Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Contentment

 

soloWhere does discontent come from? How can I shift the blame? the perception, the perspective? Is discontent merely a figment of an ego driven mind? I crave attention, I don’t get attention so I feel discontent. I want more, I don’t get more so I feel discontent. Can the process be reversed? I am content, I don’t get more, I don’t want more. I am content, I don’t get attention, I don’t seek attention.
That would mean that contentment, like so many other things, is a choice I get to make. I can look at the menu and choose to embrace my current circumstances without expectation, envy, or external drivers.

If chasing riches, adding Facebook friends, impressing bosses, buying stuff,
believing myths is a way to find satisfaction, why can’t we bypass the noise and get right to the music? ” I choose to be satisfied” ” I will sing my own song of happiness”.

Regardless of what the world tells us, we should desire, can’t we still seek something else? I was party to the race to fame and fortune and still find myself running alongside the sprinters but I continue to try live a life less conventional. On the best of days, I hold deeply and loosely the values and relationships that mean the most to me. I swim in the satisfaction that my ‘heart’ feels and rest on the shore as my mind’s cravings begin to still.

I certainly haven’t mastered any of this and can find myself wanting, wishing, chasing, coercing and cursing but I can choose to be satisfied in the moment and joyful in being present. I remind myself that what the world wants me to want isn’t what I want. I remember that I am satiated by music, books, love, nature and agitated by the clamouring of stuff and accumulation. I measured how long I felt satisfied after buying a new outfit. The glow was strong in the store but faded as I was heading home. I got a rebound on the occasion that I first wore the shirt and shorts but in total, I received less than 40 minutes of good feelings from the purchase. On the other hand, I can spend hours in the company of friends and family or in a great book and be filled with contentment. The return on investment from the latter outstrips the former even as the principle message I receive tells me the opposite.

Today, I spent time accomplishing small tasks; cleaning, mending, writing and enjoying reading, riding, running and resting. I had lunch on a rooftop and took in the view, did maintenance on our home and cleaned up from a storm. My day was around people that I care about and I come to the end of another rotation feeling fulfilment and happiness and I don’t have anything material to show for it. I will see if I can end on the same note tomorrow having played a similar tune and I will try not to add anything to my closets, bookshelves, or larder.

Can you acquire less tomorrow and feel joy and gratification because that is the choice you make when you get up? Are you willing to give it a try?

Make Tomorrow Remarkably Satisfying,

Bob

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

This too Shall Pass (Likely)

Why do things have a way of working themselves out? For most of us, most of the time, regardless of how much or how little planning things have a way of working themselves out. Even when a detour jumps out of the bushes or the sky seems to fall on our heads, we find our way to the end of the road. It might not be the destination we were seeking or via the route that we expected but somehow we make it out the other side. Tragedy can strike and we go on, a windfall can arrive or be lost and we continue, or boredom, stress, or health concerns weigh us down and we march on.

Most of us have had setbacks that knocked the wind out of us and left us reeling; an untimely death, an unexpected diagnosis, a broken relationship and yet we soldier on. We reflect, we ruminate, we readjust, and we remain. I don’t believe there is an exceptional characteristic that allows us to overcome. It seems to lie in the process.

There is a bit of ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again”, a bit of ” don’t let the bastards beat you down” and a lot of living in the pain and through the pain to the other side. Sometimes the ache can be erased, sometimes it can be accepted easily, but mostly it needs to be acknowledged, accepted, and absorbed. The suffering and pain leads to somewhere, somewhere better or at least different from the current state. To clarify, I am not talking about individuals who suffer from debilitating and deteriorating illness. Their condition might leave little room for relief from long-term distress. But if someone is suffering from diabetes and their illness is managed by treatment, they go through an initial depression but generally adapt to the new normal of medication and/or injections and the regimen becomes part of their day-to-day.

Unfortunately, what seems like an organic process of reflection and recovery requires intention and commitment to staying the course when our instincts scream retreat. Living in the anguish without judgement, accepting that many/most things are beyond the span of our control, and resolving to allow for the time it takes and the energy it requires to feel the depths, hold in the deeps and rise up, in a controlled, steady ascent. This is not something to be taken lightly nor without support.

The world is a much better place when we live in interdependent relationships; giving and taking support, grace, and service to each other. It is difficult for many of us to seek and accept these gifts from others, even those closest to us. We find it much easier and more pleasant to give love, provide nurturing and solve problems for others. There is a happiness glow that occurs when we use our strengths to strengthen others because our brain chemistry is triggered to release chemicals that interact with neurons that signal pleasure in our brains. When we ignore or reject assistance from those around us or stoically deny we have any issues, we are robbing our friends and family of the same pleasure we seek.

My thesis is that we overcome circumstances and adapt with the help of those in our community (community being a group of people who know and depend on each other) while we recognize, acknowledge and live through the downs and ups in our lives.

Who depends on you? Who do you depend on? How are you ‘working through’ a detour or unexpected situation in your life?

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

The Harder Way

If we embrace a bit of inconvenience, how do we benefit? Convenience is a set of stepping stones that easily and harmoniously lead to the same conclusion as yesterday and the day before. If I always accept the ‘easy’ way it becomes the only way. If I use my private vehicle as a convenient tool to avoid planning, avoid exercise, and avoid thinking I am blindly going where I always go. But if I consider my options, reflect on what I want to accomplish and make a plan, I can save time, gas, frustration and expand my mind rather than shrink it into tiny status quo blob.

adventure
We have stopped considering options. The mediocrity rut will lead to the grave without any personally generated excitement.
(Not to dwell on automobile use because the issue of defaulting into convenience is across all elements of our lives but where I live the truck is a god-given-over-my dead-body right and suggesting that there might be a different approach is worth your life and would be political suicide.)
Inconvenience wakes us up and conversely convenience keeps us inert and supposedly satisfied. Shake up your routine, walk when you could drive, mail when you could text, call instead of email, get up early, go to bed early, make a meal rather than takeout, think about a different way to use the next ten minutes and then do it.

Go out of your way to help a friend, a stranger, an enemy. Do something difficult and do something the hard way. If you are considering doing something and think ” that wouldn’t be to hard” or “that should be easy”, imagine a way to make the task more difficult, more perfect, and then take the high road.

I have discovered that the difference between good and great is a matter of inches but on far too many occasions, I am tempted and then convinced to be satisfied with good. When I go the extra inches, I feel better about myself and my performance and the interaction is remembered and appreciated.

Surprise yourself and others by going the extra inches and intentionally taking the hatd way.

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Peer Pressure

When faced with the decision to research a subject, ruminate on the information, reflect on the consequences and form your own opinion or blindly accepting the collective fiction of a group, which do you choose? Does it matter if the subject seems significant? trivial? If the consequences are personal and material, do you resort to the easier approach or take a harder road?

Group think works because thinking is hard work. Comprehending an appropriate question and choosing a credible source of information are skills that we have stopped practising.  My greatest strength is my ability to synthesise disparate ideas. My greatest weakness is my ability to synthesise disparate ideas. Regardless, I tend to rush to a conclusion and if the destination at the end of a straight line is familiar, I will probably go where my eyes take me.

We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” ~ Robert Brault

The road less travelled is bound to be more challenging, more interesting and more scenic. I am heading out to Sundre Alberta this afternoon. I have made the trip hundreds of times and often vary the route. If I wanted to arrive in 1 hour and 7 minutes, the fastest course is to stick to the freeway (QE2). Traffic clips along at 120 km ph and on a Friday is bumper to bumper. My goal in heading away from the city is relaxation and mindfulness and if I speed along with the crowd, I arrive irritated and anxious. However, if I meander on lesser highways with a slower speed and considerably less traffic, I am able to take in the majesty of my surroundings and rather than getting stressed by the trip, I am relaxed and inspired by it.

pathway

If I am distracted by the shortest path; however, I measure that – least time, least effort, most familiarity, personal preference, invalid excuses, unrealistic fear I will always miss out on the journey and will probably arrive somewhere that I have already been but without the learning, preparation, or anticipation.

Make Today Remarkable, by resisting peer pressure posturing and embracing some originality,

B

 

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Are You a Segregationist?

bending willow

Are we practising segregationists? Segregation defined as the act or practice of segregating; a setting apart or separation of people or things from others. In the not so distant past, I surrounded myself with like-minded folks who held and espoused the same views of ideas, policies, and people. While a scary practice, it becomes critical and unhealthy when the like-minded crowd out everyone else and sound walls of similarity are constructed to keep ‘them’ and ‘their nonsense’ out of sight and sound. I was comfortable defining people by how they differed from me and couldn’t/wouldn’t consider making a crack in the wall to let the freshness of something new or different in.

I watched my tribe grow organically, like a Persistent organic pollutant (POP) defying any degradation of its power with stubbornness and vitriol. I used energy; kinetic, physical and emotional to hold different opinions at bay and resisted considering possibilities, even when I could feel the glimmer of dishonesty and see the light of inconsistency in my position. I set myself apart from others who were different and surrounded myself with folks who conformed to my ideals and confirmed my ideas. We were diverse in age, race, and economic conditions but marched in lockstep to policies and positions that we hadn’t necessarily given the proper consideration to.

My observation is that segregationists exist at all places on the political spectrum; left, right, and center. Ideology around religious, environmental, economic, and social fictions are strong regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, age. We all draw close to people who ‘do things the right way’. We like people who are like us. and consequently and unfortunately we don’t easily like people who aren’t like us; unless we make a concerted and committed effort.

The effort to openness is enormous. We have been shunning those who are different from us (in any/many ways) for 70,000 years. When Homo Sapiens started creating community and culture they needed to create a common narrative – a Sapien fiction that allowed and justified unearned trust. As we began to live more complex and crowded lives, we redoubled the narrative. The Sapien fiction allowed them to usurp and probably slaughter other homo species of the day. Millenia later we are still separating ourselves, within one species, into groups based on the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world we live in.

What would happen if we took a slightly different approach? What if we allowed a 10-degree reorientation to take place? If I was open to 10% of what makes someone else different from me, would I be a different person? better? yes. possibly.

When I am willing to shift 10 degrees from my stubborn fiction and the person in front of me shifts the same, we have less distance between our stories and might be close enough to see where they overlap.

Imagine a centrist Democrat ( Jack) meeting a centrist Republican (Jill). Under most circumstances, they may not give each other the time of day on issues of health care, taxation, or immigration. If Jack shifts their position towards Jill’s by 10 degrees and she does the same, they may both realise that they want what is best for most people and only differ on tactics. Once the chasm narrows, there seems to be greater willingness to listen, if not appreciate to someone else’s opinion. Curiousity to understand builds bridges while asking questions in order to overpower builds walls.

How do I more consistently become an integrationist? How do I hold strong views strongly and still be willing to hear other fictions? Maybe this fable by Dorothy Colleen is a guide.
The Oak and the Willow, a fable
In a field, there was an oak at one end, and a willow-tree at the other.

Whenever a wind moved through the field, the willow swayed in the wind, while the oak remained unmoved.

When this happened, the willow said to itself, “I wish I was as strong as the Oak, instead of bending over with every breeze“ then one day a large windstorm whipped through the field.

When the storm passed, and the darkness lifted, the willow looked across the field, and was shocked to discover that the oak was laying on the ground, broken. When the Gardener came into the field, the willow said, “Oh sir, what happened to the Oak? How is it that I survived the storm, weak as I am, and the Oak fell?”

The Gardener said, “Oh little willow-tree, do you not understand what happened? When the winds blow, you bend with them, while the oak remains still. So when a really powerful wind comes along, you can bend with the wind, and survive it. But the Oak cannot bend, and so if the wind is strong enough, it will break. For the Oak had a secret, a weakness within that no one looking at the outside could see. And the Gardener went on his way, leaving the willow to ponder what he said.

Moral: Strength within and strength without are not the same, and one should cultivate strength within first. Also, when the winds of life blow, bend, and you may survive the real storms when they come. Try and resist them, and when the real storms come, you may break instead.

Original Thought · Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Dare to Fail

 

mistakesIf I am not making at least three mistakes a day, I am not trying. My greatest opportunities are waiting for me to have the courage and willingness to attempt them. The least I can do is step up to the plate and swing the bat. Sometimes I will foul off a curveball and learn to be more patient. On occasion, I will whiff on some high heat and gain some perspective regarding the challenge and some skills I need to develop. In a few instances, I will get hit or brushed back and end up on my butt looking foolish but if I get back up and step back into the box, I get another appearance at the plate. If I put my head down and slink off to the dugout, after striking out, I have missed the chance to improve, innovate and endure.
I am generally active in my world for 16 to 18 hours a day. If I take lots of swings and only whiff at a one every 5 to 6 hours, I am missing my share at the plate. Yesterday I wrote something rude and inane in an attempt at humour, I quoted the wrong James brother in an attempt to convince (and was corrected), I blurted out a thesis that I hadn’t thought through (as an extrovert, I do this many times a day) while trying to understand, in an effort to be curious I asked an impertinent question (without understanding my insensitivity). I wrote 750 words in an ongoing chapter, most of which turned out to be crap – but there is one sentence that has possibilities. I met 4 new people and all of them were generous and supportive about a ‘big idea’ that I shared with them and I was interested and present as they recounted what they are working on.
I ran in the rain, laughed with a stranger, ate with a friend, slept well and dreamed hard. The last sentence weren’t risks or mistakes but not that long ago they would have been unusual. I took steps to make them possible and now they seem familiar rather than odd.
A speaker yesterday, suggested that we need to let out crazy ideas out because they just might work. I have no shortage of absurdity wrestling for space in my head and now I have been given permission to give voice and action to more of it. If 3 out of 10 turn out to be viable and feasible, I will be thrilled with that average. If 1 in 100 is a home run, I still get to run the bases one more time than someone who is sitting in the stands watching the game being played by others. If my timing is right and my idea scores for me but also adds remarkable value to the efforts of three other crazy folks, then we are on our way to achieving another reason to celebrate our teamwork,
Even if I don’t clear the bases 99/100, the one grand slam is still exhilarating.
What risks can you take this morning? tomorrow? this week? Are you willing and maybe excited with the freedom and permission to make mistakes? Would you be willing to create a “My Mistakes” journal and record all the times that you pushed the envelope and had it tear? Would you commit to celebrating the 1/100 big success and commit to learning from the 99 stumbles?

If you have the confidence and courage to shake up your days, your week, your life and rattle some cages, leave a comment or contact me at bob@remarkablepeople.ca and we will figure out how we can connect and support each other.

Make Today Remarkable, by trying enough scary stuff so that you fail three times,
B

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”  ~ John Wooden
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”  ~ George Bernard Shaw
“I think it’s important for scientists to be a bit less arrogant, a bit more humble, recognising we are capable of making mistakes and being fallacious – which is increasingly serious in a society where our work may have unpredictable consequences.”
~ Robert Winston

“You have to change your life for yourself, and it’s about the fun of getting there – sitting in the tour van, breaking down on the side of the road, you know, having a laugh with the guys in the band, making mistakes with nobody watching.” ~ Imelda May

Self Improvement · Uncertainty

Dear Me

I have been around some young people over the past weeks and am excited by their passion and troubled by their despair (in the same person (or maybe all persons)).
I don’t seem to have any meaningful advice for them to celebrate their enthusiasm or lift them from their anguish. Ther swings, which I suffered because of a mental illness, are wide and deep. I don’t know what to say because when I was bouncing from manic to depressive, nothing helped and almost everything hurt. If someone significant in my life reached out, I rejected them and their words because they couldn’t understand what I was going through.
I started wondering, what advice the today I would give to the fifteen-year-old? What should I tell/remind the seventy-five-year-old version? Does distance give me any perspective?
Dear 15 year-old Me,
I do remember what you are going through. The pain and sorrow that couldn’t be labelled but was tempered by pulling the blankets up over your ears and screaming in silence. The weight on your chest didn’t leave but it hurt a little less when the sights and sounds of the world were walled away. I remember the shrieking tension that rose up as a reversal of emotions waded slowly through the muck. The extraordinarily bright light, the squishiness of your palette at the touch of your tongue, the nauseating speed of everything swirling around me without seeming to make progress were welcomed because it meant that in minutes, hours or days I would be at the top of my game; unstoppable, invincible, joyous and delicious. It all passed and I survived even when I didn’t want to. The best advice is just that -” This too shall pass”. It sounds meaningless and trite but so would the medical explanation that took another 25 years to uncover. Knowing that the anxiety didn’t have a foundation and that whether some girl liked me or hated me isn’t the end of the world isn’t helpful or at 15 even believable. I could offer that when it passes, you will once again be stronger and eventually you will have the courage to share the depths and the heights with someone who cares and she will ‘insist’ that you seek professional help. After a few years of evading, avoiding and resisting you will relent and in your case that is the beginning of a more joyful and productive life. This too shall pass.
With hope,
Me, nearing retirement

Dear 75 year-old Me,

Looking at you from 13 years in the past, I see a vibrant, loving, caring man. Someone who is still healthy. Someone who is joyously still married and sharing a meaningful life with your beloved of more than 50 years. The perspective from this vantage point is that all of that is possible and if you aren’t living hale and hearty and happy, it is my fault. I didn’t set you up by continuing to build on the good blessings of today.
I know you have a great relationship with your grandchildren because I strived to keep the relationships meaningful and unique. You are aging well, with little stress and still living an adventure because that is how I engineered the years between 60 and 75. Even if an illness has arisen, I took the steps to mitgate it and I battled the demon to a draw so you can live in an abundance of love, laughter and learning.My advice to you as I turn 75 is “accept your responsibilities for today – to love well, laugh loud, leap and learn, and accept your responsibility to set up the 90 year-old us for a remarkable encore with great grandchildren and wisdom and wonder and love”

With hope and confidence,

Today Me

Original Thought · Self Improvement

Wow, Wow, Wow!

I had a breakfast meeting today and at the end of the hour, she said: ” I dare you not tp be wowed”. The circumstances, she was referring to were clear and when we got to the appointed wow point, I certainly was wowed.

When was the last time that you allowed yourself to be awed? Have you been blown away by something in the last six months? Have you heard someone tell a story that blew your mind? Did you read an essay, a story, a book that left you changed?

Or are you cynically reserved in your response to the world around you? Do you expect to be astonished? Are you willing and able to be filled with amazement? What are you waiting for? Isn’t life meant to be joyously and lavishly enjoyed?

awe

I am open to being impressed (not easily) often. I am committed to keeping my eyes open to wonder. When I look for it, it rises up and surprises me in ways that two minutes before, I wouldn’t have imagined. When I am inspired early in the day, I am inspired often throughout the day. Wow seems to beget wow. In a state of awe readiness, I am more aware and appreciative.

Not coincidentally, I am also more ready to be a source of awe. The work I do is better to best when I have been lifted by beauty, majesty, creativity and surprise. Rigid gives way to curious. Yesterday frees up a different tomorrow. Ambiguity celebrates and status quo retreats. As yet unimagined directions and original animations to long-standing questions or issues arise. When my work is better to best (rather than mediocre to good), I witness excellence more often (in myself and others).

Like so many things; trust, love, courage, allowing myself/ourselves to be amazed is a choice that gets easier the more often to choose it and the rewards magnify with each instance.

Are you ready to be amazed? Choose to be wowed, this afternoon, I dare you.

Make Today Remarkable,

B

Self Improvement

River Cleanup

Why has become the big question. Of the W’s and H, Simon Sinek and others have lead us to understand our ‘why’ ahead of any other question. This is a laudable approach, as having an approach is better than winging it (maybe), but may act as a stalling tactic. It can also lead to perfection bias. (If it doesn’t meet the why test completely, then it shouldn’t be done.) The way I use why isn’t as a genesis test but as an omega confirmation.
For me, when I know the what, where, how and when I can test it against why. Why doesn’t generate the action it serves to align it and confirm it through the strategic positioning.
If I see litter alongside the pathway, I can think “that is terrible, someone should pick it up”. Who should that be? – Me? Does taking responsibility for helping solve what I encounter fit with my values? Yes – so the who is me. What should I do? If I pick up the trash and hide it so no one can see it, does that conform with my value of doing the best that I can? No – so I need to do something else. If I pick up the garbage and carry it a couple of blocks to a receptacle, would that serve my purpose? Yes -ok, that’s what I will do. I will come back at the end of the week and remove that piece of rubbish. No – that doesn’t fit with my belief that action always is better than delaying. Do it now.
OK, I will charge into the bushes and grab up the mess. Even though that meets my action bias, it contradicts my value of safety so I need to consider some of the possible hazards and plan to act in a safe manner.
So I pick up the trash, right now, in a safe manner and carry it to a nearby trash can. Who, what, how, where, when all confirmed by my why.

Thanks to everyone in Calgary who is doing that exact thing this morning during the Annual River Cleanup. You and your efforts are appreciated. Be safe, be well.

river cleanup

Thanks For making today remarkable,

B

Original Thought · Self Improvement

I Know, Does She?

Power and privilege are interchangeable as the ladder and the wall that allows some to climb higher than others. Sometimes, the support is the wall of power that defends the ladder that infers license to wield additional power. My array of pretentious permits; race, gender, age, education, confidence, place of birth, time of birth, wealth all conveys unearned and unwarranted perceptions (both internal and external) of where I fit in relation to others. I can deny, ignore, undermine, or accept the condition and/or choose to deny, ignore, undermine, or accept the responsibility that comes with the state. Power and privilege can be a destructive and abusive force but it can also be an equity building mechanism if used as a strength to strengthen others. If someone with power agrees to either use their influence to reshape the landscape or willingly demonstrates that they are able to share power or is compelled to cede to authority (a different brand of power, equally susceptible to corruption), then the dynamic can create a semblance of equity.

Education and intrinsic knowledge are the great levelers and are the most difficult to distribute across birthright barriers (or any other concession advantage). Can we go much beyond creating infrastructure? Public education serves as a conduit to the egalitarian expression of opportunity but genetics, socioeconomic realities, parental involvement, peer influence, resource availability, familial and kinship experiences, and expectations have an impact on the how widely the opportunity is accepted and exploited. Imagine that two students of equal ability but from widely different homes are provided with the necessities of learning; same school, same teacher, same curriculum and same cohort. They have the same attendance (nearly perfect) and the same disposition towards classroom learning. One student has parents that have attended and graduated from university who work white color jobs and are home for supper every evening. The household is relatively quiet, well appointed, and has an Internet-ready computer. The second student’s parents both work two part-time jobs in the service sector and struggle to earn enough to maintain their rental accommodations and pay all their bills. While they try to provide a good model, they are usually working before the student rises and don’t get home until 8 or 9 pm. The home has an older computer without the ability to connect to the Web.
While the public playing field is level, the private has barriers and embedded disadvantages.
One child will likely acquire more knowledge, better grades, and have a richer understanding of the importance of post-secondary education. He will have access to better employment opportunities and his knowledge (and society’s admiration) will add to a power imbalance.

This wandering, wondering post began when a question about knowledge popped into my head a week ago. Is epistemology always privileged? The summary of my meanderings is above and my conclusion is that always is too strong a qualifier. But, there is a definite advantage to having knowledge and the ability to learn. The imbalance magnifies through each life-stage and may be insurmountable by high school.

Under our current equality frame, I can’t imagine a solution. In an equitable model, where each student received what they need, we may be able to offset disadvantages but populist pressures seem opposed to anything resembling equitable treatment.

I can only do what I can do, we can only do what we can do. What I have figured out is that I have some skills and abilities (as do you) that would be an asset to one student. I have or could easily acquire mobile Internet access. I can read and comprehend difficult material and can share my understanding in one-on-one volunteer tutor sessions. I can encourage the young people in my life to demonstrate that they care by ‘helping’ a fellow student.

Is this a perfect solution? No, or at least not yet. Would or could a bureaucracy create and sustain a better solution? Likely not. Would we be a better community, city, country if we cared enough to involve ourselves in each other’s lives? Definitely.

Make Today Remarkable for someone else,

B