Monthly Archives: November 2012

Vacation

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!

Oopsie – Daisy

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?

Who Said It Was Easy?

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.

The Girl Scout Promise

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?

 

Trace it Back

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.

Super Storm Sandy

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?

Integrity

My sister just endured a time share presentation in Hawaii, where she said the fellow was selling “value,” not a particular commodity. Since my sister prefers backpacking over resorts (in fact, she never flopped on the beach for one day during a two week vacation in Hawaii- can you believe it? Hiked the whole time) she didn’t quite see the value in owning a week of hotel time on Waikiki Beach.

We all value different things. And underneath those visible choices are personal preferences, priorities, and beliefs. And as I’ve aged what I value has changed. I’ve changed after years of reflective practice, once in a time of crisis, and sometimes in a spontaneous and unexplainable way.

Can you relate to that?  The familiar is now seen in a completely new way. Your values are shuffled like a deck of cards and a value that has been on the bottom of the deck for many years may now turn out to be the top card and become the guiding principle of your life from that moment forward. It might feel like a buried or forgotten element of yourself is retrieved and needs to be integrated into your current life. And now, instead of living life in reaction to what shows up in your day, you are intentional in your actions based on what you know you value. That’s called integrity.

Here is a simple way to think about what you value and how to integrate values and actions. The attachment below is a list of value “cards.” Print the page and cut out the 20 cards. Then spread them out on a table and put them in some kind of order. Follow your gut- don’t spend too much time debating. They are all good, but what you want to know is which ones resonate with you at this point in your life. Now take the top three cards and pick the one that feels the most inviting. On a piece of paper write that value, and then your definition. Now describe what that value looks like in the world. How does it show up? What impact does it have? Where are you likely to see it? Next, think about that value in terms of your real life (that is, not your intentions, but your daily walk). Where do you see this value displayed (per your earlier definition) in your life? Where would you like to see it? What people/environment/things will help that integration? What people/environments/things will hinder? What is the next step toward meaningful integration of your value and your actions?

If you want to share your process, we’d love to hear about it.

Float

During my teen years I taught swimming lessons at Big Ridge State Park. I loved walking down the grassy slope from the parking lot to the field stone wall that wrapped around the sandy “beach.” The clear blue lake water in that mountain cove lapped right up against the hardwood trees, all green and happy in the warm August months. And out in the middle was a floating wooden platform- a rite of passage, of course, to swim that distance and then fling yourself off into the “deep side” of the lake.

I loved it all, except the part about treading water. I didn’t mind teaching it, I just hated to do it. Still do. It just seems like a waste of time- all that energy and going nowhere.

But treading water is a great analogy for my life on those days when I’m expending a lot of energy and apparently going nowhere. Have you ever felt that way? A day when you can’t seem to finish, or make progress, or move forward? I’d like to swim to shore but I just can’t seem to get there, in fact, at some point I am almost too tired to even think about it. And then, somehow, that day turns into a week, a month and all of a sudden a year.

But how long can you really tread water? An unsympathetic person might say “Sink or swim, baby!” But I have another option: float. Chances are, once you stop all the effort you won’t actually sink at all. In fact, your body is naturally buoyant. You might not be good at it, but you can be still in the water.

The solution for being too busy is not always found in a course on time management. Like the peace of floating in the gentle rock of lake water, there is a mental peace that comes from clarity and purpose in your work. But you need space to discern which direction to swim, and whether the breast stroke or back stroke would be better. It’s counter-intuitive, but if you’re stuck treading water you just need to stop. Float for a minute. You can even float with a friend if that helps you figure out what to do. And when you’re rested and ready, start swimming to shore.