Category Archives: Life in General
Life is good! Mostly. Sometimes, it’s not. Either way, my bet is that most of us can relate …
I caught myself on the wrong side of assumption again the other day. I’m glad I did. Some lessons, you just keep learning over and over until you’re ready to move on. Apparently I’m still stuck on this one.
Intellectually and spiritually, I’m quite sure that what I want to is to see the best of any person or situation I come across; to see parts of myself reflected in them, and to lead with immediate thoughts of care and compassion. And, more often than ever before, that’s what’s been happening.
But I still encounter instances when the first impression that pops into my mind is negative. I don’t want to be like that. At least I will now catch myself doing it, maybe give myself a minor scolding and then move on again, but it’s my hope that my compassionate, positive side will one day become completely automatic.
I don’t trust the “default” of assumption anymore, even though I still fall prey to it at times.
Like the other day, for instance.
I was at my gym, having just enjoyed a nice bit of exercise. As I was getting dressed back into my work clothes afterward, there was another fellow a few lockers down who was silently getting set to do the same. I noticed he was likely younger than me, that he had a cane, a noticeable gut and that he’d been in the pool, as he still had his swim trunks on.
Right away, before I could even catch myself, I passed some judgement on this guy and made some immediate assumptions. I’m not proud of it. I’m just being honest.
I thought, “Hmm. A few too many beers, I bet.”
Then I thought, “I wonder what the cane is for? I bet his back hurts.” I thought this because it was only about 6 years ago that I, too, could only get around with the help of a cane, thanks to herniated discs in my back and wicked sciatic pain down my left leg. The only thing my physiotherapist allowed me to do for a while was stand in the pool and wave my arms against the water. I was told that would force my core muscles to wake up.
Since I’d seen this fellow had been in the pool, I assumed he had a sore back.
What I’ve just described took, perhaps, only a couple of seconds. And then I caught myself and immediately felt ashamed at what I was doing. The “default” had kicked in first.
I still have work to do.
But I’ve come far enough to be aware of it. I don’t want to feel separate from anyone anymore. So just as soon as I realized what I was doing, I told myself to say something to this guy – just start talking to him. I had to tell myself that several times before I finally heard my own voice ask, “What is it that’s got you hobbled?”
He looked over at me and said, “I broke my legs.”
I asked, “Legs? Plural? You broke both of them?”
“Yep,” he said. “Seven years ago.”
My assumptions about this fellow, just as most assumptions tend to be, had been way, way off.
He went on to tell me that his injuries were the result of a motorcycle accident all those years ago. I asked if he’d be able to continue to rehab and hope for more mobility. He said, “Maybe. By now, I just try to do what I can do.”
So, here was a guy who will likely never walk without a cane again. And that extra weight I mentioned? Well, it’d be hard to stay slim if you couldn’t really be mobile. And if it were me, I’d be likely to enjoy whatever food or drink brought me any kind of pleasure if I were in constant pain otherwise.
But here I am assuming again.
Then he told me about the symptoms of the head trauma he suffered that were just now beginning to surface. We’re hearing a lot about this kind of thing these days, mostly related to concussions in professional athletes (particularly football players). He told me that within the last couple of years, his cognitive ability was failing from time-to-time and that he was encountering memory loss and other symptoms from the accident that happened seven years ago.
Within an instant, I admired this fellow, who introduced himself to me as Steve, for the willingness to even come to the gym and do what he could for himself. When he spoke to me, he didn’t sound like he was complaining at all. He was very matter-of-fact about everything. And not knowing what lies ahead (who among us really does?), he said he just does what he can for himself today.
I left that conversation with Steve affected quite profoundly. Here I had started by assuming things that turned out not to be true at all, and put myself in a position of somehow being separate from Steve by assuming or judging in the first place. But then I caught myself and forced a potential correction by daring to invite a conversation. Once my ignorance had been revealed, I went away from it feeling compassion for Steve, admiration for his spirit, and a resolve not to believe my assumptions anymore. Or better yet, to continue to work to program myself to not have it occur to me to make those assumptions at all. I don’t know if that’s realistic, but it’s what I’ll strive for.
So if you’re like me, and want to feel more connected and less withdrawn, try this: next time you catch yourself making an assumption, reverse it and assume you don’t know, and then ask. Speaking up will help create the connection and you’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how often your assumptions are wrong.
We think we know. We don’t. But the real connection in living is in admitting it, opening up your mind and heart and going about the business of finding out.
My youngest son had a busy weekend of hockey these past few days, on the ice four times in three days. I believe it fatigued all involved. Sunday’s game in particular got a little bit lively, more so than usual. The experience reminded me of just how easy it is to lose your perspective, and how much progress we’ve yet to make in responding versus reacting.
At that game, the parents from the other team were extremely vocal right from the start. And that’s fair enough. I can appreciate that they want to cheer for their kids. But those kids were also a little rougher out on the ice than what’s normal. There again, I experienced that as an anklebiter also. We used to call teams like that “chippy.” You learn to deal with it and move on.
Tasked with a tough job, the referees are usually selective as to whether to call penalties or not, particularly at this age. Unfortunately, they erred on the side of letting the kids sort it out themselves. In other words, there was a lot of hooking, holding and body contact, and the whistle wasn’t blowing. It escalated, and control of the game began to slip away. Or so it seemed.
As this happened, the kids continued to play, of course, under the supervision and “leadership” of the coaches, the referees, and the rest of the people in the arena (in other words, the parents). But the behaviour in the building quickly deteriorated to inappropriate levels. The energy rose, and tensions with it, and a number of people that I know to be very good, solid individuals, lost their cool and began shouting things which they almost immediately regretted. It was all unnecessary and uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing. As soon as the game was done, and the players came off the ice and sat down in the dressing room, helmets were removed to reveal … 9-year-old kids. And those kids, in my case, were the ones on the losing side of this particular game. But they were happy. The drama and anxiety was all being felt by the people who were projecting their expectations on to the event. But the participants, in this case, children, had not lost perspective. Sure, the game was “chippier” that it probably should have been. It would have been nice to have seen some leadership shown and order restored, but nobody got hurt. Overall, it was not really a big deal, and the kids knew it. But the coaches and parents were still wound up. Some apologized. The kids looked around like they didn’t know what the fuss was for. Meantime, many of the adults had allowed the uncomfortable energy to tell them things were not okay, and they had reacted. Poorly.
This phenomenon plays itself out over and over and over again in our society. People tend to react to a situation, rather than respond. When tension grows, your perspective narrows, and the “fight or flight” feelings kick in. It’s only later, when you’re calm enough to recognize the larger picture once again, that you realize the situation did not, in fact, merit the anxiety cast upon it.
How many times have you had a bad day at work, or have you received some unwelcome news and suddenly felt your world spinning out of control and all positive thought crashing down around you? What seemed so manageable, maybe even enjoyable, one moment, became unbearably bad the next.
What changed? The bad day at work? The news?
The refs at the hockey game?
The world didn’t fundamentally change in any of those cases. Only your choice of perspective did. Life is going to happen. It isn’t good or bad. It just is. It’s the perspective we choose – the choice we make – that tells us it’s positive or negative. But that’s our choice.
To react or to respond. That’s your choice. One involves taking a breath or two and giving the situation some space. The other does not.
The coach who yelled, “You’re ruining the f—king game” on Sunday for the benefit of a bunch of 9-year-olds is hurting himself a lot more than he may realize. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be hurting the kids much.
I’m fortunate. I just returned from a week in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I’d never been to a tropical place like that before, though I have had other vacations in years past. This one was the best, because I didn’t much feel the need to leave and I wasn’t at all unhappy to come home.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about presence, gratitude and awareness. I wish I’d seen it sooner. I used to treat happiness as a result, rather than a choice. And I didn’t realize that I wasn’t very happy much of the time. It’s sad to consider, but empowering to know that you can wake up and change. I’ve come a long way.
I used to place an impossible amount of expectation on vacations or other time away from work and “life.” I would research the destination endlessly, make countdown calendars and tick off the days starting at least a month in advance, and would daydream constantly of how grand life would be if I could only just get away. What would then happen was that I would eventually get to go on the trip, but I’d carry an enormous amount of stress that something might go wrong and not fit my vision. I would enjoy myself, but perhaps not up to the level of expectation I’d set out. And then of course I’d become enormously depressed when it came time to go back home, to “reality.”
I repeated that process many, many times. And don’t get me wrong, I had some wonderful times on some of those trips. But I also remember the tension I would feel about getting across the Canadian/American border, or making it to our hotel without the car breaking down, or worrying about making the flight on time, or our luggage arriving safely … it’s exhausting to recall. Every last little interaction was met by me with the worry that something might not work out. And of course, it usually did, and the things that weren’t meant to go smoothly got dealt with anyway.
At some point, I realized that no matter where you go, you have to take yourself with you. So rather than working on getting away, I began to work on myself. I’m very glad I did.
Fast forward to this trip I just took. I did none of the pre-vacation preparation, other than briefly reading about the resort and nearby area and familiarizing myself with the itinerary. My sweetheart, Caroline, who traveled with me, was interested to look into excursions and other information, so I was happy to let her. It would have been unthinkable for me to have given up that “control” so many years ago. But when I’m with her, I don’t worry about incidentals. I know we can handle whatever comes up and usually have fun doing it. And we did.
I was happy, of course, to have the chance to go to such a nice place. But the thing I was excited about the most was the chance to spend an entire week with Caroline. And that proved to be the best part and the only thing that gave me pause for any kind of sadness when it came time to leave. At the end of the week, I was quite content at the thought to come home, but I did have a slight ache in my heart over the distance that would resume itself between my sweetheart and me as we each go back to navigating through our own daily responsibilities. But then the thought occurred to me that I’d brought the best part home with me, and have actually grown quite happy with my own company as well. Quite to the contrary of how I used to be, that’s a recipe for contentment no matter where we are. There’s a real peace in that.
For just about every moment of this recent trip, I felt present, grateful and very aware of how fortunate I was to have had the experience. Now that I am home again, I feel the same way, about my family and loved ones, my home, my work, my creative projects and other interests and all the comforts I’m so fortunate to enjoy. I do still have that little melancholic tug in my gut, wistfully reflecting on the recent adventures. But I’m also aware that the feeling will, in a short time, begin to be carried back into the daily momentum of family and work tasks that will soon be flowing along again, another part to the fabric of who I am.
Both literally and figuratively … I’ve come a long way.
Another new year is almost upon us. Gym membership levels will spike temporarily. Liquor stores will quiet somewhat from the pace kept over the last many weeks. Diet books and personal development material will jump from the shelves. And if it truly is time for you to take on any of those – or any other – endeavors, good for you. I wish you luck. But I do have two questions for you:
- Why wait when you can start right now?
- Do you want to change something about yourself because you know deep in your cells that it’s right for you, or because it’s what you think you should be doing as you observe everyone else?
Answer quickly if you like. My guess is you’ll find the truth of a real inquiry perhaps a tad more revealing than you first thought. But I do invite you to think about it.
Maybe your experience is fundamentally different from mine? I don’t find that the times I know I really need to make a change are marked on a calendar. When it’s time, I just know it. And that can happen any time, any day. From there, it’s up to me whether I do anything about it or not.
Celebrate the arrival of a new year. Embrace the ones you love. And by all means, make a resolution if you care to. I’m all for anyone trying to improve their own experience. I’m merely suggesting that a new year begins every day, every minute, every second. Each moment that comes to us can be a new beginning.
Do you have something you’d like to change? Start doing? Stop doing?
You have the power to start right now, just as you are.
Everything else is an excuse.
Here’s how I remember it. As a little fellow, I had one of the original Han Solo Star Wars figures. It was the model made by Kenner. Han had that cool black vest over the white shirt, just like in the first movie. Of course, neither his elbows or knees would bend, and his action figure pals, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, all had light sabers that literally slid out from inside their arms. No matter. They were all super-cool and, to me, Han Solo was the coolest. Still is.
I would have been 3 years old when the original Star Wars movie (now referred to as “A New Hope”) was released to theatres in 1977. That would make me only 4 by the time those Kenner toys were released and available. Viewed in this fashion, I’m hoping you’ll be able to see it as not inappropriate, then, that I used to regularly take my Star Wars action figures, Han Solo and all, into the bathtub with me.
As for what happened next, well, I don’t recall the specific circumstances. And even if Mom, Dad or my sisters declared that they knew, I think I’d choose to chalk up their recollections as hazy as well. But what I know for sure is that, after one particular watery cleansing session, Han Solo’s head was gone.
I’m pretty sure it came off and went down the drain.
The specific details are lost to time. I have 37(ish) years of life experience between that particular event and the person I am now. And if Han’s head did in fact swirl away with the bath water, can you blame me for blocking that from my immediate memory recall?
I know for sure that I used to have a headless Han Solo figure. Oh, I wished I could have had a new one, of course, but that not being in the cards, I played with him anyway. I loved Han Solo that much. Han Solo without a head was better than any full-bodied character. Certainly I cannot be the only person to feel this way? Or perhaps I was just the only one with a Star Wars character figure that could have doubled as the villain after Ichabod Crane, and so I made the best of it.
The exact amount of time I played with my headless Han Solo is also a detail lost to time. And so is the recollection of the exact year that I accidentally dropped him down the storm sewer on the street in front of our childhood home. I tried to fish him out with an impromptu rod made of string tied to a popsicle stick. Alas, what remained of my headless Han Solo was then gone for good.
I wasn’t able to get another one of those Han Solo figures. But he’s never stopped being my favourite character.
Some two decades after that, the original Star Wars films were re-released to theatres. To accompany the occasion, a new line of action figures were put to market under the brand line “Power of the Force.” The characters all looked like they’d been jacked up on human growth hormone. But I didn’t care. I bought one of all the original main characters, including, of course, Han Solo. This time, I left him in the package to ensure his head held tight. No bathtubs. No storm sewers. He and the others are still locked away in a box somewhere.
In the many years since then, I acquired a few other Han Solo action figures, like the version that has him in Stormtrooper armour. For that one, his helmet is removable, but his head remains intact. At least I think it does. I’ve never taken it out of the package.
This past weekend, I took my two sons with me to see the new Star Wars film (“The Force Awakens”). Of course, Han Solo is a key character in the film, the same one I’ve loved since I was a single-digit bathtub-dwelling ankle-biter back in the day. To see Harrison Ford play that part again was like being reunited with that miniature, so very innocent version of myself. It was a joy. I’ve little doubt there are many other people who can relate.
But the most special part of the weekend was not seeing the film, even though that was fantastic. No, the best part was the day before, when my 12-year-old son presented me with an “early” Christmas present that he went out and purchased, all by himself, and with his own money. He wanted me to have it to get “excited” for the new movie.
Here’s what he gave me:
The next day, he lamented that he didn’t know the figure he’d purchased was actually a bobblehead. We only discovered this because I immediately took Han Solo out of the packaging and put him on display in our home. Han’s head wobbled. My stomach tightened for a moment, but all proved to be well.
At my son’s somewhat ironic observation, I could only give him a hug and chuckle. I told him not to worry, that even if Han’s bobbling head should fall off, I would still love him anyway, and had the resume to prove it.
But what I love most was that he would even grant me such a kind and thoughtful gesture. The moment I opened his gift, his eyes sparkled at knowing he’d given me something that instantly reconnected me with my younger self. The Force is strong in that one. And he gave me the gift of a little Christmas magic.
Harrison Ford looked a lot older in the new film, of course, but he’s still the same person that portrayed my favourite character all those decades ago. And though I may now have parental responsibilities, a career and a home to care for, I am still the same guy who loved and appreciated being able to imagine his own adventures with an action figure representing the character Ford played. Even without a head.
Han Solo is still in my house. And thanks to my son and the timing of the film, I believe I’ve just experienced what Christmas is supposed to feel like for the first time a long, long time.
And May the Force Be With You.
This lyric is from a song called “Crusoe,” written in the early part of the 2000’s. I never got stranded on a deserted island like Daniel Defoe’s character did, but I would go on to experience just about everything major in my life changing all at once. And it’s amazing how your priorities and views of what’s truly valuable and worth pursuing change at a time like that.
There’s another line in that song that asks, “Well, maybe it’s the wanting that sustains you?” I’ve always liked to think about that line, too. I figure I’ll put “Crusoe” on my list of tracks to share in my Song Blog at some point in 2016.
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Ultimately, we aspire to all three. But for the moment, I’m interested to know what your raw gut first reaction is if I were to say that, for this holiday season, you could be immediately granted just one of these three choices. Which would you choose at this moment in your life?
And please feel welcome to say why in the comments section or on our Facebook page.
This lyric is from a song I wrote over a decade ago, originally titled “Brave New Hope.” This particular line is in the song’s bridge, and it speaks with a perspective that I must have had in my consciousness in order to write it down all those years ago, but it was not until very recently that I truly began to embrace its essence in my every day life. Attitude and outlook are, it seems, things that are within our control.
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I was first introduced to the work of Psychologist and Author, Gay Hendricks, over a decade ago when I was working as the General Manager of Delaware Speedway here in Ontario, Canada. A friend of mine who, of all things, was our beer rep at the time, let me know about a book he loved called “Conscious Golf” by someone named Gay Hendricks. He told me it had been the single most important book for him in increasing his productivity at work. Intrigued, I went out that night, purchased it and read through it immediately. It remains one of my favourite works on personal development.
Ever since then, I have been a fan of Hendricks’ work and I hope I get the chance to tell him some day how much of a positive impact his teachings have had on my life. As I look back, although it was “Conscious Golf” that began my initial interest, there remains one work in particular that I purchased a short time later and now hold in my heart with an exceptional amount of gratitude: “Conscious Living.”
Here’s a little bit about why it means so much to me.
I had owned “Conscious Living” for some time, but had only read about halfway through it. I remember it not connecting to me fully in those immediate moments the way “Conscious Golf” had at the time. So I put it back on the shelf until I felt urged to re-address it.
Then, on an evening in 2010, I was confronted with some news that brought my perception of my world crashing down around me. At that moment, I knew that my 11-year+ marriage was in serious jeopardy and that, at the very least, it could never be the same. I have not been as completely emotionally shattered, before or since, as I was in that moment.
In a swirl of hurt, confusion and sadness, I removed myself from where any of my family were present, and wound up in the laundry room of my basement. I remember feeling like I was going to burst apart, not knowing what to do, except that I did not want to hurt myself or anyone else. I remember crying a lot, and probably vocalizing more than that. I also have a memory of just grabbing whatever I could find on the shelf nearest me, and throwing it down on the ground and stepping on it in a desperate attempt to get my confused feelings out without doing any harm (I’m not proud of this behaviour and don’t condone it, by the way. I am just being honest about what happened).
I picked this object up and threw it down multiple times. I smacked it against the dryer and laundry tub. I did this over and over until I’d worn myself out. Finally, a slumped-over exhausted mess, I stood with my head down, tears in my eyes and a hole in my heart. And it was at that quiet moment when I looked down and realized that the object I’d been tossing around was Hendricks’ book, “Conscious Living.”
Despite the circumstances, I was horrified with myself and my behaviour. The book looked up at me, now battered and creased. I thought, “Of all the things to grab, why that book? What was it even doing in this room?” It seemed as if it had to be there for a reason. In my own way, I sensed the book looking up at me, my emotional tirade complete, and hearing it suggest, “Are you done now? Open me up and have a look.” I bent down and picked it up, walked into the next room, sat down and began to read.
The contents of the book changed my life.
Hendricks may never know this, but that book was a key part of getting me through months of trying to keep my marriage together before ultimately admitting defeat, and then dealing with separation, divorce and the business of re-engineering my life as I’d known it at the time. Because of what I learned from that book, I was able to navigate those stormy waters with empathy, compassion and accountability. Years later, I’ve often said to those closest to me that I learned more – about myself and others – through that process that I don’t think I could have learned any other way. I still feel that way.
Through “Conscious Living” I began to learn about how I was unconsciously committed to the circumstances I was already experiencing (that’s a tough thing to own, and something that took years for me to fully wrap my head around). I learned about personas, why it’s so important to learn to love yourself, and so much more.
That book is now full of highlights, bookmarks and notes. I carried it around with me everywhere for a about a year and would reference it almost every day. Through it all, there are a few passages from it that still flash through my mind on a regular basis. For example:
“We choose how gently we get our lesson by how open we are to learning. Life teaches us with a sledgehammer if we refuse to pay attention. It administers the same lesson with a feather tickle if we show a willingness to learn.”
That passage jolted me awake to the idea that I’d been bulldozing my way through life doing what I thought I was supposed to do, rather than truly listening to my heart and body and seeing the signs that were pointing me elsewhere. I now see people caught in this trap every single day. In fact, it seems that much of our North American society is snared in this paradigm, and we all just keep following along, comparing ourselves to others. I still work at that every day, and suspect I always will. I am a much happier and healthier person now. I wish that for everyone else, too.
“The act of blaming is an extreme form of being right, a habit that can be your most insidious hindrance in the quest for enlightenment. Many people, when given the opportunity to be happy and vibrant, settle instead for being right.”
That bit, and the chapters of the book surrounding it, was an enormous influence in me navigating through the rocky waters of divorce. I was astounded to realize how truly unhappy I actually was, and how much I pointed my finger when I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I stopped blaming and making excuses and started being more accountable. I became a lot more interested in getting it right rather than having to be right. The challenge that came after that was still having the ability to trust in myself without relying on the rigidity I’d employed previously. But that’s another story.
Another key passage from “Conscious Living:”
“If you don’t love yourself, you’ll always be looking for someone to do it for you. And you won’t ever find it, because people who don’t love themselves attract people who don’t love themselves.”
I read and highlighted that bit years ago, but didn’t start to truly understand and work on it until more recently. It’s more difficult than it sounds.
And though it seems that half the book his highlighted, here’s one last example, for now, of something Hendricks said that electro-shocked me into a new paradigm:
“It took me a long time to figure out something I now know deep in my cells: we create the very situation we complain about most.”
Yikes. That’s a hard one to accept. But I’ve come to believe it’s absolutely true. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how I’d had any hand in creating the situation of my family breaking apart. It seemed not only absurd, but offensive. Still, I allowed the notion to float through my consciousness. It started with a couple of simple questions, directed at myself: “I wonder what my end of this was?” And, “I wonder what I can learn from this?”
As soon as I invited answers to those queries, I began to experience a series of “Holy Cow” moments. I began to see myself through an entirely different viewpoint (think of Scrooge viewing himself with one of the ghosts in “A Christmas Carol”).
It took me a long time to find my legs after making these realizations. But I eventually did. And that gave me the foundation to start building myself back up again. I am better for it.
Perhaps you have your own example similar to what Hendricks’ “Conscious Living” has meant to me. If so, please do share. I have read and learned from many wonderful books since (including several by Hendricks) and I’m certain there will be many more along the way and would welcome your suggestions.
As I look back on my life so far, I can clearly see two versions of myself: the very determined guy who struggled and flailed and dug in deeper at the appearance of every obstacle, and the post-“Conscious Living” fellow who still pursues goals and dreams but feels much more fulfilled and content on a regular basis.
I like the second guy much better.
I was inspired by “Conscious Living.” I remain inspired by it.
Thank you, Gay Hendricks.