Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Watchers

Mark Nepo is a genius at putting words on paper that succinctly describe a multitude of feelings. He is easily able to describe things and feelings in ways that I feel, but am unable to describe. In his book The Book of Awakenings I am repeatedly awed by his ability to do this.

In his September 3 passage, he speaks of growing up under our parent's and teacher's watchful eye and then going forward in life and feeling as if they might still be watching. By then we have internalized their watchfulness and made it our own. "As I reached adulthood, the habit continued. I walked around constantly troubled by what others must be thinking of what I was or was not doing. In this, we are burdened with the seeds of self consciousness. From this we trouble our spontaneity and the possibility of joy by watching ourselves too closely, nervously unsure if this or that is a mistake."

I loved this passage and it puts words on a feeling that runs in the background and self monitors our actions and words. There is a trade off in that it makes us monitor our behaviour for success and acceptance where we wish it to be. It is only as we grow tired of behaving that we seek to escape 'the watchers' as he calls them. To feel the spontaneity that has succumbed to the need for propriety. As we age and see the world from a different perspective we realize that no one is really watching. Those we thought were watching have their own life tales unfolding. And we also see that if people are watching to judge, it really does not change us or our place in the world.

We need to laugh out loud, dance and sometimes behave outrageously to really feel our freedom from our self-watch. We need to try new things without concern for who is deciding whether we should or should not be doing it. We need to have new experiences without being fearful of making mistakes.

"Now the audience of watchers is gone and I can feel life happen in its quiet, vibrant way without anything interfering. Now, sometimes at night, when the dog is asleep and the owl is beginning to stare into what no one ever sees, I stand on the deck and feel the honey of night fall off the stars, feel it coat the earth, the trees, the minds of children half asleep, feel the stillness evaporate all notions of fame into the unwatched space that waits for light."

His way with words takes my breath away.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Our Greatest Achievements Are Ahead...

Marti Barletta is head of a marketing company Trend Sight Group that consults with companies who seek to market to women. She has determined that women, especially those in their 50's and 60's wield the most purchasing power due to their role in both the workplace and family and their comparatively high disposable income.

For all the amazing strengths that this company brings I still find a singular quote that Marti makes as one of the most revealing and motivating statements about women at this point in our lives. She says that we "experience the joy of being, relish liberation from expectation,rock our world, brim with confidence and live life in drive, who feel our greatest achievements are ahead of us." Amazing in this simple sentence and between each set of commas is a unique profound thought, each segment of the sentence worth thinking on.

We "experience the joy of being". For all its advantages, being young just never let you feel the joy of just being. Or maybe it did, but we were too filled with angst and expectation to really see it for what it was. A deeply thought filled, peaceful, joyful state where there are no expectations or performance requirements and we can see and appreciate a moment for just what it is. We need to expand those moments so they fill a greater proportion of our day.

We "relish liberation from expectation." A whole lifetime of doing what was expected of us from our early years to high school, to marriage and children and jobs. A now we just want to define what it is that makes us tick and shed the shackles of expectation. A virtual explosion of joy each time we are able to make a small change in the process of liberating ourselves from the demands and expectations of life as it should be.

We "rock our world, live with confidence and live life in drive." Get out of the passenger seat and drive. Where was it you wanted to go? What was it you planned to do in your private dreaming moments? We get to find those dreams and create them now. Not easy. Scary...a little. But exhilarating to go towards them. I love that 'rock our world' phase. How long has it been since something has truly rocked your world? Brings us back to the quest for safety and conformity that eventually becomes the self created box in which we live our lives.

In his book Awakenings, Mark Nepo shares an enlightening passage that applies to how we live. This entry is for January 9 in his book and it is called "Life In the Tank". I will quote the passage in order to do it justice. "It was a curious thing. Robert had filled the bathtub and put the fish in the tub, so he could clean their tank. After he'd scrubbed the film from the small walls of their make-believe deep, he went to retrieve them.

He was astonished to find that, though they had the entire tub to swim in, they were huddled in a small area the size of their tank. There was nothing to contain them, nothing to hold them back. Why wouldn't they dart about freely? What had life in the tank done to their natural ability to swim?".

You can, no doubt see the analogy to how we live our lives. We work hard to establish this safe place in the world and then at this point we need to work really hard to shed our quest for safety and move into DRIVE. "Rock Our World!" And the truly amazing part of the phrase is "who feel our greatest achievements are ahead of us." That is simply the most exciting part of the quote. Because the typical view of this stage in our lives is that our best years are behind us. But that does not need to be true. She shatters the typical view that our years ahead should be a gradual slide into old age. Is it possible (and a bit exciting) that our greatest achievements are yet to come? It changes the playing field to think like that and it changes how you look at your personal future. And it makes you accountable to create what could be. Drive!

If you want to read more of the life changing stuff by Mark Nepo:
The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

For those of you who would like to read more by Marti Barletta PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big SpendersMarketing to Women: How to Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yoga Rocks!

I have been attending Yoga classes for a month or so now and I think I now have a modicum of experience which allows me to share my first impressions. Having spent my life participating in sports with a harder, faster, stronger ethos, yoga always seemed to me to be a sidebar in my life. Something I would eventually get to, but never did.

I have now attended a series of yoga classes with different instructors, on the advice given to me by a woman at my club. She had suggested not making my judgement on yoga until I had tried a series of classes with different instructors.

One class I went to seemed focused on muscle strength and the ability to hold tentative poses for a long time. I figured that since I lift weights this would be easy. But it wasn't. And when we did the exercise designed to move you closer to being able to do the splits, I realized just how inflexible I have become. And I thought, I want to do that. I want to be able to do the splits again.

Another class focused on multiple short poses seemingly designed for opening up parts of the body that are seldom stretched in real life. It was amazing. We did a pose with the blocks which opened up my spine and chest area and it felt so good, I could have held it forever.(See below)The instructor was young and assumed that nobody knew the poses and so it was great for a beginner like me.

And the third instructor took us through a series of contortions that I found difficult to coordinate. I followed it exactly through the whole class and thought that this went against all the ideas of what yoga should be. Complex, difficult, and always thinking. And I realized that it is a combination of my learning curve and stretching parts of me that do not get stretched that was causing me to lose my Zen. But after the class, as I went through my day, I felt amazing. My body felt limber, and seemed to be there at my command.

Despite all my different abilities in fitness, I have never achieved that mind body congruence that was hinted at in my first month of yoga. I now understand what all the excitement is about. I like where the first month and eight classes have taken me. From skeptic to zealot, I think I will continue with this and see where it takes me.

Here is a great pose for stretching a part of your back that until now was only attainable by a visit to the chiropractor. You will be surprised at how effective it is. And you can replace the blocks with anything soft like towel stacks.

Image compliments of Elsie's Yoga

Monday, April 11, 2011

Do You Like Me?

I find it interesting that in all my interactions with people, I seek to leave them with a positive impression of their time with me. It is not something I actively work on, but something intuitive that compels me to create positive feedback from each person I come into contact with. It tends to make my life more pleasant in general because most people appreciate the effort and reciprocate. But it is a win some, lose some kind of game. Because not everybody shows the same deference to this civil mode of interaction. I am fascinated and slightly envious of people who do not have this compulsion though. John Tierney writes in the New York Times of a quote from Jeffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico. “We evolved as social primates who hardly ever encountered strangers in prehistory,” Dr. Miller says. “So we instinctively treat all strangers as if they’re potential mates or friends or enemies. But your happiness and survival today don’t depend on your relationships with strangers. It doesn’t matter whether you get a nanosecond of deference from a shopkeeper or a stranger in an airport.” It is true that it doesn't matter but somehow most of us intuitively act as if it does matter. I love the reference to the evolutionary imperative that lies beneath the behavior and the need for positive response from those we do not know. He calls this desire to impress strangers "a quirky evolutionary byproduct of a smaller social world."

It somehow makes this slightly compulsive behavior less toxic and more amusing than anything else. And it reduces the significance of the less than pleasant interactions.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


"To cling to the thoughts and ways of performing that you’ve always known is to resign yourself to being average. And mediocre. A spectator versus in the game." Robin Sharma

Here is the thing about this. We are socialized to become spectators because spectators do not disturb the status quo. In her book Sociology Understanding a Diverse Society Margaret L. Andersen states that "socialization is a form of social control. Because socialized people conform to cultural expectations, socialization gives society a certain degree of predictability, establishing patterns that be come the basis for social order." The message as we grow is that it is definitely better to roughly if not totally conform to societal norms. So breaking free from a lifetime of conformity requires some serious traction.

How much easier it becomes to conform as we age too. We learn to get very good at fitting in to new situations because that guarantees our immediate and long term survival in those situations. Anytime we enter a new situation our need to conform rises. Two year olds exhibit a distinct unwillingness to conform. Teenagers experience the opposite, where they have a dangerously high need to conform. When we start a new job we sit back and watch while we learn the rules and the hierarchy of the new environment. And we learn those rules well.

After a whole lifetime of conforming is it any surprise that men and women decide suddenly at fifty years old, give or take a few years, that we had so much to accomplish outside of the norm that society asked us to abide by. Sue Shellenbarger calls it "a psychological and spiritual upheaval [that] have been mistaken for menopause symptoms and reduced to a biological phenomenon". But is it possible that it is neither hormonal nor menopausal, but instead just a sudden recognition of our path as unique from the path that society would wish us to ponder. And such a committment to it that we will risk all to take that untravelled path and fulfill our raison d'etre in this life. To experience and live all the things that we were going to do once.

There is a certain clarity in the simple realization of this thought. Like the clouds cleared and you just get it. It removes the danger flags and warnings that flash through you brain and you see it for what it is. A twinkling goal ahead on a clear night. You realize that all along nothing terrible would have actually happened. You would not have been left out in the cold. And if you were, you would have been okay with that.

Get back into the game.
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