Tuesday, March 31, 2009


There is some very serious stuff going on in the world these days.

It's a shame that every charlatan and fear-monger comes out of the woodwork to show us how terrified we should be, and of course to offer instant solutions to problems that have been years in the making.

For example:

Fix your credit

Get a great job!

Find Jesus :)

Save your marriage.

Keep your house

None of these problems happen overnight.

Credit problems or facing foreclosure results from a major catastrophe, or a habitual problem with overspending.

Faith can come overnight, on the road to Damascus, but sustaining it takes time. You have to build relationships in your chosen faith community and with your god.

Experience and a career path leads to a great job, not an interview.

And marriages don't just end, any more than they just begin. It takes time to get to marriage (or should), it takes time to undermine or destroy one, and it takes a hell of a lot of time and effort to either maintain or fix it.

Joy comes from dealing well with the details of your life, and allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Abe Lincoln said that a person is about as happy as as he makes his mind up to be.

I agree.

The key is perspective. And it takes work.

And good perspective comes from two things - reframing the situation, and working on your thinking.

The first gives a short term fix and gets you thru moment to moment.

The second gives a solid foundation to your perspective, and old habits, that often sabotage you, fall away.

In college I struggled thru a variety of land mines. I had grants and work study, and later a two year scholarship (love AFROTC) but making ends meet was a constant battle. There were many times I wrote a check to the university bookstore, back when bank float was a reality, just so I could eat.

I knew then that no matter how bad my problems were in that moment, I could lift myself out of panic, self-pity and even anger with a simple device. I took the long view. I remembered my goals of making a successful business career, thought about the life I would have once I graduated, or even remembered that a paycheck was right around the corner.

By re-framing the problem I put it in perspective. It was a bad day, not a bad life. Maybe I had made a bad decision, but I could do better next time.

I also did the other necessary things, worked one, two or three jobs, hit the books, made friends who were in the same boat but also optimistic.

I got thru and learned, as most college kids do, how to manage my time and money.

For many years after I used that re-framing trick to look forward and backwards. Sometimes it was the satisfaction of getting thru college that made me feel better on a bad day. Because of course my financial struggles didn't disappear when I started working full time. I just had new issues, balancing income with expenses, managing debt, all the normal stuff of life.

I also continued to look forward to the future, a bright one, and I'm glad to say 24 plus odd years later, I've had a wonderful rewarding career.

The thinking side of this equation also leads to joy, but in a different way. Re-framing helps in the moment, but better thinking keeps us from falling into common pitfalls in the first place.

Our feelings are what lead us to happiness and even joy. We get a promotion, or fall in love or sit on a beach and have that great sense of well-being. We want to hold onto it.

But feelings have a mind of their own. They come unbidden. They sneak up on us, and we can crash easily if we aren't ready for them.

I heard someone say recently we aren't responsible for our feelings, but we are responsible for our thinking.

When we address the places where our thinking is twisted or off or dysfunctional, we can get a better grip on our feelings. Naturally we begin to question feelings that come from old patterns, if we get our thinking straight.

For example, some people are perfectionists, and set themselves up for disappointment. This is obvious because "stuff happens". Traffic makes you late, or you misspell something in an important report, that spell check missed. Your spouse burns dinner. Your kid makes a bad grade.

Some people are so hard on themselves that they can't remember the good things they've done in their lives when the going gets tough. They seem to think that being perfect, or nearly so, makes them safe.

I've come to believe people like this are harder on themselves than loved ones, but they often push away those closest to them out of a desperate need - a habit - of being miserable, but safe.

So being safe becomes more important than being happy. Having high expectations (too high) of themselves and those around them, is seen as a good thing, rather than a prison.

This is just one example of twisted thinking, and with work, commitment and discipline, those tightly wound perfectionists can learn to be more forgiving, to relax, and to let go of mistakes and move on.

If you've ever seen someone do this in their life, it's a beautiful thing. It transforms that person. It leads to happiness.

Here's the cool news - when you learn to deal with life's smaller problems well, using a good perspective (reframing and right thinking) you find that those huge problems that come along from time to time, don't rock you as much.

If you lose your job, your company folds or you lose your marriage, your resiliency will see you thru - even in the midst of unbearable loss and terribly frightening changes, such as we see in the economy right now.

Do what has to be done to take care of yourself, but don't let your monkey mind or those fear-mongers mess up your view of the world. Inform yourself, but don't let TV and radio talking heads (the equivalent of strippers) push you over the edge. The sky is not falling.

One more thing. There is a third ingredient that seems to supercharge all the rest. Faith.

Talk about changing your perspective. It's not all about you. It's about you, G-d, and service.

Find Jesus, go to shul, pray three times a day to Mecca. Or just walk outside once in a while to marvel at the natural universe. Build your faith, and you will be unassailable - or at least your joy will.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bright and Clear

I woke to clouds drifting across a blue sky, thru my window. The shades are white, the covers blue and white, my sheets white. Have never chosen white sheets in my life. But it was nice. Quiet in the house, a haven.

I'd dreamt of special people in my life, short morning dreams, detailed. I was naked at work in one of them. Habitually. Somewhat embarrassed about it, but more concerned with getting caught it seems. (grin)

There was drifting on a lake in a boat, and then having to get into the muddy water to get back across the lake. Then speeding down a very steep hill on my bike, lost control of the speed and then decided to fly - just fly. Take a deep breath and trust.

Finally there was going across another lake, staying in the boat this time, and ducking under fishing lines. I just moved freely, as if propelled by the breeze. Back and forth across the small lake. People were fishing. There were bugs ("the hatch" as fly fishers call it) and big fish in the clear water. I wasn't fishing, just completely relaxed and there.

All these dreams had people dear to me in them.

I tend to think that people, if known to you, represent themselves in a dream.

But people unknown often represent part of you. For instance not long ago I had a fire in a dream, damn near burned my house down! Uncharacteristically I panicked, grabbed the knitting and got out! Then a calm police officer came and simply used the fire extinquisher. Smart. Composed. Female. Clearly represented something I was craving or working on in myself.

Water is supposed to represent the subconscious. If that's true, then I'm dealing with very unclear internal waters sometimes (muddy!) and very very clear at others.

Good that the clear dream was last! Lets me believe I'm getting better. lol

Which brings me around to the point of brightness. I think it's very very hard to see clearly.

We like to think we see others without prejudice, see our world thru eyes of good sense, see our futures at least somewhat. We hope we see ourselves without too much bias, and some of us even want to know our blind spots, if we're smart.

But of course we don't. We can't see our children well, because deep love blinds us. Being in our own minds keeps us from really seeing ourselves well, unless we give it a LOT of thought and attention, (and usually requires a professional to be honest with ourselves).

We can't perceive the world with more than our attention and education allows. AIG for example, not allowed to fail. I'm less comfortable with making that call, had it been mine to make, since I don't completely understand the secondary insurance market. But I do understand that there isn't a legal way (yet) to take over failing insurance companies.

Banks I'd have never bailed out. Surely the government should have taken them over, so we would at least own what we, the taxpayers, have paid for. There are laws in place that allow the FDIC to take over failing banks. Why didn't we use them? Because we can't just drop them as they did in the Great Depression.

Ultimately I know I can't understand all of the political and economic permutations of the current crisis. If the entire market is based on trust, then I'm thinking these days that means trust in our elected leaders, not the markets themselves. But we don't trust our leaders. Often for good reason. Sometimes just because we let fear take over.

So if we can't see all that clearly, because we're human, where does that leave us?

I don't know.

For me it's led to a certain acceptance of the state of the world, my world and the larger globe. It has deepened my faith. And it has focused my attention on seeing clearly, but with wisdom and compassion.

I accept that it takes tremendous work to see all sides of an issue, and pray for wisdom for our leaders. In dealing with my children, and helping to forge their futures, I pray for the same.

And for me, I pray for connections to the people I love, clarity and clothes at work.

I pray for courage to change the things I can in myself and in the world. For strength. For patience.

Today I'll do what I can: cook for my children, bake bread, hike to the top of a hill, skip rocks in the river, see how far I can see.