Friday, April 30, 2010

Not My Problem

I am reading a fabulous book called "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner. I highly recommend it to anyone who will listen. I was particularly struck by this comment he wrote after visiting a very unhappy country: "'Not my problem' is not a philosophy. It's a mental illness. Right up there with pessimism. Other people's problems are our problems." He theorizes that a lack of empathy towards others leads to a lack of happiness.
I have seen this attitude at work in many people. Passing the buck or refusing to accept responsibility for one's actions leads a person to act as if they have no responsibility. If they've harmed another, they are exempt from feeling bad. If they've made a costly mistake at work, it doesn't affect their bottom line. This fosters a lack of connection with other people, an isolation. How can we trust anyone if we know, deep down, that we ourselves cannot be trusted?
It can be very challenging to admit we've made a mistake. I hate having to say I was wrong, but I've gotten better at it over the years. A simple I'm sorry can repair a whole lot of damage, in our personal or professional interactions. I read a study once that said doctors who made errors but apologized were significantly less likely to be sued. Of course, our goal is to never make mistakes, but to err is human after all.
Saying I'm sorry is another way to say I care. I care enough to recognize my effect on another person. Or I understand and feel the pain of another, the true definition of empathy. What greater connection can there be between people? I have been saddened by the "not my problem" attitude I've witnessed this week, but I was also heartened by the kindness offered from a truly caring person at work. I am hopeful that we can all learn from examples of love and kindness offered by others. Opening your heart is scary, and can be very vulnerable. But the rewards we receive are boundless.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birthdays

Today is my birthday! I'm not sure why, but I feel weird saying that out loud, like I'm expecting people to make much of me. Luckily, Facebook posts your birth date, so all of your "friends" can see it. So I was wished a happy birthday by about 70 people. I can't tell you how fantastic that makes me feel! I was also wished happy birthday by the front desk people at the massage spa, and received at least 10 birthday coupons to various stores or websites. I intend to use every one of them....
I used my morning to think about what I'd like to accomplish this year. Birthdays are a beginning of sorts, so it seems like the perfect time to take stock and set some goals. I am trying to solidify my ideas into an actual plan for the upcoming year. I fear change, so this has been very scary for me! My main goals are: I plan to complete my yoga teacher training and start teaching classes. Somewhere. Don't nail me down on details right now. I plan to take Lifeforce Yoga for Depression training this summer and begin to shift my clinical practice toward more therapy and yoga and less medication. I plan to trim back my work hours and have more time for my family. All super positive things, and all in the works.
I also started my morning by expecting to have a great year. I believe setting intentions helps guide us in our choices so we keep focused on our goals. I am planning some fairly radical changes this year, and am trusting that the universe is on my side. There is a full moon, and it's my birthday. I think all my wishes should come true!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Aging

Tomorrow is my birthday. I am not old, I am probably not even middle-aged yet. But I have been conscious of getting older for at least the last decade. My friend told me the other day that DJ is closer to college than we are, he's only 10 years from starting, while we had our 15 year reunion last year (you can do the math now and figure out exactly how old I am, can't you? Oops!). Yikes! So, I'm gaining years yet I don't really feel any differently than I did at 26. I actually think I feel better, due to all the yoga and not being in medical school, being settled personally and financially, it's all good. So why does the number matter? Ok, I will be 38 tomorrow. There are a lot of famous movie stars my age, and they even still get cast in romantic comedies. The Sex and the City cast are all older than me. I must still be relevant!
I don't feel over the hill. Yet I am confronted with anti-aging products everywhere I go. Every magazine is filled with ads for the latest miracle cream or procedure to get rid of your wrinkles. Do I need a chemical peel? A line filler? Botox?! I admit that I am a VIB at Sephora (for those of you not in the loop, that's a Beauty Insider...). I am really a sucker for the latest cream or make-up trick. I worry about lines under my eyes, sagging eyelids and dark circles. I use one eye cream in the morning, followed by a primer and concealer, and another cream at night. I don't even want to count the number of creams I use on the rest of my face! I do think they camouflage signs of tiredness or fatigue, but I can't say they make me look, or feel, younger. I don't believe that's really my goal, because I am honestly pretty satisfied with how I look. I can't imagine the number of products I would need if I wasn't!!
I think I am trying to overcome the feeling that as women, we become invisible after a certain age. But I know 46 year old women who can do handstands in yoga class, so what does the number matter? I don't think it hurts to try to look and feel my best at every age, so long as it's not obsessive. I will continue to use my creams and chase the perfect solution for that thing that has started happening to my neck, but I don't see myself resorting to botox or more extensive alterations. I am always striving to be happy with myself as a whole package. That is a work in progress, and if Philosophy Microdelivery peel can help, I say why not?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Play Time

My yoga teacher talked about play this morning, saying we cannot have freedom if we don't also have fun. So in order to be truly relaxed and expansive, we have to be able to let loose and laugh at ourselves. Wow! What a concept. I see my kids play every day, imagining elaborate story lines, and acting them out, or building forts in the basement, or just running and spinning and jumping until they fall down. When was the last time I let loose like that? I can think of one night at an 80s bar downtown with my girlfriends, but does that count?
It's hard to be silly past a certain age. I am always cheered by people who seem to be really enjoying themselves, even though they're in public. Like the Starbucks barista who asked me for my order in song this afternoon. Literally sang to me, what do you want today? I couldn't help but smile, and I gave her a nice tip (but I didn't sing back to her...). Then there are people who can be truly outrageous in fashion, but somehow manage to look like they're having fun, rather than ridiculous. Wild hats, bright colors, finger nails with leopard spots, I don't think I could pull those things off, and would be terrified to try.
So where can an otherwise starched adult let loose? Dancing can be very freeing, if you can get over self-consciousness and just have fun, which doesn't happen for many people without booze involved. Same thing for karaoke. I think play time is not a high priority for most adults. Most of our fun comes from watching someone else, like movies or TV. To actively participate in physical fun requires a leap of faith and a willingness to be ok with the outcome, even if you look ridiculous. I know I can avoid appearing totally nuts by doing things with my kids. I will get in the inflatable bouncer at our neighborhood parties, or do cartwheels in our backyard. Last year several parents got into a water fight started by the kids. Everyone was soaked, and laughing their heads off!
Yoga class is another place to play and try fun things. I feel so blessed to have teachers who lead us in handstands across a "runway" of mats, or have us pick up our knees and march around swinging our arms. We try arm balances just because we can, and everybody falls sometimes. But nobody cares. When I first started classes, I couldn't believe how freeing it was to know that if I try something new and fail, I get to try again another time and maybe I'll succeed then. Or maybe I won't, but I'll keep kicking up my feet, trying to get them over my head! In the end it feels like recess. Wouldn't we all be happier if that were a regular part of our day, even as a grown-up?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day

It is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day this year. Conservation has come a long way in that time, and it is suddenly cool to be earth conscious. I try to do my part to be "green." I drive a Prius, I carry reusable grocery bags and an aluminum water bottle, and I started using cloth napkins. We wash laundry in cold water and are gradually replacing our incandescent bulbs with the new kind. So that's all pretty good, but I'm no saint. I am hopeful that the small changes we made will balance out other not so green choices. I don't want to out myself here, let's just say I prefer a warm house...
I love the idea of living sustainably and eating all local produce, growing our own food and composting. The reality is we would have little to eat in the winter in the Midwest, and composting involves worms. So there are simple choices everyone can make, but few of us have the knowledge or commitment to go the extra mile. If we all make small changes, they can add up to a big difference, though!
I have to say I think the earth is in trouble. I know I have a responsibility to our planet, and part of that is teaching my children about conservation. They are growing up in a generation of recyclers, where a lot of these choices are discussed at home and in the classroom. DJ has corrected people if they toss plastic in the garbage, and he cannot understand why you wouldn't choose cloth napkins... you can use them again! Duh!
Earth Day is a good time to remind ourselves to be conscious consumers and to do our best to foster a sustainable lifestyle. I am hopeful that we can turn around some of the damage done in our decades of ignorance.


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Monday, April 19, 2010

Nostalgia

I attended a concert put on by my alma mater yesterday. The orchestra, band and choir all performed, and it was really a nice show. I was in the choir all through college, so their performance was particularly stirring for me.
I really loved choir! We sang challenging and beautiful music, and bonded over tours on spring break. We were by and large not close friends outside of choir, but I've kept in touch with several people over the years. We have even sung at each others' weddings. We know the same inside jokes and remember most of the songs we sang together. We could break into I Am the Rose of Sharon in 4 part harmony 16 years after graduation, and would add gestures to emphasize the suggestive lyrics (as if they could be missed!).
I got misty-eyed watching the choir singing, knowing they have similar relationships, and undoubtedly plenty of jokes the audience never sees. In college I had all the time in the world to make close friends, the kind with whom you share everything. Some are still a big part of my life, some are Facebook Friends, and some are whereabouts unknown. One thing for certain, I thought of them all yesterday, wishing we were on stage, then "circling up" to sing our school song By the Mighty Mississippi...


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Friday, April 16, 2010

Peer Pressure

I have had to tell my 8 year old son DJ to pull up his shorts the last several days in a row. He has decided that it looks cool to wear them hanging down off his backside, and required boxer shorts to wear under them, because "they look better when they show above your shorts!" Ok, I am not ready for this. He and his buddies are clearly discussing this kind of thing. They have somehow decided what's cool, and now they all have to wear the same thing. I witnessed this phenomenon with Zee last fall when she declared that she no longer liked princesses. Her little buddies were into some other toy, and she couldn't feel part of the group if she chose a different favorite plaything. So my kids aren't even tweens, and their peers are having a strong influence on them.

I worry about peer pressure, not because I think my kids will be pushed into making bad choices like drugs or sex (I'm hoping I still have a couple of years before that stuff hits!), but I fear they will be afraid to be themselves. It can be hard to be independent and intelligent without being labelled a geek or teacher's pet. Overcoming that kind of reputation is nearly impossible! I also don't want them to see sports or looks as more important than academics, or to sacrifice kindness for popularity. I try to instill in them a sense of empathy toward others, and to encourage their individuality. But here they are, following the crowd already!

I understand the need to fit in. It is important to have friends, and to feel like you belong. I have no problem with buying the popular styles of clothing, or listening to the Top 40 radio songs. We read bestselling books, and watch the cool TV shows. Their friends do the same, and they have things to talk about. We make appropriate choices, however, and I've had an angry 8 year old when I wouldn't allow him to download a song with "swears" in it. I have had discussions about making good choices despite what your friends do, and I am embarrassed to say I had to bite back the good old "would you jump off a bridge just because everyone else did?"

I'm hoping their independence will thrive and DJ will not decide piano isn't cool because some friend at school says so. I hope Zee will choose ballet or yoga or whatever she wants, and not demand hip hop classes just because the other girls are wearing bootie shorts (I swear that's what they call them!). I am fully aware that this is only the first rung of the peer pressure ladder. I know the influence will become stronger, and the choices more complicated and even potentially dangerous. We try to instill good values and to let DJ and Zee know they can always talk to us about anything. I think communication at home is the best way to counteract negative peer pressure.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If you can't say anything nice...

There is a Sufi saying I have come across in a couple of yoga philosophy books in discussions about truth: "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" I find this simple little phrase to be really helpful in many different types of situations. It creates a way for me to screen my thoughts before saying anything aloud; before I can't take it back! We have all heard the expression "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." This implies we can say whatever we want, so long as it isn't mean. That's a nice rule for children, I think. As adults I think we are ready to work toward more integrity with our speech.

The first question: Is it true? Let's say that I have heard gossip about an acquaintance, and I run into our mutual friend. It's pretty simple to decide, based on the source, if I know this tidbit is true. Then comes question number 2: Is it kind? Let's say this gossip is positive "Our friend Sally has a new boyfriend!" I am not degrading Sally with this statement. However, when I come to question 3: Is it necessary, I have to rethink passing this along. Does our mutual friend require this information for her well-being? Or, is it even my business to relate? Clearly, the best choice is to keep my mouth shut.

Not every situation is so clear-cut. What if Sally asks me if I like her new haircut, and I really don't think it's a good look for her? My truth is that her hairdresser should be fired, but Sally seems to be really happy. Is my truth the truth? I can only say my opinion of her haircut, which would be unkind and unnecessary since she's happy with her look. Again, I keep my mouth shut! Then things can get really tough, because she's expecting an answer from me. I have lied through my teeth in this situation before, but I think I could find a way to answer her in a way that is neither a lie, nor unkind. How about something like this: "I've heard that is the latest trendy style! I'm so glad you love it!" If she's really astute, I'm sure she'll recognize that I didn't really answer her, but I think most people will be satisfied.

This 3 question guideline can prevent arguments and misunderstandings. It forces us to pre-screen ourselves before we speak. There are a lot of angry people these days, and a lot of people who thrive on gossip. Feelings often get hurt, friends or families may split apart, government leaders are no longer trusted, all because of words! Our thoughts affect our own energy, and I know a lot of negativity brings me down. Negative words hurt others as well as myself. Try thinking of this little expression whenever you are unsure how your words will be received. If more people think before speaking, I believe more peaceful interactions are possible.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Zen of Laundry

My husband loves to say that laundry is one of my favorite activities. (Btw he hates being called "Al" on my blog, so I'll have to come up with a new alias.) I have laundry routines that are fairly rigid, and even if I'm very busy, the clothes will be done every Wednesday and Sunday, sheets every other weekend. See? I said it was rigid!
I used to despise the laundry. Especially the millions of tiny baby socks to be paired up, and the onesies, like 3 a day, right? Ugh! But even then, in the midst of colicky babies and burp rags, I found laundry to be something I didn't have anywhere else: a fully accomplishable goal. If I got the laundry sorted and started, it could be finished and put away. A box checked off my to do list, and a fresh start on the week.
Laundry is also a task that requires no intellectual effort. It can be done with full mindfulness on the moment. In the book Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh describes washing dishes in a really beautiful way, feeling the warm water, enjoying the smell of the soap, and knowing that washing them allows you to eat off a clean plate tomorrow.
Laundry is my dishes, I guess, because I still hate washing the freaking dishes :) But I can apply the same mindset. I can feel the fabrics, the warmth of towels straight from the dryer, and I know DJ's favorite shirt will be clean to wear for the second time this week. I feel calmed as I fold, with no thought except how to get the fitted sheet into a neat square (maybe someday!). But also because I have met a goal and attained an endpoint. How many places in life can we say that is true? The best part? There is ALWAYS more laundry...

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Tough Questions

I am able to find out a lot about society and how people really live through my job. I ask questions and get personal information that most people never learn about others. I don't ever mean to stump anyone, but I often hear crickets chirping when I ask 2 questions. The first one is: what do you like to do for yourself? It's amazing how many people have no answer for that, or say they used to do things... before their job, their marriage, their kids, whatever. Granted, mental illness can cause loss of interest or pleasure, but that is usually not the reason for their difficulty answering. They have gotten into a life rut with no room for their own fun. Some people have no idea what they would even like to do. I find that tragic.

The second stumper is: who do you rely on for support? Some will name their spouse or their siblings or parents, but a lot of my patients have major problems with one or more of those family members! A large majority will also say their family is supportive, but then say they never actually talk to them about their real feelings. It seems common for people to have many acquaintances but no true confidantes. I sense a lot of loneliness even in very socially active people.

I think it's hard to meet friends as an adult. We have "work friends" who we never see outside the job, parents of our kids' friends who we never see outside of sports events, college friends who now live across the country, and so on. It is also a challenge to find new hobbies or interests outside the home. Joining a group requires taking risks. Trying yoga means I may be embarrassed because I don't know the poses. What if I go salsa dancing and everyone else has a partner?

We have a tendency to be cozy in our ruts, even if they are not healthy or even contributing to our contentment. I know I could use some work on my support system. I don't see my friends as often as I would like, I should call my mom more often, I should actually use the email address for my yoga friends to try to set up a coffee date. These are fairly low-risk ways to connect in a more meaningful way, something I think we could all do more often.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Busy

I over-extended myself this week, something I've tried to avoid in recent years. I added evening yoga observations to my already busy work days on Monday and Tuesday. I enjoyed the classes and learned a lot, but tossed my personal down time out the window. Not a great idea for anyone, I know!
So what made it difficult for me to observe my schedule, then observe my body and my mind and recognize that I was trying to do too much? I see now that excitement and trying to check things off my to do list clouded my vision. I was in the flow with yoga, and really excited to see our lessons in practice. I also need to observe 5 classes, so I wanted to do my "homework."
In my days as a full-time student, I was an over-achiever. In high school I worried constantly whether I was doing enough or forgetting something. In college I got a bit more balance, and in med school I realized I just couldn't know everything, there was just too much. I haven't been in an academic environment in years, and my teacher training has been fun stuff I want to learn. There are no grades and the deadlines are fluid, so what's my hurry? I have to take my own advice and slow down, breathe, and enjoy the process.


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Monday, April 5, 2010

Living

Al's grandfather has had some health issues in the last month, and it has been mentioned that he may not have much time left. We can never be sure how long we will have, since we are not marked with an expiration date, but some people clearly have a better idea when their time is coming that others. I have experienced the death of my grandparents, and my parents had to make decisions regarding their end of life care. They did so compassionately, even in a very difficult time. In Al's grandfather's case, he is fully mentally capable to make his own decisions. He will have to think about issues like life-prolonging treatments, and when to say enough is enough. How does someone prepare for the end of life?

I learned about Erikson's stages of psychosocial development in psych 101, I think, and have revisited it at other times in training. He describes devlopment through an entire life, not just up to adulthood. I'll let you Google the stages, they are really interesting if you haven't read them in a while, but I'll remind you that the last stage is Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This is given an age range of 65 and up. This stage represents the looking back phase. The theory is, we will either recognize that we have lived a full and rich life and be content, or regret mistakes or things not accomplished and feel despair. Really a lesson for our whole life, isn't it? I think every day we can reflect on this: am I making choices to enrich my life, or will I regret these decisions (or lack of decisions) tomorrow?

I have met seniors in both categories, but I have met younger people struggling with these same issues. As we age, we know our time is growing shorter, but when we're younger it feels as if there will always be tomorrow to change. Change careers, become a better person, spend time with our loved ones or doing things we love, there will always be more time. But that may not be true! If I were told I had only x amount of days left, I believe I would make some changes in the way I'm living. But why am I not making those changes NOW? Why aren't you?

I had a fairly in depth conversation with Al's grandfather at Easter. He talked about his health, how difficult it is to grow old and not be able to do the things you'd like to anymore. But he also talked about his family, how proud he is of everyone, and that he has had a good life. I hope to be able to reflect in a similar fashion when I get to 87. How can we live so we grow more contented, to face our final years with integrity, knowing we have fulfilled our purpose?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Changes

Yesterday the trees were bare. Today leaves have appeared on the willow trees and some beautiful yellow shrubs. Every year this change takes me by surprise. It literally happens over night! Soon the fruit trees will bloom and spring will be in full swing.
Spring is a time for transitions, and new beginnings. Most of us have specific rituals this time of year, meant to prepare us for the changing seasons. I perform a closet purge, and pull out the things I no longer wear to donate. Then I replace winter sweaters with summer tops in my drawers. This is a simple shift in wardrobe, and mindset, which prepares me for spring. Most of life's transitions aren't as easy.
Change is usually difficult for me, and I think a lot of other people feel the same way. Nature changes easily and quickly from season to season, but I face change with a lot of uncertainty and worry. I thought long and hard before making a recent change in my work schedule and cutting out one of my 3 offices. I knew the change would cost me some of my long-term patients, and not everyone would be happy with me. I was correct about that, but it has been positive for my personal life. I tend to over-think things and avoid change even when my habitual patterns no longer serve. I am trying to take my cues from nature. The trees don't fret about unfurling leaves, my cats don't sweat the spring shed, maybe I can look at change as part of life itself. The only certainty in life is that nothing stays the same. I think I will be a lot freer if I welcome changes with an open mind and heart!
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Confidence

I am in a yoga teacher-training program, and we are nearing the end of our classes. I am in training to teach vinyasa flow yoga, which means every class is different, has a spiritual/inspirational theme, and music to match. The poses flow one into the next, so the entire thing is like choreographing a musical. I have been blessed to take classes from wonderful teachers, and can only hope to live up to their standard. If you can't tell, I'm experiencing some self-doubt.

We have practiced teaching each other small parts of a class and relating a theme. I am no huge fan of public speaking, and I find myself getting shaky and tense, wringing my hands in front of me, and speaking softly. I am also discovering that the presentation of a theme, and the designing of a class, is very personal. I am not reading an article, I'm offering myself, my thoughts and musical tastes, my arrangement of poses. I know not everyone has the same tastes, and not everyone will like what I am offering. Just like in this blog, my content comes from me, and may not be what you were interested in reading right now. I can't please everyone all the time. That will take some getting used to.

I am also not typically a very open person with my thoughts and feelings. I listen to other people talk about themselves all day long, and while I'm not exactly a "blank slate," most of my patients don't know a lot about me other than the basics. So I have felt very vulnerable, both in writing this blog and in starting to try to teach. But, I think it has been good for me. I have not felt super in-touch with my creative side in a long time. Now I am looking for inspiration everywhere, and observing more. I'm opening myself emotionally to write these posts and to share a theme, and it seems to be bringing me more in touch with others. I have felt kinder, and have been able to stay in the moment more often. Giving creatively also opens me to receive, so it can come full circle. That sounds like a great theme for a yoga class...