Making Excuses Isn’t Necessary

“Maybe the first rule we should begin with, if we want meditation (change this word to anything you want to do) to be in our life for a long time, is: Don’t make a rigid structure and then chastise ourselves when we don’t live up to it. Better to keep a limber mind and develop a tenderness toward existence. “—Natalie Goldberg

Good grief

it is hard not to make excuses and beat ourselves up. I am too busy, too tired, not feeling well, and having an emergency, the pipes burst…it goes on and on. What would it be like to live an excuse-free life?  “Do or do not,” says Yoda, and that’s the end of it.

I often feel compelled to give an explanation or explain why I am saying no, for instance, or why I am late or why I didn’t do what I said I would do for the simple reason that I don’t want to fracture my relationships. I’m sure I’m not unusual in this regard. I think most of us want others to think well of us. We don’t want to believe, and we don’t want others to believe that this is our typical behaviour. It “feels” better if we all agree that this behaviour is, well, not MY norm. Heavens, no!

I have been thinking about excuses and explanations lately as I encourage others to free themselves from “should.” You know those things you think you should do, should eat etc. I love the advice from Natalie Goldberg in the opening quote and Oliver Burkeman’s “dailyish” advice.

Dailyish

If you’re prone to making yourself miserable by holding yourself to unmeetable standards, like me, “dailyish” probably sounds a bit self-indulgent. But it’s the opposite – because it involves surrendering the thrilling fantasy of yet-to-be-achieved perfection in favour of the uncomfortable experience of making concrete progress, here and now. Besides, it isn’t synonymous with “just do it as often as you can”; deep down, you know that if you never average more than a day or two per week on your novel/fitness plan/meditation practice/side business/whatever, then you won’t acquire the momentum to move forward. “Dailyish” involves applying more pressure to yourself than that. But (crucial distinction coming up!) it’s a matter of pressure rather than of forcing.

I used to think that the “excuse and explanation” response was typical of adolescent behaviour as well as being an adult response to navigating those areas where we don’t want to say yes or we have let someone, including ourselves, down. But I learned differently many years ago after spending a week with my granddaughter Sophie, who was two years and seven months old at that time. I learned that excuses seem to be built into our human nature. I suspect that the excuse comes from the desire to preserve the relationship by finding an acceptable way to say “no,” as an example.

Let me tell you a Sophie story:

Sophie ordinarily was willing to share what she had. But this day was different. It was the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, and I had cut several cherry tomatoes in two and given them to her in a small dish. We were outside enjoying the sun, and I thought those tomatoes looked rather tasty.

I said, “Sophie, could Nana have a tomato?

She looked in her dish, saw only two halves left, and looked me in the eye and said, “Nana, they’re not quite ripe yet.”

I mumbled something profound, like “oh, okay then,” and she cheerfully ate the rest of the tomatoes.

I was speechless that this toddler had not wanted to appear unwilling to share, so she gave me a rational explanation to allow her to keep the tomatoes for herself and avoid saying no. She didn’t think this through, as it all happened in a few seconds. But I was flabbergasted and amused.

If this happened again, I told myself I would be prepared and tell her I like unripe tomatoes. “I’ll take my chances,” I would say. But at that moment, I was too surprised to have an alternate response.

I imagine that at one time, she must have asked her parents, in the produce section of the grocery store, for sour berries, and they would have told her that they weren’t ripe yet, and she recalled the explanation and the result was that she didn’t get the berries. She has now discovered that this explanation works for her, too. Logical and harmless in this case. She wasn’t being devious. It is a sweet story of “underripe” cherry tomatoes and a two-and-a-half-year-old who loves them and wants to eat them all—every last bite.

A child is truly the perfect teacher.

It started me on my path of being more conscious about my excuses and explanations, even to myself.

Many years later, I have made progress in this department. For example, I  discovered that I like short bursts of exercise, and the fact that I don’t want to go to the gym for 90 minutes three days a week is not a moral failing. So, I changed my exercise. I said no to what no longer worked for me and yes to a 30-minute teacher-led Gi Gong practice once a week.

We don’t need to be against explanations. They can be appropriate and appreciated and still understand that we don’t need to do everything we are asked to do. And we don’t need to come up with an excuse. No is a perfectly acceptable answer.

This applies to ourselves when we get overbooked, and somehow we have the notion that we must be doing things all day long. However, we can change our minds and make a new plan even after many years. Try something new. Invite curiosity into our lives – try it and see what happens. Unencumbering ourselves from the shoulds and the can-nots

He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven.” Hindu saying (a quote from Life Is a Verb)

Notes:

1:) I leave for Calgary and the surrounding areas on Saturday and will be gone for two weeks—in-person programs in Calgary, Lethbridge, High River and Red Deer. And, of course, a few days with my twin great-granddaughters.

2:) I like the banner photo from Unsplash. Original image: robert-collins-tvc5imO5pXk-unsplash.jpg

3:) The next two posts will be on the road. I look forward to staying in touch and to seeing in person the wonderful people I know in Alberta. Thank you and best wishes, Trudy

PS I just remembered a story I wanted to leave you with:

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson wrote a book 14 years ago and called it, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

One of my favourite stories from the book:

“A friend, returning from a day in traffic school, told us that as participants went around the room, reporting the violations that had brought them there, a miraculous coincidence occurred: Not one of them had broken the law! They all had justifications for why they were speeding, had ignored a stop sign, ran a red light, or made an illegal U-turn. He became so dismayed by the litany of flimsy excuses that, when his turn came, he was embarrassed to give in to the same impulse. He said, “I didn’t stop at a stop sign. I was entirely wrong, and I got caught.

There was a moment’s silence, and then the room erupted in cheers for his candor.”

 

 

 

 

 

TGIW – Thank God it’s Wednesday

I know it sounds corny but the truth is I appreciate every Wednesday:

  1. It is blog day.
  2. My favourite bakery has my favourite bread on this day of the week. (Rye/walnut)
  3. City workers come and pick up our garbage/recycling/compost and yard waste.
  4. I have my 30-minute Gi Gong practice with a favourite teacher.

Already, I am off to a good start.

This week I also got to pick up my new glasses and sunglasses. I hadn’t realized how old my prescription was until I looked in the mirror with my new specs and saw a ton of wrinkles. Yikes. That was a shock. I thought the mirror had developed cracks or some strange thing. But no such luck. For research purposes, I removed my new glasses and put my old ones back on and voila – wrinkles gone. A new marketing strategy for getting rid of wrinkles- wear slightly blurry glasses.

All kidding aside, it has been a fantastic day. I interviewed a colleague for a new podcast launching this fall and thoroughly enjoyed it. At this point, after two guests, it is good enough and will hopefully keep improving. I said yes to the invitation to take this on. And I am glad.

I also discovered a wonderful new book of poetry, but I will wait for a later date to tell you about it. (For poetry lovers who can’t wait, you can always ask me.)

Why bother to mention these things, you ask?

I am of the mind that we improve the quality of our everyday life when we take nothing for granted. Naturally, there are many things that we overlook. Still, when we can improve our attention skills and notice the small, everyday things that go on, the lovely people we meet and the wonder of being alive, it can be transformative.

Here is a tiny practice that delivers big returns. I wrote about this elsewhere and here is an excerpt:

The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life

As I was thinking about ordinary things in my own life and the many lives of people I know, I recalled a recording I listened to from one of my teachers.  The recording is called The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. Lucky me, I got to hear it in 2008, the year I was diagnosed with cancer. Coincidentally, a friend mentioned it to me, who thought I would like it, so I went looking to check it out once again.

There was one section I remembered that stood out for me – three questions. Dr. Remen called it a heart journal and designed it for medical students and doctors as a psychologically sophisticated way to rediscover meaning in their work, a reminder of what they were capable of doing and a sense of gratitude for being here to do it. In truth, it was transformative.  Her books with the humble titles of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings along with her curriculum, The Healer’s Art, are now taught in more than half of all US medical schools and several European schools.  Her devotion, expertise, vision, and generosity have impacted thousands.

Three Questions

Like myself, many have found the three questions a gentle way to end each day and provide ourselves with a new lens to view our lives, even when things are not going according to plan. They go like this:

 

  1. What surprised me today?
  2. What touched my heart today?
  3. What inspired me today?

You take ten minutes at the end of the day and reflect backward with the first question until you come to “What surprised me?” Write it down and start with the second question: “What touched my heart?” Write it down. Finally, the third question, “What inspired me?” Once you find it, write it down. Close your book and go to sleep.

I found it interesting to begin the reflection for each question during bedtime hours and work back towards the morning. You may want to try it and see what you discover.

Notes

1:) One more discovery today – 26-year-old Hayato Sumino, who caused a sensation with his Chopin piano solo. Fresh out of science and engineering, he debuted at the prestigious solo piano competition in Warsaw. You can read about him and listen to his mastery here. Besides his classical piece, you can watch him play 7 levels of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It is great fun to see this massive talent.

2:) Thank you for stopping by. The magnolia trees are blooming, and I am smitten with spring fever. May it be so for you. Warmest wishes, Trudy

PS Thanks to Rob for today’s photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path With Heart

Path With Heart

Wouldn’t you love to step onto this path and see where it ends up? My friend Karen , many years ago, sent me a picture of her garden path  and wrote –  “This particular pathway is meant to slow you down, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, leading to a beautiful place, a place of rest.”

The path on my banner photo, taken in Japan 10 years ago, serves the same purpose—one step in front of the other. No rushing.

I know how important moodling is because I have been tightly scheduled for the past few days. And here it is, our season of delight. Miracles are sprouting up out of the soil everywhere we walk right now. Overnight – sprouts, buds, blossoms, and when the light catches that particular branch with the beginnings of new life, and you are there, it is a gift.

And there were other wonders, along with the eclipse, this week. To be up close to the sheer joy experienced by my grandson and his love of life was pretty magical today. It reminds us how we benefit from spending time with people passionate about everyday wonders.

I love this old quote by Thich Nhat Hanh.

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — and our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

This made me also think about how lucky we are to have an immune system. Although I have always been grateful for my health, I sometimes take mine for granted. Yet I know, from going through chemo, how the life force wants to work for us. I also hear from others how the body strives to bring us to equilibrium and fight infection tenaciously. I continue to find this process amazing.

More recently, Rick Hanson, one of my favourite neuropsychologists, wrote this about perspective:

Without minimizing one bit of whatever is awful, it is also true that humans like you and I have been walking this earth for nearly 300,000 years. I see the trees, the land, the ocean – all of it here before me and lasting long after me. Empires rise and fall. Sometimes the center does not hold – in a body, marriage, or nation – and still. And still people love each other, go out of their way for a stranger, and marvel at a rainbow. Nothing, nothing at all can change this. We keep putting one foot in front of the other one, lifting each other up along the way.

Honestly, this is miracle enough for me. And speaking of miracles, it must be time for an update on my great-granddaughters, who turned eight months old this past week.

Notes

1:) I am thinking about my Mother, who loved her birthdays and was an April 13th baby. Imagine, it is coming up four years in July when she died at 100 years, three months and 13 days. Unbelievable, how time moves on. I thought of her when I wrote the title for today’s post because that is how she lived. Every day, she woke up with gratitude and joy, ready to walk and respond with outstretched arms and a loving heart wherever the path led.

2:) I hope you immerse yourself in Spring and do not miss it. I awaken to the birds these days and saw my first cardinal, pileated woodpecker, robin and eastern bluejay. Take care of your dear selves, and may you have what you need, plus an armload of joyful and meaningful moments. With gratitude, Trudy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom Is not Always how We Imagine

“Freedom is not silence and peace,” an excerpt from Passing Through the Gateless Barrier, translated by Professor Guo Gu. Freedom is being at ease in noise and chaos.” 

I happen to like koans – paradoxical anecdotes to refine insight and to be applied to everyday life.

This early morning, I drove to my Toyota dealer to have my snow tires removed for spring. This is also the day a snowstorm was announced for our area (questionable timing).  At the same time, I needed to discover what was causing the squeaking and clanging noises for the last month. Of course, all I could think about was the unwanted expense that this discovery may entail. So, my mind was doing its little ritual dance as I drove along.

Once I checked in, sat down and pulled out my phone to check my emails, I read my daily email from Tricycle.  And this is what it said.

Freedom

“Freedom is not silence and peace. Freedom is being at ease in noise and chaos.” (the original is from the 13th century)

Ah, I thought, this is a message for me right now as I sat in the waiting room, ruminating about the worst. Everything I had read about the noise in my usually quiet car indicated trouble and expensive trouble, at that.

As I continued to read, I came to this paragraph.

“When you encounter a difficulty in your life, an impasse, solve it.  If you can solve it, it’s good. If you can’t solve it, it’s still good, as it’s no longer your problem if you can’t solve it.” Guo Gu(another provocative koan and one I suggest is sensible in our daily life and relationships with others  and not applicable to devastating situations)

My mother, who knew nothing of koans, would say that when you encounter a difficulty, and you can do something about it, do it.  If you can’t do anything, adapt and/or let it go.

Reminders

I often find these messages applicable to me, even though they are easy to forget.  It is such an ordinary event to take your car in to see if the rattle and squeaks can be repaired and to change the tires. What could be more ordinary than that? Still, the unexpected reminder, perfectly timed, helped me to step back and focus on what I could do rather than waste energy fretting about the what-ifs.

I did the first part, taking my car to the service bay. This was followed by a delighted YES when invited for a lemon poppyseed scone and a coffee with my friend at the Scone Witch. It was a great second start to my morning before going to do the things I had planned and wanted to get done. However, by noon, and hearing nothing from Toyota, my mind spun a few new tales that I quickly interrupted by calling to see how things were going. (checking it out)

Things were going great. An $85.00 part fixed the problem; my spring tires were still in good shape for another year, and the six-month service was uneventful. So, as the ancient wisdom earlier stated – the “problem was solved, and because it was solved, it was good.” I suspect, like me, you have experienced many occasions where that was the case, in both big and small ways.

However, the next part of that message, ”  If you can’t solve it, it’s still good, as it’s no longer your problem if you can’t solve it.”

I can think of many occasions where this is true, especially with our relationships and our human penchant for wanting people to be different than they are.  However, I am also sure this is not the case in the immediacy of a crisis or devastating news.  Once again, this is a cautionary reminder about words, koans, formulas, and advice, which I write so often.

There are some things that although they need to be accepted, will take a long time. Some things you never get over, but eventually you learn to live with.

The poet David Whyte describes it well:

“Anyone who has suffered real loss, the loss of a child, a marriage, a well-loved home, has always had difficulty conveying the absolute sense of devastation to those who are at present more fortunate. As if standing on fishes, Rilke described it, as if the ground had a life of its own and were swimming away underneath him. Many of us who take the solidity of the world for granted have had glimpses of what it would be like to have that ground taken away, ” he writes.

Please, please remember there is no straight line.

We wobble along, this way and that, trying to figure out what to do.  For all the words that get written there are no formulas. There are no experts that know exactly what you should do. Nor is there a definitive playbook. However,  hand rails and sign posts exist that can offer direction and rest stops along the way. There are our beloved humans who can act as bumper cars to keep us from falling over the cliff. And even if we do wear the victim mantel for awhile  do not be mean to yourself, as you will toss it off in your own good time. It is each of us who gets to figure it out – this crazy, wondrous, painful, privileged, and amazing thing we call life.

In other words

I point this out because I think it is important to remember if you or a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness or there is an accident or death, this is not a problem to be solved. It goes way beyond that, and you will be standing on fishes until you can regain your equilibrium and figure out how to survive. And you will! And that is good.

Something else:

When I saw those koans this morning, I knew I would want to write about them. But early in the afternoon, I learned that a dear friend had recently received a cancer diagnosis, and I immediately saw the inadequacy of my more ordinary tale. And that is the trouble with words. They are so powerful and can soothe and heal, but they also bring hurt, pain, and misunderstanding. Ultimately, whatever we do, the most important thing is to opt for kindness. Kindness to ourselves, which can be challenging, and kindness to others. Don’t forget to trust yourself!  Ask for help and more information, and do not hesitate to ask questions. Out of the blue, life can change.

Many of you know my favourite quote from John Tarrant – “We are born, and we die, and in between, we get to keep each other company, and that’s the thing that counts the most.”

I am always aware that I don’t know the details of your lives, dear readers. And there may be more than one person here facing heartbreaking news and difficult choices. Please accept my best wishes and encouraging words for the best of what can possibly be for you in your circumstances. Take heart.  Thanks to all of you and sent with love, Trudy

PS Thanks to Gottfried for these photos today.