Change, Personal, Uncategorized

Doing More isn’t Being More

Several years ago, Oprah recommended a book called A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. She even held an online class to tell the world about it because she thought it was such an important book to help us awaken to our life’s purpose.

I studied that book carefully because it reflected many of my personal and religious beliefs. But when I recommended it to Doug, he raised his eyebrows all funny at me like I’d fallen into some rolling river of philosophical weirdness.

Basically, the book is about discovering and developing our divine essence. Tolle’s contention is that most of us identify only with our physical and psychological forms, never realizing that we are more than that.

“Trying to become a good or better human being sounds like a commendable and high-minded thing to do,” he wrote, “yet it is an endeavor you cannot ultimately succeed in unless there is a shift in consciousness…You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge.”

I love the concept that we are full of deep, pure goodness, and that the way to become better is to excavate that goodness like a miner diligently unearthing gold.

In theory, most of us know there is a difference between spirituality and religion.  Having a belief system doesn’t necessarily make you a spiritually strong person.  “In fact, the more you make your beliefs your identity, the more cut off you are from the spiritual dimension within yourself,” Tolle said.

This is where it sounds like I’m in the rollicking waters of weirdness, but stick with me here…

His point is that when we realize we have a divine or spiritual self, we then can see ourselves as infinitely better and more valuable.  “You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking.”

In other words, you are more than the voice in your head.

We see everything through a veil of self-talk, and unfortunately most of it is negative or laced with worry and fear. What if we could get beyond that and get in touch with our divine essence or the place where all the pure goodness resides?

Through all the philosophical blather of the book that Doug teases me about, there is this wonderful and liberating thought:  What if I could live believing I am more than my thoughts? What if I could get a sense of my being that has nothing to do with my mind?

The real beauty of A New Earth is in that question.

Tolle’s teachings line up with ancient beliefs that we have an inner and outer body. Most of the time we are only in touch with the outer body, but when we still the mind, slow the steady flow of pounding thoughts that we let define us, we can find an inner life where there is more beauty, love, and acceptance, and potential than we ever believed was possible.

I’m writing about this book today because I need to be reminded of the value of a quieter mind and a more fortified spirit.  I need the reminder that I am more than the voice in my head.

At the risk of tiptoeing back into the raucous river of philosophical pronouncements, consider this: Thinking is only a tiny aspect of who we are.

So even when my brain won’t stop spinning and my body feels weary, if I pause for just a few minutes and breathe a little slower, I can feel my divine essence emerging, reminding me that I am more – and even better — than I think I am.

Tolle said, “Doing is never enough if you neglect Being.”

Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things that we forget why we’re doing them in the first  place.

I had a few life changing thoughts during the months I lived in a chemo stupor simply because cancer drove me to a deeper place. It actually helped me lose some of my dysfunctional thought patterns like that doing more meant being more.

But that was five years ago and I’m slowly forgetting some of those lessons.

During those months when I couldn’t do much of anything, I realized that doing less didn’t make me less. In fact, it put me in touch with the still, creative, deep, rich essence that was behind, under, and around all the doing. And I think that’s what Eckhart Tolle is trying to teach.

“In form,” he said, referring to our physical and psychological selves, “you will always be inferior to some, superior to others.  In your divine essence “you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization.”

My lesson for today is slow down, breathe, and remember that doing more doesn’t mean being more.  In fact, like I learned from spending too many days curled up on the couch in a chemo coma, the reverse is actually true. Sometimes doing less gives us more, and reminds us that we are more than the reflection in the mirror.

Family, Friends, Memoir, Uncategorized

The Visiting Culture

When I grew up, we visited.

My grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins, and family friends dropped in unexpectedly just to visit.

No food, no elaborate parties, no e-vites or complicated scheduling, just drop-in visits.

When guests showed up, we stopped what we were doing and sat down to visit.

On sunny days, we sat on the patio or on lawn chairs under a shade tree and visited.

On cold days, we sat around the kitchen table or in the living room, and visited.

As the visit ended, and the guests got up to leave, they said, “Come over!”

That meant, drop by anytime, and we did.

We dropped by their houses and they dropped by ours, and it was easy, pleasant and natural.

I miss sitting in lawn chairs at my Grandma’s house and visiting with my relatives on Sunday afternoons.

I miss my Grandma and aunts stopping by in the middle of the afternoon just to chat.

Our lives are too busy and scheduled for this kind of casual, comfortable visiting now.

Now we pull out our calendars and negotiate one date after another…

Oh, I can’t do it that day, I have a meeting or an appointment, or I’m out-of-town.  How about this date instead?

No, I can’t do that because this or that is happening. Let’s try going out another month or so…

When we finally settle on a date, we start the back-and-forth all over again about where to go and at what time.

Of course, this communication is generally through e-mail or Facebook.

It’s archaic to talk on the phone.

And, that’s another thing.  My mom talked to my grandma every morning.

I sadly have to remind myself to call my family at least weekly.

My mom lived in a different culture — a visiting culture, and there are days I wish I lived in that culture.

After her morning call to my grandma, she usually checked in with at least one of her sisters or sister-in-laws.

She worked through the morning and then met our neighbor, Mrs. Leslie,  in the driveway and they stood with their rakes or hoes and visited.

They toured each other’s yards and then sat in lawn chairs and admired their flowers and perfectly mowed grass together.

And then people just popped in on us — no appointments, no lunch dates, just stopped by to say hello.

And we welcomed them!

We didn’t look nervously at our clocks or think about all the work we couldn’t get done or all the appointments we might miss.

We just sat down in a relaxed frame of mind, and visited.

Sometimes we pulled out the diet Coke or Tab but we didn’t feel any pressure to entertain and nobody expected it.

After my mom graduated from high school, her group of friends organized a club and they decided to get together every other Thursday night.

For over 50 years they’ve had “club.” (They never call it “the club,” it’s always just “club.”)

They set up a schedule a year at a time and assign different club members as hostesses.

The hostess provides a simple dinner.  They eat and then sit around and visit for hours.

It’s a Springville, Utah and Spanish Fork, Utah tradition, I think, because there are several successful “clubs” like my mom’s.

And the club stories are the best.

Like when my mom’s club had a bra party. They invited a bra saleswoman, and she showed up with a trunk full of bras.

The ladies dispersed throughout the house and tried on bras, then returned to model them.

One of the ladies held up an especially large bra, and said, “Whose is this?  It looks like it belongs to an old milk cow.”

Everyone roared with laughter until one of the ladies said, “Thanks a lot!  It’s mine!”

And it really was hers…

Club is about friends getting together in a no-fuss, easy, regular way.

I need a club.  Actually, I need a life that allows me to belong to a club.

And I need friends whose lives allow them to join my club.

I think if I organized a club, sent out a schedule, and told everyone to make it simple and easy, everyone would panic.

First, they would look at their schedules and tell me all the reasons why they couldn’t attend on that particular night.

Then, if they could attend, they would not know how to keep it simple and easy.

my kind of club...

One of them would create crafty invitations, a theme, decorations, and then try new elaborate foods they found on Pinterest.

Another one would break the rules and order out.

Then another one would look at the two clubs held before their club and feel defeated because they can’t make crafty invitations and can’t afford to order out.

And then there’s the house-cleaning, the kids, husbands, traveling in rush hour traffic, jobs that require traveling or previous commitments.

Okay, so I can’t have a club.

I can’t even make it to my book club.

(In fact, I think they quit telling me about the book selections because I’m not a good book club goer.)

And, I don’t live in a place where the visiting culture can thrive.

I have a few friends that stop by occasionally, but they always take the risk of me being busy or not home.

Sometimes I long for my hometown culture where friends and families just popped in, and our worlds didn’t have to be rearranged to accommodate them.

I miss the casual, unstructured visiting days.

Someday, when my life slows down, I’m starting a club.

Really, someday I am.

Clearly, at this stage of my life, my club won’t last 50 years like my mom’s because all my friends will be dead by then.

Now, there’s a lovely thought.

On second thought, I better not wait any longer to start my club.

So, who wants to be in my no-fuss visiting club?

Just remember the rules — you can’t ever be out-of-town; you have to stick to the club schedule; you can’t compete with each other and get all crafty; and no milk cow comments at the bra party.

Who’s in?

(You can see why I don’t have a club…)

Change, Personal, Uncategorized

Stress? Me? Never.

I joined a new gym a few days after Christmas because I needed a workout makeover.
The gym offered workout sessions with personal trainers to lure new members.
Eager to rock my resolutions, I signed up for the personal training sessions
before the New Year even arrived.
With pen and paper, my trainer, Irene, asked me about my goals, my health, and my stress levels.
“How would you rank your stress on a scale from one to ten?””
“I don’t have any stress,” I told her without pause.
“Okay,” she said without pressing me further, “no stress .”
“Nope, no stress,” I confirmed.

As we continued to plot out my fitness plan, my “no-stress” answer bounced back and forth in my head like a ball in a fast-paced tennis game.
Did I just casually tell Irene I have no stress?
Really, no stress?
How could I be totally stress-free?
My life is full of stress potential.
I must have been enjoying the Christmas after-glow.
But the very idea that I could live without stress felt so liberating that I wanted to hang on to it and be the calm, collected woman I was at that unique moment.
I enjoy believing that I am cool-headed and relaxed.
Oh, I have my stress inducers.
I just don’t want them to get the best of me.

I have a challenging public affairs church assignment that could produce stress, but I choose to view it as an opportunity to learn, interact with brilliant people, and do what I’ve been trained to do.
When I re-frame it like that, the stress abates.
And then there’s the gym membership, the trainer, the workouts and the dreaded weight scale every Monday morning that never shows any progress.
That is the mother of all stress for me.
But, instead of taking a sledgehammer to the scale in a fit of rage I think about how hard I’m working to take care of myself.
Taking care of myself should reduce stress not cause it.
So, bye-bye stress, you’re not welcome here, even though I usually
let you cause havoc on me in this area.
But now that I am a stress-free woman or at least a decent stress manager, I don’t have time for body image issues, so I just keep trying to keep a healthy perspective on it.
I tell myself I’m in the game.  I’m working hard.  I like sweat and movement and sore muscles.  Uh-ha, I do.

This reminds me of bike riding with my mom one summer when a vicious dog raced toward us, and barked and snapped menacingly at her leg.
She pushed the dog away with her foot, and snapped, “For hell’s sake, I don’t have time for you today, so leave me alone!”
It shocked me that the dog turned around and left, and we pedaled on down the road.
If my mom can command a dog to leave her alone because she doesn’t have time for it, I can put stress in its place.
A finished memoir sits a few inches away from me on my desk.
A steep learning curve stands between me, and an agent and a publisher.
Other writers recommend self-publishing because it’s next to impossible to get an agent’s attention in today’s publishing world.
They say if you’re lucky enough to get an agent and a publisher, it takes years to get a book to press, and then, you still have to market the book yourself.
Big potential stress here.
I’ve spent years on this project, do I really want to xerox a few copies for my friends and family and then be done with it?
Book stress looms over me.

Following my mom’s lead, I look a the stress, tell it I don’t have time for it today, and press on, trying to research agents and contacting everybody I know with a connection to the publishing world.
So to keep myself in the stress-free mindset, I pretend I’m taking a multiple-choice test that asks, “What causes you stress?”

  1. Your new church assignments
  2. No results at the gym
  3. Unpublished book
  4. All of the Above
  5. None of the Above

I’ll take E please, none of the above.
All of the things packed with potential stress are also  packed with potential excitement, learning, and fun.
So I’m choosing to say no-thank-you to stress, even at the gym with my so-far not very successful new gym makeover program.
I need this no-stress/tame-the-saboteur attitude to work for me.
I just hope that I’m not packing my stress into a bottle rocket that will eventually soar way past level 10 on the stress scale because then I have to go back to Irene and say, “Remember when I said I have no stress?”
She will laugh and say, “I knew it couldn’t be true.”
And I will feel silly and defeated because I let stress suck all the fun out of everything in my life that I actually enjoy, even the workouts at the gym.