It occurs to me as I am sitting in the arena. Friends next to me, family nearby, and screaming fans all around me. Happiness is here. Happiness is present, are you? I thought for a moment that this place might be the happiest place on earth. A hockey game, that is where happiness was present in that moment. The jumbotron was capturing smiles, cheers, dancing, singing, it was “happiness” personified by a thousand of my closest hockey friends/fans.
Earlier that day I was having breakfast with the one who could be my sister. This time it was a feeling that washed over me that whispered “this is home” as I could feel the calm overcome me. Being in the presence of one that knows me better than myself and loves me more than myself is a gift. The thing these two very different experiences have in common is that I would have missed the moments if I had not been present. If I had not left enough peace within to quiet my mind to experience the moment, I could not have felt the jubilation of the hockey game or the peace in my quiet brunch.
Today I am here alone and once again experiencing something so similar that it occurred to me that this peace, happiness, and presence is available to me anytime I choose it. Here I sit alone, cleaning up paperwork, organizing, listening to music, and realizing that this is bliss. Do I dare interrupt this moment for any other obligation, no, for this is what presence affords us, the choice to stay still, right where we are, now, in the moment, present.
Arrival was abrupt. Unpacking my car and starting the klutzy balance of suitcase, duffel bag, yoga mat and other “essentials” into the building that welcomes you more like a prison and less like a resort. Three steps up into the foyer (very loose concept) and realizing it is 100 degrees inside and there are no elevators would be my first reality checks, this was not intended to be a vacation. I walk down the hallway to check that the “2” before my room number “200” would suggest that I am on the second floor, secretly hoping that these ground floor rooms were not numbered like hotel rooms. It is confirmed, I am on the second floor. Lugging my luggage (ironic the two words…ha!) up the stairs and down to the last room in the hall I find room 200 and I am not sure if I am relieved or reticent to see what lies behind the door.
I open the door to my room I am hit with a more intense wave of heat and am reminded that the website said there was no a/c but “there are box fans for your comfort”. I immediately open all of the windows and doors and find that luxury item, box fan, that I would power up on max. As I look around the room I am almost giddy with the realization that this is far from the luxury hotels that I sell for a living. It is vanilla and nondescript. This would be the last time I would recall anything about the décor of this room and instead would regard this space as a respite from the intense work we were doing. It would become a “retreat” indeed allowing me to ground myself and center myself once again.
The views were absolutely stunning and once the windows were open it was apparent why no a/c would be needed. The fresh air blowing in from the tops of the trees was magnificent and would have been missed otherwise.
I set up my laptop and iPad and put all of my notebooks and journals on to the desk as if I was getting ready to work. That would be the last time I would visit that space. As it turned out there is much to do in silence and none of it involves a desk, a laptop or books. Wow, what was I in for, this was going to be an experience for sure.
Here we go…
On day one I wake early and start searching on my Uber Eats app for Starbucks. Yep, there is one, but there are no drivers. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore! I get up and get dressed and decide I will drive down the mountain to get my two cappuccinos. This would inevitably become my new morning routine for the week. As with everything that has happened thus far, I would come to realize the gift of being able to experience the drive down the mountain and back up again. The familiarity of the winding roads and silhouettes of houses as the sun would rise brought me back to the many visits to my mom in Virginia. I would wake up in the coming days looking forward to this drive. The gratitude in places I was not seeking would become a familiar theme of this experience.
I would start my mornings with that drive, those cappuccinos a sunrise every morning that reminded me that there is always a reason to rise again. New beginnings and new horizons are always ours for the taking; every 24 hours.
As I make my way down the stunning walk to the place we would practice silence for the week I was joined by 36 other silent-seekers and one eclectic couple that would become our spiritual guides. The room was brimming with anxious energy as we all sat pensively on our yoga mats. I realize now coming out on the other side how naïve I was on that first day. As I sat there staring at our instructors I had no way of knowing how hard the next three days would be and the range of emotions that we would go through. In hindsight, I find the courage of our instructors to be inspiring as they were the only ones in the room on that first day that knew what was going to happen…and they did it anyway.
After orientations and breathing practices we were partnered up with a “buddy” that had been chosen for us based on proximity. Our first introduction to our “buddy” would be to tell our life story in ten minutes in the third person. What. The. Heck! My initial response was fear of telling my story to someone that surely could not understand where I came from, how was I going to tell a complete stranger my choices and consequences in this life and still be respected? It was decided that the person in the pair with the longest hair would go first, whew, I was off the hook, at least for ten minutes. She (my buddy) began to tell her story in the third person and I was wholly impressed at how good she was at this and then her story started to wash over me and I found myself sitting, paralyzed by her words. How could this be? Her story was so similar, yet so different. Could it be that this person that had been chosen for me was more like me than different? This would become another proof point that I was exactly where I was supposed to be; on that mountain, in that room, on that yoga mat, sitting in front of her; another moment of divine intervention as my buddy was surely chosen FOR me.
All of this chatting created a cacophony of voices, laughter and nervous energy that of course would lead up to the announcement that we were going to step into silence. We had been in session for 24-hours and now were presumably ready to be thrust into silence as the session was ending. We walked out of our class into silence with little instruction outside of “stay in silence”. There were hints during the day of the more obvious “rules”, no talking, no phones, no tv, but we were mostly left to our own devices, or not. I walked back to my room in the dark, wondering where in the world I was that I could be instructed to walk the half-mile up the mountain to my room alone. As with previous themes, this would be the last time I would worry, let alone think, about walking alone in the dark. This mountain was washing over me like a security blanket and in safety, vulnerability is allowed. As I entered my room I was immediately aware of the sounds around me. We had only started this journey and it seemed as though everything was amplified. As I turned on the water to brush my teeth I was acutely aware of the faucet and powerful flow of water. This heightened awareness of sound would continue throughout my time in silence, at times revealing nature’s wonders and other times annoying the shit out of me.
I would go to bed without tv as I had done the night before only as a trial and now as a sentence. These would be my first victories as I have always fallen asleep to tv as long as I can remember. Even as a young child, I remember there being a black and white tv in my room that had no reception, I would fall asleep to the sound of “snow” every night. I am not sure what my parent’s attempt was in that added “amenity”, but it set a habit in stone for life.
When I woke in the morning, still in silence, I would begin to see the range of emotions that would become a roller coaster ride as warned that it might. My trip to Starbucks was uneventful. Our mornings would always start the same with yoga and then breakfast with some alone time in between the break until our 10a session would start. Somewhere in that “break”, the emotion of the few hours of silence realized and the days of silence pending in front of me hit like a ton of bricks. As I sat on the side of the hill in front of our classroom I would completely lose it, crying until I was sobbing. I was grateful that we were in silence as I could not explain where the emotion was coming from or why I was crying. I just was and at the moment I knew I was “in it”.
As the days would go on the meditations would as well. We would meditate for hours on end. Meanwhile, emotions were on a roller coaster that ranged from the rockiness of a wooden coaster to some, few, that was as smooth as silk. When you sit in meditation you are doing the “work” you are inevitably here to do. You are training the mind. Sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in…and we’re off! I would spend hours fighting back the thoughts that would flood in like a tsunami of randomness, contemplations and plans for the future. I would try to swat them away like the flies that they were but realize that when the flies are in the ointment your swatter is defenseless.
I would find that range of emotions at its height on Day Two as I was ready to quit. Was this normal or was it my typical “MO” of always finding an escape hatch when things got uncomfortable? I was pissed that we were going to meditate again and again and again. I would submit a question for that night’s Q&A asking why we were meditating so much to which our instructor would offer his wisdom after reading the question out loud. His answer was, so appropriate, “Well, you did sign up for a meditation retreat.” HA!!! I would find the ridiculousness of the question and his answer the comical break I needed to let it happen. As the meditations wore on I would come to realize that this is the process of finding the “self”. It does not happen in a few meditations. It happens from the constant practice, one right after another, of quieting the mind. This realization would happen days after this Q&A and when it did it was existential.
Embracing the present
One of the things that became very clear early on was the amount of control that one has to turn over to truly be taken (sometimes dragged) into this process. The only way to get to the “self” is to allow yourself to be guided by trusting the process. For many of the people in the room, this was an effort in itself. “What are we going to do next?” “How, why, when…” “What do you mean I cannot go to the bathroom when I want?” Control; is a bitch. You come to realize (or you don’t) that you have to relinquish it because all that you are wielding in your own hands prevents you from seeing what you can become.
To be present is sometimes not knowing what will happen next. You are aware that there is more on the horizon and you pick your head up for brief checks to make sure you are still on the path otherwise you keep your head down and focus. This thought of keeping my head down occurred to me many times on my journey into silence. When I went on hikes, which is one of the very few things we were allowed to do, you had to keep your head down to avoid tripping on a rock or a root, and would only look up to make sure you were still on the path. Head down = Good. When I would walk around the grounds I would keep my head down to avoid eye contact, since simply pleasantries would threaten my silence. Head down = Good. Keeping your head down became a “good thing” and as with all things in life what is good is also bad, but in these moments “head down” equaled “focus” and that was “good”.
Breaking the Silence
As the final moments of the retreat had arrived we were prepared to “break the silence” in a ritual that would bring value to the first words that you would speak. It would be ceremonious because after all of the silence surely you would have something to say that deserved to be heard. We gathered in a circle and were asked to say one word that would break our silence. This would be the most powerful moment in what had already felt like millions of powerful moments. As we went around the circle each person would reveal their voice in a word and then share why they had come to the silent retreat. The last part of sharing was not asked of us but something that seemed to come as a release and felt natural after spending hours of silence together. We had gotten to know each other through wide eyes hidden on masked faces, passing each other back and forth between breaks, finding safety in our silent numbers. Now we were hearing the voices of those that had come to be our brethren and felt a responsibility of sorts to share. As the stories came flowing into the circle it created a centrifugal force that was apropos for the roller coaster to come to a final stop.
My “word” changed numerous times as the emotions of their stories came tumbling out in front of me. “Acceptance”, “fear”, wait…no, the words, every one of them said by the 22 people that stood in the circle before I applied, how could I choose one? When it was my turn, I stood up holding on to the column beside me and said the only thing I felt at that moment “OVERWHELMED”. It is not only what I was feeling at that moment but inevitably what brought me to that circle. Overwhelmed by my thoughts and my emotions now in front of these warriors and ironically also the reason I had driven up the mountain originally. I was overwhelmed by life, my life, thoughts that had no longer become a choice to act on but instead, had become a directive summoning emotions and reactions at a dizzying pace, literally as I was suffering from vertigo brought on in silence.
There I stood and spoke my testimony. “My word is “overwhelmed” because that is how I feel right now. I am brimming with energy feeling a tingling sensation throughout my body. My word is also “acceptance”. I realized I was in good company on Day One and that allowed me to be vulnerable to this process. My word is also “responsibility” because I owe it to myself to carry everything I have learned into my life and I take the responsibility of each and every one of your stories as mine to keep in solace. My final word is “fear”. Fear is what I felt when I was driving in and realizing that the last time I was in silence was as I sat at my mother’s bedside the last three weeks of her life until she took her last breath. I did not know if I could ever sit in silence again, but I did.” …and then I sat down into a puddle of my own tears. This must be the definition of cathartic…
This word has always fascinated me and at this moment of release, I fully came to understand not only the definition of the word but the weight of it. This word would become a defining word for the “silent” retreat to be used for me and only me. It is not a word I would repeat or use to describe my experience to others but acknowledge deep within. We use “heavy” words to express our emotions, to place emphasis on our stories without ever truly understanding the true meaning. I realized in this moment of “catharsis” that there were very few times in my life that I had been here, truly.
Everyone has one, a story, your story, our story. All of our stories begin with “Once upon a time…” and inevitably we spend all of our lives seeking our “…happily ever after”.
So many themes revealed themselves this week as a final conclusion to a novel that had more ups and downs than a harlequin romance. Your story is my story and my story is yours and by telling my story I share OUR story. We have all been through something, everything and ironically nothing. Every single one of us can tell a tale of tragedy in our lives as easily as one of victory. The degree to which that story affects us is personal. Your story is no less tragic, better or mundane than mine, it is simply your story, which is ours collectively.
“When all you have is eye contact, devoid of speech you see yourself through the eyes of others.” – Lori Kiel, silent retreat revelation.
I saw myself in the exuberant girl so full of energy she could barely contain herself in silence. Her giggles, moans, grunts and loud motions drew the attention of the room. At first, what felt like a distraction soon came to be a mirror of myself. I recognized myself in her “bull in a china shop” persona and immediately knew why she was there.
I saw myself in the woman two yoga mats over from me that would look at me as if she could see into my soul. She was just a bit older, a tad wiser, summoning me with her gaze that told me “she saw me”. As we broke the silence she would come to me to sit and share, of course, she would because surely she felt that energy as well.
I saw myself in the “buddy” I was assigned the day I first laid eyes on her on Day One. Tattoos, gorgeous skin, long flowing hair and a fierceness to her eyes that let you know, she was not to be messed with; just like me. As we were tasked with sharing our life story (in the third person, in ten minutes) her words would flow so eloquently from her soul revealing a life that was shattered, shocking and leaving me absolutely speechless. It would be my turn to tell my story and I would fumble for the words, not even sure of my name in the third person. What she could not know is that as she told her story, it was mine as well. How could that be? I am immediately reminded that we are all more alike than different. She was as shocked as I revealed that I too had walked a similar path. Her assumption of me, my appearance, my demeanor, never let on that I too had seen life like hers, we were safe, together.
I saw others, those familiar to me my mother, my friends, my kids, in those warriors that surrounded me in silence. I saw my friends in the eyes of three others as we were tasked with a “gazing exercise”. We sat in front of three people and could only stare into each other’s eyes to reveal if we were ready to come out of silence. The first two people I sat in front of were new to me. We had not come into contact during the retreat and in gazing into each other’s masked faces I recognized their eyes. The first was younger, scared, kind eyes that were holding back. So familiar to me and reminded me that the kindness behind those eyes should not be confused with weakness, I know her and she is fierce. The second was familiar. She looked like me, 35 years of me. Round, soft, sweet, flowing hair and a gaze that seemed to create compression on my heart. It was physical. I could feel her squeezing my heart, how, what was this…later when she spoke her final word I would come to know her name. Of course, it was that of my childhood best friend. Of course.
Driving Down the Mountain
I thought a lot about what the departure from silence would look like, would I talk, would I stay silent, turns out much like life, it just happened. When you are in a cocoon, enveloped in silence, safe on the top of a mountain, the idea of driving out of that space is daunting. I had been warned before going that how you come out is as important as the work you do during the retreat.
As I got into the car to take the 9+ hour drive home, I was incredibly energized. This again was to be expected, or not, as expectations are “the thief of joy” as one of the many lessons I have learned this last week. Having experienced the range of emotions and feelings I had come to know I was grateful that today I was energized where days before I was exhausted.
GPS set, water in the cup holder and let’s roll!
I call my husband first to tell him I am out of silence and find my first attempt to explain what I had just experienced. I had already decided that I would not share, at least not verbally, this experience with many others as putting it into words would only fall short. He of course knows why I went and was ready to listen and of course support the changes I am coming away with. He is relieved to hear that my resolve is much of what he has told me, begged of me and offered in wisdom through the years. Ironic that it takes a silent retreat to get it to sink in.
The next phone call comes in from my youngest son interrupting my husband and I’s call to tell my husband that he has locked the keys to his car in the trunk. AND HERE WE GO, cue the song “…back to life, back to reality” – Soul II Soul.
After solving his crisis my youngest son, who is now driving the long ride home from his friends, calls and just wants to talk. This is golden. As a parent of three sons, you come to learn that conversations like this one are precious. They are not the “What are you doing today?” calls, they are not trivial, these are the ones that when they happen you cherish and stay present. This time I am present on an entirely different level, good for him, awesome for me. This is a gift.
The last call on my drive home is my oldest son and his wife to “check on me”. They are always light-hearted and make it easy to share without effort. As he is the quieter one in our family his first question is if I made it through the silence without talking. We share some laughs about my experience and I am left feeling loved, as always. He is so gentle with me. This word “gentle” is one I would hear many times throughout my meditations and would remind myself again and again. This is a tattooable word…not that I would…but noting in the case I ever get the itch.
She’s SAFE, Sliding into Home
In between the calls from my family, the best call I had on my drive home was from the one person I had just experienced this retreat with, Jill.
She and I met 15 years ago when working for the same company. We came fast friends and long after going our separate ways and career paths we have remained close. We have an affinity for wellness and Buddhism and we are each other’s “go-to” for retreats. When this idea of going on a silent retreat came to me she was the first one I called to see if she wanted to join me. Of course, she said “yes”.
It’s interesting going through a period of silence with someone as you cannot communicate verbally yet you soon realize that knowing each other is all the communication you need. The energy, the eye contact, the moments…are as comforting and telling as the words you cannot say. We would hike the mountains around us every day using sign language and caveman-like grunts to communicate. We laughed, a lot! We would even get into a bit of trouble as we accidentally wandered off of a trail and onto the land of a very disgruntled man and his two very loud dogs! Uh Oh…
As we were not able to speak until the very end of the retreat we had a lot to talk about in downloading our shared experience on our long drive home, she back to DC and me to Orlando. Jill had left before me and had already experienced “life” in her new mindset. She shared her few experiences with me as a warning of what was to come.
As we downloaded it was a resolve in closing the experience and unexpectedly necessary. My very wise friend and fellow meditator dispelled her wisdom and takeaways with me with her best advice being…
“You can now access silence anytime you want it.” Ironically I always could.
As it turns out silence was always available to me. Accessing it was not. I have now been equipped with tools to truly access that space in which the quiet can resolve and ready my mind for the noise as I decide to allow it access.
What I am taking away
There were many lessons through stories that were told to us throughout the retreat. Again the facilitators had a captive audience; we sat like kindergarteners on the floor looking up at them as our teachers. We were captive indeed, voices silenced and seeking wisdom by the two that seemingly knew how to find peace. I would later tell them (when granted my voice again) that I was in awe of their courage to take a group through this process as the emotions that would bubble up would sometimes be focused on them; anger, disbelief, love…yes by end of this retreat I would come to love these two courageous humans.
While we were not able to use pad and paper during silence I would have to remember the lessons I learned based on what resonated and “stuck” versus what I voraciously consumed in notes. This as many that know me is tough. I rarely sit and do anything without a keyboard in front of me allowing all that enters to produce on the page in front of me. Again, another blessing in disguise as I realized that much of that notetaking was more about keeping “busy” so I did not have to simply sit within myself. Lessons learned. One at a time. Here are some that were taught and others that I came up with within my own observations of the “self”:
When the water hits the rock, the water is not interrupted, it is not harmed by the rock, it remains unfazed. It simply splashes back unto itself and proceeds to flow around the rock. The rock does not stop the flow, it changes it ever so slightly but it still flows. Be the water, not the rock. I am the water.
When you walk like a flame everything you come into contact with becomes fuel.
The body is the wick and the mind is the glow.
What we resist persists.
Vicious cycle involves thought that evokes emotion that elicits reaction. Allowing the thought to present itself dismiss itself without emotion or reaction is the key to peace.
Jill’s favorite story of wisdom is that of the “empty boat” and I have been regarding it since coming home as well so I share it here as taken from the web for better clarity:
There’s a Zen story in which a man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first, it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete’s sake, turn aside!” But the boat just comes right at him faster and faster. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.
The other boat is always empty, even when there’s someone steering it. There is never anyone to get angry with. Even if the person steering the other boat deliberately rammed our boat, his behavior had nothing to do with us. Anything anyone else does is done for their own reasons, and much of the time they don’t even know the reasons. When we see life as it is, rather than our thoughts about it, we see that every time we look for an enemy, someone to hate, someone to blame, there’s never anyone there. Just an empty boat on a foggy lake.
My own epiphany occurred on the final sunrise. Of course, it did. As I was sitting at the very top of the steps of the main meditation hall, two cappuccinos beside me, shivering from the 40 degrees of cool air blowing I took these pictures and the following came to me…
There is power in meditation. Positively, back breaking, soul stripping power. Sit still, breathe in, breathe out…stay a while. You don’t have a choice. You can’t run away from the mind, the ego, the intellect or the self. Here we sit as one HARMonizing. Take it all in, it’s already there.
Sitting on the bed in my 18th floor Dallas hotel room with the window open, sun shining through and in the moment. The moment is solitary but soothing, and silence is recognizable in this space.
Silence showed itself like a long-lost friend. It was refreshing and revealing. I liked it and wanted to stay in it. When will I see you again and I can’t wait are the themes that resonate after I ruminate.
HBR article “In Praise of Extreme Moderation” spoke to me this morning. This is an article that will resonate with every one of us regardless of where we fall; moderate or extreme. It calls out the new norm of practicing extremism in all that we do. It calls out the “new” need to do everything to a level of excess. Earning badges of courage and worthiness is where we find our value in today’s society. A society that reveres everyone as “something” whatever the label or title. A new world where competitiveness is a label that has become the norm and when lacking it speaks to ones drive, or lack thereof.
We are swept up in extremism so easily as companies push their products and services as only best consumed in excess. The tell us to:
Only write if you have an audience and are working on a bestseller.
Only run if you can get a PR every time and not only win a medal but rank.
Only eat what you are prescribed via a specific diet and track to prove you are doing it.
Post everything you do publicly as proof that you are doing what you say you are and therefore validating.
It is so easy to sucked into this way of living, or at least attempted living. It is maddening when we are in it and it is reckless when we are not.
The article brings us back to what is “enough”. When is enough enough. That is as personal a decision as it is public. It is when one-by-one we start removing the value assigned to extremes. It stops when we applaud those living in the middle and calm the accolades around those that are pushing the bar so far that reaching for it threatens everything you are if you don’t land on top.
The best way to conclude is to quote the author who sums it up perfectly.
But I have spent a lifetime honing my daily practice, worshipping at the altar of “good enough.” Today, I am neither superrich nor superfit nor supersuccessful. But I have just enough of each to qualify in my own personal marathon, the race for a balanced life. In the end, maybe this only really matters to me and my dog, who does get a lot of good walks out of it. To me, that’s enough. – Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
This is where I find myself, often…bringing it back or taking it all back. Longing to simplify. I overcomplicate things in my life on all levels; personally, professionally, mentally, physically, for the sake of… – vision? – success? I continue to add more things on my proverbial plate until I am overwhelmed and stuffed so full of “things” that I truly cannot see the forest for the trees. In my life I have always been black and white; everything has to be done to the max or not at all and finding the gray…well that is simply a color in my wardrobe. Examples of this character trait or flaw is in everything I do. Reading, ah yes I love reading. But when I place a goal to read one book a week, it makes reading unenjoyable, it becomes the task as it is defined. Eating, ah yes I LOVE eating. But when I calculate every single calorie I eat, I am miserable. What is it that makes a person want for more than is humanly possible? What is it that makes obsession and compulsivity choose the same brain?
The compulsion to do more feeds the obsession to do it all and perfectly. This combination is as fruitful as eating ice cream and working out; the two simply do not go together. To find order in an obsessive-compulsive brain you have to flip the script on those thoughts that drive the disorder to find order. You use the compulsive thoughts to serve as energy or drive and the obsession to create order and routine. To do this you must first simplify by quickly defining all that is black and/or white and putting them in that gray space that gives room for everything. In this gray world everything has a place, and there is a place for everything.
I think it is worth defining it scientifically first to understand what this “OCD” truly is, and then taking it apart to give respect to what it is not.
Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions)
“OCD” is a term that is regularly described along with “ADD” and “Type A” by people that are self-gratifying a place of perfectionism. It is overused in today’s society as a quasi-compliment when the reality of these disorders is exactly that; “dis-order” or the lack of order. My first opinions formed on the use of these disorders as a self-diagnosis of perfection was when my child was diagnosed with ADHD. It was not a compliment by any stretch of the imagination and flipped our families calm on its head. ADHD in my middle-child showed itself in an inability to turn off those secondary sounds that the rest of us simply do not hear nor acknowledge. For them the cacophony of life was like being at a county fair 24/7. Sirens, voices, clicks, wind…it mattered not how loud or minute, the sounds would take over all focus and leave my child in a panic. For this reason you will never, never hear me define myself by such diagnosis. Instead the acknowledgement of “like” symptoms are worthy without owning the diagnosis of something much more serious.
What I am familiar with is a brain that is overactive. A brain that has a strong desire to learn, to forge new paths, and to lead. A brain that rarely quiets. A blessing and a curse on every given day. I wake with the strongest resolve to take on the day and make a difference and go to bed exhausted by the defeat of the day that simply does not beat to the same drum. This is where simplifying and meeting yourself where you are is the best option or treatment if one were needed.
I have done this so many times before and yet isn’t that the obsessive side of this illness, that we do it again and again and again? Yes. I think and think and think of the same things all day, every day, 100 times a day. The difference in what I experience is that it is still within my control. The pursuit of simple is what calms it all down and gives order. Here is how I exercise simplicity in my life with the hopes that you can deploy it in yours:
Write it all down – put it all on paper, every single thing that is taking thought. List it!
Schedule it – to start to remove it from the list you have to find a place for it in the day. Put it in your schedule and not just on your To Do list.
Finish it – to be able to let it go and move on! There is nothing better for resolve then to truly finish something.
These three things are powerful when put to use. The reality is that those that are obsessive-compulsive will sit and contemplate each of these three things for days, week, even years on end and never get to doing. I know, I have, and I still do. This is where we flip the script and take the best traits of obsession; adherence to rules and order and compulsion; heightened creativity to resolve to solve for the very thing that leaves us disordered and unresolved.
Today do it. Write it all down, or find the list that you have previously written. Decide on the one thing that you are going to do and do it to completion. Cross it off the list with the boldest red pen you can find and get on to the next. The simply act of doing that one thing will lift the weight of the overall load and get you one-step closer to resolve.
I conclude with the proof that I am taking my own advice. As I sat to write today I realized that there were 25 blog entries that had been started and never finished. In concluding on this piece I have completed three today. Three that will not be waiting for me tomorrow. Three pages that had the weight of thirty that leave room for new blogs tomorrow.
How do we stop the chase? We start it almost from birth. We are motivated to chase development as we enter this world, benchmarked against other babies, toddlers and children until our physicality has reached its peak. The chase then changes lanes to the mental capacity of knowledge as we learn and are tested via “standardized” benchmarks to determine where we sit amongst the pack and which then determines where we head to next; job, tech school, or college. For what? All to steep us for the chase that will begin when standing on our own two feet. The chase to be like others our age or better and long for what others want; regardless of our ability or means.
This dreadmill of the chase goes on for years; through our twenties, thirties, and into our forties before we are faced with fifty. To most, we hope that it is midlife, but we cannot know. We look at where we are in this moment after 50 years of chasing and find ourselves stopped, facing our new reality and wondering what is next and worse than wondering is why we should, could, or would do anything more.
This leaves us pondering the state of being versus doing. After all, once you consider stopping the chase there is no more doing. So where does that leave us? To be or not to be…that is the next question! The chase exhausts us yet when we stop we do not recover we reconsider. We feel guilty for not chasing. We feel lost on a path so worn that the path is now a hole we have dug ourselves into and you cannot chase if you don’t climb, if you don’t climb does this become the end?
The real deal is that we spend so many years chasing, climbing ladders, and proving the ground we stand on that when it is time to stop and enjoy the view we can’t see straight. At what point have we put in the time to be absolved of the work and enjoy the reward. There is no sign that appears that says you have now “Arrived”. Arrival is where the chase ends.
Ironic as it may be the chase ends at the start line of a new beginning. It does not require training because the work has been done and now the cruise control can be “set”. The funny thing about cruising is that it does not require anything more than what you have already learned and now have the resources to do; which is to be. You don’t apply the gas and yet you don’t put on the brakes. You cruise.
So here we sit, those of us at the FINISH LINE of a race well done, trained for, and accomplished. We may have a few medals around our neck even if just for participation. Now is the time to sit back and relish in the reward of all that was accomplished along the way. The learnings, the failures, and most of all the wins only made greater by the embellishment of storytelling. For here is where wisdom begins. We have earned the right of wisdom by stopping the chase. Regardless of the lessons learned, wisdom is all of ours to share for at this point in life there are no benchmarks, tests, or ladders to climb.
This is about being present. This is about how to know you are here and not there. This is about bringing it back to center. The most valuable lesson I learned in the final days of my mother’s life was in presence. Being present meant being there with her physically, mentally, and spiritually. I promised myself as I walked away from that experience that I would forever live in “the moment”. Experiencing presence in such an extreme moment as the passing of one’s parent is intense and profound and while nothing we would ever want to repeat it is only worth the pain of the experience if you can experience the intensity of that presence in life without death.
The key to being present is giving focus to that moment and therefore checking for presence. The ultimate audit of presence is through the senses. Are you there? What are you seeing, what do you smell, what can you taste, what do you hear and what do you feel? This is how you bring it back to center. You cannot do this “audit” without moving back to the present moment. Our minds will wander and we will be reminded of something in our past or feel the pressure of what is to come in the future but checking in with our five senses will force, most gently, us back into the present moment.
Let’s try this out together. Using this moment as our present, as it is all we have and undeniably the present moment, let’s use the senses to audit our presence at this moment. Ask yourself these questions:
What do you see? What is in front of you? What is behind you? What is in the peripheral?
What do you smell? Immerse yourself in your environment. Acknowledge the obvious smells and hues of other smells in the air?
What do you hear? Go beyond the obvious that is in front of you and look for those accompaniments around you.
What do you feel? Again, mentally, spiritually but also in the environment. Is there a breeze or is it still? Are your fingers engaging in texture?
What do you taste? If you are eating search for the essence beyond the primary ingredient. Can you taste a spice or herb that is transient? If you are not eating what is the taste on your tongue or in your breath? Can you still identify the remnants of a previous meal or drink?
When this is read through as a process this can seem cumbersome or time-consuming however in practice it is quite simple and becomes a “pulse-check”. I was sitting with a friend at lunch yesterday and we were talking about “presence” and our monkey minds and at that moment I did a senses audit to embrace this moment that we were in. It was simple and yet the most valuable thing I had done all day; because I was checking for my ability to seize this very special moment and revel in the gift that it was and will now be remembered. This is the secondary benefit of “being in the moment” is that it then creates a more vivid memory to recall a moment spent in full presence. As I look back on that moment from yesterday I can now recall it more sweetly because I engaged all senses. It is now recalled as follows:
I could see my friend. I was also aware of the people moving around us from a distance coming and going.
I could smell the rich spice of my soup and the freshness of the vegetables in my sandwich. I could smell the fresh air blowing around us.
I could hear my friend and her intonations as we spoke about life. I could hear cars passing, I could hear the breeze blowing around us, serving up the fresh air.
I could feel my friends’ love for me. I could feel the tinge of coolness in the breeze. I could feel my gratitude for being in this moment and wanting to push pause on everything else in life.
I could taste the warmth of my soup, the texture of the french bread I was dipping in the soup, and the crispness of fresh vegetables in my sandwich. I could also taste the sweetness of fellowship as it made the physical taste more intense.
This recollection is now only available to me because I had the wherewithal to stop and check my presence, at that moment, through my senses. My friend was not aware of my internal audit as my going through it only intensified my presence.
Stop right now and do the audit at this moment. Reading a blog can seem so insignificant without acknowledging it with all five senses. Reading is seeing, but what does it make you feel, and what can you hear in the background as you read, what are you touching while you read, and is there a taste in your mouth of sweet, sour, or neutrality. While I realize that everything in life does not have to be “a moment” it is worth practicing in the insignificant moments to savor the significant moments through this practice.
Think about your favorite moments in life and they are likely those that engage all five senses and were also likely in places that were curated to engage all five senses. Watching a movie in a theater, hearing music at a concert, or eating food in a restaurant creates impact and demands presence as these experiences command your senses. These places are set-up to engage every sense and in doing so creates an intensity in the moment that is remembered and leaves the participant longing for the same experience again. But what is the experience you are left longing to repeat? It is likely not to see the same movie again, hear the same music, or eat the same food. The longing is likely to experience a moment when all five senses are engaged again where you are so caught up in the moment that you forget everything except that very moment. That is presence.
This blog is a reminder to us all that every moment has the ability to be fuller and more profound if you simply allow yourself the benefit of being present. It is a tool to be practiced to engage presence rather than acknowledge it. In a world that is pulling us in a million different places and abusing our senses, it is so important to stop and control what you are sensing. Be present in the places you want to be with the senses you want engaged.
This longing for likes has taken over our lives and our businesses as we now act based on the interaction we anticipate on social media. We decide what we will do that we can post on social media hoping to impress. We socialize and take selfies of the most impressive places we go to show our popularity or access. We show the shiniest sides of life to gain favor from strangers, acquaintances, and loved ones from afar. But why? What is it all for? More importantly, what is it doing to us as a society or worse as individuals?
The debate would not be worth the conversation if there was no truth in the trend of posting all that “appears” positive or affected. When the topic is brought up in conversation you will often hear people explain that they use social media to keep in touch with friends and relatives that live in different parts of the world. If this were really about keeping in touch the “longing for likes” would not exist. But instead, we post what we know will create reaction; positive reaction. Rarely do we see someone posting a selfie in the midst of an argument with their spouse or when fighting with their kids to do the dishes, or even better a selfie of them doing the dishes! Why in the world would we want anyone to believe that our lives are anything less than perfect? Comparison is the enemy of social media as many will admit. The fierce competition to do what your “friends” are doing takes on a life of its own.
Telltale are those that “take a break” from social media. Why would you need a break if you are only sharing with friends and relatives?
Social Media has become the place where we go to find “normal”, the place we go to be inspired and then share our version to see the reaction. Social Media makes us feel like we are a part of something which is a core value of human existence.
Quote from Psychology Today:
Feeling connected to a group of people or identifying with them, based on shared values, goals, or experiences, activates an innate sense of community. The human brain developed to its present form when we needed to live in tightly-knit communities to survive. The importance of community is seen in the high degree of communal contagion of emotions, which is a powerful, albeit unconscious force underlying social structure. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201004/core-value
Ironic to think that the sustenance of social media abounds in a human core value to commune. In this definition social media gives us access to communities that we otherwise would not be a part of because of distance, affluence, or culture. It allows us to share and belong to groups that we seek regardless of city, state, country, or continent. It allows us to share with others fearlessly what we would not share in-person. It allows us access. That access when used positively can expand our worlds and when used toxically can literally shut us down.
I, like many of you “long for likes”. I post my wins, my family, and that part of my life that I am fearless to display. I rarely show my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, or the darkest sides of my life. Doing so would be unacceptable in social circles and would come across as inappropriate and dramatic. I find this reality to be hypocritical.
Another point worth making is the theory that “I hold myself accountable” on social media because we all know that is not true. I don’t hold myself accountable on a public platform because no one is genuinely paying that much attention nor do they care whether you did what you said you were going to do. The fact that you did it once makes it “true” in social media culture. If you do one jog that you post on social media, you are a runner. If you make one post about the election, you are political. Think about it? When is the last time someone made a post that you searched their profile to find integrity on? Likely never. You accept it for what it is and in that the trust is fragile. It is surface-level, never running deep enough to hold anyone accountable.
Instead what we are all doing is scrolling through an infinite feed looking for those things that catch our eyes because they intrigue or inspire us or worse because they grab our attention if only through the eyes of a voyeur posing as curiosity. I no longer want to be a part of that culture.
Today I am making a conscious decision to change my social strategy. I will no longer post those things that are self-serving and instead will truly use the platform to share and learn. Share what I am learning in life. Share my thoughts on good books, and bad ones, movies, lectures, inspiration, stories, and all things in life WORTH sharing. Pics of my grandbabies, yep, those will happen from time-to-time, because after all who can resist; but the “longing for likes”…well that side of my social media persona…that side is retiring.