Browsing the archives for the Life as it is category

An Open Letter to My Fears

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Dear Fears,

I know, you are happy to gather together like this en mass because when this happens, you often get to get behind the wheel and get to drive for a while. But not tonight….

First, I would like to take a moment… pause… and welcome you. All of you fears – from the ones about being laughed off the Internet fro addressing you openly, to the ones that quietly whisper of doom in the days ahead – have a place here and I welcome you. The kitchen is over there and feel free to help yourself if you get hungry or thirsty from screaming in my ear.

How My Camera Sees Hiway 6

I have some places I am choosing to go, and I have things to do as I get ready for my daughter to come home. I have plans for time off with my kids in the mountains, and I have goals that I am steering towards – regardless of the economic weather of which some of you enjoy reminding me.

You are welcome. But you don’t get the wheel. You don’t get to choose where I go, or how quickly I must move. Where I am is where I am, and that is ok for right now.

I will focus on the life that I have now – just as it is, and not worry about what may happen or compare it to the life i think i should have or others have. Life as it is is my focus, not life the way I want it to be.

So be welcome. Just know that you are the visitors and not the owner or driver. I suspect that i am far more vast a creature than i can even imagine, should you find plenty of room to occupy yourselves while I move.

Thanks,
James

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Living in Daytight Compartments

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Have you ever been exposed to an idea that seemed mildly interesting, but then later helped you grasp something vital? That’s what the concept of daytight compartments are to me. I first heard of them in a Dale Carnegie class, many years ago, and loved the mental image of doors sealing off each day one from another so I only had to worry about today. I was already familiar with the idea of watertight doors on a ship, and always wondered what the doors between days would look like.

Daytight Compartments

Thinking about it now, I imagine there comes a time in many sailors’ lives where the idea of watertight doors stops being an interesting idea and an occasional threat to the skull, and instead becomes a necessary reality. On ships, these doors prevent a leak or flooding in one compartment from threatening the other compartments. What is a disaster in one part of the ship is stopped from being a disaster in other parts of the ship because of these doors.

So in my case, my life was much the same as a ship that is in danger of sinking as crises were overwhelming me. Things in the past would leave me a wreck and before I could recover, there was another disaster approaching fast. I would hear people using the slogan, “One Day at a Time” and try to reach for some sort of serenity about the present day but I could never just force this to happen through an act of will.

And that is when daytight compartments stopped being an interesting bit of wordplay, and became a necessary part of my life. The term “daytight compartments” was first coined by Sir William Osler as a way of describing how the following quote changed his life when he encountered it:

It is not our goal to see what lies dimly in the distance but to do what clearly lies at hand.
— Thomas Carlisle

Sir Osler’s many achievements were attributed by him to this idea of never looking more than 24 hours ahead or behind right now. Dale Carnegie included this concept as part of a strategy of dealing with worry. For me, this is what allows me to continuing jumping through the hoops of a single-father, IT-professional, and artistic life with regrets and fear running off my back like water from a duck’s back.

Most of my fears are about things that have nothing to do with my immediate task of crossing this daytight compartment and making it to bedtime. And most of my regrets are about things that happened yesterday or before. Living in a working space that exists only from now until bedtime is just too small for my many fears to get too large – and yet it’s large enough for me to focus on what is at hand.

Those who know me and hear me talking about my “next right thing” are seeing me working in such a compartment. I can only deal with so much between now and bedtime – the rest I have to leave in God’s hands. And in the meantime, if a disaster has happened or will happen, I am safe in today. And when I am safe in today and can then focus only on the day around me, I can find some wonderful things.

Before IT started me working late-night maintenance windows again, I loved my dawn walks with my dog. I would time them so I was always on the west side of the lake for sunrise so I could watch it reflected in the lake and imagine today’s doors opening, often reciting this along the way.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow only a vision
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.
–Sanskrit Poem

What about you? How do you “seize the day” and stay focused in the present? And what does it do for you?

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How to Reboot Life Systems

Change, Life as it is

I spend quite a bit of time around computer and communications systems, both at home and at work. As a result, I occasionally have a system get stuck or need to be reset – that is restored to a known working situation with the system in a healthy state. Sometimes starting with a clean slate it all it takes to get past a problem, other times, it simply creates a starting point to solve problem.

Telecommunications Junction

I also have my life systems sometimes get stuck as well – because of a system crash such as a lack of housekeeping input causing the living-comfortably-at-home system to halt because of unacceptable disarray. Or as another example, I may be overwhelmed when I have too many challenges to handle at any one time, and this may affect any number of systems in home. This is where having a good methodology to reboot the hung systems is handy.

Most computers have simple ways to restart them when you need to. It may be a couple of mouse clicks, or a keystroke combination such at CTRL-ALT-DEL, that does it – but its a simple process that is often a first step in getting things working again. Unlike a blue screen of death I usually don’t have an external notice that systems are not working, rather it comes from listening to my own state of satisfaction. When systems in my life are working properly, I feel a sense of contentment – when a reboot is necessary it’s usually through a growing discontent with something I am doing or not doing.

I have a couple systems of living that are very helpful to me. I can’t say I do them perfectly – or even just very well, for that matter – but they are both good life systems, because they both have reboot methods built into them. They are David Allen‘s Getting Things Done (GTD) and the FlyLady‘s processes for decluttering and getting rid of CHAOS. (For those who don’t know the FlyLady, CHAOS is an acronym for Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

In the book, Getting Things Done, David Allen writes:

Think about the last time you felt highly productive. You probably had a sense of being in control; you were not stressed out; you were highly focused on what you were doing; time tended to disappear; and you felt you were making noticeable progress towards a meaningful outcome….

And if you get seriously far out of that state – and start to feel out of control, stressed out, unfocused, bored and stuck – do you have the ability to get back into it? That’s where the methodology of Getting Things Done will have the greatest impact on your life, by showing you how to get back to “mind like water” wit all your resources and faculties functioning at a maximum level.

Falling off the wagon on any new system of living is easy – I’m doing it all the time it seems. But knowing how to get back on track is the key though. With GTD, I know I need to get my list out (I use MonkeyGTD for my lists) and renegotiate my own commitments to myself and to start gathering and processing again. That’s the beauty – it is that easy to start making prgress – to reboot to a known working state.

And for days like today when I feel overwhelmed by my home and the work it needs, Flylady always starts at the same place. What is the condition of my kitchen sink? And today was no exception – I went to the kitchen and started on the sink. Soon it was clean, and the cleanliness started spilling over to the surrounding countertops until my kitchen was done, and that lead me to working on other parts of the house. I know that next I will be working for 15 minutes a day and also working on being mindful of my bedtime and waking routines.

The point is, I didn’t have to wonder what to do to get rebooted and get systems back to a known running state. Before FlyLady, I would have wandered the house feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to start working on so much to do. Before GTD, I would just leap into the closest fire and leap from one out-of-control mess to another, burnout and watch things crash again.

I wish I was always in control of all areas of my life. The good news it that instead of needing a systems that always stay in a steady state of harmony, I can make do with just knowing how to correct my course whenever I start to drift.

How do you reboot the portions of your life that seem to get hung up?

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Being a Dad through Self-Injury

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

All I had to do was type that title, and I felt fear. So I will face those feelings and tell you that I am going to touch on my journey as a father of a child who self-injured herself repeatedly. Whether you call it cutting or self-mutilation or whatever, I am talking about when you find your child or teen is hurting themselves.

Play with Me

I was looking through some old notes and journals from years ago, and I found an entry from five years ago this month:

My daughter cut herself again Wednesday, getting suspended by her school for bringing the knife to school, and getting busted for the cutting. Lots of emotions around this including ones of guilt, or that it is my fault for being so fucked up emotionally.

But one impulse is the Warrior impulse. She is in danger, I must protect her. But there is no tangible entity for me to attack. The Warrior is frustrated. I want to turn it off, the emotions are painful. But this is a good impulse, it comes from the right part of me, and trying to deal with it without trying to crush it has been hard.

My punching bag got a big workout last night. A recent acquisition, done in part to give me a safe outlet for my emotions. And yet when I was done, I was just hanging onto the bag, praying, and I remember hugging the bag as if it was my higher power.

That was my world back then, and I have made many mistakes since then and I have learned many things, and so in hoping to help someone else going through this same situation, here are some of the things I have learned. I am unable to tell my daughter’s story, all I can do is tell my own as a parent.

It’s not a short story, so I will probably have to just list my mistakes and what I got right. We are talking about a story that started a half-dozen years ago at least and still continues today. It was a progressive problem moving from scratches to cuts to needing stitches to an incidents requiring a surgeon to put her back together.

Here’s a summary of some of my mistakes:

  • Treated it like it was all her problem instead of working on family system and my part in it
  • Thinking I caused it, that I could control it, or at least cure it
  • Let “her not cutting” become one of the biggest goals for myself
  • Accepted unacceptable and abusive behavior towards me under the foolish notion that I could endure it and at least she wasn’t cutting herself

Here’s some of what I did correctly:

  • Set consequences requiring medical attention each time as it allowed natural consequences to take place
  • Refused to be ashamed or treat any of this as a secret – keeping communication open
  • Attended parenting support classes for troubled teams
  • Created a “care team” of her doctor, school nurse, and psychologist – getting them talking to each other
  • Learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and i can’t cure it
  • Got my daughter into local “Alternate Peer Groups”
  • Let her suffer consequences; while loving her and holding her hand as much as possible

There’s a song that was a big part of this journey for both my daughter and myself and we would often listen to it together. In her longer runs of trying to turn away from this behavior, she would often walk around singing it to give herself courage. Here are some of the words (and here is a blip.fm playlist with it).

Hero (Red Pill Remix)
Superchick

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
Shes in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

This is one of those blog entries that was hard to write, but I kept thinking about where I was years ago and how alone and cut off I felt. I mean I had to be a failure as a dad to not protect my daughter, right? And now years later I can turn to the frightened father I was and say,

“You are not a failure for having a daughter go through this, and as long as you can keep loving her (no matter how much you hate what she does to herself), you are doing well. The only way you can fail is to stop caring.

But you do have to get some distance from it, you have to demonstrate self-care in the face of self-destruction. You have to enforce rules and let consequences be what they are – even if it hurts. If she chooses the consequences, you must respect her decision. But as long as you keep loving her, she will see you over there and it will help her.”

Yeah, that’s what I need to tell any dad going through this. I shared that image above of me holding onto my punching bag, like my higher power. Ultimately I had to let him take care of my daughter and trust in that care. Its something I am still working on every day.

My daughter called while I was writing this, and she encouraged me – even reminded me that I mentioned writing something for other parents long ago. She also told me that she has not self-injured for over six months now – one of the longest stretches of time she has ever put together day by day. I say that in part so you can help celebrate, and also in part because it’s a daily victory.

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When Gratitude Flows

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

I love gratitude. I love it like a thirsty man loves water. I need it like a man needs water, too.

Sliding Down the Falls of Time

I need it, but I so often am without it. I can tell because I start feeling like things should be better. Maybe you know the feeling? I am lacking gratitude when I find myself comparing the way things are with the way I think things really should be. It doesn’t matter what I am looking at – maybe comparing something I tried to accomplish with what I actually got done. Maybe I am comparing how someone treated me with my own ideal of how i deserve to be treated.

Either way, there is a certain dissatisfaction that comes up. A resentment arises against the way things are. That’s the thirst.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
— Melody Beattie

So the question becomes, how do we go get a drink of gratitude when we need it? I can’t just will gratitude inside me – I know, I’ve tried. But surprisingly it’s possible for me to just go do a few simple things that let me start getting in touch with it again.

For me, it always starts with making a list of things that I am grateful for – for example, when doing this in my car (and I seem to do this a lot when I am in my car), I start with my car. Because no matter how much Houston traffic may be sucking my joy right out of me, it is still better than walking everywhere I need to go.

Oh hell, I could probably use a gratitude list right now, and it seems the easiest way to illustrate what i am saying:

I am grateful right now for…
…having this place to share my thoughts
…for the people on twitter chatting away in another window on this desktop (they are awesome)
…my house, because it is cold and wet outside and I am neither of these things
…Internet radio (listening to blip.fm at the moment)
…great conversations I had last night at Coffee Groundz
…a day of hanging out with my son
…Ethiopian Sidoma coffee
…Maire Brennan’s Celtic music of hope and faith (yes, the music changed)

Yes. A comforting sip of clear and cool water soothing my mouth and throat as I swallow it. I wasn’t even aware of how thirsty I was until just feeling the quenching of that thirst.

And I can even make it better! There are people associated with some of the things on that list. By telling them how I feel right now – enriched, warm, grateful – because of what they gave me, I can share it and make it grow. I need to remind myself that my life is this rich and wonderful because of the the other people that I am connected to – whether by social media and in person.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
— Cicero

What about you? What are you grateful for? Please leave a comment with your list – even if it’s only one or two things Better yet, after you make your list, share whether making it changed how you feel or see the world. (And if you see something that you like in the comment of another, let them know.)

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