About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Tag: fear

Forty-eight things I’ve learned along the way

Leo cropped

Nora Ephron famously felt bad about her neck (though hopefully she no longer does). I do not, despite having the sort of neck not found on any swan, the sort of neck not flattered by a flaw-concealing turtleneck.

In those moments when I could be feeling bad about my neck, I instead choose to feel good about the head sitting on top of it–specifically the many contents that were missing in the days when the neck beneath was flawless.

In honor of my birthday, a list of 48 random things I’ve learned thus far. (Links are mostly to previous blog posts.)

  1. How to choose my battles. It’s amazing when I think about it now, how many (unimportant) things I was once willing to pitch battle for.
  2. Being able to recognize my ego’s involvement has really made all the difference. At least 99% of the time, that’s what the battle was really about.
  3. Compassion is a great thing to have on hand when your own or someone else’s ego flares up.
  4. Kindness is also pretty important. Even when you need to draw a boundary firmly, it’s generally possible to do it with kindness.
  5. How to forgive continually.
  6. And how to release bitterness–also key.
  7. I used to think being smart was a lot more important than it really is. It’s nice, sure, but far from the most important thing.
  8. Love–that would be the most important thing.
  9. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear …” (I John 4:18, KJV). When fear comes up in one of its many guises, love is the antidote.
  10. Learning to meditatelife-changing for sure.
  11. I learned I was an artist–and I bet you are too. I’d love to see everyone find a really good way to access their right brains.
  12. I grew up laboring in a huge organic vegetable garden, but only as an adult did I discover the joy of working hand-in-hand with Mother Nature to unleash plants’ amazing desire to grow and thrive.
  13. I still remember reading the magazine article that taught me to recognize a narcissist. Based on my early experience, I was choosing narcissists as friends. (Word to the wise: they don’t make very good ones.) I’ve finally learned to stop doing that. Woohoo!
  14. I’ve also learned to allow others to be exactly who they are. If people in my life are behaving badly, I generally do say a few words about it–and leave it at that. People have to change, if that’s what they’re going to do, at their own pace. I hope that if they’re not ready to hear now, they will be later.
  15. But just because I must allow people to be exactly who they are doesn’t mean I have to allow everyone into my inner circle, regardless of their behavior.
  16. Much if not most of what I was taught as a child simply isn’t true.
  17. It’s OK to be uncertain. Embracing a model that offers a complete set of answers about how the world works is certainly tempting, but it’s also a pretty good way to be wrong.
  18. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a great deal what people believe, if anything. What really matters is how we treat others. Living a good life isn’t dependent on a particular worldview.
  19. Therefore, beliefs are generally not worth fighting for–but a value might be. Justice is worth fighting for.
  20. Karma is real–a universal law to which there are no exceptions.
  21. At the same time, if you’re a graduate student in the school of life, expectations are higher for you than for someone at the elementary-school level–and that’s fair.
  22. I no longer believe you only live once. I find this comforting, because it means there’s no need to try to accomplish everything, see everything, do everything, in this one lifetime. Accordingly, I don’t have a bucket list–or if I do, it’s a short one.
  23. It’s OK to relax. In fact, it’s a really good idea.
  24. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert. Oh, I am an introvert. (I was quite sure for awhile that I was right and Myers-Briggs was all wrong.)
  25. Models are really helpful, but there’s still a lot they don’t reveal.
  26. Life is not a competition.
  27. Cooperation is really enjoyable.
  28. Sarcasm is best in small doses, and is probably not one of the world’s great art forms.
  29. Participation in social media is not a measure of the validity of my life. And Facebook friends are not the same as real friends.
  30. Complaining isn’t a tool for making anything better, though feedback might be.
  31. Having companion animals is totally worth the trouble and mess. And just think of all the money I’ve saved by eliminating carpet and rugs from my life!
  32. An old house is worth the trouble too. But it’s best to have an excellent plumber, electrician, carpenter, and painter on speed dial.
  33. I am the very best person, bar none, to define what my life should look like.
  34. A good, hot bath can cure what ails you.
  35. A good cup of hot tea (my favorite: acai green tea) is also a pretty good idea. I leave my desk for at least one cup of tea every day I work.
  36. Whether or not you should listen to your mother depends entirely on what your mother has to say.
  37. The leaders of my country may or may not be wise. If they are not, I should notice and take an active role in electing those who are.
  38. Self-help is ultimately the only help there is.
  39. But we could all use a hand up.
  40. No one asked me to judge.
  41. The less I judge, the happier I am.
  42. This is what a feminist looks like.
  43. I should decide what is and isn’t BS on the basis of how well it works, not what other people say about it or what it looks like on the surface.
  44. But when in doubt, follow your gut.
  45. It’s a good idea not to abdicate control, but it’s a mistake to think that every aspect of my life can and should be within my complete control. Forces of nature came by their name honestly.
  46. I am responsible for making the world a better place–and so are you.
  47. I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone I know. Discovering anyone’s imperfection should not be surprising. We’re all human.
  48. The best is yet to come.

What have you learned along the way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Personal power + Leo.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

At last

Yes take 3

This was my exact gesture when I got off the phone last week after verbally accepting a job offer I’m really excited about–a gesture I’ve repeated several times since. This moment has been a long time coming …

I realized nearly a year and a half ago that I would need to make a change–I hoped sooner rather than later. I went on a couple interviews then, and could have made an immediate change. But my gut feeling was that I hadn’t found the right opportunity yet, and also that (as much as I wanted to leave) my presence was needed to help stabilize the situation for others. Power and fear can be a lethal combination, that’s for sure.

There have been other interviews along the way, other offers I didn’t accept. One came quite close to what I wanted. I loved the people I would have worked with, but the job would have come with a cut in base pay along with a significantly better potential annual bonus. I was a little surprised at exactly how much I didn’t like the idea of a pay cut!

The interview process for the job I’ve accepted began two months ago, and has been slowed by a number of factors, so I was thrilled when the offer finally came through. I’ve taken my drug test–nothing like peeing in a cup while a couple of lab employees wait outside your door to keep your feet on the ground–and dug up various paystubs, W-2s, offer letters, and phone numbers for the background check.

I told a couple of friends at work that I’d accepted an offer, both of whom were surprised–which could mean I’ve finally perfected my poker face! One said he was sure I’d really enjoy handing in my notice. I was a little surprised to realize I won’t … there is no ‘charge’ around this for me. Likewise, I don’t remotely have any guilt about leaving. All of which must mean this is the perfect time for me to move on.

The really outstanding, difficult-to-match feature of my current job is my commute. When the stars are aligned and all the lights are green, I can get from my driveway to the parking garage in two minutes. Four minutes is more usual. Obviously this has allowed me to go home at lunchtime most days, which has been great. My new commute will be about half an hour and will involve tolls–assuming I want to take the fastest route, and I do.

But in virtually every other respect, I expect my new job to be an improvement over the old one. Better pay, better benefits, better bonus (which I happen to know this company actually pays, because I’ve worked for them before). I’m really looking forward to being challenged again, not to mention working with highly competent, bright, professional people. I’m also going to be doing the work I want to do in a really beautiful place–a former headquarters building with beautiful grounds, landscaping, water features, and art.

I’m so grateful for this positive change, and truly looking forward to all that happens next.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage® card I made today, Yes!

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

How to help your companion animal have a good death

Cherry

Last weekend I had no thought that my topic would be my focus this week. Everything seemed completely normal. I did notice Cherry, my oldest dog, possibly breathing a little more heavily than normal as she flopped down on the floor, but thought (almost) nothing of it–her breathing has been audible for years.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, I was awakened by one of the dogs throwing up, and got up to see what was going on. I found Cherry in my office, staring at a blob that appeared to be pretty much her entire dinner, undigested. This seemed odd all the way around. I moved the food off the floor into a bowl, and went back to bed.

In the morning I found the food untouched, which was odd. Cherry was my alpha, and loved to assert her right to all things edible (and a few that were questionable). I tossed it out, and made breakfast, a light one for Cherry.

It was our custom for Cherry to go outside while I prepared the dogs’ food. She felt the need to comment on and supervise the process by barking continuously, and even though she’d been debarked when I got her, I found that a door–actually two–between us at this time of the morning made my life a little more peaceful.

When I finished, I had to go fetch her. Although she was deaf and could no longer hear me calling her, she would stand at the bottom of the stairs and watch for me to open the door. Except for Monday morning, when I found her lying down in a flowerbed instead.

When she came inside, she walked right past her bowl in a daze; I had to point it out to her. She took a couple of laps at the liquid in the bowl, and walked away. As it turned out, she never ate anything again.

I cook for my dogs, and they are exceptionally enthusiastic eaters of virtually everything I offer them. When one of my dogs doesn’t eat, it has never failed to be a sign of serious trouble. I went into my office and called the vet.

The dogs go outside when I get out of the shower, and come back in to eat their treats before I leave. On Monday, only two dogs came inside. It was freezing cold.

When I went outside with the leash to take Cherry to the car, I found her curled up on the sidewalk, her flanks shivering in the cold–a disturbing sight.

When we arrived, the vet was out of the office for a bit, so I dropped her off and headed to work. Before long I got a call from the vet explaining her bloodwork–elevated phosphorus, normal calcium, blah blah–and that the X-rays showed a mass with some calcification in Cherry’s abdomen, about where her spleen should be. The vet said she was giving Cherry fluids, and wanted to keep her and get an ultrasound done. She also asked me to bring some of Cherry’s food.

At lunchtime, I went home and prepared a bowl of rice and yogurt, topped with three freshly-scrambled eggs. I had no chicken in the house–food of the gods as far as dogs are concerned–or I would have added some. It was a hugely optimistic amount of food for a 23-pound dog who wasn’t eating. I felt hopeful as I made it, remembering that my dog Honeycomb would eat from my hand when she wouldn’t eat from her bowl.

When I got there, Cherry had sat up to greet me. She smelled each bit o food I offered, but was having none of it. She seemed disengaged, and settled her head on her paw to rest.

I looked at the X-rays with the vet. The mass was more than a little calcified–it was whiter and more solid-looking than any bone in her body, and bigger than an elongated jumbo egg. I’ve had an orange-sized cyst, and fainted from the pain–and I’m a lot bigger than 23 pounds.

I went back and talked to Cherry about what was happening. There’s more than a little irony there, since she was deaf, and no doubt understood the situation better than I did. Nonetheless, I believe a dog doesn’t need to hear my voice, or understand every word, in order to receive my message.

I called the vet shortly before closing to ask for an update. She must have been busy, because a tech I barely know told me that Cherry was still refusing all food, and that they had observed some blood in her urine and were planning to check it again in the morning. I had not observed this, and thought it was a quite recent development. I asked what it meant, and was told it could be a UTI, or it could be a symptom of something much more serious.

Irritated to have to do my own basic research to get the answer to my question, I consulted Google, and drew the conclusion that if not a UTI, the culprit was likely to be cancer.

I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure I asked for wisdom and insight during my meditation before bed. I woke the next morning with much more clarity, and immediately called the vet’s office before they had opened, saying that I wanted to talk to the vet prior to any additional tests.

After breakfast, my grounding work, and meditation, I called again. The vet told me that things were not looking good–there was much more blood, surprisingly little urine, and Cherry was very lethargic.

I asked her if there was any reasonable explanation of what we knew other than cancer. She allowed that on a list of the top five most probable diagnoses, cancer would be at least 1, 2, and 3–and the prognosis wasn’t good for any possibility. She said she expected the ultrasound to provide “definitive bad news,” and I said I thought we already had it.

I told her I wanted to bring Cherry home, and asked her to make a house call when she could. She said she thought she could come at 1:30, or failing that, at the end of the day.

I mentioned that I remembered that my landscaper at the time had been quite slow to bury Honeycomb and plant the row of hollies I requested, and that I didn’t intend to allow that issue to repeat itself. She offered to place a call to her own landscapers.

Now I was working against the clock–I had a lot to do, and a deadline. I arranged to take a personal day, whipped my bedroom into visitor-receiving shape, and eventually decided on a favorite worn and very soft cotton appliqued quilt to wrap Cherry in.

I got ready, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and went by to pick up Cherry with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to be sure we had some quality time together before the vet arrived, and very much hoped she would be alert enough to interact with me.

I was holding it together at the vet’s office until one of the techs I do know well came out to show me a plaque she’d made with Cherry’s pawprint. I’d seen some of these in the back room while visiting Cherry, but hadn’t realized the significance of the craft project.

Cherry came out walking on lead, which surprised us–I’d expected to be carrying her out. She was clearly happy to be going home. However nice the vet’s office, my dogs are clear that it is an unnatural place to be. (Honeycomb was so sure she didn’t want to be there that she pulled her IV out, not once but twice.)

When I saw Cherry looking comparatively perky, I experienced a flicker of hope–and then reminded myself that I had a dog who had stopped eating, whose organs were shutting down. Onward.

When we got home, I carried her to the grass, but she had no business to do. She started walking down the driveway to the backyard; I asked her to come in the front door. The other dogs rushed up to smell her, and Gracie (who loves to get status information through her nose) continued to do so for awhile.

We sat on my bed for awhile as I reminisced about our road trip to New Orleans and other good times. I cried as I gently petted her fur. Cherry moved her head so that her nose was touching my hand.

Eventually she raised her head and looked at me meaningfully, like I should know full well there was someplace else she needed to be. I wasn’t sure where that was, but I lifted her down to the floor. She wandered into my office, seeming perhaps to want to visit all the important places in the house.

I spread a blanket on the sofa, just in case, and lifted Cherry onto my lap. After awhile she started to pant a bit; her breath was pretty bad, as expected. Water seemed like a good idea, so I went to get a small bowl, and she drank some. When she seemed finished, I took it back in the kitchen, and she jumped down, came into the kitchen, and drank for awhile from the real water bowl. I remembered Honeycomb fortifying herself with the entire bowl of water immediately before she died. Cherry then nudged toward the back door, and I let her out.

She took the initial steps on her own, walked out onto the deck, and gazed into the middle distance. I lifted her down to ground level. More gazing, and then she lay down, half on the grass, half on the sidewalk.

I went inside and got the pillows for my chair, and my jacket, and sat down to watch with her. After awhile, she raised her head, opened one eye, and looked at me quizzically as if to say, What are you still doing here?

We agreed on the timing, but she clearly had a strong instinct to die outside. I had difficulty getting on board with what I took to be the way of the wolf, especially given the weather. I went back inside, pulled a warm fleece out of the dryer, and put it on my bedroom floor at the foot of my bed. I brought her back inside and lay her on it. Cherry accepted the compromise and settled in. I put a TV pillow on the floor next to her, and sat down. The other dogs came in and joined us. This was more like it, as far as I was concerned. Soon Cherry was on her way.

The phone rang; now the vet was on her way. I felt relieved.

Cherry’s breathing was increasingly labored. When the vet arrived with the vet tech, she could clearly see that Cherry was already very close. When she lifted her and looked in her eyes, Cherry seemed almost no longer present in her body–which she may well not have been. Cherry still had her IV catheter, and the vet began administering the injections, while I stroked Cherry’s head, telling her she was a good girl. Very quickly, the labored breathing stopped. She had been so ready to go. The vet finished the injections, and listened as her heartbeat faded. The vet hugged me, and told me she thought I’d done the right thing. We all wrapped Cherry’s body, so different now, in the quilt.

When they left, I returned the landscaper’s call, and it so happened that Tuesday and Wednesday, they were working in the neighborhood next to mine. They would come by on their way home. I went out to the backyard to identify a good spot. An hour later, the phone rang–they were here.

The ground had been dug before, so three men made quick work of the burial. At mid-afternoon, it was finished. Events from start to finish had spanned only a day and a half. I felt stunned.

Since then, I have felt a quiet peace.

************************

Here are a few suggestions based on my own experience that have helped me give my companion animals a good death when that time arrives.

1. Have a great vet before you need a great vet. When your animals are healthy, it can be more difficult to see whether a vet will still meet your needs when they are not. You want a vet who’s knowledgeable, competent, ethical, and has good judgment. You also want a vet who, like mine, truly listens to you. I really appreciate people who give it to me straight, and she will do that.

2. I also recommend establishing a relationship with a good animal communicator prior to any health crisis. Mine was a recommendation from the adopter of my first foster dog. Animal communicators can be quite helpful in solving everyday problems, as well as for discussions of end-of-life issues. Although Cherry’s situation moved too fast for me to do this, I was able to do so with my dog Honeycomb, who had congestive heart failure and kidney failure. My vet had stabilized her, but it was clear we were close to the end, and I wanted to understand what her wishes were. Our animal communicator told me that Honeycomb was enjoying the extra attention and closeness, and wasn’t ready yet, but would let me know when she was. A couple weeks later, in the middle of a very difficult night when she’d had an adverse reaction to her anti-nausea medication, I heard a silent “NOW NOW NOW” in my head. We were in perfect agreement that it was time. I told her I would call the vet, but they weren’t open yet. She was a bit on edge till I actually made the call, and then she relaxed.

3. Remember that your companion animal’s health crisis is more important than work. Your animal has probably been a faithful companion to you during good times and bad, while work is, in reality, a series of hair-on-fire, yet ultimately pretty unimportant, emergencies. I have yet to have a manager who was an animal person during any of my animals’ health crises. That’s OK. Your manager may set your priorities at work, but you set your priorities for your life.

When I knew Cherry was sick last Monday, during the hours I was at work, I really cranked it out. The project didn’t suffer from my not being at work on Tuesday, and I made sure my manager had complete information about my status so he wouldn’t worry about it either.

4. Don’t worry about the money, and don’t delay getting medical treatment when it’s needed. I’ve been in the situation of having a critically ill dog and not knowing where the money was going to come from, as well as being in the same situation, and pretty sure the money in my checking and savings accounts would cover the bill. What’s important in this situation is not the money, but your own sincere belief that you did the best and right thing for your animal. The very last thing you want is guilt piled on top of grief. All vets are familiar with this situation; you just need to tell them upfront that you’re going to need a payment arrangement.

5. That said, know when to stop treatment. Briefly, the time to stop treatment is when it isn’t doing any good, and there’s no reasonable expectation that that will change.

6. Respect your animal’s agency in knowing when it’s time. My animals’ instincts have been spot on. In Cherry’s case, she understood that it was time, but I needed to understand what kind of health crisis she was having, and whether it could be averted or not.

7. I recommend asking your vet to make a house call. Now that I have experienced this, willingness to do this is an absolute requirement for me. Home is clearly a much better place to die than any clinical environment. When Honeycomb died at home, I was just coming out of a very difficult period of my life. She lit up the room where she died like the sun coming out with just a beautiful, beautiful presence that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. It’s not always possible for an animal to die at home, but when it is, I have always found it to be a blessing.

8. Afterwards, allow yourself to grieve–and to be comforted. A companion animal who dies is just as concerned about your wellbeing as a human companion in the same situation is. It’s so important to allow yourself to feel your grief–rather than resisting it–which allows it to pass through you, and not get stuck. It’s also important to be present to the comfort being offered you.

There are two kinds of people in the world–those who know what it is to have lost an animal they truly loved, and those who don’t. I recommend discussing your loss only with those who understand, and not with those who will unintentionally invalidate your loss.

I think it’s fair to say that many people fear and dread the deaths of their companion animals. Admittedly, it really sucks to be left behind with a hole in your household and life that cannot truly be filled. But it is a journey all of us with animals must take, and it’s far better to join the dance with grace than resist it.

Ultimately I see it as a tremendous and very intimate privilege to ease a companion animal’s journey to the other side.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Cherry at the threshold. You can see my reading of the card here.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

How to receive inner guidance

lighthouse 2

You will be guided into port, out of the storm.

During a recent meditation, this sentence popped into my head. Whenever I feel as though there’s something I have to tackle alone, I find it comforting to think of the support system I have that’s invisible to me–angels, guides, ancestors, my higher self–all looking out for me, wanting the best for me.

A few days later I had lunch with a relative, who was telling me that she’d connected the dots between an optional medication and a deal-breaker side effect, and had stopped taking it. I mentioned how I like to consult my gut instinct when making decisions, and she said that she had had misgivings, but overrode them because she was determined to take the medication anyway due to other factors. I said something along the lines of, “Yeah, you gotta stop that.”

I know, because I used to approach life in just that way … and it turns out that when you’re bullheaded, when you ignore your gut, when you don’t ask questions, when you barely listen to anyone (let alone your true self), when your ego is firmly in the driver’s seat, when you go so far as to override your conscience because you’re stubbornly determined to do what you want to do no matter what, life just doesn’t go terribly well. You end up doing the wrong things. You end up doing things you regret. You end up at dead ends rather than on your right path … you end up stuck and unhappy, mired in inertia. (And of course, there are worse things than inertia–you could be headed off a cliff.) This approach is not the secret to a happy life. I know this very well.

All of this got me thinking about the usefulness of inner guidance. I truly believe that the beginning of wisdom is beginning to listen–to your higher self, to your gut instinct, to guidance, to your conscience. And to listen, you must be still. Cultivating stillness frees us from the tyranny of thought and ego, and allows us to make contact with the touchstone of truth and wisdom whenever it’s needed. And if you’re anything like me, that need is pretty constant.

Especially when I’m at work, I like to check in with my inner guidance a number of times a day. Is this the right way to respond? I might ask before sending an e-mail. Am I missing something here?

Very often when I make mistakes, I realize that I had a background awareness of something being amiss that I chose to ignore. The more I listen, the more I investigate, the more questions I ask, the fewer mistakes I make, and the less I do that I later regret doing. I don’t have many significant regrets, but I do have some, so it’s a little late to have a regret-free life. But I believe that by listening, by not rushing headlong, by taking decisions deliberately, many regrets can be avoided. In fact, it’s possible to come to the end of the day, or week, and hopefully a lifetime, and be able to say, I did well.

But first you have to be still enough so you can hear. For me, meditation has been the key to becoming still, and creating gaps in the flow of thoughts through my mind that allow wisdom and guidance to enter. To my mind, one of the most significant benefits of meditation is this space it opens up, allowing us to make better decisions in each moment, which in turn facilitates our being our best selves.

It also really helps to stop sweating the small stuff. If you’re worried about your imperfect nose, or static cling, or whatever completely insignificant “problem” du jour the advertising industry would like to create major concern about in order to move product, all of that is taking up mindspace that could simply be clear. Getting older really seems to help–and thank God for that!

In that clear, still space, I like to listen, to ask my question, to tune in. If I’m not sure of the right fork in the road (literally or figuratively, actually), I like to ask myself whatever the question is, and then quietly wait for the answer. If I’m still not sure–sometimes at this point I have conflicting thoughts–then I save the question for meditation later. After meditating for awhile, which creates a truly clear space for an answer to arise, I ask the question again.

Unfortunately, sometimes negative self-talk can get in the way of hearing the voice of wisdom, the voice of love. That’s where discernment comes in. This is my mantra whenever I feel that what I’m hearing may be the voice of fear, or the voice of ego …

I ask that all input be filtered through my higher self, including my own.

Of course, sometimes our inner guidance is delivering an authentic message of fear–This person cannot be trusted. You’re in danger. Get out of here now.

I don’t second-guess a message like this. There’s no harm in being somewhere else, or in taking a different elevator. And you never know when listening to your gut could save your life. Friends tell me that a mutual acquaintance makes the hair on the back of their necks stand up, gives them the creeps. I don’t get that from him–but I don’t question for a moment that they do, or try to change their minds.

For me, this is why it’s such a good idea to get generalized fears and prejudices out of your mind and heart–so that you can hear and feel clearly a specific fear when it arises. You may not be able to explain it; you probably won’t be. But it’s well worth listening to.

I like to look someone in the eyes to see if I can trust him or her, at least for the next few minutes. I do this when I see a homeless person with a sign (I keep energy bars in the car for this purpose). It’s also great for all types of interviews.

Of course, the need for true fear is rare. Far more often, all is well, and listening to the voice of love is all we truly need. As long as we’re in touch with the voice of wisdom, love, and truth, I really believe that each of us is the very best person to determine what’s truly right for us.

Do you perhaps have a burning question right now? Is there something you really need to know? Don’t be afraid to wrestle with the angel if you need to. But most of the time, in my experience, getting still and asking the question will yield the answer you need.

You are the ultimate arbiter of what’s right for you. Seek within.

How to give good advice

Understanding

This weekend, I was asked for advice about what might seem to be a common dilemma. There is a glib, easy, fairly well-accepted answer to this dilemma. But I have my doubts about whether this answer is correct in all cases. Contrarian that I am, the advice I gave was unconventional.

Giving advice is easy–but good advice? That may be a bit more difficult. A few thoughts about how to do it well …

  1. When people ask for advice, I like to respond … but not necessarily with the reinforcement they’re sometimes after. Sometimes offering love and support is all you feel sure of, and I think that’s enough. The friend who asked me for advice asked me to tell her what she already knew, as well as what she didn’t know. I thought that was a great way to ask for advice, because it acknowledges that …
  2. No one person knows everything. It’s very rare to understand the other person’s situation so well that you can recommend unequivocally doing x, y, and z. My response was to mention a couple of perspectives on the issue that might be a bit different than what she was thinking … to turn the question around and examine it from a couple different angles. But ultimately my advice was to go deep within for her answers.
  3. Far from replying with a stock answer, I even supplied a couple of new questions! If you’re like me, you don’t have all the answers to other people’s problems … but if you stick around for awhile and pay attention, you can pick up on a few good questions. One such question is, which way feels like fear, and which way feels like saying Yes to life?
  4. I believe the Divine and an unlimited perspective is within each of us, and that nothing could be more worthwhile than accessing our own deep wisdom, and asking it the most pressing questions we have. I find it helpful to remember that the person asking for advice already has the answers. Perhaps not consciously, very true. But they have access to the facts and emotional truth of the situation (which they may be filtering for a variety of reasons), and usually you the advisor do not. They also have access to their own inmost desires, moral compass, and gut instinct, as well as the ability to attract what they want and need. In other words, every possible tool and resource they need to solve the problem at hand.
  5. So I believe the role of the advisor is to provide support to the decision-making process. Your role might be to relieve the pressure of conventional wisdom, prevailing mores, or the opinions of others … to create some space in which the advisee can begin to take a fresh look at the issue in their own light. You may need to help clear away whatever is obscuring the person’s own truth.
  6. Should you give advice about a situation you’ve never experienced? Recently I was taken to task for doing just that. To me the key is to remember, and this is true whether you yourself have been in the exact situation or not, is that in the vast majority of situations, only the advisee can know what is truly right for them. In this weekend’s case, I hadn’t experienced the exact set of circumstances. But I have been in similar situations, and understood her agonizing and disgust and desire for decisive action very well. I’ve been there, I get that.
  7. I think it’s not imperative to wait to be asked for advice. If you have something you think might be helpful to share, I think it’s fine to offer it. “You know, something that has sometimes been of help to me …”
  8. And of course, you must be completely prepared to have your perfectly good advice ignored or discarded. Give it freely, no strings attached. Perhaps the time may not be right; perhaps the person isn’t really ready to deal with the issue. Perhaps the advice isn’t close enough to where the person is to allow him to grasp it. Whatever the reason, it’s critical to remember that you can only give advice–you can’t implement it. Implementation is entirely down to the advisee.
  9. But, love sent into the world is never wasted.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Understanding + Two paths.

The hare grows tortoise feet

hare

When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time. –Creighton Abrams

When I was younger, I hopped on rabbit feet. Certain things came easily to me, and I generally did those things. In college, I’d write my papers overnight, usually starting around midnight when the dorm got quiet, and finishing around 5 am or so. I’d meet my roommate, a nursing student off to the early shift, as I went to bed.

I’m not sure if it’s a hare, a tortoise, or something else altogether that takes the path of least resistance. I remember being advised in my 20s that I should direct my passion toward work worth being passionate about. My view then was that there was no way I could abandon my investment in my career (a handful of years at that point) and start over–no way! Back then, making a decision out of fear seemed a wise and prudent thing to do. Or so, at any rate, I told myself.

In those days, I’d never have wanted to identify with the slow, steady tortoise of the fable. The hare had its issues, very true–but how much better to be quick! How fatal to be slow! I’m not sure I ever stopped to examine the finish line I was leaping towards, or the path I was on.

Lately I find myself taking comfort in the slow and steady accretion of my efforts. I may not be able to give hare-like, flat-out, all-or-nothing effort to everything I want to accomplish. (In fact, I’m not willing to give that kind of effort to anything nowadays, as that way lies burnout.) But a bit at a time, steadily and without fail, offered with unwavering commitment, will indeed get me where I want to go.

I wear my tortoise shell proudly.

Experiments with intention

I believe that with our intentions, we can change the world and our own lives for the better.

I believe this because I’ve proved it to myself by experimenting.

It all started when I got my car (a 2006 model, so that was the approximate year), and it came with XM radio, where I started listening to Oprah’s Soul Series. I also bought and read a number of books written by the people she was interviewing on the series.

Consequently I was reading a lot about the law of attraction, and I decided to try it. I’d sit on the sofa before work and spend 15 or 20 minutes with my journal.

First I would write, as mentioned in Esther Hicks‘s books, “I am in my Creative Workshop.” This phrase acknowledges that each of us has the power to be a creator of our own experiences.

Then I would express appreciation for all that’s good in my life by writing down five or more things I felt thankful for–big or small, it doesn’t matter. Genuine appreciation and gratitude are what’s important.

Then I’d write down intentions for my day and my life. I’d think about where I was experiencing dissatisfaction, and write intentions that would improve my situation.

I began to notice that doing this really worked.

The very first thing I remember noticing a change in was the bird chorus outside my door as I did this practice. I was writing in my journal early in the morning, and one of the things I was grateful for was the beautiful birdsong I was hearing. There wasn’t much at first, a few twitters and trills, but as I kept noticing it each morning, it really intensified. I don’t know if more birds showed up, or if the ones I already had sang louder and longer, but it was really something! Just as all the books said, I got more of what I was noticing and paying attention to.

One of the intentions I set that continues to affect my life was to be willing to be in non-judgment of others. (If you want to change your life, this is a great way to do it.) I found that as I set this intention each day, I began following through on it, and dropping my judgments of others. I began saying to myself when I felt judgment come up, “We’re all doing our best.” Or, “No one asked you to judge.”

I could see how I could impact my own life, and I began to wonder, what about something bigger, something that involves many more people than just me and the people I know. Could I change that?

For many years, I commuted to work about 45 miles each way. My manager at the time was fairly inflexible about the hours we worked, so I had to drive during rush hour. I really wanted to drive to work in smoothly-flowing traffic as I was used to doing, but it seemed like an impossible goal. I decided to ask anyway.

I began writing down my intention to drive to work in smoothly-flowing traffic each morning in my journal. I did this for several weeks.

One day at work, one of my coworkers who’d seemed to be nursing a grudge against me and who also had a long commute from a similar location, stopped by and told me about a shortcut through the airport that I never knew existed. She had the air of someone getting something off her chest. I asked for a few details, thanked her, and promptly tried it the next morning.

Well … guess what? The shortcut took me around the worst of the traffic. When I drove to work using this shortcut, I found myself driving, most of the time, in smoothly-flowing traffic. Just as I’d intended.

Wow … I was impressed. A really helpful solution to a problem I thought couldn’t be solved, that definitely improved the quality of my life.

What I learned was, just ask. Don’t worry about how intractable a problem seems, just ask for a solution.

I stopped journaling every morning years later when I had a boss who made me show up to work even earlier. But I still use the journal technique when a significant issue arises.

Last week, someone at work whom I’ll call Bob reared his head again. Bob has a medium-important title, a real facility for regressing to childhood in the blink of an eye, and quite a mean streak. Fear and intimidation seem to be his preferred ways of getting things done.

So last Wednesday on a conference call, when I was right and Bob was wrong, he spoke to me with a degree of contempt that was notable to everyone present. I received multiple apologies afterward–none of them from Bob.

My manager is well aware of the problem and is working to address it. Bob has already had one person in his group get disgusted with the way he was being treated and quit. One of his more highly-skilled people, I might add. Bob has also been asked to apologize to someone who sits near me whom he’d spoken to nastily–I overheard that apology. His MO seems to be that when he knows his team has made a serious mistake, he becomes proactively nasty to those he thinks might draw attention to it. Like I say, he operates out of fear.

I’ve done much of what I can to address the problem in the realm of work, but I don’t like to sit on my hands, I like to call in the big guns. I decided it was time to write some good old-fashioned intentions in my journal.

It is my intention that Bob treat me and those I work for with absolute and complete respect. It is my intention that we be able to do our jobs freely, correctly, and well, without interference from Bob or anyone else.

It is my intention that any negative techniques Bob is using and any ethical lapses he has made come to the full and immediate attention of his superiors, and that they take swift action to correct these problems completely.

I also ask that any karmic consequences due to Bob arrive in a timely way.

On Friday we received a remarkably polite e-mail from Bob. When I investigated I found that someone on our team had made an error, and I responded with a solution. Now that is the kind of interaction I’m looking for.

I know how mercurial Bob is, and I don’t think we’re out of the woods just yet. But I have every reason to believe that setting intentions works. At times like this, it’s very good to know that it’s completely possible, no matter who you are and no matter how much power the world says you have or don’t have, to tap into the power of the Universe to get things done, solve problems, and see justice done. A power–need I say–far greater than Bob’s. And a technique far better than fear and intimidation.

And so my latest experiment begins. I reiterate my intentions, and wait for a solution to arrive.

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