What Were You Thinking?

There is a beauty found in our unfiltered thoughts…

The other day I found myself craving sweet and salty—something that happens when I am feeling that all-too-common yearning for comfort food. Thanks to a regular routine of meditation, I caught myself in the moment and put the bag of chips and ice-cream away (after having a healthy serving-size of each). The practice of meditation has helped me grow still and aware when I’m not meditating, helping to prevent those eating-without-tasting moments while binging through Netflix shows.

            Later that night, I gave myself an exercise in “walking back the cat.” Knowing I crave comfort food when stressed, I let loose on the page all that had transpired that day. There was the morning traffic commute, complete with a firetruck that caused drivers (myself included) to jut into made-up lanes, the new deadlines at work, learning about a family member’s need for surgery, and the discovery of a broken toilet in our home. Those were the highlights.

            But each one of those highlights offered another opportunity to delve deeper. I could easily name each of those items and not have gotten to the root of my voracious cravings. It was the writing, the action of slowing down and putting pen to paper that helped me uncover my thinking—the very source of where the figurative cat first began its steps.

            Reflective writing gives us the opportunity to hear our thoughts. Earlier that day, I’d agreed to do something that was not only time-consuming; it was also impractical and unnecessary. 

            What was my voice whispering at the moment I said “Yes” aloud? “I want to please. This is what matters most. I don’t want to disappoint.” Yet moments after I uttered that one syllable, I walked away feeling heavy, trapped like a bird in a cage.

            Listening to my thoughts, I was able to walk back the cat and pinpoint the moment my catecholamine activity kicked up several notches: the moment I betrayed myself, agreeing to something I didn’t agree with.

            Thanks to the above exercise, I have since altered my “yes” to “no.”

            This Saturday, October 30th I am hosting a workshop through and for the iWRITE Youth Club, specifically designed to ignite your inner compass through a specific form of reflective writing. Thanks to the inspiration and teachings of Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Simon, the webinar: Reflective Writing: Finding Insight, Empowerment, and Peace will offer a simple but transformative tool to connect the outer experience of our daily lives with the often-dormant terrain of our inner world.

            Here’s a link to register: https://iwrite.org/product/reflective-writing/

            Meditation can be practiced in many forms. Meditation in writing gives us a chance to grow present, fostering awareness, creativity, compassion, and peace.

            I hope to see you soon:-)

A New Way to Measure Success

How we measure success determines much more than our bank account.

My uncle has four grown daughters. Each year on his birthday, he will spend the day complaining about which daughter took the longest to call, why none of them call often enough, and how he can relate to Rodney Dangerfield’s, “No Respect.”

On the other figurative hand there’s my dear friend Steve who wanted but didn’t have children. His phone regularly rings with calls from the many former students who want to thank him for changing their lives.

Both men grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in dysfunctional and abusive homes. 

So, how did these two men end up with such different lives? Why does my uncle repel company while Steve attracts it?

There’s an old saying by Buddhist, Haruki Murakami:

“Pain is inevitable: suffering is optional.”

While my uncle and Steve both experienced some particularly bumpy roads in their childhoods, my uncle kept his wounds company, allowing them to fester and bleed into the landscape of his adult life; Steve, however, allowed himself to feel those wounds and learn from them. If my uncle were a character in a play, he’d be emotionally stuck in Act I. He hasn’t stepped away from the events of his youth and looked at them objectively, so he’s a mouse in a spiritual maze, destined to experience suffering.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s not to measure success solely on the external. As of this writing, 612,000 people in the United States have died from COVID; 4.19 million people worldwide are no longer on this beautiful Earth due to the respiratory virus. COVID doesn’t care if you drive a Ferrari or a Ford, it doesn’t care if you wear Ferragamo’s or flip flops, and it certainly doesn’t care if you work on Wall Street or a Walmart.

COVID has shaken the infrastructure of our economy, our politics, and our personal and professional relationships. COVID is The Great Wake Up Call to consider success from a place that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.

Remember: Pain is temporary and inevitable in this life; suffering is, thankfully, optional.

So, what is this new measure for success that COVID cannot take away from us?

Joy. Fun. Laughter. Our free-will choice to perceive this life from a different perspective.

Author and life coach, Gabrielle Bernstein offers the following insight:

“It’s our job to find the fun in everything. Some of the happiest people I know have the innate ability to find joy in the most joyless scenarios.”

We all possess this ability to find joy, regardless of our circumstances. My uncle has the choice to be grateful that all four of his daughters are healthy and enjoying their adult lives. The irony here is that if he stopped focusing on his perception of lack, more would flow to him: his daughters would want to call him—and not just on the obligatory birthday time. Respect is a natural by-product of self-respect. My uncle only needs to look within for his suffering to abate.

Steve finds joy in helping others, in learning, in using his body and mind in equal measure; my uncle spends his days blasting the news, intermittently yelling at the anchors on television who cannot hear him. 

When we measure our success by the sense of pleasure that we experience, instead of the external world that will continue to alter, we are living a successful life. Everything else is just gravy.

So, savor that cup of coffee, relish the scent of fresh cut grass, and notice how tonight’s sunset makes you feel. It’s our job.

Source: The New York Times, Miracles Now, Wikipedia

The Gift of a New Year

Discover the WHY behind our hunger for a New Year

To say that 2020 was a challenging year is akin to claiming triple bypass surgery is a standard procedure. If someone were to enter our planet for the first time, while we might be inclined to hold their hand, inviting them to sit down as one would to see a therapist after the death of a loved one, where would we begin?? (Besides which, we can’t exactly touch this fictionalized visitor to our planet who really needs a mask–pronto;-)

The pandemic, the protests, the killer bees, the Nashville bombing—words just fail to articulate the unprecedented and harrowing past 365 days.

And yet, COVID-19 didn’t officially hit the worldwide stage until mid-March, so the mask-wearing, toilet-paper-fearing shortage, social-distancing, government-lockdowns weren’t experienced for a full calendar year.

And yet again, it feels like more than a year. After all, the Gregorian calendar began with the sudden and tragic loss of the beloved basketball player, Kobe Bryant on January 26th of the very year we are on the heels of bidding adieu.  

Any great loss plays with our sense of time. So, it’s no wonder that this year, our concept, our understanding of time seems to render us in a perceptual fog of sorts. As of this writing, 341 thousand Americans have died as a result of COVID-19; worldwide, the death toll is over one million.

Humankind is emotionally starving for a return to normal. Deep down, we wonder if we will ever return to normal. If we grow still, we wonder if our pre-COVID world was all rainbows and unicorns anyway. We revel in the silver linings found throughout this roller coaster of a year; we ask ourselves: What is normal anyway??

There is no magic switch that will turn on as we ring in this New Year. Writing 2021 on our academic papers, our checks, our contracts—none of this will stop the rising death toll, increase the limited ICU beds across the county or bring back our departed loved ones. 

So why do we need, more than ever before, to celebrate and welcome in 2021?

New Year’s is a symbol of hope, of a fresh start, of wonderful possibility. It represents turning a corner, closing a door, so we can open up a new one.

A New Year is a gift, an opportunity to try again. It is Time’s present of a new blank page. It is the closest Time offers to an actual restart button.

I encourage you to revel in the gift of possibility this New Year brings. May the symbolism and fact of a new calendar renew your spirit—and by extension, humanity.

The Gift of a Broken Pipe

Happiness can often be found in the least place you’d expect…

Earlier this week, my neighbor called me. 

“Sheri, there’s water coming out from your garage door. Are you home?”

No, I wasn’t home. It was also rush hour, that time of day when you can double the time it takes you to arrive anywhere.

“If you are okay with it, I’d like to call my plumber.”

You know it’s not good when your neighbor is eager to call a plumber on your behalf. 

“The water from your garage is spilling onto my side.

Fortunately, the plumber (Daniel Barrientos—professional and informative) arrived within 30 minutes of receiving my neighbor’s call. 

In order to determine the problem (broken PVC pipes) and implement a solution (new PEX pipes), I would need to go without water for 24 hours.

Going sans water for any amount of time is challenging, but not having water in the midst of a pandemic after working outside both that day and the next, well…let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to the experience.

Yet losing access to water offered me two unexpected gifts: knowledge and appreciation. Here’s what I learned in those LONG 24 hours:

  1. A toilet requires A LOT of water in order to flush (1.6 gallons per flush—Source: SFGATE). 
  • PVC pipes are inexpensive and easy to work with, but they can only be used for cold water
  • PEX pipes are extremely versatile and temperature tolerant (Source: Olympus Insurance)
  • The PVC pipes on my home were repaired several times before by the previous owner, though never actually replaced

When the water finally, blessedly was turned back on 24 hours later, I started singing, literally singing. There was water to cook with, bathe with, wash my hands with, make coffee with, clean with—it was HEAVEN ON EARTH!

Did I want to experience 24 hours without fresh running water? Absolutely not. But the appreciation I felt after that first shower was a true gift. Washing my hands under running water was a gift. Throwing clothing into my laundry machine to wash felt luxurious. Blow drying my clean, soap-scented hair felt amazing and hearing the steady hum of the dishwasher once again rendered me on top of the world.

Maybe you are reading this considering a metaphorical or literal “broken pipe” in your own life. Sometimes, it’s the broken pipe that helps you feel whole again. Sometimes, we need to lose something in order to recall its invaluableness.

Our perception of life creates our reality. Prior to the broken pipes, I took water for granted, didn’t even notice it. It was only in its absence that I felt parched on every level for it; only with the limited supply in my drawn bathtub that appreciation for it grew.

Losing water, if only for a mere 24 hours, raised my appreciation for it tenfold. When we appreciate something, we are dwelling in a happy space. 

Wishing you a deep and far appreciation of this life and all of its gifts.

It’s Not Personal

      When we go within for messages instead of outward, we are serving ourselves the best emotional nutrition.

Years ago, a friend introduced me to a jewel of a book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. According to Toltec wisdom, there are literally four keys or agreements that, once practiced, offer us a world of inner peace and freedom:

  1. Be Impeccable with Your Word.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best

Ruiz writes that the cause of most human suffering comes from not following the above four agreements. And boy, is Ruiz right! This simple yet deeply insightful book has been my go-to for years. All four agreements work together and affect each other. 

As our world continues to grow more virtual each day, it’s become clear to me that we need a reminder in not taking anything personally. While we are each the center of our individual worlds, we are not the center to others. As Ruiz states so eloquently:

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.”

Words are a food for the soul. They possess the power to fuel or render us famished. But if we aren’t mindful, the words others serve us can make us sick. When we don’t take their words personally, we can continue to feed ourselves a diet that nourishes.

You can’t go onto social media now without reading someone’s vitriol regarding everything from a person’s weight to their political stance. If heeded, insulting words carry nutritional poison. But if you grow still, you will soon become aware that someone who is not happy with himself/herself serves those negative words. The poison they dish out is coming from within. You have the choice, the free will to not accept their toxic serving. Happy people don’t serve unhappiness—they literally don’t have it in them.

Actions that are cruel or toxic aren’t personal either. Ruiz notes this even in the extreme: “Even if someone got a gun and shot you in the head, it was nothing personal.” Again, negative behavior of any kind is a reflection of whatever is going on in another’s world and not about you.

This week alone, I have found myself grateful for Ruiz’s reminder that nothing is personal:

  • My friend calling me sleep-deprived after a 12-hour shift, articulating that I just don’t understand what she is going through.
  • My parents not calling on my son’s birthday, only to find out that they got the date mixed up.
  • Five people showing up to a virtual pre-launch book event of The Friendship Diet (after inviting over 100 folks) 

           Not taking anything personally also applies to compliments. While it feels good, we need to remember that, “If they tell you how wonderful you are, they are not saying that because of you. You know you are wonderful. It is not necessary to believe other people who tell you that you are wonderful.”

           When we go within for messages instead of outward, we are serving ourselves the best emotional nutrition. Looking outward for praise is a dish that will always leave one hungry for more; looking outward for guidance on who you are is the culinary equivalent of “too many cooks in the kitchen”: at best you end up with a hodge-podge of inedible messages and at worst, you experience emotionally painful heartburn.

            Nothing is personal. As Ruiz reminds us, when we know that nothing is personal “You can choose to follow your heart always. Then you can be in the middle of hell and still experience inner peace and happiness.”