Suffering Is Optional

It’s been a tough year for most of us. There have been interruptions to plans and we have learned how much we take some things for granted and many of us have learned a new form of appreciation.

There have been some who have done amazing things and accomplished so much with this time, and some who have celebrated the days they could get out of bed. For many of us there have been a bit of both.

Now after months and months of restrictions and with the seasons changing in the western hemisphere many of us are growing weary of this and asking, “are we done yet?”

We can recognize so many have it far worse than we do and scold ourselves into submission, but I’m not a fan of that. I’m also not a fan of wallowing in what isn’t and can’t be.

I recall a story I heard years ago that has come bubbling back up to the surface for me now. The story recounts a group of people who were captive, they might have been POWs or something like that, I can’t exactly recall. 

The story talks about the fortitude of the men as they waited almost endlessly for their ordeal to end. In the beginning of their time in captivity they were all optimistic that a rescue was certain but from this point they began to diverge in their thinking.

A few believed although rescue was imminent, they didn’t have any idea how long it would take but believed at one point their captivity would end in freedom. The others began to identify a period of time they determined it was reasonable to expect release. 

As the time ticked by and each period of time passed and another “reasonable” date was set. As each passed by with no sign of relief the men who were counting on the dates began to lose hope. They began to doubt they would ever return to the life they loved and the freedom they had. Mentally they began to breakdown and become depressed and despondent, hopeless as each marker passed by.

The few men that had not believed in a particular date but still held the belief that they would be rescued remained steadily hopeful. They were secure in the knowledge that rescue was just a matter of time. 

When the beautiful day of rescue came there were two groups of men, one who had lost weight, become despondent and angry for the length of time passed until rescue. The second group were grateful and ready to celebrate and praise the rescuers.

Years later the bitterness remained with those who felt that time had been stolen from them. Their multitude of unmet expectations scarred them not only in that time as prisoners but because they carried the pain forward, each unmet expectation re-injured the old wound. 

The lesson for me in this story is that the men who were so bitter and disappointed had created the suffering themselves. They had no proof that the times they felt they should have been rescued by were possible. They continued to pick arbitrary dates because from within the confines of the prison camp they had no information upon which to create realistic expectations. 

It’s kind of like where we have been during this entire pandemic. No matter where in the world you have ridden this thing out, many have filled the airwaves with blind commentary of when this would be over.  Arbitrary guesses about future travel, gatherings and expectations of life without fear of human interaction are doing no one any good.

Infectious disease research is usually a years-long process to come up with timelines, vaccines, immunity, safety protocol, etc.  Giving ourselves timelines of holidays or vacation dates is simply an opportunity for disappointment just as the prisoners had.

I encourage you to use this time to focus the things you can celebrate while dreaming for the days ahead like planning for an upcoming trip that hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Reflections Beyond The Mirror

As I entered the gym I had the absolute pleasure of being the first one in on this morning.

It’s not like the gym is crowded because we’re under limited attendance because of COVID, but having the whole place to myself was a treat!

I got to thinking as I set my weights in front of the mirror – why does it even matter? There can only be 4 people in here at once so it’s not like I can’t use the equipment I want. 

As I was focused in the mirror on the muscle group I was working, I didn’t worry about anyone else.  I didn’t worry that I was taking up space someone else needed, or using weights that someone else wanted. I didn’t worry if I didn’t look as fit, or capable, I didn’t worry if anyone saw I was only using 10lb weights.

Funny – for someone who walks to the beat of her very own drummer, who knew I thought about others so much? It got me to thinking that I must not be the only one!

In this state of limited activity with others, it has become increasingly obvious to me how much more I am reflecting on what I want for me instead of wondering what others are seeing.

This is enough of a perspective shift it’s important to share. It goes along with my blog post from last month about focusing on the life you wish to live versus what you want others to remember about you.

If I lift weights and focus on me and my body and what muscles I’m working, I put the best energy I can into what really matters to me. I can identify what is working and what is not and if the effort I’m putting forth is creating the results I want.

On the contrary, if while I’m lifting weights, I’m watching the skinny 20 year old doing yoga nearby wondering what she thinks of me – how much am I focused on my goals? 

If I allow myself to be so concerned about the example I’m setting for the yoga girl, or if she sees how strong I am or what is possible for her when she is a bit older, maybe that is a good result. But it’s not the result for me – it’s for her and ultimately I’m in the gym for me!

See how this works when we break it out this way?

If you are so concerned about how other people are feeling about the way you show up in the world, are you showing up for you?

This might be an oversimplified example but I think many people are living some version of this in their lives. I think that makes this time in life maybe even a bit more lonely, but it also highlights how much of life one might be living for themselves.

Look, you’ve heard me say time and again that our tomorrows are not guaranteed, so I encourage you to take what is left in this space of limited movement to really think deeply. How much of your life you are living for you and your own goals and how much is for your version of yoga girl?

It may not be obvious at first and you may not even realize it initially, so I encourage you to really think through it. 

In my experience,  I have found that when I am focused on my own reflection and goals, I end up being that example, showing how strong I am and everything I’m concerned about projecting. This is not because I’m doing it for anyone else and that is what makes it so magnetic.

When you see someone living in their absolute truth it is something almost magical and isn’t that the kind of legacy we all want to leave behind?

Better Than A Eulogy

If you are like me, at one point in your life you’ve done the “funeral exercise.” This is an exercise where you take some time to imagine the end of your life and think about what you hope others will say about you.

This is designed to help you really look at the life you are living and if it is congruent with what you hope to be remembered for.

Here’s the deal – you’ll be dead! Will you really care?

I know, that is not the point, but the point is that you don’t have any control how you are remembered. You only have control about how you show up (or don’t) in your life for yourself and others.

You may think that you will be remembered for all the people you helped and projects you were involved in. You may envision the line standing down the sidewalk waiting to pay their final respects, but that is not what it’s really about. 

It’s really about the people standing inside, next to you while the line files through. Think about them for a minute, what stories they will tell are the important ones. 

So here is a bit of a twist to that morbid exercise, still using the theme because it is a powerful one. It’s a variation on the theme but centers around those you love rather than you. 

Imagine for a brief moment that someone near and dear to you were to become ill or had limited time left on the planet. Would you change anything about how you are living today?

You see, we often don’t realize what we take for granted. We may be doing a grand gesture that many will remember us for at our funeral, but forget what it denies us the opportunity to do. 

This perspective gives you the chance to look at how you are showing up today in your life and in the life of those you love. Or not showing up. 

The question if you stay late at work to get just a bit more done, or go home to make dinner for your family has a different perspective now doesn’t it? Would you listen more intently as your loved one was telling you about their day if it could be their last? 

There is a song by Tim McGraw called Live Like You Are Dying in which he talks about going fishing more, loving more and not arguing as much. Let’s face it, some of the things we worry about, spend time on and are distracted by are things that in the face of limited time we would decide really don’t matter! 

Take that the next step further – and think about what matters to your loved ones. How would they feel coming home to find you not only home from work on time but cooking dinner for everyone? Or when someone spoke to you, you put your phone down and looked them in the eyes and empathized with them and really listened fully?

Is that argument you had really that important? Think about the event or task you said yes to that is taking time away from reading your kids a bedtime story.

Story Time

If time were limited, would you let anything get in the way of story time?

Ultimately we have no control over how we are remembered but we always have control of how we live each day. How we show others they are important and how we honor them in life is really what it’s all about, not what is said in a eulogy that we will never hear.

How people feel about you once you are gone is your legacy, how they feel about you while you walk among them is your life.

Remember, “Some people talk to you in their free time. Some people free their time to talk to you.”

I encourage you to consider these thoughts as you move about your days being intentional about your interactions in life with your loved ones. Make how you live matter to those you love, don’t worry about what will be said when your gone – you’re still here! 

How To Marie Kondo Your Life

I have good news for you in this sea of crisis! There is a whole lot of power in this pandemic.

  • There is inspiration in the isolation.
  • There is clarity in the crisis.
  • There is opportunity in the unknown.
  • There is volume in the quiet.

I am not trying to be a polyanna here nor am I a fan of toxic positivity. While not ignoring the pain, suffering and disruption we are all experiencing, I am acutely aware there is a gift here that I encourage everyone to take some time to appreciate.

We have all been forced (or strongly advised) to physically separate from the world around us. We have been asked to shelter at home, which many of us consider our personal sanctuaries.

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Think about that for a moment, we have not been asked to go to war, we have been asked to remain in the safety of our homes. We have been asked to gather with our loved ones, families or on our own within the confines of our sanctuaries and put aside anything not deemed essential.

Wow! What an opportunity for those who have a home to go to and are safe and healthy where the worst thing at this moment is staving off boredom.

It’s in these moments that I encourage you to bask in the void of non-essential responsibilities and take a look at what you consider essential at this time. I’m willing to bet that there are less things that fall in this category in this moment then a month ago. The items may be a little different for each person and that is ok, but realize what really is essential.

Here is where I believe the opportunity lies for each of us to design what our “new normal” looks like. This is the clean slate from which we can decide what to add as we move into the next chapter.

This is the ultimate KonMarie for our life!images

The opportunity here is to take a deep look at what you have deemed essential in your days at this time. Then take stock of your values and priorities based on this list which should be pretty easy in this time of unease.

From this viewpoint as the world begins to reopen, albeit slowly and likely in phases, I encourage you to be intentional about what you add back into your days. This is where you get to architect your life to the extent that is possible.

Everything you filled your days with prior to this time deserves a look.

  • Is this item essential?
  • Can you be absolutely certain it is essential?
  • Is there a different way it can be accomplished within your values?
  • Does it “spark joy”?

As the orders and advisements begin to lift over the course of the next weeks and months, I encourage you to really take a hard look at what you bring back into your days. Take the clean slate you have and really decide what you will spend your time and energy on and make sure each has a reason to be in there.

We are beginning again and this is an opportunity to design what your life looks like going forward. Choose wisely.

Mindful Time

My desire to grapple with the concept of time started at a very early age. I was a child IMG_9720living with a mother with a terminal illness and I always understood that she would not live the “normal” life expectancy. From the age of seven I understood our tomorrows are not guaranteed and that time is precious.

As a child and teenager, long into my early adulthood, I had trouble being “on time” for anything. As a young child my mother called me the pokey little puppy from the children’s storybook of the same name, but it quickly became an issue and not cute at all as I got older.

As a teen and young adult I struggled with schedules and meeting people at a specific time. It never failed as I was getting ready to meet someone, a friend would call needing to talk, or something would come up that I felt needed immediate attention.

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We now call that being in the moment, or being present – but then…it was called disrespectful.

I do own the fact that not everything truly needed the immediate attention I gave it, but this came only from practice and experience. I have also learned the art of predicting the unplanned and notifying people if it appears I’m going to be late now.

Once I got a handle on working within the constricts of time, I then was a single mother with children. Anyone with children knows this was an utter derailment and all my efforts to keep on schedule went down the drain as I tried to get my children to care about time.

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Children don’t care about schedules or time; they rely on their own rhythm and make their needs known as they arise. I allowed being on time to become so important to me that I missed so many important moments by hurrying them through something because of a schedule.

It’s funny how natural the child’s presence comes and as adults many struggle to become present. It is a natural instinct that we have put aside in order to work within the concept of time.

I know we need some type of order in the world. If everyone ran around being present and “in the moment” there would be chaos and we would certainly have trouble.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Yet I think about living on the islands and going to a store or a utility office to pay a bill only to find a sign on the door, “out to lunch”. I knew that meant I should come back in 2 hours or so because they would come back when they were done, not within a prescribed 20 minutes or hour. Yes it was sometimes a hassle but not often because who doesn’t appreciate living on “island time?”

The thing is that time is a man made concept. It is a method we use to understand a rhythm of our existence. However this is not always to the benefit of our human experience, sometimes it separates us from the very experience and rhythm of life.

As I prepare to take a trip to the other side of the globe whereby I will cross the date line and a day of my life will vanish into thin air this concept becomes ever more illusive. A day will pass that I will never have lived yet been present the entire time.

If this doesn’t explain that time is not real, I’m not sure what does!

We are pulled each day by appointments, obligations and our schedules. Many often have trouble saying no to a request to spend their time doing something they may or may not want to do but once put in the schedule it is time spent.

Each time I step on a plane, each time I talk to my children on the phone or my family or friends either in person or on the phone, I recognize that time shared is a gift and not a guarantee. To miss being fully present in those moments however normal and routine they may be is to ignore the gift because it is those moments that are the ones I will long for if and when they are no longer available.

So I leave you with these thoughts on time. Time is a gift not a guarantee. It means onlyimages what you allow it to mean, so I encourage you to consider this each moment you
schedule on your calendar. Make sure what is in your calendar is what is in your heart and that you make space to be present during those appointments.

I encourage you to celebrate each moment. And if you forget how to be present, take a child for a walk in the woods and follow their lead, you might just spend a 20 minutes following a critter and it might just turn out to be the most magical and enjoyable 20 minutes you’ve had in a while.

Thank you for spending your time reading this and I hope it helps you be more present with the rest of your time.