What Will You Find Around the Next Corner?

Yesterday in the bookstore I walked past a mom and daughter in the psychology section. The little girl was around 6 years old, and as I went by I heard her say, “See? They don’t have ANY kids books.”

I snickered because it was cute. Of course the store has children’s books. Many, many more than they have psychology books. More than a section, they have their own department, actually. And it’s just around the corner from the psychology section.

This reminded me how we can each sometimes perceive things in a similar fashion. We can be in a specific spot in our lives and only see what’s directly around us or in front of us. We might yearn for something, but it may be out of our vision; if we aren’t careful, we can foolishly assume what we hope for doesn’t exist or is unattainable.

How often might the thing we’re hoping for be right around the corner?

This is one reason I’m not entirely a fan of the idea of “perception is reality.” Every sensible person knows perception is limited, therefore flawed, and, more frequently than we might acknowledge, wrong.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Have you ever experienced depression? Anxiety? Ever been in a new situation and feel like you’ll never be comfortable there?

Did you move past that?

If you have, hopefully you get my point. If you haven’t, maybe you can take some comfort in knowing that what surrounds you right now is not necessarily all there is. There just might be a big, colorful, fun new place not far away. We just have to keep moving, eyes open.

Being IS Going – Car & Driver Part 1

Not long ago I published a piece about being present in the moment. Being fully present wherever I am has been something I’ve put a lot of effort into, tremendously impacting my well being. It’s a mindset — a mind reset in my case  — that requires work.

A lot of us are conditioned and encouraged to be thinking of what’s coming next. The entire concept of achieving goals requires envisioning and moving away from your present state toward something else, in the future. Existing passively in the current moment, by contrast, seems lazy. Without motivation. Going nowhere.

For me, this misconception was one I had the hardest time overcoming. My 21st century, goal-oriented and ambitious western mind had difficulty reconciling reveling in the present with growth and achievement.

Here’s the thing, though: being present is not a passive state. No, it’s actually quite the opposite. To be present is to actively be aware, to experience, analyze, appreciate, and be with purpose and whole consciousness.

Yes, accepting situations for what they are, not constantly struggling against them, is something that comes with being fully in the moment, but that acceptance is still different than missing the moment altogether because you’re rushing through it.

It’s like driving a car. Ashley and I took a trip to Atlanta last week, and while driving the four hours back, this occurred to me.

When you are driving a car, you are present inside the car. The car is on the road (hopefully), so, yes, you are also on the road, but where you really are is in the seat, inside the car, behind the wheel. The car might be going 60 or 70 miles an hour, but your actions aren’t super-fast. With me?

So let’s relate the car to your life. Or your career, or your relationship(s). The “car” can be anything you’re involved in that is in motion. The distance the car traverses is like the passage of time. Your life moves on similar to how a car moves down a highway. Cars move toward destinations. So do our lives. Sometimes we call the destinations goals.

When you begin a drive, you usually have some idea where you want to go. Sometimes you don’t; life can be like that too. Either way, the whole reason we find ourselves behind the wheel is because we want to go somewhere. Although the car is the means we use to get there, the car won’t take us there on it’s own. We have to drive (at least until we all get those cool Google cars). And driving is an action which requires at least some degree of awareness.

As a driver, the more aware you are — the more present at the wheel — the more likely your trip will successfully reach its destination. Absolutely, we can encounter other things on the road — other cars, weather conditions, deer, and stuff — outside our control that might affect the drive, but being fully present as the driver of our car, gives us the best chances to avoid or deal with such things. Similarly, continuing the analogy, by being present where you are, fully involved in this moment, you are actually more likely to guide your life to the goals you have before you.

We all know or at least have heard that distracted driving is a serious issue. Paying attention to your phone or other things instead of driving can cause accidents and harm. Sure, we may have all had those experiences where we get someplace and don’t recall the drive. It can happen. In life, we can also reach positive results without knowing how we got there. We can also, though, wreck possibilities and miss opportunities if we aren’t alert.

Being present doesn’t prevent moving forward. It’s actually your best and easiest way to help you do just that, successfully.

The More We See the Less We Know… Or Maybe the Other Way Around

I am always learning things on my walks with my dog. Sometimes he teaches me things, sometimes I discover them on my own. Sometimes, maybe, it’s the universe.

Today while we were out I spent a lot of time admiring the pretty blue sky. When Milton would make a stop to sniff around, I looked upward, appreciating the gorgeous weather. It was sunny, bright, not a cloud to be seen. One of those days when the sky was so clear it seemed like you could see forever.

In a moment, while I admired the perfect, expansive, clear sky, it occurred to me that for as far as I could see, there was still even more that I couldn’t. Looking up, I was struck with the realization that the sunny day was actually preventing me from seeing the greater universe that was actually out there. All the billions and billions of stars with all their billions of orbiting planets were totally hidden from sight. Not because something was blocking the view, but because the light was so bright.

The idea that, figuratively speaking, the more light we shed on a thing, the more we possibly restrict our view of what might lay beyond got me thinking.

As skeptical as I can be — I don’t often accept anything at face value — I have, for as long as I can remember, also allowed for possibilities that seem contrary to rational explanation. I wouldn’t say I’m a believer in all things mystic, but I definitely recognize there are limits to what we know. It’s kind of my mission statement for this blog, after all.

When I was just a kid, the Mighty Marvel Calendar for 1975 exposed me to a quote from Hamlet that I accepted as reasonable: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

1975MarvelOct
Marvel Comics… always teaching me something

That’s been one of the recurring lessons from history, right? That right when civilization thinks it has something nailed down, someone or something comes along to prove otherwise.

I’m not advocating ignorance. Awareness is essential and vital. True awareness, though, includes being aware of what you don’t know. Accepting there may be truths outside your experience is a HUGE component to real understanding. Real knowledge.

The lesson applies to all sorts of things. It’s what keeps us studying, exploring, and experimenting. On a personal level, it hopefully teaches us to not judge other people or jump to conclusions. No matter how well illumined we think a situation might be, or how clearly we think we see others, there’s likely more behind the scenes that we don’t know.

I’m still happy and appreciative of the clear sky today. Not at all disappointed that I can’t see the stars. I know they’re out there, and I’ll enjoy them also when the time is right.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Being Present in the Moment

The single most profound adjustment I’ve made in my life in the last few years has been learning to be present in the moment. And I still don’t entirely know what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was influenced by Eastern philosophy at a kind of early age. “Going with the flow” was my lifestyle choice for decades. In a way, I’d been practicing for — albeit not actually practicing — mindful presence most of my life.

Accepting and being pleased with the present wasn’t natural for me, though. Even acting on impulse more often than not, I was nearly always more interested in the future than the current moment. Those impulsive decisions were more about getting somewhere else, creating new stories to tell, than celebrating where I was.

Generally, I lived expecting things, including myself, to be better and better in the time to come. Generally.

I suffered plenty of worry about the future too, though. Tons of regret, guilt, and issues from the past as well.

I’m no expert on being present, but I’ve learned a lot and become pretty good at it. Good enough to be happier than ever before. While I’m still developing stronger habits and skills to improve my mindfulness, here are a few things that I can share:

1. It ain’t easy. But it’s easier than you think.

Being present in the moment is challenging for us modern folks. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to tweet or post or ha ha emoji to. Distractions are distracting. Then there are responsibilities. Stuff’s got to get done.

There’s just not enough time in the day, right?

It’s true that being present takes time. In fact, it’s all about time. But the present is never the present long.

Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about silver medal winners in the Olympics that illustrates how fleeting the present moment actually is.

This cracks Ashley up every time. How long is the present? “Now. Now. N-n-no, now.”

You might want to enjoy more than .03 of a second at a time, but, you know, the present moment IS only a moment. A few seconds pause is all it has to take to acknowledge what’s going on around you and how you’re feeling. In the time it takes to read the subject line of an email, you can re-center yourself and appreciate the moments you’re living in.

ferris-life moves pretty fast

2. Being here, now doesn’t prevent you from being there, later.

In fact, I believe it provides powerful help to get you where you want to be.

This may have been the greatest misconception I’ve had to deal with. I’ve mentioned how I’ve always been sort of future focused. I believe in goals and taking methodical steps to achieve them. Settling for the present, it seemed to me, was at odds with ambition. Even going with the flow at least meant going somewhere.

I just made the point that the present moment can be an exceptionally brief time. Thing is, the present isn’t just that one moment that’s here then gone. The present continues to be the present, stretching on into what had been, a second ago, the future. In my mind, to concentrate on each moment as it comes meant not concentrating on the times yet to be. Like a twist on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I mistakenly assumed truly being in the ever changing moment meant never moving.

As with Zeno’s paradoxes, though, common sense and experience proved the theory wrong.

Being present is not being stagnant. Hardly. Being present is, believe it or not, an action. It’s not doing nothing. It’s being fully aware of… being. It means connecting to the truth of a situation, taking in reality as it is. It also means connecting with the truth of yourself.

Having that awareness of who you are, what your strengths and character are, being grounded in reality — that centers you on your best path forward. Outside influences will still require reaction, but a present state of mind can help you maintain focus. And that will keep you moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

3. Living in the present heals.

A couple years ago I struggled with a dangerous bout of depression. I was lucky to get some good help, starting with my loving fiancee and a couple of doctors. It took several different steps to escape that awful situation, but you probably don’t have to guess what I’m going to tell you was one of the most important.

In my case, the state I was in had roots in serious regrets about my past AND anxiety about the future. While there was a lot of good in my life at the time, I was also experiencing a horrendous time at work. I dreaded every day.

My present was terrible. Why would I want to dwell in it longer than necessary?

Because, more than anything else I did, that fixed me.

Focusing on the present helped me finally let go of the past.

Taking a minute to focus on my breathing calmed my anxiety.

Allowing full awareness of what I was experiencing at the time, of what people were actually doing and saying, of what I was feeling and thinking cleared up apprehensive assumptions and misjudged motives.

Reflecting on the present instead of the past opened my eyes to possibilities.

Greatest of all, being truly open to the reality around me helped me realize all the reasons I have to be grateful and happy.

Enjoying the present is great when the present is good. Even when it’s unpleasant, centering yourself in the actual here and now is healthier than getting lost in imagined fears.

On the Other Hand, Maybe Don’t be Like Taco Bell

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a lesson I learned from Taco Bell. Following their lead, I encouraged readers to give lots of extra sauce, more than they might think people need, whenever serving other people. The extra sauce was a metaphor for added value. Most people will happily deliver on expectations; distinguish yourself and heighten your own satisfaction by OVERdelivering.

On the other hand, there’s something else I’ve learned from my (too frequent) visits to Taco Bell:

Don’t call something SUPREME just because you put some sour cream on it.

Okay, sure, they also add tomatoes. Still, this seems surprisingly in contrast with the generous sauce packets policy.

Yes, Taco Supreme IS different from the regular taco. Yes, it IS more delicious. And yes, the price difference really isn’t that much. But ‘supreme’?

Supreme should be SUPREME! None better! The Ultimate! Does adding just a couple of ingredients really qualify? In this case, The Bell is demonstrating the problem with overpromising.

When you present your work to others, it’s best to be honest. With yourself as well as your audience. Misrepresentation will inevitably only lead to disappointment.

Being honest with yourself might be more challenging than accurately laying things out for other people. Pride, hubris, and plain excitement can make us overestimate our accomplishments. If you put tons of effort into a project you rightly want to make sure it’s recognized as having value. It’s important, however, to be careful not to overvalue what you’ve done.

Carefully consider your offerings before you describe, publicize, promote, or market them. Analyze yourself and your work as objectively as possible. If you have trouble with that, get help and opinions from people you trust.

Telling the world, in essence, a result was the best you could do — “it’s supreme!” — can lower expectations of your future work. It can make you appear dishonest, arrogant, or unrealistic.

Honesty does mean taking credit when you DO create something extraordinary. By no means play down or minimize your work when it is far and above the average. If it IS supreme, let the world know! If you’ve been careful to not cry wolf (or taco), they’ll believe you.

 

What I Don’t Know About Once in a Lifetime 

Friends of mine were making fun of music appreciation classes the other day. I’ve never taken one, but I did go through a period where I fell in love with classical music. Studying and exploring classical on my own really helped me learn how to listen. To music, especially, but also in general.

Another friend shared a really cool video of Kermit the Frog performing Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” She remembered I’m a Talking Heads fan, and she must also know I’m a good bit silly. I didn’t expect her to know how much I like the Muppets. The video clip is fantastic. Kermit (‘s muppeteer) does a terrific David Byrne impersonation. See for yourself:

I love how the video production nicely imitates the official video while paying tribute to the performance — and the suit — from Stop Making Sense.

Some folks see this and go, “ha,ha, that guy dances funny! Look at those weird, twitchy movements!” Some hear it and like the cool bass line; some go to the lyrical hooks. “Ha, ha! ‘This is not my beautiful wife!‘”

Me, I’ve always been interested in the lyrics and meanings of songs. Part of my character is always looking for deeper meaning in nearly everything. Music is particularly magical to me. The blend of meaning in the mix of rhythm, melody, harmony, AND words presents many layers to be interpreted.

And, yeah, I’m drawn to the weirdness.

Having been involved in collaboratively creating songs in a band, I am ever more in awe of the art in which each band member adds their viewpoint to the developing composition. All art being participatory, there’s the additional element of how the listener hears, feels, and interprets the song. It’s been said that communication depends not only on what is said but also, and more importantly, on what is heard. The listener’s point of view informs their understanding of what the musicians put out, and that informs their appreciation of it.

Considering that, when I hear “Once in a Lifetime” these days, I realize I maybe should have listened better long ago.

Go With the Flow

Not long before I first heard the song, when it came out in 1980, I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way. It was one of Dad’s interesting books I found the book lying around the house. Being the impressionable kid I was, I adopted a lot of the philosophy in the book as great advice. Be like water, it says; when flowing water meets a rock, it goes around it. Eventually, as water gently washes against the rock, it wears it away. In short, go with the flow and you’ll avoid stress.

The Watercourse Way continues to be one of the most influential books I’ve read. And I did let it dramatically influence how I lived my life for decades. More on that in future posts.

As a  teen, the Taoist philosophy I’d picked up led me to incorrectly hear what Talking Heads were saying in “Once in a Lifetime.” The imagery, all the “water flowing” references; I thought they were also saying, “go with the flow.”

Most folks probably don’t actively choose to use pop music as a guide for living.

I’ve never really been exactly like most folks.

Older and Wiser?

The story of my 20s and 30s is mainly one of going with the flow. Not that my life was completely rudderless, but I did get involved in stuff and head in unexpected directions I — looking back — might have been better off avoiding. Now that I’m near (at? past?) midlife, I believe “Once in a Lifetime” may be a cautionary tale about exactly that.

Listening to it with the experience and earned perspective I have now, the “you may find yourself…” lines and “how did I get here?” hold a lot more relevance than they did when I was young. They’re a little less funny and a bit more whoa.

I hear the song now as being from the perspective of someone at the end of life, looking back. Similar, I guess, to that god awful Sinatra song, but with a much funkier groove and postmodern poetry.

Don’t pay attention, let life carry you around without you navigating your way, and before you know it, everything’s over. And you weren’t ready for it.

Not exactly the message you’d expect from a young(ish) group for a young(er?) audience. I, and perhaps others, didn’t get the importance of the lyrics because it was unexpected. Sort of the same reason we don’t really hear advice from older, wiser people when they tell us we need insurance, or to save for retirement. It just doesn’t align with our beliefs of how life is based on our experiences at that age.

But — WOW — isn’t THAT exactly illustrating the point ? “Same as it ever was.”

ONE Lifetime

Here’s something: even if you live a supremely directed life setting and going after goals, time still goes by. Everything you do, whether by choice or circumstance, occurs, in each moment, surrounded by the unique characteristics of that moment, once in a lifetime. You may drive the same route to work every day, but the weather, the other cars on the road, what you hear on the radio, all that stuff and more changes, so each drive is different. Singular. Unique.

The lesson I hear in “Once in a Lifetime” is a kind of old one, directed at the population who follow a plan, or at least a pattern of behavior, letting the days go by one 40 hour workweek after another. They might get the beautiful house and the beautiful wife, but don’t even know how they did. It isn’t purposefully choosing to go with the flow that makes one actually skip living; it’s staying busy with busy-ness, unconsciously going through the motions of work, societal expectations, and even leisure that keeps one so occupied that you don’t realize life is passing by.

I could totally be mishearing the song again. I’m fairly certain I’m overthinking it. Regardless, I believe it is extremely important to know we each have only the one life to live, and it’s a damn shame to waste it away punching timeclocks and watching sitcoms.

Mindful living, being present and fully aware in each moment, I truly believe, is the key. You can’t live every minute like it’s your last — you’ll never get laundry done if you act like you aren’t going to wear those clothes again — but you can choose to live each one like it’s the first and only one that will be exactly like it. What you decide to do with it can make the difference between looking back someday knowing how you got where you did rather than wondering how.

 

 

What My Dog Showed Me I Didn’t Know About Relating to People

I never expected to be so fortunate as to spend time with a great teacher every day who not only gives me daily encouragement and excellent lessons but makes the learning incredibly fun. I am talking about my dog, of course.

I love my dog. He really is my best buddy. As much as we relate especially well to each other, I recently noticed how much time we spend trying to figure out what the other is doing and thinking.

I see it from him all the time, watching whatever I’m doing, or what Ashley is doing with curiosity in his expression. He’s a smart guy, and like a lot of other dogs I’ve known is either psychic to some degree or just picks up on instinctual signals, so he knows in advance when we’re going to take a walk. Of course, he knows when we go to the fridge or certain cabinets, we’re likely getting some food. A whole lot of the rest of the time, though, he looks like he’s wondering what we’re up to.

We play a lot. He likes toys, and a lot of our play involves them. Sometimes he’ll come up to me with a toy, but once he gives it to me, he acts uninterested in it. I don’t know why he does that for sure, but I like to think he’s giving me something he knows he has fun with, and he thinks I’ll have fun with it too.

I’ll never really know why he behaves in certain ways. Smart as he is, he’ll never know why I do everything. Our brains are different, our worldviews worlds apart. But even though we will always see the world differently and we will never totally understand each other, that hasn’t kept us from sharing fun and won’t keep us from taking care of each other.

(Even though I can’t tell what’s going on in his mind, don’t think I’m presuming too much by saying he takes care of me. He most certainly does.)

So that’s one lesson my dog taught me. Whether he meant to or not, he’s helped me see how this dynamic holds true in interactions with other people, too.

There was a time when I got worked up wondering why people behaved the way they did. Working with the public, there were numerous occasions each day for people to act curiously. Particularly when another person’s actions affected me negatively, I’d try to figure out why. Worse, sometimes I’d make assumptions, believing I had an understanding of their mindset.

That was a frustrating, less rewarding time.

The truth, as my dog has helped me see, is I don’t and never will truly comprehend all the experiences, emotions, thoughts, and motivations that lie behind other people’s actions. What he’s also helped me realize is it doesn’t matter at all whether I do.

Oh, I absolutely do advocate for understanding. The more we know about each other, the better we all are. I love learning about other people, and strongly believe the more I know about someone, the better we can relate and help each other. Communication is a wonderful and necessary thing.

I also believe, however, that I don’t HAVE to know why someone does something in order to react positively, with consideration, respect, and a desire for mutual benefit.

I’ve mostly stopped trying to figure out why my best bud does things that seem weird. Likewise, I try not to spend energy analyzing why people act the way they do. That energy, seems to me, is better used ensuring we share good times together.