healthy interplay between water and earth and tree and fern and other tree and bugs and... No one person, no single aspect of our lives, is truly so important that we can focus on it to the exclusion of all others-- and expect to live long health happy lives. We are each a part of our own ecosystem, and it is our responsibility to maintain its overall health so that we, in turn, can be healthy.

Being an adult is hard work. Focusing only on our failures or only on our successes keeps us from seeing the important lessons and knowledge we have available to us from our life as a whole-- the forest of our lives gets dwarfed when we stand at the base of a single tree, looking up and up it's length.

I'm reminded of a story I heard about two friends. We'll call them Amy and Bob. Amy and Bob were friends for many years. They even got into the habit of talking on the phone every day as they drove home from their respective jobs. But one day, each decided that it was the other friend's turn to call. And when the call didn't come, each decided to wait, until the other friend was not so busy, and had a chance to call. Finally, two weeks later, one friend checked in with the other, truly worried at the long silence that had developed. "Are you okay? Is anything wrong?"

By now, the other friend was offended and hurt, and just a little bit worried by the silence and what it implied. Maybe Bob didn't need Amy anymore. "What do you mean-- am I okay?! I've just got a lot of important things going on, that's all!" Amy wanted Bob to know that she didn't need him anymore, either. That he was missing out on all the cool things she brought to his life by not bothering to check in with her every day. Maybe now he'd start calling her again-- now that he knew he'd missed something important when he ignored her. (Notice that she didn't actually share her fears or her perspective with Bob.)

Bob decided that Amy must not want him to bother her, especially since she had important things going on in her life-- things she didn't want to talk to him about. It hurt, but she'd done this before. (Bob didn't check that his perception of Amy's comment was accurate, either.) So he waited another two weeks for her to have more time for their friendship again. In that two weeks, Bob enjoyed talking on the phone with some of his other friends, and had wonderful conversations with them that he could never have had with Amy. He discovered that many of his favorite interests were shared by one or another of his friends, but that it wasn't so important as he'd thought to share all of his interests with any one friend. That was good, because he'd never really been able to talk with Amy about his fly-fishing lessons anyway. She just wasn't interested.

Finally, Bob called Amy again, and found that her frustration with him seemed to have increased in the time since his last call. In the five minutes they were on the phone, he noticed that Amy did not ask him about his interests or his well-being. She let him know that she didn't approve of some of his friends, and avoided any discussion of concerns she'd shared with him the month before. By the end of their conversation, Bob was frustrated and confused. Amy was such an important person in his life. He'd spent many hours talking with her on the phone in the past ten years. Now they weren't talking at all, and he had no idea why. What would he do if Amy decided she didn't want to be in his life??

Bob needed to call someone and talk about his frustration and his concerns with this all-important friendship. Was the problem obvious to everyone but him? Could he do anything to fix it or to let her know how important their friendship was to him? As he flipped through his contact list, Bob realized how long the list had grown in the past few weeks. He noticed how many friends he now felt comfortable calling to discuss his concerns, and he realized that he had a lot of friends who would drop everything to brainstorm solutions with him if he called and asked. People who wouldn't get offended or worried if he chose NOT to call them about his situation with Amy. He thought how Amy would feel if his friends' role and Amy's were reversed.

And finally he realized that Amy was just one of many friends who made up his support system, and that for all the times past that he appreciated her support, it didn't mean he had to appreciate her behavior now. There was a whole forest of friends for him to spend his time enjoying and growing with, and Amy was one tree that seemed to have stopped growing for a time. In fact, with all the shade his tree cast as it grew taller and taller, leaning over and blocking her sun... it might help her to grow if he DID lean in some other direction for a time. Bob decided that really, it was Amy's turn to call him.

And since he was meeting some friends for dinner later that day, Bob simply turned off his phone, and enjoyed the people around him. Because really, the only person Bob could change... was Bob.


Are you Cinderella?

From the fairy stories of our youth to the sitcoms we see on TV, the belief that our spouse or friends are supposed to put our needs before their own-- or go out of their way to make sure our needs are met—is insidious. We begin to believe that's their job, to make us happy, just like WE go out of the way to always put their needs before our own.

I've met many women, and a few men, who feel that their job is to take care of the other people in their life, without regard for their own needs or preferences... or emotions. And that their partner is supposed to do the same thing for them in response. Some even (subconsciously) believe that they don’t have an equal right to get their needs and desires met in a given relationship.

And I have to disagree.

It is nearly impossible to guess just what your friend or spouse needs at any given moment because we are not mind-readers. And it is not fair to place expectations on another person without explaining what we want, and why it is important to us. It is a bigger risk-- and a much more satisfying result-- to ask for what we want, or take responsibility for getting it ourselves.

First, we throw out the Cinderella Complex-- we acknowledge that we are each responsible for our own destinies. No fairy godmother to grant wishes, no shining prince to carry us away from our problems, no rich father to pay our way to happiness, no little mice to do for us what we don't make time to do for ourselves, no magical instantaneous transformations to make our world beautiful and perfect. And, without the imaginary rewards that Cinderella received in the story, there is no reason to play the victim who works so hard to please people who will never be happy, no reason to be the angry, screechy, overbearing control freak, no reason to pretend that we-- or anybody else-- is perfect and flawless and able to meet our every need without any hint from us as to what we needed in the first place. No reason to pretend that our only feelings are joy and hurt. People are multi-faceted. We may want or feel conflicting things.

I am not Cinderella, and neither are you.

Now that we've gotten through the painful part, here's the good news: You are no more and no less human than anybody else-- even those individuals who are still auditioning for a role in the Cinderella docu-drama. And, once you stop looking for someone else to save you, or take responsibility for your happiness, or be responsible for how unhappy you are... You get to take back control of your own destiny! It is up to you to get what you want out of life. You always have choices. They may not always be choices you like-- but they are always there.

And, even better, it's okay to have emotional reactions to people and things, even conflicting ones-- the truth is that you will feel whether you acknowledge your feelings or not. And it is SO much healthier to acknowledge them. What you DO control is how you will ACT and what you will do in relation to what you are feeling.

Speaking your truth-- in a way that respects both you and your listener-- is something that takes practice. The first step is to find someone in your life that it is safe to practice with-- someone who will give you a minute to organize your thoughts, who will respect what you say, and will actually respond to it intelligently, and with love. My hope is that there are many such people in your life. ...and that you can become that person for them, in return.

Believe it or not, talking to a dog or cat can be a great place to start-- a baby step on the road to knowing your self, and trusting your reactions to others. "I really love spending time with you, and when you purr, I know you like the way I'm petting you... but I find your breath very distracting. You know, I just bought a box of my favorite breath mints, and I wonder if you'd try one and tell me what you think of them?" (note that human food can be unhealthy for animals to ingest-- this is an example of practicing honest communication)

I've been reading this excellent book called "Truth In Dating" that discusses the ten aspects of honest conversation-- from saying what you mean, to speaking only for yourself, to keeping it simple. I think the communication skills that this particular book teaches are ones that my clients could apply in any number of relationships-- business, family, friendship, etc.

One of the points that the author makes is that sharing your emotional reaction to a situation in an honest and respectful way is a great way to let the person you are sharing with know what you need, and how to give it to you. And once they know-- it is up to them how they will respond. The truth is that you don’t get to control how others act or react to you. But by acknowledging how you feel, and why you feel that way, you are both respecting yourself, and providing the other person in the situation with an opportunity to respect you in return.

I'm getting better at acknowledging my emotions and honoring my needs. I realize that usually, there's a very good reason for me to feel that way. And out of respect for and love of myself, I deserve to be treated with respect and appreciation by the people around me. It's not that I ignore or discount their needs and feelings--far from it. Instead, I recognize that life is about change, and about working with others as a community-- for the greatest good. For the good of the whole-- including me.

Take responsibility for yourself-- your actions, your reactions, how you interact with other people and with the Earth… And take responsibility for meeting your own needs. It is up to you to satisfy them.

Admitting to Anger

Anger is one of those emotions that many of us connect with "being a bad person." Somehow, if we admit that we are angry, people won't like us anymore, or we're being selfish and hard to please. It's inconsiderate or wrong to feel anger in relation to a friend, a relation, a spouse or co-worker. Something they do is annoying or stupid, but we're not ANGRY about it-- oh no.

And I have to disagree.

I've learned that most people only believe I am worthy of respect when I respect myself, and act accordingly. I've also come to acknowledge that anger is one of our emotions, and it can be a good indication that something is wrong. Our job is to pause and figure out why we are feeling anger, and deal with the cause in an honest and respectful way. It is a risk-- and a much more satisfying result-- to acknowledge that an interaction angered us, and clarify for ourselves and the others involved in the situation how we prefer to be treated, specifically.

There is no reason to play the victim who works so hard to please people who will never be happy, no reason to pretend that we-- or anybody else-- is perfect and flawless and able to meet our every need without any emotional needs of our own. People are multi-faceted. We may want or feel conflicting things. And anger is a natural indicator of a situation that needs to be acknowledged so that it can change. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, especially by friends, relations, spouses and co-workers.

Often now, I suggest that my clients take an hour or so at the end of a conversation to re-evaluate what was said, and really check in with how they feel about it, and about what was or was not done before and after the conversation. Conversations become a two-part process, wherein you check back with the person you were talking to, and clarify any reactions that you've had since the conversation ended. You get a chance to re-evaluate your needs, to acknowledge your feelings, and to consciously decide how you want to act or react-- hopefully in a more healthy, honest, and respectful way than you might have done "in the heat of the moment."

I know that I cannot actually control my emotions-- and that suppressing them is bad for my health and for my relationships. I know that what I CAN control is how I act in a given situation, or as a result of how I feel. I don't have to act out every emotion I have-- and I can find healthy respectful ways to share how I'm feeling-- or to release the emotions privately.

I'm getting better at admitting when a situation or behavior does make me mad. I realize that usually, there's a very good reason for me to feel that way. And out of respect for and love of myself, I deserve better than that. It's not that I ignore or discount the needs and feelings of the people around me--far from it. Instead, I recognize that life is about change, and about working with others as a community-- for the greatest good. For the good of the whole-- including me. That if I don't speak for myself, nobody will-- and I don't want to spend all my time feeling slighted or under-appreciated. If I clearly express myself and my right to be treated with respect-- and the person or situation does not change in response, it's a good indicator that this is an unhealthy place for me to be. And it is up to me to make the change I want to see.


Nobody Says...

I'm attempting a refocus of my career goals this month. I've considered a variety of approaches, but concluded the following: Mostly, I need to clean up my personal space, and get some sort of healthy schedule to my life so that when opportunity DOES knock-- in whatever form it takes-- I'm ready. I intend to come from (and return to) a place that is clean, that is friendly and inviting, that is somewhat organized, and that I can be proud to say represents me and how I exist in the world. And that goes for both my physical home and my mental/spiritual space as well. I want to see my best qualities reflected in my space so that I can dwell on that picture of me, and put my best foot forward into the world for others to see.

I also came to some conclusions about why this has been such a challenge for me thus far:
Nobody prepares you for this stuff, growing up. Nobody tells you that it's probably going to be a while before you really get to where you want to be in your career and your relationships. That whatever it is you just spent a whole lot of time training for, and went into serious debt to become, is probably NOT what you'll actually get to DO in your lifetime. Nobody teaches you healthy ways to cope with and overcome all the daily and extreme situational stress that is part of an adult's decision-making process. And nobody explains WHY a sense of humor and a positive outlook are so important to finding personal happiness and success.

(I now think that it's because we can either laugh or cry at the bizarre and unexpected in our lives-- and that if we aren't actively looking for the positives, they can often be easy to overlook-- and life is a lot more hopeful when we can enjoy the little daily victories with as much verve as the occasional big success stories.)

As a friend of mine recently said about an event in her life, THIS ISN'T COVERED IN THE MANUAL!!! It's true that as you get to be an adult, you gain access to a much wider variety of choices. But it's also true that the repercussions of those choices also become much bigger... and that often the choices we have in a given situation are not the ones we expect-- or even want. Hmmm... I COULD spend my free afternoon doing yardwork in the middle of a 100* heat wave... or I could stay inside where it's cool, drinking ice tea and catching up on the last three months of business news and new tech tools for my profession-- and risk getting a fine and a notice from the local HOA. Or I could risk both being obsolete at work AND getting into trouble at home-- to go spend the afternoon hiking around cool and beautiful waterfalls with a good friend I haven't seen in months. Hmmm...

Maybe "adult" is how old you have to be for all the pieces of your life to finally start fitting together. I wouldn't know. I have figured out what sorts of things I want to do with my life, and how I personally define "Abundance," and how a budget works, and what it means to take personal responsibility for my choices and actions... But I haven't figured out how to fit all of those things together into Abundant Living-- into the life I envision for myself. Luckily, I can embrace my "not yet adult" status, and enjoy playing with paints and fabrics, going to the park and the zoo and the beach, and staying up late to have deep meaningful conversations with people I hardly know. Truthfully, I hope to bring these joys with me into my "adult phase"... Maybe I already have.

In the meantime, and as a part of my dedication to right living, I've just started attending a regular Yoga class. This is my first Yoga class for and about me. It's an opportunity to work on my flexibility and muscle tone, to work on my physical health and my mental focus, my balance, my range of motion, etc etc... but it's also an opportunity for me to work on grounding and centering myself. I would dearly like to feel more grounded and centered. And I know yoga will help me with that so far as mental discipline goes.

...But it has also clarified for me that being grounded in my life is different from being grounded in my mind/body, and that I've made great leaps of progress toward being "grounded," without yet reaching it fully. Be it a small corner of a shared bedroom, the kitchen that is really YOUR SPACE, or a whole condo to yourself-- your home space is where you put down your roots. And feeling rooted-- having a space that nourishes and nurtures you-- is the basis for feeling grounded, and acting from a place of strength. It is the space to which we can retreat when we need to think, or to experience an overwhelming emotion. It is our safe space, and the place that allows us complete control and complete honesty.

Without a space of my own, I just don't feel grounded. I don't feel like I'm pushing outward into the world from a solid foundation. And sometimes, even if I do have my own space, the quality of it can be just as influential. Right now, for example, there is a large and untidy pile of papers that need to be sorted into keep, toss, shred, recycle. Mixed into the papers are dirty socks, half-completed art projects, library books, and a sewing machine. The chaos appalls me. I want to retreat to serenity, to a space that is organized and usable from the moment I arrive in it. Right now, I think my space is simply reflecting my sense of confusion, and unrest. My current lack of commitment to a specific project or path. Organizing this space will go a long way toward organizing my approach to life in general. I'm hoping it'll help me clarify my priority of commitment to paths and projects, as well.

What does your space say about your mental state? About your commitment to spending time and energy on YOU? When was the last time you felt truly at home in your home? What do you need to change so that you can feel that coming home is truly a chance to rest and recharge? Your life has got to be about you, and about the things/people that YOU value. I hope your name made it onto that mental list.