The Art of Extreme Self-Care

The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a time by Cheryl Richardson book cover photoThe Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time by Cheryl Richardson is aesthetically pleasing and full of insight.

This is a wonderful book and I have recommended it to many of my clients, friends, and family.  I have read a lot of self-help books.  This is definitely one of the best. I felt like I actually had a “to do” plan at the end of each chapter and I kept post-it notes nearby to flag section that I wanted to go back and re-read because the book was much too beautiful to mark or damage the pages.

Cheryl’s insightful observations and direct questions stimulated several pages of notes for my tapping journal. It looks like I have a lot of work ahead of me, but instead of dread like I often experience while reading this type of book, I am actually excited to do the work.

It has been a while since I read it the first time but have picked it up again.  I am as excited about it now as I was the first time.

Isshin, Mushin, and Zanshin

Image of tree inside glass ballI’m a planner.  In fact, my standard mode of operation has always been to try to anticipate every possible complication or contingency and plan for it.  I’m the classic “if he does this, then I’ll do this” kind of girl.  Since beginning to study the principles of martial arts I’ve been intrigued by the possibility of letting go of such rigid thinking. In theory it sounds like a great idea. In terms of fighting or martial arts it even makes some sense to me.  I had the opportunity to test this a while back in my real life.

The best part of this story for me is….I didn’t pre-plan it. It wasn’t one of those times when I said, “hey I think I’ll see how these principles would work here.”  I was scheduled for a meeting with a lot of different professional people.  In the past these meetings have always felt quite adversarial. I’ve always gone into the meeting wearing my very best power suit and armed to the teeth with copies of the current applicable legal statues, braced for a fight. Typically I would have spent the night before rehearsing in my mind everything that I thought I should say and appropriate responses for any and all objections.

I woke up on the morning of the meeting and had actually forgotten that the meeting was scheduled. I put on a rather feminine (aka “girlie”) dress and went to work. There was only a slight moment of panic when I realized I was deviating from my plan. On the way to the meeting several things happened that weren’t in my game plan, including a change of meeting location and awful traffic. During that drive I reflected briefly on what my desired outcome was and set my intention to reach that goal.

When I arrived in the room I spent a few minutes listening to the mood of the other individuals that had arrived. I paid some attention to the energy that each was giving off. Normally I would have just assumed them all to be hostile. What I found was that most of the people in the room had the same objective that I did. I made a mental note. I also chose to position myself nearest the person who was most likely to be my major opponent. Again, this was in sharp contrast to anything I might have done before.

When my adversary attacked (verbally) I countered. I relied on my previous experience and training to allow me to respond, not some pre-orchestrated response. This worked so well I was amazed. Each time there was a new objection or a diversion I focused again primarily on my objective. I was able to adapt and continue working toward what I believed was the inevitable goal.

The meeting actually went well and my objectives were met. In the past I would have turned tail and literally run away. Instead I stayed and connected with the individuals that were present and made sure that there wouldn’t be any stray items to deal with later.

While all of this was happening I certainly wasn’t thinking of Isshin, Mushin, and Zanshin. It wasn’t until I was driving back to my office that it occurred to me that my meeting is some ways paralleled these principles. I was very excited. While I have studied martial arts principles in the dojo, I was excited to experience the principles in the rest of my world.

Tao Te Ching, Holy Bible, and Abraham Lincoln

Book cover of Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition by Lao Tzu from amazon.comI have been reading Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition by Lao Tzu, translated by Jonathan Star for quite a while now.  Sounds like light lunch time reading, doesn’t it?  In the introduction I was struck with the similarity between the Tao Te Ching and the Holy Bible.  Please hear me out.  The first similarity was the difficulty in preserving a knowledge base that was primarily oral.  Both the Tao Te Ching and the stories of the Holy Bible were oral traditions that were written down at a later time.  There are many similar challenges including the writer’s own biases when hearing and re-telling a story, the political and cultural influences of the time, language translation issues, and poor memory. Have you ever played telephone? By the time you get even 2-3 people deep into the retelling of a message it can often be significantly altered, not just in the details, but in the real message of the story.

The second similarity that struck me was the question of whether picture of open Biblethe story or phrase was intended to be literal or illustrative. This quandary is often evident in Bible stories and there is considerable discord between the factions that believe that everything is literal and those who believe it is a figurative lesson meant to inspire or teach.

A third similarity was that reading the verses of the Tao Te Ching elicits more questions that the answers provided. That has often been my experience when reading from the Bible. I can easily generate long lists of “but what about…?” from either book.

You may be wondering where Abraham Lincoln fits in all of this. Abraham Lincoln statueAs I was thinking about writing this post I recalled an event many years ago when my older son, then about 3 or 4, was almost inconsolable when he asked me about the man whose face was on the penny. I told him about Abraham Lincoln, and he asked me where he was. I explained that he had been killed many years ago.  My son began crying. When asked why he was crying he stated, “because I’ll never get to know him.” That is also the truth of the Tao Te Ching and the Holy Bible.  We will never really know.

As seekers of truth and wisdom we can make best guesses, sit in meditation, engage in prayer, and evaluate the cumulative knowledge of others, but we will never really know. For me it does feel sad.  So much has been lost.

Beyond the wisdom of the texts, what can I learn from this?

  • Don’t assume that others will remember my stories accurately
  • If it is important, I should write it down
  • It is my responsibility to share the stories of my “tribe”, culture, and my life. No one else can really do it.
  • If I want to know the stories and beliefs of my ancestors, I need to ask while they are still here and able to share them with me. I wait at my own peril.

Did anyone bring the marshmallows?

glowing campfireI tend to be an optimist, but sometimes I have a hard time seeing the silver lining right away.  Thursday morning started as any other day. I got up and showered, fed the dogs, made my breakfast, packed my lunch for work, then went into the laundry room to check the dogs’ water bowl.  I know many people walk through their mornings in a haze, but I literally walked into the haze during my morning. The room was filling with smoke.  In less that a minute the smoke detectors started blaring and smoke started filling the house.

Skipping to the end of the story – everyone is fine and the house is intact.  But a lot happened between the smoke and now.

Our boiler malfunctioned (another long story) and was burning a hole through the floor beneath it.  If this had happened after we had left for work we wold likely have lost everything.  I made it to work, although smelled like smoke) and Scott stayed home, assessed the damage, and went to work on the repairs.

At work I alternated between anxiety and gratitude that this happened while I was at home.  Fast forward to Friday – no hot water and the house smells like a campfire.  I decided I had a picture of marshmallows toasting to make s'moreschoice.  I could either focus on how inconvenient it was to not be able to take a hot shower and how smokey my house smelled or I could close my eyes and imagine cooking marshmallows for s’mores over the campfire.  I chose the latter.

kitchen sink with running waterSaturday – still no hot water.  My natural optimism was returning and by Saturday afternoon I could finally wash dishes again.  Wash dishes? I have never looked forward to washing dishes in my entire life.  Perhaps that is optimism taken too far.

Looking at everything that happened from this vantage point revealed a few lessons.

  1. I really am an optimist.  However, just because I am an optimist doesn’t mean I don’t feel unhappy or frustrated sometimes. Being an optimist just means that it is my default viewpoint.  Both tapping and conscious choice restored my balance.
  2. Looking for the blessings in your life is important. Unless you look for them you might miss out.  It would have been easy for me to focus on the inconveniences of the day but I know it would not have been a good thing for me or anyone else.
  3. I can tolerate more than I sometimes think I can.  I don’t usually like surprises or anything that disrupts my daily routine.  This event was a disruption but I actually bounced back rather quickly.

I hope I don’t have a fire again.  I hope you don’t either.  But if we do, think about marshmallows.

Confront Your Naked Identity

Large rope implying presence of a docked shipDoes that statement scare you a little bit? It did me. I noticed that statement in Jump Ship, a book by Josh Shipp.  I’ve mentioned this book in a few different posts.  What the author was speaking about was getting real with yourself about who you are. He considers this an essential task for becoming successful in life. The question one must ask is “who am I?” The answer needs to be honest.

The question isn’t very difficult, but the naked answer sure is. When you first consider the question you may have some ready-made answers like “I’m a mom”, “I’m short”, “I’m Caucasian”, or “I’m a doctor.” I would argue that these are just the roles you play. Other people come up with answers that include what other people have said about them like “strong-willed”, “efficient”,  “lazy”, or “beautiful.” That may not be who you really are either.

To help with confronting your naked identity Shipp offers these questions:

  1. What makes you unique?
  2. What do you love?
  3. What are you good at?
  4. What do you believe?

I’d like to offer a few more:

  1. What do you dislike?
  2. What are you most afraid of?
  3. What makes you cry?
  4. What makes you laugh?
  5. What are you afraid to let other people know about you?
  6. What brings you the most pleasure?

You might be wondering why this is so important. Consider this. Suppose that I want to make chocolate cupcakes. I have my ingredients all lined up to make them. Unfortunately the canister labeled sugar actually contains salt. What will happen to the cupcakes? You can be sure that I’ll be unhappy with the end product. In life the same thing can happen. If we do not see ourselves with accuracy – confronting that naked identity – it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get the end result we desire.  We must know what “ingredients” we bring to the table.

So, if you dare, confront your naked identity and get “cooking”!

What Are Limiting Beliefs?

Limiting beliefs are those thoughts, sometimes conscious, sometimes not, that keep us from doing the things we need to do to reach our goals.  For example, when I was growing up I wanted to be an astronaut.  That was at the beginning of the manned space program and whenever I would mention that I wanted to be an astronaut I would hear someone say – girls can’t be astronauts.  That is a limiting belief.  It kept me from trying to become an astronaut.

Not all limiting beliefs come directly from an outside source.  There was a time when I also wanted to become a doctor.  I knew that I had to take physics and calculus in order to go to medical school.  I didn’t believe that I could do well in those subjects in spite of the fact I was a straight A student.  There was no logical reason to assume I couldn’t pass those classes but my belief that I couldn’t kept me from actually trying.

History is full of limiting beliefs.  The world is flat. That belief kept people close to home so that they didn’t fall off the edge. A limiting belief is anything that keeps you stuck right where you are.

The good news — they are just beliefs, not facts.  We can challenge our limiting beliefs.  Tapping is a great way to do that.  Believing that I can’t pass physics is a belief. Deciding that I don’t want to put in the work that physics would require is a choice.  Being in a position of choice is “where it’s at” if you ask me.

Contentment Is A Verb

Contentment is a hot topic in many venues and disciplines. References to contentment can be found in virtually every religion, social group, culture, and philosophy. The word contentment can even be found in economics and psychology. Most of the references I have found seem to refer to contentment as a destination or objective.  While that may be an accurate usage of the word I believe that it lacks the depth and dynamic that is possible when used another way.  It would be more accurate, in my view, if contentment was a verb.  Verbs indicate action.  Contentment is really a process, not a destination.  In that way it defies our typical grammar structure.

Contentment doesn’t mean not wanting, not achieving, or not trying.  You can have contentment while trying to reach goals.  You probably must have contentment to really accomplish anything. My definition of contentment would read like this: the struggle of knowing that all that there ever could be is not enough and all that exists right now is abundant.

Here are some other definitions.

  • from WordNet 1.6 1997 Princeton University: happiness with one’s situation in life
  • from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1996: contained within limit; hence having the desires limited by that which one has, not disposed to repine or grumble; satisfied

At the website www.pausetoponder.org they suggest that we are trained to be dissatisfied. Our economic structure thrives on discontent. Contentment in the Western mind is having enough so that you are happy, can sit back, relax, and have no care in the world.  This can never be achieved.  According to Paster Gerry (Pastor Gerry is Gerald Whetstone, Ordained Elder and teacher in the Church of the Nazarene), in A Pause to Ponder God’s Word there are several actions one can take to find contentment.  Note that I said ACTIONS.

  1. Always rejoice in the Lord
  2. Don’t be anxious, pray
  3. Think on Holy Godly things
  4. Practice Holy living
  5. Always remember that with Christ there is nothing that we cannot handle
  6. Be a vital active member of a community of believers

The Jewish concept of Shabbat is also related to contentment.  Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg defined Shabbat as resting in the eternity of this day when we do not try to change or control our reality.  We are not pushing anything away or longing for anything to be different. Shabbat is completion, acceptance, realization, and fulfillment – all of the qualities that we cultivate when we rest our attention in the present moment.

In my dynamic model you “contentment” (the verb) in each time of prayer, meditation, or practice of Tai Chi.  The more one practices the longer you are able to experience the expanding state of contentment.

Graciousness – A Lost Art?

Does anyone value graciousness anymore?  Can you define it?  Merriam-Webster offers several different definitions including Godly, kind, graceful, and merciful.  The ones that interested me most were marked by tact and delicacy and characterized by charm, good taste, generosity of spirit, and the tasteful leisure of wealth and good breeding.

Lifestyle Lounge offers some lessons on graciousness. They suggest that graciousness is about how you make the other people around you feel.  Here are some of their suggestions.

  1. Take a compliment with a smile
  2. Small acts of understanding lead to greater acts of graciousness
  3. Do not fake
  4. Be forward with your help. Don’t want for anyone to ask you for it.

Consider these 10 Characteristics of a Gracious Person from www.godhungry.org.

  1. A gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise
  2. A gracious person never seeks to embarrass another
  3. A gracious person is always thanking others
  4. A gracious person doesn’t monopolize the conversation
  5. A gracious person doesn’t try to play “one up-manship”
  6. A gracious person pays attention to people
  7. A gracious person desires to say what is appropriate
  8. A gracious person looks out for the comfort of others
  9. A gracious person understands that she is not indispensable
  10. A gracious person constantly points out the good that he sees

The question that pops into my mind is “Where has this quality gone and how do we get it back?”  I actually know a few people I would describe as gracious. While it may come naturally to them now, I suspect they had role models who exemplified graciousness and that it was also specifically taught and rewarded. I see examples in our current culture which promote competing values that make graciousness more difficult.

What is the consequence associated with the absence of graciousness?  Francis Bacon said, “If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.” Gracious individuals attract others to them.  The absence of graciousness would lead to separation and isolation.  Graciousness invites cooperation and compromise. The absence of graciousness leads to argument, division, and conflict.

I suspect that the lack of graciousness is cultivated by fear and anxiety. We, as a society, are so worried about making sure we get “our share” or that we “won’t have enough” that we cannot even see what is happening. What are you modeling for your children? Do your children see you thanking others, even for the small things?  Do they hear you thanking them?  How often do you embarrass your children?  When your children talk, do you give them your undivided attention or do you use it as a time to play on your phone or multitask?  Do you focus on your blessings and all the good things that are all around you or do you focus on problems?

I am really not advocating a society in which we ignore problems, fail to correct errors, or overlook deficits. I do believe that if we are engaging in activities with graciousness as a characteristic of who we are, it can have a positive effect.  Remember, graciousness is the use of tact and awareness of other people’s feelings. It suggests that their feelings are at least as important, if not more important, than our own.

I am concerned that graciousness is becoming a lost art. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I plan to work harder to re-introduce graciousness back into my life.  Are you?

X + Y = Z……..or does it?

That seems like a pretty straight forward algebraic equation. We can plug in two numbers and calculate the third one. Another interesting aspect of such an equation is that there are limitless possibilities for Z.  All you have to do is change either X or Y or both.

A while back I read a book called Jump Ship by Josh Shipp. He uses this equation to illustrate a method for moving toward achieving your dream job.  In his formula X is your present, Y is your past, and Z is your future.  I was quite intrigued.  I would like to rearrange these components based on time.  My formula would be Y + X = Z.  With the change in order we could read this as: take your past, add your present to it, and you get your future.  Why is this change of order important to me? Because you can’t change your past.  You are stuck with it.  BUT – it doesn’t dictate your future.  You still have X, your present, that you can use to either overcome or enhance whatever is in your Y.  Sure mathematically the order doesn’t matter, but in the context of understanding your life it might.

Many people go to therapy and assert that they CAN’T do certain things because of their past or because their past means that they ARE a certain way.  I’ve never believed that. Now I have a way to illustrate why.  Mathematically speaking, assume you have a past with a numerical value of 2.  I gave it a low number because you may have lived in poverty, had a mean stepmother, or grew up with prejudice.  Your desire is to have a future that is a 10.  Perhaps for you a 10 would include financial abundance, great relationships, and good health care.  We can plug it into the equation and solve for X.  In this case,  X=8.  That might mean a lot of work to make your present an 8, but at least you know what it would take and can make a decision about whether or not you are willing to work that hard.  Just because you started out at Z doesn’t mean you have to end up there.

Although scary, the reverse is also true. Perhaps you had a wonderful past and assign it the value 8.  Like most people, you want your future to be a 10, but are putting in -2 in your present. You are just floating along without achieving anything, using drugs, or hanging out with people who are “takers.”  Where are you heading for the future?  Not a 10; you are on track for a 6.

The main point is that your past does not decide your future.  It is your present that decides where you are going.  Not 5 minutes ago. Not 5 hours ago.  Not 5 years ago.  The decisions you make in THIS moment.  No……Wait…….This moment…..Each and every moment are the ones that determine your future.

Peace in – Peace out!

I know that many people have developed the habit of starting the morning with the news, whether print or digital. That habit can have some merit since you can prepare for the weather, have the latest news to discuss with colleagues, or enjoy a chuckle if you are reading the comics.  The downside is that you are also exposing yourself to all of the negativity that has accumulated in the world the night before.  Have you ever wondered how reading about murder, theft, hunger, poverty, corruption, and deceit might impact your day?

I have found that I often start my day at a full sprint.  I pop out of bed and fly through my morning performing tasks at superhero speed trying to get as many things done in as short a time as possible.  Again, this has both positive aspects as well as hazards.  When in sprint mode I can cross many things off of my to-do list and give the appearance to myself and others that I am amazingly efficient and effective.  But at what cost?  After this sprint to get things done I am usually too tired and too grumpy to enjoy the free time that I expected to have later.  Truthfully, when in that mode I suspect that I’m not all that pleasant to be around either.

At different times in my life I have made the effort to exercise first thing in the morning.  I got up very early and dedicated that time to riding my stationary bike.  Most of the time I also had some positive attitude or personal growth CD playing in the background.  The combination was fantastic.  I know other people use yoga, meditation, spiritual study, prayer, or running as a way to get their day started in the right direction.

Other times, and prior to the time change (now sunrise comes after my work day begins), I took my dogs on a short walk to get some fresh air and exercise and to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery.  They felt better.  I felt better.  That feeling persisted throughout my morning at work.  Once darkness and black ice interfered with our early morning walks I began using inspirational CDs during my commute to gently lead my mind where I wanted it to go. Most mornings you will find me listening to WayneGirl with headphones in the snow Dyer, Anthony Robbins, or the Dalai Lama.  I confess that during the Christmas holiday season (starting around Halloween for me) I listen to endless hours of Christmas music instead becauase I adore it.

I am trying to be more aware of my mindset at the beginning of my day and have noticed that when I do plan for a peaceful start that I have a more peaceful day.  I can tell a difference in the way I feel about the world, myself, and the people I meet when I have made a conscious choice to start my day in this manner.  It does take some planning and intention to manage my time in the morning so that this is possible.  It is all too easy for me to just hit the floor running.  But, much like the garbage in – garbage out metaphor in computing, peace in – peace out seems to be every bit as true.