Don’t you just hate to wait? When the line at the Wendy’s drive through just creeps along, when the person checking out in front of you has items without a price tag, when the customer service rep leaves you on hold for fifteen minutes? Will that Sunday driver in the left lane ever move over? And then there are those situations where you know already it will take a long time, but you still hate to wait, like losing 10 pounds, or wondering if you’ll get the promotion, or deciding to move to another neighborhood. Is that fellow going to propose to your daughter or not? Being patient, by definition, is the ability to suppress restlessness or annoyance during circumstances over which you have no control. Because if you could change things then you wouldn’t have to wait and you wouldn’t need to be patient. So why do we get our blood pressure up over the practice of waiting? I don’t really know the answer to my own question, but I can offer a few thoughts on being a patient person. First of all, we need to own the fact that being impatient is our own response to circumstances. Sometimes I’m in a hurry because I’m late, and I’m late because I couldn’t say “no” to one last task, so there is no point in getting mad at the traffic. So just stop. Stop the frustrated inner monologue and take a deep breath. The fact is, you are just late and arriving with an attitude won’t help. Next, take a moment to check in with your body. Impatience settles in to your shoulders, your jaw… where do you feel tense? Focus on those sensations and see if you can relax. Drop your shoulders, loosen your grip on the steering wheel, breathe. Once your blood pressure returns to normal you can assess your situation. Perhaps you can make adjustments in your schedule. Perhaps you can open some space for inspiration concerning a tricky problem. Or maybe you can make friends with life not knowing for sure how a situation will turn out. Someone much wiser than me said it this way many years ago: Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself? –Lao-Tzu, Tao-te-Ching 6th Century BC
It seems like a busy time of year to be talking about inner simplicity. There is nothing simple about orchestrating the gift giving, keeping track of the social events and managing those end-of-the-year school projects. Did I mention baking?
One of the ultimate objectives of attaining inner simplicity is being able to live in the present moment. Not just survive, but actually breathe and engage. That’s important because life is just a continuous succession of present moments. Most of us spend an inordinate number of our moments regretting the past, fidgeting in the present, or worrying about future. We miss a lot of life that way.
Here is a simple activity that I’m fond of doing because it brings me to a place of peace. Before I go to bed at night I often step out the back door. If it’s summer time I might walk into the backyard, if it’s winter time I only linger on the steps. Some days I just poke my head out the door. What I want to do is see the sky. I want a silent, meditative moment with the night sky.
You could also invite your family members out the back door one night. Have a breath of fresh air and stand together, silently gazing at the stars. A moment of simplicity. It also works with friends in the parking lot after dinner, or with girls in the middle of a giggly evening activity.
These days Orion is just over the Tulip Popular tree to the right. In the summer I see the Big Dipper over my neighbor’s house on the left. It’s just a simple moment that puts perspective on my day. And any moment can change your life- you just have to be there.
Have you ever been to a conference or a workshop, settled into your place with your materials, a cup of coffee in hand, and the facilitator asks everyone to get up and move? It seems like such a huge task. I’m not resistant to the principle of moving–I know the value of conversation with different people in the room- but what about my stuff? Should I take my purse and my bag of materials? What about my little plate with the Danish and fruit? Are we coming back to this spot later? The things around me, my stuff, make movement difficult. We know we live in a materialistic society, encumbered by our belongings, but I’m thinking the same thing is true with my “mental stuff.” You know, all the thoughts that ramble around in my head that make it difficult for me to move.
Emotional movement is what I’m talking about. Picture a child, who sees the day as a clean sheet of paper waiting for a story to be written. She is energized by the promise of discovery and possibility. She is present and emotionally available. I don’t remember my six year old saying, “I think I’ll try to be curious today,” but I’ve had to say that to myself as an adult. I’ve “matured” into a limited, restricted, “reasonable” view of possibility. It’s hard to move into wonder. My mind is a busy, multitasking place, and there is no telling what I’ve missed in the moment, because it was too hard to shift emotional gears.
Like moving our bodies, it is sometimes hard to let go and move our hearts. Here is a challenge: let opportunity guide your emotional engagement. I don’t mean yell at someone when you feel frustrated. I mean notice the moment that calls for generosity, and then give a little. Expend some emotional energy for a stranger. Be wowed by beauty in nature. Soak in the sound of children’s laughter. What’s wrong with being in the emotional moment of wonder? My teenager did his homework! The cashier made eye contact with me! What’s wrong with letting your heart show up on your face?
Fall 2012 Troop 40072
As I’m wrapping up the fall as a new troop leader, I realize what an amazing learning experience this has been. Sometimes good, sometimes frustrating, but always worth it.
Sometimes, I ask the girls to share something that stands out in their mind since our last meeting. Highlights, or low lights. Here are mine from this fall:
- “Start with doing badges for the first several months then move on to Journeys.”
- When girls have different interests, find a way to combine them. For example, Little Dresses for Africa (http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/) combines sewing and helping children in Africa, two topics that interest our troop.
- “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.” (Easier said than done.)
- I’m enjoying the adventure of figuring this out. I’ve met people, gone to new places, and learned a definition of leadership.
- It has been incredibly complicated to open a bank account.
- I have had a lot of trouble getting registered with my local council.
- I have a vague sense that I’m doing this on my own despite being part of a huge movement (and writing a blog about it!)
- To have a mixed-aged troop of 14, you need one adult for each age group because although they’ll do things together, each group has unique needs.
- When given the choice of badges to start, the girls liked the idea of working on food badges… followed by bugs.
Most Fulfilling Moment:
- When one Brownie asked me if I planned to be the troop leader next year, and I replied, “I think so…” a group of girls said, “Yessss!” to no one in particular.
- My daughter refuses to wear her Daisy tunic because it’s not a sash like the older girls get.
Tell me: What did you learn in the first season of Girl Scout troop leading? What’s the best advice you’ve gotten? Or given?
I’m ready for a vacation. You know those days, right, when you repeat that old commercial slogan “Calgon, take me away…” (If you don’t know what I mean, ask someone who is older).
That idea of going “away” is what makes vacation so appealing. If you check Webster’s dictionary, you’ll see the definition of vacation as “freedom or release from work or duty, usually for rest, recreation or travel.” A second definition is “to vacate,” which means to cause to be empty or unoccupied. And that’s what I want- I want my mind to be empty, unoccupied with the daily details that swirl around in there and keep me going. But if getting away from my daily life is a week at the beach each summer, how do I manage the other 51 weeks of the year? What about today, when I could be packed and out the door by dinner if it were possible. I mean, I’m ready for a vacation.
Well, here is one thing that I’ve done, and I can vouch for it- take a one minute vacation. If you’re sitting in a parked car waiting for soccer practice to finish you can take a one minute vacation. If you’re near a bathroom with a lock on the door, you can take a one minute vacation. If you’re in place where it would be normal to nod off, and you can pretend to be asleep, you can take a one minute vacation.
Here’s how it works: get comfortable in a secure and quiet place where you aren’t worried about being interrupted. Close your eyes. Take a slow breath. Take a second, deep breath, so that your belly expands as you inhale. Relax your shoulders. Visualize yourself in a favorite place. Maybe on a white, sandy beach, swinging in a hammock- do you hear the surf crashing in the background, the seagulls calling? Can you smell the saltwater, the Coppertone on your arms? Feel the sun on your face, the sand between your toes. Take another deep breath. Sink into that hammock. What day is it? Who knows. And who cares? Your mind will be happily emptying itself of the daily details.
This is just a one minute vacation, so take a final deep breath and open your eyes. Take the rejuvenated you into the rest of your day. You have an amazingly powerful imagination – use it!
I’m fond of saying, “Life is messy.” It’s true, as far as I can tell, and those words come in handy when someone has just blown it. It’s a way of saying “I understand.” It can be hard to genuinely say, “Oh no! I just messed up,” so maybe acknowledging that life is just a messy business would help us own our mistakes.
Brian Andreas writes lovely, short dialogues with quirky characters, and one of my favorites is this one:
What are you good at?
I said & she said,
Mainly life. I work best
with stuff that has
a high tolerance for mistakes.
Life does have a high tolerance for mistakes… the earth doesn’t open up and swallow those who say, “Oops, you’re right, I made a mistake.” Most of the folks I know are pretty gracious when I’m apologizing. The truth is, I’m the one who has a low tolerance for mistakes- mostly my own.
The crazy thing is that to learn anything new, by definition I am doing something I can’t do very well. And when my focus is on being good as soon as possible, there is added pressure, which of course increases my mistake-making.
What if we agree that life is messy, and it’s understood that we’ll all be messing up. Here is how we can go about it:
1. Give yourself permission to be real. Human beings forget appointments, overlook details and blurt out embarrassing remarks. Rather than avoiding or glossing over the consequences, just own your behavior in an appropriate way.
2. When you are learning something new afford yourself a little grace. Think in terms of getting better rather than being good. Don’t compare yourself to other people; focus on your progress not perfection.
3. Sometimes in a messy situation the only way to come up with an answer is to take some creative leaps in the dark and be informed by the results. The trick is to reflect on the particular details so that you move on to new mistakes rather than repeating the same ones.
I suspect that as we are more tolerant of our own mistake-making, giving space for experience to develop, that we’ll be more patient with each other. What is the best lesson you have learned from a mistake?
Do you like romantic comedies? When my daughter was a teenager we would watch movies together and I insisted that we see all the “classic” romantic comedies. But about 30 minutes into the plot I would start my usual speech.
“You know, dear, that relationships are not really like this,” I’d say.
“I know, Mom,” my daughter would say.
“Because you don’t just meet a guy on Friday, sleep over on Saturday and then live happily ever after…”
“I know, Mom.”
“Well, it’s just my job as a mother to talk about what is real.”
“I know, Mom.”
You probably recognize that teenage tone of voice, but you also know I’m right. Relationships are not easy. With all the technology aimed at making our lives easy, all the self-help books and talk shows, you’d think we were managing conflict around here with style. In my experience, what is actually easy is to live on the surface of relationships in pseudo peace. What is real is below the surface. Who wants to rock the boat?
Yet if you look around your extended family, your co-workers, or your neighborhood you will find people that think and act very differently, and with whom you interact on a regular basis. Conflict is inevitable. My tendency is to go for the easy relationships and avoid conflict, but there is fear woven into my life when I live like that. Pseudo peace might be found out for what it is–fake! I am not showing up with authenticity, and I am giving the smallest effort possible toward building healthy relationships.
What if we viewed conflict as normal, not a bad thing, but just a part of being alive with other people around. It simply means there is diversity in our office staff, in our Parent Teacher Association, in our yoga class, in our family. How about exploring the differences in each other? How about leveraging these differences toward something beautiful? How about celebrating the work of collaboration?
Well, it’s one thing to want to be authentic and quite another to start a conversation that you’re afraid might be difficult. Here is a little guide that has really helped me get started with the exploring part:
First I share my intention in starting the conversation: “I want to say this because…”
Then I state the observable facts without interpretation: “When I saw or heard…”
Now I add my feeling: “I felt…”
And my interpretation of the facts and feelings: “I thought, or I assumed, or I decided…”
And finally I invite a response: “How do you see this? What do you think about what I’ve said?”
And I totally listen without saying anything.
I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s real.
Troop 40072 knows the Girl Scout Promise. Most of them knew it before we had our first meeting even though some had not been Girl Scouts.
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
Before we finished the last word, hands shot up with questions about God. Which religion? What God? Can we say ‘nature’ instead? We had a discussion about the word God and what it means. But we didn’t really resolve the issue.
Later, I talked about it with some parents. We had a similar conversation to the girls. We have girls from several religions and parents seem to like the idea it could mean something different to each girl.
In Nancy Winfrey’s post Leading Means Going First, she writes, “Faith doesn’t require a religious belief system, although it often does. You might explain your view in terms of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zen, Indigenous or Earth Based Religions, Humanism, New Age Spirituality, a General Ethic of Care, etc.”
Tell Me: Has this question come up in your experience as a Girl Scout volunteer? How have you handled it?
Have you ever used the expression that someone has “pushed your button?” You know what I mean–that your response is an automatic reaction to the words or actions of another person. It’s almost as if we are free of responsibility for our response, which comes in handy, since we usually use that expression when our response is less than noble.
“Girl, I’m telling you she was pushing my buttons.”
Oh! Well in that case it’s fine to snap back, or go home and eat a quart of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. What can you do?
Isn’t it an interesting expression, though, this idea of a “button.” It sounds mechanical, like cause = effect without thought or exception. To react seems reasonable. Justifiable. Expected.
So, of course I started thinking about my own “buttons.” I remember an activity that used to be part of our leader training way back when; a way to uncover your values and how that shapes your leadership. It’s a reverse search, starting with those “buttons.”
Think about a room full of girl scouts, and ask yourself, after about 15 minutes what little thing will start making you crazy. If you can’t think of anything, stay in that imaginary room a few more minutes, or just be a little more honest. For example, I can tolerate creative chaos, or high volume, or chocolate for all three meals on a road trip.
But when a girl shirks responsibility or expects me to do something for her that she can do for herself I get my hackles up. So pinpoint something that pushes your “button” and then locate what that button is pushing against in you. Trace it back. When I did that exercise I realized that I place a high value on honesty and responsibility. Not that I’m perfect in that department! But I learned to recognize why I react, and when I need to reframe my perspective. I can excuse being annoyed if I make it about a generation of entitled kids “pushing my button,” or I can redirect that emotional energy toward teaching something that I value. I’m the one having the reaction, right? So, it’s my job to do the inner work needed to take responsibility for myself.
And that is how we learn, I believe, to teach girls how to take responsibility when their “buttons” are pushed.
Our area was hit hard–hard!–by Hurricane Sandy. Troop 40072 didn’t meet this week. We didn’t have school and most troop families didn’t have power. Halloween was canceled. One week in, we still don’t know when the power will be restored or when school will start again. Like many in this area, my family has been trying to: 1) stay safe and warm and 2) keep children busy and somewhat stimulated, in the midst of a natural disaster.
We have been visiting family and friends. We have been reading Girl’s Guides to Girl Scouting. We’ve been talking about how people cope without power around the world. And why there are police officers around gas stations. We’ve been playing games on the iPad, charged in the car when we couldn’t plug in. We’ve been having playdates and gone for walks. And we’ve been bored.
I’m wondering how other people are coping. Tell me: How has Girl Scouts helped girls in similar situations–natural disasters, schools closed, power outages? How are you helping your children cope? How can I support the families of our troop who are also at home, potentially for another week, without meeting?