Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Slipping Outside the Comfort Zone

Detours in Life

Pentecost 42

 

You can find a survey about most anything.  Facebook is certainly proof about that.  Still, I never thought I’d come across a survey like this.  It was entitled simply “Your Best Insult”.  One of the things I like best about writing this blog (Your comments and our discussions are numbers one and two, of course!) is the research I do for it.  I certainly don’t know everything; I admitted I was not perfect in yesterday’s post.  In the name of research I have read books I probably would have just passed by and attended gatherings I would have not shown up for because… well, because I am just like everyone else and varying from the norm is not a habit of mine.

 

The term “comfort zone” is simply a collection of behaviors that we continue to repeat.  It is not a location nor should it be our destination.  For most of us, our “comfort zone” is where we live, where we feel most comfortable.  It is what we do and continue to do… over and over again.  Our comfort zone is made up of those things that are common to us, familiar in their repetition.

 

None of us are born with a comfort zone, by the way.  We come into this world making the biggest leap of faith possible.  We leave a safe and protected environment and are immediately thrust into a world in which we must fend for ourselves.  We also suddenly are dependent upon others for everything.  We have no chance to develop a comfort zone because we are too busy learning and developing, acquiring new skills and trying new things.  It is called growing, surviving and thriving.

 

At some point, though, we do cultivate a comfort zone and it is often without even realizing it.  We settle in and get cozy in our comfort zone and then suddenly – BAM! An insult comes along and shatters our sense of security we have found within that comfort zone home.  Most of us try to avoid insults so why on earth, I thought to myself, would some create a survey entitled “Your best insult”, especially in an article about bettering one’s self?

 

The survey questions numbered twenty and I am not going to list them all here.  A few did catch my attention, however, so let’s discuss those.  First, what insult was said to you that you actually consider a compliment?  I remember once having my name mentioned as being the chairperson of an upcoming event.  Another stood up and said: “Not her!  She thinks life is just a collection of learning opportunities.”  The statement was said in a room of almost one hundred people and two hundred eyes instantly turned and looked at me to see how I was reacting.  A few close friends began to say something but I stood up and replied:  “I was going to protest but you know what?  She is absolutely right.  Thank you for noticing.”  I had never really thought of myself or life in that connotation but the statement was absolutely correct.  It not only became a compliment, it helped me define my approach to life.

 

More recently I received another such “insult”.  It would certainly answer the above insult survey question as well as this next one:  What so-called “insult” will you adopt as a life mantra?  It is no secret that I attend a church and, like many churches, this one has educational and self-growth opportunities.  One such retreat was being discussed when one of those talking suddenly turned to me and asked why I was not contributing to the conversation.  I replied I had not ever been to the retreat.  Her response was immediate:  “Oh, of course not.  You wouldn’t fit in!”  She then continued to try to talk the woman sitting right next to me into attending.

 

Let’s ignore that the purpose of a church is to share the “good news” of the faith.  Let’s ignore the fact that one of the admonitions given to those that believe is kindness and charity to all.  Let’s even forego the obvious insult in saying I was too….well, exactly what I am not certain.  While I sat there in my instant “OUCH!” reaction, which is how most of us first respond to insults, I suddenly realized just what a great compliment I had been given.

 

It is my fervent and constant belief that any faith-based group that is exclusive is more a social club than a faith-based group.  Whether they are called synagogues or churches, temples or shrines, they have doors and those doors are supposedly open to all who wish to believe.  Please reread that last sentence.  I did not say the doors were open to a select few, or those who shopped at certain stores.  They are not open only to those who know everything.  The doors are an opening through which all who wish to learn and believe can pass.

 

We can either let insults grow ourselves or we can let them be a pesticide that sucks the life out of us.  The survey concluded with some very intense questions:  At the last event you attended that included people you consider friends. Who approached you and shared a handshake or hug?  Who asked about how you were doing?  Who just talked about themselves without inquiring about you?  How do you define friendship?  How do you define yourself?

 

We often let insults define us.  We give into the pain they generally cause and let them motivate us into crawling deeper into our comfort zone.  The most recent event I attended was one in which I knew almost everyone.  Less than one tenth said hello to me, two approached me but none offered a hug or handshake and no one asked how I was.  The paragraph at the end of the Best Insult Survey advised that we need to survey our situations, not just ourselves.  At this event, people congregated in clichés, staying within their own comfort zone.  Two joined my group that only vaguely knew the others.  As one said, “My eyes know you because I have seen you around.” 

 

Surveying the situation led me to realize that my group was not a cliché and people felt comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone and joining such a group.  During the exercise, the group of strangers became a group of acquaintances, realizing those things held in common and supporting each other in those things that made them different.  A group that began with people who did not seemingly “fit in” became a group of believers and sharing, a group practicing their faith instead of just talking about it.

 

Certainly if people shy away from us we need to take stock and ask if we are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves.  Sometimes, though, maybe we need to look at the situation and not just ourselves.  We can all recognize an insult when one is given or acted out.  However, maybe we need to do a quick survey of said insult and ask ourselves if it is really painful or something for which to be thankful.  Sometimes that insult might just be the best compliment you have ever received and lead us on the best detour we’ve ever taken.  Why? You ask.  Because, taking a few steps outside our comfort zone might just be the best turn you ever make in life, a turn necessary for us to grow and thrive in this living for a better tomorrow.

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Me, Myself, and…Who?

Me, Myself, and…Who?

Pentecost 41 

 

Recently, a friend sent a picture of two different detour signs.  One had the word written all in capital letters while the other used both upper and lower case letters.  They asked why I thought two different states had the word on their signage written differently.  Does this evoke different response?  Is one less stressful than the other? 

 

My question to you is this:  When you think of who you are, do YOU use capital letters?  Most of us do not.  Why?   Generally speaking, the greater part of mankind is not that confident; we lack the self-love to think of ourselves in capital letters.

 

If you were around in the 1960’s, you probably were identified by the type of music you played.  Elvis Presley had brought hip grinding rock and roll to the masses but there were still those who enjoyed the last of the Big Band sound.  The end of the decade and Woodstock brought about a plethora of rock bands and in the next twenty years, they evolved into hard rock, heavy metal, and yes, even the teeny bop culture which then led to the pop culture and rap music.

 

One of those bands of the 1960’s began life as a group known as The Detours.  A group of school chums who considered themselves misfits, music gave them an identity.  Their band name was much too similar to another group, Johnny and the Detours, though, so a new identity was needed.  The new name illustrated one of their most popular songs and gave an entire generation their identity.  We have The Who to thank for the essential theme of today’s post – Who are you?

 

“There’s a place where I know you walked; the love falls from the trees.  My heart is like a broken cup; I only feel right on my knees.”  Pete Townsend’s lyrics speak to all of us and they ask the same question I am asking you today.  “Who are you?”  More importantly, is your answer written in capital letters?

 

Someone once told me to live so that each night, when I washed my face, I was neither ashamed nor afraid to look in the mirror.  In other words, I should live so that I liked the reflection I saw in the mirror.  That is not always as easy for us as it should be.  Personal accountability can be a hard thing.  Life is not easy.

 

One of my favorite comments from last year was someone who stated they were descended from the Sami.  I liked it because first, they obviously had read the post that day because it discussed heritage.  Secondly, I liked it because it taught me something; it taught me who the Sami were.  Like many people, I did not know the first families or tribes of the area we call Norway.  Each December I enjoy the representations of reindeer and the elves that attend to them.  This past December I went with family members to see some actual reindeer, animals that are not common where I live.  I AM

 

The Sami people are the first indigenous culture of northern Scandinavia.  Once oppressed and their culture in danger of dying out completely, the Sami (who have also been called the Lapps) are now the strongest of all aboriginal cultures in the world.  Their original habitat includes countries we call Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia although they never really had their own sovereign state.  Most of the world’s first families do not believe they own the land; they believe they are the caretakers of it.

 

Similarly, we do not own ourselves.  Much like the Sami, we are merely the caretakers of our bodies and regretfully, some of us do not do very well with that.  Nonetheless, we are the gardeners of our souls.  It is up to us to develop and determine who we are.  The really neat thing about gardens is that crops need to be rotated in order to reap the best harvests.  We are not locked into being just one thing; we are a beautiful tapestry of many things woven into one life.

 

“Who are you; hu hu hu hu?  Who are you; hu hu hu hu?  I really wanna know.”  All too often we find ourselves detoured on our way to being that great adult we dreamed of as a child.  Suddenly we find ourselves living a life that is much different from that we had imagined. 

 

omewhere along the way, life threw us a detour.   Perhaps you changed your dreams to follow the path of the detour.  Perhaps you are simply waiting for the chance to get back on your way.  The best way to travel a detour is to go slowly but with determination.  In her book “The Single Woman: Life, Love and a Dash of Sass” Mandy Hale wrote: “Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.”

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks

Detours in Life

Pentecost 12

 

Often one of the most common detours in life is a downtown in personal finances.  Whether it is from poor personal choices, changing life situations, or a turnabout in the economic marketplace, few people live their lives without experiencing this detour of life.

 

Born in Ghana, israelmore Ayivor knows something about poverty.  “True compassion does not sit on the laps of renovation; it dives with an approach to reconstruction. Don’t throw a coin at a beggar. Rather, destroy his source of poverty.”

 

I don’t know of anyone except perhaps some psychopathic, deranged power-hungry leader of a fanatical faction that would say poverty is a good thing.  Many of us, though, adopt a rather cynical attitude about it.

 

“There will be poor always pathetically starving.  Look at the good things you’ve got.”  The lines of the opening song shared by the characters of Judas and Jesus in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” are how most of us approach poverty.  It has always been; it will always be; I should still be able to enjoy what I have.

 

Most of us try to hold on the our “things” and grieve when a detour in life results in their loss.  Each day we are bombarded with images and advertisements encouraging us of their importance and the need we should feel to gather more.  It becomes an indication of who we are, a rite of progression through life.  We start to believe that the more we have, the better persons we are living to be.

 

In his book “The Midnight Palace” Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote: ““The fact is that nothing is more difficult to believe than the truth; conversely, nothing seduces like the power of lies, the greater the better. It’s only natural, and you will have to find the right balance. Having said that, let me add that this particular old woman hasn’t been collecting only years; she has also collected stories, and none sadder or more terrible than the one she’s about to tell you. You have been at the heart of this story without knowing it until today …”

 

Zafon’s book has little to do with poverty in the connotation we are speaking about but it brings up a very important fact.  We all collect things every day.  Sometimes we collect smiles and other times, headaches.  IN this quote he writes of a woman who “hasn’t been collecting only years”.  Sometimes we simply collect days, hours full of things that really do not seem to be making the difference in the world that we’d like to have as our legacy.

 

Most of us also collect change, coins given to pay for something with more coins being given back as , well, change.  American currency especially seems to almost demand that when someone pays cash, they will get back change in return.  The currency structure along with the number system used does not make for easy, even numbers, especially with varying tax bases for items that are sold.  At the end of the day, most of us have change.

 

In the third book of her Moomins series, Tove Jansson had one of her characters recite:  “You aren’t a collector anymore, you’re only an owner, and that isn’t nearly so much fun.”   This Finnish children’s author realized what many of us take years to understand.  Ownership is great but we need to also be collectors because if we aren’t, then what we own has very little value.

 

It is a common practice for men to empty their pockets of change at night before putting their slacks away.  Women, since they usually carry a wallet with a coin section, seldom do this.  What if we all started a change pot – a container in which to place our loose change at the end of each day?  We could then donate this change to a charitable organization.  By doing this, we would be collecting change, not just hours in a day, and taking ownership of the issue of poverty in the world.

 

“But I am on a budget” you might be thinking.  “I haven’t anything to spare.”  Let’s do thig.  Put a nickel in your change pot every day – just one nickel USD or $.05 (five cents).  At the end of the month you would have approximately one dollar in your change pot.  I say approximately because…well, we sometimes forget.

 

What can one dollar buy?  In Kenya two years ago you could purchase a pen (15 Ksh), an 80 page notebook (15 Ksh), a toothbrush (30 Ksh), and a little snack pack of spicy peanuts and mixed chips (25 Ksh, and full of carbs and protein) – all for one dollar.  Many children in Kenya do not have a pen or paper and so they stay home from school and become part of the ever going cycle of poverty and terrorism, not to mention violence and human trafficking.

 

Your one nickel a day could educate a child in Kenya.  One nickel a day can also provide a meal for a starving child around the world.  Each year, poverty directly impacts children and it is responsible for the death of five million each year due to malnutrition or starvation.  You one dollar a month can result in two hundred and fifty meals.  If you had ten friends or coworkers who had ten friends or coworkers, you could each raise one hundred dollars with your nickel a day change pots and provide over two thousand meals to hungry children in the world.

 

Last year about this time we were discussing ways to alleviate poverty.  We discussed several options and I offered a few ideas.  Many offices have football pools, or lottery funds.  Why not set up a change pot by the vending machines.  That candy bar or soda really isn’t going to help your own nutrition but you can help another’s by simply donating a nickel or more each time you use the vending machine or water fountain. Think of it as giving thanks for your good fortunes, regardless of how small it may seem.   Your five cents might seem like a drop in the vast ocean of world poverty but you know?  It can be the only meal a child eats that day.  By owning the problem of poverty, we can each make a difference and start collecting good feelings and a healthier, safer world.

 

But what if you are the one suddenly thrown into poverty, traveling that detour?  Approach this turn in your journey as an opportunity and answer the call with confidence.  Each of us is much more than the “stuff” we possess.  All too often those material belongings start to own us instead of the other way around.  They are not our identity; our spiritual being is.

 

Some detours in life are opportunities to make positive changes.  It hurts and it is hard.  Do not belittle this change, though, or let is drown you in fear and sorrow.  Acknowledge your grief for times past and move forward down the road to better living.  Michael Jackson once wrote:  “Ease on down, ease on down the road.  Come on, ease on down, ease on down the road.  Don’t you carry nothing that might be a load.  Come on, ease on down, ease on down the road.”  It is excellent advice for when opportunity knocks and we find ourselves on a financial detour.

Pay It Forward

Paying It Forward

Detours in Life

Pentecost 9

 

When was the last time you did a good deed for someone?”  I recently asked this of a friend.  My friend thought for a minute and then described something over two weeks ago.  Last year about this time my Pentecost series was about “making the ordinary extraordinary”.   It was about making each day count. Most of us would love to have that happen except … Life takes us on a detour instead.

 

Last year I told you about Kim Atwood, a woman who focused on doing a good deed a day.  In the year 2000 another woman named Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a book upon which a movie was based entitled “Pay It Forward”.  Kim took this same premise and put it into action.  “One morning, on my drive to work, I was thinking about the law of moral causation and the karmic energy that surrounded my life.”

 

Kim was not just interested in doing a good deed but it that deed having a ripple effect.  She encouraged her friends to follow her example as well as the strangers who were the recipients of her actions.  The first day she stopped at her favorite donut shop for a pastry and coffee and then bought the same for the person in line behind her, asking the clerk to tell said person what had been done.  The next day she bought a potted plant and left it with a note on a car in a parking lot.  On another day she ordered some pet products from www.totallyfreestuff.com and donated them to a local animal shelter.  Soon life closed in on her and it was bedtime one evening when she realized she had not accomplished her good deed that day.  She went online and in five minutes had donated a few dollars to a charity.

 

The point of sharing with you Kim’s story was that she turned her ordinary commute into a period of retrospection and then took action.  She made each day extraordinary for the beneficiaries of her actions.  Kim was not some millionaire and often her actions took only a few extra minutes.  One day she simply stood at a store and held the day open for people sharing a smile and a brief greeting for a few minutes.  Each smile was returned and as she finished her shopping, she saw others holding the day for those entering.  Kim create her own detour from her normal pattern and started finding a way to make each day count.  She was doing for others but discovered it took her on a trip of her own as well.

 

Behavior is contagious.  That is why gangs are successful and cults have a following.  Kim Atwood used her time wisely and her detour from her normal routine made positive behavior contagious.  The ripple effect of her actions created more extraordinary moments for more living things. 

 

Joni Averill is a columnist with the Bangor Daily News and she wrote about Kim in 2010.  “ Civility. Manners. Thoughtfulness. Understanding. Compassion. Respect. Tolerance.  Our society seems to be losing its grip on those essential virtues.  What a much nicer world it would be if we all made the attempt, daily, to be kinder to one another.”

 

Bangor, Maine is a town that is often the last US stop for soldiers going to the Middle East.  Those arriving and departing usually deplane as new planes are to be boarded, different connections made.  Each soldier is greeted as they enter the Bangor Airport by citizens of Bangor and usually handed a cup of hot coffee or a cool drink.  They all receive a smile and hero’s greeting, justly deserved and earned.  These humble residents, however, are also heroes.  They make an exhausting trip better and remind our brave men and women why they are doing what they do.  Regardless of the weather or the time of day, each plane is met, each servicemen thanked.

 

Steve Jobs once said “If you are working at something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed; the vision pulls you.”  Hopefully, today something extraordinary will pull you to action, something that benefits another person and makes their ordinary day a time of extraordinary living.

 

We think of detours as nuisances but they can be a wonderful way of paying it forward.  Yes it is scary to deviate from our normal and really, who thinks they have the time?  Truth is, we have all time to take a detour of meaning and to pay it forward.  We’ll end up helping ourselves as well as the world.

Riding the Waves

Riding the Waves

Detours in Life

Pentecost 5

 

Whew!  June was an interesting month as the tides of life seemed to engulf me.  Each day seemed to go exactly opposite to its schedule and my carefully arranged agenda became a figment of my imagination upon rising each morning.   Never more have I lived the words of John Steinbeck:  “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”

 

In short, life took me down a month-long journey of detours.  What I realized was that if I was alive to complain and become frustrated, I was alive to survive those detours and, hopefully, learn from them.  That realization did not come easily, however.  About halfway through the month, I came across this quote from Ken Poirot: “Life is a journey with almost limitless detours.”   Initially I got depressed but then I realized this was my salvation.

 

About the same time I accepted the inevitability of detours and that I was not a complete failure because I was encountering them, a friend posted a picture of a family member – a young family member who had just spent an hour finger painting.  The photo was a collage of the young artist covered in paint, the painting itself, and then a close-up of the glorious satisfaction this child felt while looking at her masterpiece.

 

I got the post of this young artist on a Monday.  That really is not important except that I had a friend who always says goodbye after our early morning exercises with ad encouraging admonition to have a good day.  Each day has its own tagline and Monday’s is always: “Have a masterpiece of a Monday!”  As I looked at this picture of the young child I realized she had indeed made it a masterpiece of a Monday while creating her own masterpiece. 

 

To be truthful, I have no idea what the drawing represented except a thirty minute period of this child’s life.  I will be kind and call it an abstract painting.  It was certainly a masterpiece, though, and one that brought a smile to my face.  More importantly, I realized that is was a masterpiece created out of the chaos that finger painting usually brings.  The child’s smock was covered in paint as was one of her cheeks.  She was, quite frankly, a mess.  And yet, in the messiness of it all was a beautiful creation and magnificent smile, both on her face and on the faces of those who saw it, including myself.

 

More importantly, her painting was a detour from the detour I was currently on.  While it seemed like my schedule was in disarray and a mess, it was nothing compared to her painted mess.  Hers, however, was delightful.  Then I learned that the child finger painting was also a detour.  She had been scheduled to go to the park with my friend but it had rained.  Truly on this day, our lives were full of limitless detours. 

 

It was then that I realized this young child knew more than I did about living.  She was riding the waves of life and instead of pouting about the park, created a masterpiece of finger painted artwork that was shared and appreciated by many.  It was then that I understood I needed to surf through the month instead of kicking and screaming about how life was not going according to my plan. 

 

I did not end up with any masterpieces at the end of the month but I did learn to appreciate the detours and not stress over them.  I even think I made a few new friends, learned a few new things, and came out a little smarter.  I also made sure to have some paper and paints on hand next time life gets too chaotic.  I think I will surf through the detours with a little finger painting or coloring of my own, riding the waves of life and its detours with a smile.

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Detours in Life

Pentecost 3

 

At least three out of every four Sunday afternoons my family would pile into our car and we would drive.  Sometimes we’d take a picnic and eat along some scenic spot and other times we would go out to eat Sunday luncheon and then drive.  Occasionally we would be coming home from visiting relatives out of town.  Sunday afternoon, though, often found us in the car driving.

 

Car rides are not always enjoyable since children seldom take to confined spaces very well.  This was back in the days before portable cassette tape machines or DVD players.  Entertainment was found by counting the number of cars in a particular color or playing Car bingo – looking for specific models or houses of a certain color.  The occasional large truck would pass and sometimes blow its horn but mostly we would talk and enjoy nature that we passed.

 

These rides to nowhere are some of my most favorite memories of my father.  We always had a general idea of where we were going but we seldom got there by following a straight line or by going the most expedient route.  At least twice every Sunday we would need to turn around, often the three-point turn being done with no shoulder and the chance spectator in th3e form of an errant cow or squirrel.

 

Detours are usually accompanied with frustration but these Sunday detours we always ended up taking were characterized by laughter.  I never realized they would later serve as a metaphor of life for me.  Getting somewhere is very important, especially if you need to meet an airline’s schedule or set up for a meeting.  Often, though, we let our frustration with life’s detours blind us to the opportunities they offer us.

 

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, once said that “When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”  It is sage advice because, I can promise you, life will present a great many roadblocks in your living.  The important thing to remember when we encounter such is that detours can be fun and are always educational.

 

On this day that we honor fathers, it is important to remember that fatherhood is not a straight line either.  It is fraught with trials and errors, laughter and tears, accomplishments and frustrations.  No one is perfect; no life is perfect.  Remember to enjoy the detours you encounter and recognize that even in the unexpected deviations and diversions, there can be laughter.

Purpose

Purpose

Easter 47

 

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”  Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist who is also an ordained nun. Her words are important for us to remember as we walk our path of mindfulness.

 

It is not always delightful to be fully present in particular moments of our lives.  Sometimes it is painful and to accept the reality of the pain can be difficult.   Pema Chödrön has some advice for such times.   “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.”

 

We have a choice in how we experience the world, even if we do not have the choice of what, where, and when the world meets us.  We still have a choice and some control because we can choose and control our reactions.   Life is not the series of events that we find ourselves in the midst of without any say.  Life does include those events but it also includes how we respond to them.

 

We are the author of our own lives and mindfulness helps us write our own story.  We are not and should not be merely puppets in the story of our life.  We need to be director, producer, main actor, and yes, script writer.    We should also be the musical director and lighting coordinator, makeup artist and caterer.  What?  How do we do all that?

 

The director tells an actor where to go and how to portray the character.  We need to direct our lives, making choices of what we do and how we do it, including how we respond.  The producer helps prepare for the production and handles the detail stuff.  We cannot live blindly; we must take care of the “small stuff”.  Skipping the script writer for now, let’s move onto the music in our lives.  Mindfulness is especially helpful here as we listen to our world and take in the beautiful sounds of living – birds chirping, ducks splashing, children laughing and yes, even the sounds of grief in muffled sobs.  We set out own stage by our choices in life and we either see the world around us lit up in all its glory or we turn off the lights and dwell in darkness and despair.  The face we present to the public is the demeanor or make-up we put on every day.  The food choices we make go a long way in determining our health.

 

These are all mindful decisions we make each and every day.  We need to be aware of them and make them responsibly.    That takes up back to the script writer.  How are you writing the story of your life?  A recent scientific study defined mindfulness as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

 

What is your purpose and what do you want it to be tomorrow?  By living and practicing mindfulness, your awareness of your life experiences will help make the future successful and a much happier place to be.  Mindfulness affords one to have less stress and a healthier living, things that should be among our top three reasons for being.  Health becomes more positive and productive as do relationships.  Simply put, the purpose for mindfulness is to experience life more fully and with positive results.