Self and the Storm

family, Spiritual Journey

Within a storm of uncertainty and chaos, there is a center of me that stays out of the wind and cold. A part that watches – a part that is learning. Normally, I am often concerned with how others around me are doing, and one person having a bad day used to cause me to spend tremendous energy trying to change that.

Today I heard myself letting my daughter’s issues be her issues and not affect my own enjoyment of the day. Not that it was anything major – we are still learning how to be with one another. And that means living with one another’s quirks and foibles, and really it’s about recognizing boundaries.

Watching the Storm Gather

When I watch a rainstorm, I never get confused as to where I stop and where the storm begins. The border between the storm and I is usually a pane of glass between us, or the edge of the porch, or at the very least my skin and (hopefully) my hat. And yet when others have their own stormy periods, I seem to forget that distinctive boundary – and let their problems become mine.

But boundaries are our friends, and when they function, they can be the shelter between us and the storm that rages outside. Learning about myself and being willing to learn from mistakes helps teach me about myself – it shows me what I can and can’t accept, for instance. For instance, as I learn what helps me stay healthy (for example, my photography), I can then make decisions about how valuable it is.

The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us. A first step is starting to know that we have a right to protect and defend ourselves. That we have not only the right, but the duty to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us.
–Robert Burney

And sometimes, that may just mean letting a storm stay outside, or letting an unhappy teen be unhappy until they choose otherwise – while making the bast choices for myself along the way. Today worked out well, and I think the boundaries helped keep the storm at a minimum. More importantly, it let me be available for my daughter when the weather cleared up – something I would have missed if I had made the momentary storm become more important than it was.

How do you keep from getting soaked by someone else’s storm? How have you learned to take care of yourself?

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Continuous Change

Change, family, Life as it is, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey

A very long time ago, I was introduced to the idea of continuous improvement – or to use the japanese term, kaizen. Nowadays it means a lot of formal processes and is an integral part in LEAN processes and Six Sigma and such, but when I first heard it 25 years ago, I only knew it was a powerful idea about continuous improvement – and that it had possibilities in work or in one’s life.

I’d love to tell you that I embraced it, and lived it fully, and give you a field report of what its like to have lived 25 years of continuous change. But I can’t.

Circles and Neon

My problem with continuous improvement – or even slight improvement – is that it involves change. And like Monk once said, “I don’t mind change, as long as I am not there when it happens.” And when I am busy trying to not make any mistakes, or do that perfectionism thing, I become rigid and inflexible – and so I resist change. And then that continuous improvement thing just can’t breathe and dies.

But this is on my mind at the moment for a few reasons. First, I am about to experience a significant amount of change in my life as my daughter will return home soon. And secondly, I have recently come to the realization that change is an intrinsic part of improvement.

My son and I have been living together alone for most of the past year, since my daughter was hospitalized. And while it hasn’t been perfect, it has – for the most part – worked. That is, it has worked in a way that is a change from the way things did not work when last my daughter lived here. So as much joy as I feel to have my wonderful daughter back in my daily life, I also feel some fear of the unknown.

They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
–Confucius

Things were not working well before, and then things did work, and that move from not working to working is both a change and an improvement. This next change is coming – and it can be an improvement. (While all improvement must be a change, not all change is an improvement.)

So as I have considered this and looked at it, and given myself permission to feel the feelings as long as it doesn’t keep me from getting things done that need to happen for this to work, I thought I would share some of the ideas that I am having on the subject:

  • I am the author of my life and so I can write this next chapter – or at least outline and start it – the way I think it could go. This is a rejection to the passivity that I used to have to change, and means I have a chance to influence the change to be an improvement. Maybe even a big improvement.
  • The only place I can author this change is in my choices of what I do. I don’t get to choose for anyone else what they will do. Trust me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. But my own choices, that is where the rubber meets the road.
  • Some of the changes coming may be changes I will really enjoy. Like going to the symphony with my daughter again and shooting with our cameras.
  • Some of the changes I may not enjoy. I don’t like the decions that others make sometimes. And where that conflicts with my boundaries and my responsibilities as a parent, I sometimes must choose to do things I would rather not do – or in a more basic form, I don’t want to live through some of the things I have had to live through in the past.
  • I have chosen to embrace change – to be open to its possibilities. It feels frightening – but only in that way that doing the right thing seems to stir fear up for me.

So that is where I am. I have finally come to the realization that I will never have the sort of life that gets better and better every day unless I have a life that keeps improving. And continuous improvement really just means continuous change (that we hope will be positive more times than not).

If today is going to be better than yesterday, then I need to let the day change to let that happen. (Otherwise it would be the same, you know?)

If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.
–Author Unknown

How about you and change? How do you handle it? Are you comfortable with it? What gets you through the times when lots of things all change at once?

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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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Love and the Vulnerable Heart

Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

In the mid-90’s I became convinced during a relationship crisis that while I knew the words of love, and I may know something about the touches of love, my behavior was still so unlovely that I had no clue what love was about. So I decided to become a student of Love, and this had many miraculous effects upon my life.

So when a friend admitted earlier this month that they had no idea what love was, I remembered getting to that same point and becoming teachable about love. And while it has been a while, and my life is much richer, and I have made many mistakes and therefor learned many lessons – I have never tried to articulate any of the things I have learned about love.

So this is the first in sharing these lessons of mine.

Rose

And the first thing I have learned about love is that it needs a vulnerable heart to work. Or rather, I have to be vulnerable if I am to love at all. If I try to protect myself against the pain and possible heartbreak of betrayal or apathy, then my heart becomes hardened and I cannot be moved as I can when I stay vulnerable.

There is a paradox here that is at work. But being vulnerable to being hurt may give us the wings we need to rise to a point where the hurt means something less devastating when it comes. I’m not saying less painful – in fact so far I find the pain is more acute when I don’t protect myself. But there is something about the healing that is different and doesn’t create the same hardened scar tissue.

I appreciate the paradox since I often spend my days finding vulnerabilities in systems and then doing whatever it takes to remove those same vulnerabilities. So workwise, I have always been taught that being vulnerable is bad.

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
–Madeleine L’Engle

Now, sometimes a vulnerability cannot be removed without breaking the system. For example, an unplugged computer in an empty and locked room is less vulnerable than one connected to the Internet. And it is equally unusable.

So we also have the idea of risk, and the ability to accept certain amounts of risk through an aware decision. If I plug that computer back into the wall, turn it on, and open the room, it becomes much more usable – and in some situations I may reduce the harm that can be done and then still accept the risk of certain amounts of vulnerability.

And in love, this is an important idea to me. For love to work, I have to accept the vulnerability that comes from opening myself to another and not guarding myself against harm by that same person. And what makes the Risk worthwhile is that the sort of vulnerable openness that comes from dropping our guard is an essential part of developing true intimacy with another person.

“I have been sick, really sick, on flights in the last few weeks. And, I have been amazed by the kindness of strangers. There is, indeed, something about vulnerability that helps us to connect with people — even when we’re holding one of those little bags from the seat pocket of an airplane.”
— Jan Denise

I mentioned earlier that when I came to this personal crisis, that I knew something of the words and touches of love but not much about the authentic behavior of love. For me, that sort of intimacy is both the thing I desire most and something I fear terribly because of how open to harm vulnerable I must become.

As I try to stay teachable on these things, I also keep looking for symptoms in my life of getting it right or wrong so I can make adjustments. And the biggest one that I see in my life about my willingness to become vulnerable, is that when I avoid the potential harm of the vulnerability of being authentic, then I start managing my image and how I look and seem to others. My perfectionism starts to rise up as well and so I get less done, I spend more time spinning details so you think of me as I would like, and so on. All of this stems from avoiding that vulnerability.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
–M. Scott Peck

Let me note this importance of vulnerability isn’t just about the love between lovers, but also between parents and children, and also between close friends. Some see it within the workplace as well as in dating.

In fact, it seems to also be true in terms of labors of love as well. It seems that the posts where I am open and write about the things deep inside – that is the posts where I am most vulnerable to how they might be received – these are the ones that can touch people the most, that generate the most thankful e-mails and messages in twitter. And I am not the only one seeing this in blogging.

This is the first thing I learned about love. Should I share more about this journey? Feel free to speak words of comfort in the comments….

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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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