Tag Archives | Change

New Normal


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“New normal.”

I dislike that phrase.

It makes me uncomfortable.

Because it’s new. And it’s dissonant. Normal should feel comfortable, because, well, it’s normal. But New Normal is new. And new can be fresh and shiny and invigorating. And – Or – it can be scary and uncomfortable. Like new shoes that haven’t quite been broken in yet. Like a room full of faces I haven’t met yet. Like a room full of faces with one important face missing.

It is better than the chaos out of which it has settled.

It is a soft (hopefully) landing for the other shoe when it drops.

It is landing in Oz, which is better than the tornado, but is still new and full of the unexpected, both helpful and beautiful and frightening and dangerous.

It is going back to Kansas and everything is the same… except for Dorothy.

*  *  *

I had an important realization several years ago, when writing “Remember to Look Up.” I realized that when we make a comeback, the place we come back to is usually quite different from the place we started. Different from where we were when disaster struck.

We come back to a new normal. There. A new normal. End of story. Everything should be fine, right?

No.

The term itself is deceptively simple.

Because how can you come back to someplace you’ve never been before?

The “new normal” is uncharted territory.

And the traveller has been changed.

These thoughts were prompted by a recent conversation with a dear friend, and by reading a poem the next day by a person whose heart had been broken – shattered – into a million pieces. Both spoke of how nothing will ever be the same. Their loved one is different – or gone. And they, themselves, are different. Nothing will ever be the same.

*  *  *

For most of us, most of the time, every day is a New Normal. We just don’t realize it because the change is so gradual.

But after a cataclysm of any kind – death, major illness, natural disaster, breakup, job loss, even Awakening or Enlightenment, the list goes on and on – the change is significant, and follows a major shift or a period of chaos.

The situation is different.

The world is different.

The people around us may be different.

Our worldview, our expectations, our dreams, our abilities, our illusions are different.

We are different.

The New Normal isn’t normal when we get there; it becomes normal as we settle into it. And that can take a long time.

And may require grieving for the Old Normal.

For the one who is gone. For our innocence. For our old beliefs and dreams. For _________.

“Mount St. Helens will never be the same. But the hills around it have turned green again and life has returned to the mountainsides.”

The new normal may be better than the old normal, but it still takes getting used to.

The new normal may be worse than the old normal, but it’s better than the chaos.

Either way, the old normal must be grieved and released. That is when the new normal really takes hold.

The good news, or the bad news, depending on your outlook, is that even this new normal is only temporary.


Have you ever found yourself at a New Normal?

Please tell me about it in the Comments.

Parking Lot Angel


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I pulled into a parking spot at the grocery store, just before lunch time, after a meeting and on my way to one of my jobs. On top of the world after a successful meeting.

I got out of the Corvette, and a guy in a pick-up truck had pulled up behind me, window rolled down. He held out a brochure.

“May I give this to you?” he asked.

Oh no, I thought, a religious tract.

“Sure,” I said, suspicious.

“We’re the oldest Corvette association in America, and we’re right up in San Ramon. We’d love to have you come.”

Not what I expected. “Cool!” I said, “Thank you!”

Standing in line at the deli counter, I burst out laughing. People looked askance. “Damn,” I said to myself.

Ah, the irony. And the perfection. I’ve been driving (and loving) the Corvette for nine and a half years, and this Parking Lot Angel finds me now, when I am thinking about wrestling with selling it.

(I told the whole story to a friend last night, and he said, “You are cool. The Corvette is cool by association.”)

Well, I will go to their next meeting. They may be able to help me sell it. Or they may be able to help me not sell it. And they may be angels for my other work, too.

Either way, angels are not to be ignored.

Attachment


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I finally get the meaning of Attachment.

It’s a concept that has floated across my awareness at various times in my life, generally with the teaching that “bliss isn’t really possible when you’re (too) attached to things (or people, or outcomes).” I thought that meant “don’t get (too) attached because it will hurt when you lose it.”

Well, as someone who has moved numerous times and given away or sold lots of stuff in the process, as someone who throws Garage Sales for fun, I didn’t think Attachment was an issue for me.

I was wrong.

Even when I worked in a corporate job and wore Italian wool suits, I knew I would go home and put on mismatched socks and overalls. Attachment? The only things I was really attached to were my husband and my cats. (And my guitar. And my camera. And the antique cameo Aunt Norma gave me as a Welcome To The Family gift. But really, that was all.) (Really.)

I was wrong.

The other day I was telling a friend about how I am having trouble getting my car ready to sell, and how I had realized how much I liked the aura of coolness the car gives me. How much I like…

…the way people look at the car, look at me, and say, “That’s your car?” (Why are they so surprised?) And then they look at me differently.

…the way we Corvette drivers nod and wave at each other. Nobody else does that. Except bikers.

…the way people say, “You have the. Coolest. Car. Ever.” So I must be cool by association. Right?

…the way other drivers treat me. They yield the right of way just to watch the Corvette go by. On the rare occasions I’ve had to drive something else, I get no respect. People cut me off and steal the right of way.

This is all on top of the pure and simple Joy I get from driving the thing. From seeing an opening in traffic and putting the car there. From goosing the accelerator and taking off. From flying along the highway. From going around curves and corners at speed.

But that wasn’t what I was talking about.

It wasn’t about the fact this was the last car Bruce and I bought together.

And it wasn’t about the fact that I paid it off.

I was telling my friend how I had finally had to admit that my ego liked the way people look at me because I drive a Corvette…and how that made me feel.

She just nodded and said,

“Yup. That’s an attachment.”

Damn.

Here’s what I’ve realized

Attachment in itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem lies in what it keeps me from doing, or drives me to do (so to speak). And, more importantly, what lies behind it. Whether or not I sell the car, realizing the reason behind why I’ve had trouble moving forward with selling it is huge. That lesson can’t be unlearned, whether I sell the car or not.

Even more importantly, I realize as I write this, Attachment and Connection should not be confused.

We get Attached to ideas and beliefs. We Connect with Others.

This is a reminder to myself to finally believe in my Innate Coolness and Amazingness. Regardless of what I drive.

And to focus on Connection, not Attachment.


Where are your Attachments and your Connections?
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The Garden of My Heart


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In October of last year I had a Moving Sale and liquidated a big portion of my belongings – and my garden.

My little garden. Visitors would step out onto my patio, surrounded by a six-foot privacy fence and shaded by a heritage oak, and exclaim, “Oh! It’s like a secret garden!”

It was. With its fountain, bird feeders, glider bench, and plants everywhere, it was a secret garden. A little oasis.

And I sold and gave away almost all of it.

That was harder than moving. Harder than letting go of books, of furniture, of pots and pans. When I drained the fountain and watched it go out the door with a half-dozen plants, I thought I was going to throw up. Luckily a friend was there to catch me with a hug.

Now it is Spring. Daffodils are popping up and trees are blossoming out, and I am remembering my little garden. My volunteer oak and walnut trees are probably leafing out, my Chinese purple fringe bush is probably blooming somewhere, and I can see my foam flowers and coral bells in my minds eye. Soon the three-foot Sweet Lavender bush that I grew from a two-inch pot and looked like an ancient, gnarled bonsai will be blooming, and the giant rose geranium, also grown from a two-inch start that Bruce ordered for me eleven years ago, will open its riot of pink flowers in May.

Now they will be blooming for someone – many someones – else. Ah, my little friends, scattered to the four winds like seeds, I hope you bring them as much joy as you brought me. I needed to make room in my life for something new to come in, and it is. I wish you well out in the world.

And. I brought a handful of plants when I moved in temporarily with a friend. Not because I couldn’t replace them, but as a promise to myself. A jade plant (cuttings from a friend), an angel-wing begonia and a dragon-wing begonia that have followed me as cuttings around the country, a small ivy topiary, a peppermint geranium, and a rose geranium that I grew from a cutting from the original rose geranium. And another friend offered to foster my rose bushes in containers. It’s time to go and visit.

I have a tiny garden to keep my thumb green while I cultivate a new garden in my heart. Life’s transitions are sometimes painful, even if they’re beneficial, and Spring always follows Winter. Always.

Grow well, my little darlings that went to new homes. Bloom where you’re planted – a good lesson for us all.

Here’s a little Spring for your heart…


Would you like to talk to a coach with experience in
transitions and grief?
I invite you to contact me: susan @ susanTblake . com
.

Intentional Overflow


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This morning I was on a weekly conference call with a handful of friends who are also entrepreneurs in helping professions. As always, it was a rich conversation. Today we touched on many interrelated topics, including priorities, questioning how we define “productivity,” setting boundaries, keeping commitments to ourselves, and fun.

In other words, a typical conversation!

During the conversation I was reminded of an exercise I had gone through with another group of friends. We had gathered for a monthly potluck dinner, and each of us had been asked to bring our favorite cup or mug. The hostess had prepared a large punch-bowl full of water, and she led us through a meditation in which she poured water into our cups until they were overflowing. She asked us to consider this question:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Hmmm.

So, today I asked myself these questions:

What activities am I willing to stop doing to make time (or energy) for different activities?

What commitments, relationships, or partnerships no longer serve their purpose or do not serve both sides equally?

What beliefs do I hold that keep me from moving forward, that I can release to make room for beliefs that make progress possible?

Hmmm.

I am willing to stop breaking commitments to myself and protect my time for writing.

I am willing to release certain partnerships that have run their course to make more time and energy available for personal growth and projects in other areas.

I am willing let go of the belief that people want to pay me for my services out of charity, just to help me build my business, and make room for the belief that what I do is really valuable to them.

Letting go can be hard, but when the time is right it can be very easy.

What about you? Please tell me in the comments:

What are you willing to let flow out of your life in order to let something new flow in?

Image: Darren Robertson / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Captains Curious: From Itchy Feet to an Itchy Mind


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest member of the Captains Curious is LaVonne Ellis! To learn about the series and the other Captains Curious, please click here.

I have a restless nature

Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have a restless nature, so I used to move a lot.

Conveniently, I wound up in broadcasting, an industry that requires frequent relocations in order to move up the career ladder. I loved it.

I was always curious about my new surroundings

The library would be my first stop, to read up on the history of the area. I loved the stimulation of new situations and things to learn: How to pronounce local place names correctly, where to find the nearest post office or pharmacy, the quickest way to get to work at five in the morning – and wow, look at that gorgeous view!

After a year or two it would all become routine

The minivan seemed to know where everything was without my even thinking about it. The view became so much wallpaper to my bleary, sleep-deprived eyes. I’d seen it all before.

That was when I’d start to feel the familiar itch to look for a new job, a new city.

This went on for years, until…

This went on for years, until I moved to a small, urban apartment in a sun-blasted San Diego neighborhood that held no interest for me at the time.

It was cheap. That was my only reason for renting it. The career was pretty much over. At 51, I had aged out. I was unemployed with a young son to raise. I told myself this place was only temporary, until I could get back on my feet. That was nearly 14 years ago.

Every year when the move-in date comes around, I marvel at how long it’s been. My son grew up here. It’s odd to think that when he is old, this is what he will remember as his childhood home.

Curiosity made it home for me too.

After the minivan was repossessed, we came to know our neighborhood inside and out, walking everywhere. I got all the bus schedules and a transit map that I tacked onto the wall, and together we explored the city.

But as time passed and finances improved, the old itch came back like clockwork every two or three years. I had a car again. I could move if I wanted to. I’d look at maps and google cities – Taos, Flagstaff, Portland, even Mazatlan. I loved San Diego, but I wanted something new to explore.

In the old days, I would have made an audition tape, typed up a resume, and sent them to all the radio stations in my city of choice. In a month or two, I’d find myself in a new and challenging environment – just the ticket.

The old itch came back like clockwork, but…

But I was tired. I no longer had the energy to be bright and perky on the air at dawn, or to prove myself to another crowd of skeptical local journalists. Plus, what station in this youth-obsessed media culture would hire a woman my age? And I had to admit, I was feeling awfully comfortable knowing exactly which shortcut home was best for avoiding all the stoplights.

Okay, I asked myself, now what? If moving is out, how do we stay, well – interested?

The answer that came back was Curiosity.

I took yoga classes, meditated, and began reading about Buddhism.

I learned a new way of cooking and eating without convenience foods.

I bought lots of books and kitchen gadgets.

I became obsessed with growing food on my balcony, and read every blog and book I could find on the subject. (I didn’t grow much food, but there’s always another summer.)

I learned about food storage, collecting mason jars and 5-gallon buckets that filled every cupboard and spare corner of the apartment. (I may have gotten a little carried away.)

And then one day…

One day, I decided to re-examine everything – every habit, every thought, every unconscious moment in my life. I washed dishes in a different order, brushed my teeth up and down instead of sideways, grew my short grey hair long. When old regrets popped up at the same automatic triggers, I let them go. I turned off the TV and found a better use for my time: Starting a business.

I was curious to see if I could find a better way to do the routine, daily stuff, but what I found was a whole new life that, ironically, looks to outsiders pretty much the same as it did before.

By examining the most mundane details of my life, I became truly present in the moment for the first time. I wasn’t dreaming of a future in another place. I was solidly here, right now, aware.

And intensely curious.

* * * * *


When LaVonne Ellis isn’t busy being the Chief CustomerLover at http://customerlove.me, she is constantly learning about business, life, and herself.


* * * * *

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Captains Curious: Curiosity in Times of the Tower


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest members of the Captains Curious are Mike and Birdy Diamond! To learn about the series and the other Captains Curious, please click here.

What good is curiosity? Just how important is it?

When Birdy brought up the question of curiosity to me, I got to thinking about how vitally important curiosity was, especially in Times of the Tower, a.k.a. times of major life-altering change, for those of you not immediately familiar with Tarot symbolism.

Why?

Because when people are having problems, what normally happens is the instinctual hiding and going inward thing. You know – you are being hunted (it doesn’t really matter by what) and you should hide and go into yourself. Don’t be noticed, maybe the bad thing will eat somebody else – just sit there and feel sorry for yourself.

Which is exactly the wrong thing to do!

Even in the old days, having friends with spears was a lot more useful.

Birdy chiming in here, with some examples for those of you (like me) who learn better by story.

Where shall we begin?

Oh, yes, the running-and-hiding-under-furniture thing.

Yes, a definite tendency, and one I’ve practiced far more often than I’d like to admit. 😀

But yes, while an instinctive move, perhaps not the best one to make in such times.

On a personal note, the running and hiding thing has caused me FAR more embarrassment and trouble than it was worth.

To the point that no, I don’t have any stories that I’m willing to share about that aspect, beyond ‘Been there. Done that. Do NOT recommend it!’ :>

But why curiosity?

  • Because you can’t be curious and closed down at the same time.
  • Fear doesn’t last in the face of curiosity
  • Curiosity forces you to look outward
  • It encourages perspective
  • It encourages thinking ‘outside the box’

All of which is exactly what you should be doing in Times of the Tower.

So.

A story that I AM willing to share.

Well, the first one that comes to mind is the one that sparked this whole ‘Time of the Tower’ idea in the first place.

As is so often the case, it was the personal situation that brought it home.

We’d heard about the Japan earthquake/tsunami, but were distant enough from it to view it with the detached compassion that occurs when the turmoil is not at your own front door.

Then our own world fell apart, and the need to deal with the Time of the Tower hit home.

My husband was informed that his employer was succumbing to their own lack of curiosity and entering into bankruptcy, which meant the closing of a number of stores, including the one he worked at.

(If you’ve been hanging around me at all, you probably know the parties involved, but as Susan rightly pointed out, names are not important here. What is important is our own curious approach to getting our tailfeathers out of the fire. Besides, the retail industry’s lack of curiosity and the consequences therefrom is a WHOLE ‘nother show. :-D)

  • Because you can’t be curious and closed down at the same time.

So, after the crying and the screaming was done (I freely admit in times of stress, I tend to go to my Totem Sparrow, who is not exactly the quietest of Birds!), we set about putting our curiosity to work.

  • Fear doesn’t last in the face of curiosity

Sitting down and exploring our options was an excellent way to keep the boogeyman at bay, which was definitely helpful, especially for those middle-of-the-night fears that creep up and pounce unwanted, though not unexpectedly.

  • Curiosity forces you to look outward

Later on, we would discover that Explorer is an Archetype shared by both of us, which explains a lot about why curiosity is such an important thing for both of us.

At the moment though, we were only interested in figuring out what the flock we were going to do to get ourselves out of this mess. With an unemployment rate of 11% in Michigan, and a distinct lack of desirable options as far as a range of jobs, the squeeze definitely seemed on.

But we put all that behind us and sat down, determined to use our curiosity find a way that worked.

We brainstormed.

We hashed out options.

We worked things out to make sure vital things would be taken care of.

We took action, both because it was the Useful Thing to Do, and because it kept the boogeymen in the middle of the night at bay.

  • It encourages thinking ‘outside the box’

Curiosity let us do all that.

It freed us from being so immersed in the situation that we couldn’t move.

It allowed us to explore other options and paths.

It allowed us to look at things in new lights and from new directions.

Good things those.

  • It encourages perspective

And it also gave our brains something useful to do, instead of dwelling on the negatives, which was very useful from both a movement and metaphysical perspective.

It also gave us the freedom to look at the situation from more than just the angle of a soon-to-be-ex-employee. This is valuable stuff, not only for the information it brings at the time, but also for avoiding future problems in one’s own life and situation.

For example, the things we’ve learned about what NOT to do in business are both numerous and things people would pay tons of money to know.

Many are common-sense, which just goes to show you how scale and business veneer can change one’s vision. And that ultimately, when it comes to business smarts, size does not matter, which can be an incredible confidence builder!

The Time of the Tower is all about the ‘out with the old – and in with the new’ kind of time.

If you are associated with the old thing – even if indirectly – it can start off as a bad thing. And often it is bad.

At least in the beginning.

The old thing going away always leaves a vacuum.

Always!

It hurts. It still does, even though at the time of this writing, we’ve had nearly a month of Mike being home. The benefits are numerous, and on a big-picture level, we don’t regret a thing, but it’s still all too easy to give way to the emotions that lie just underneath, the parts of you that resist change with all their might, even when it’s the best change that could happen to you.

To be replaced with something new.

And there is the opportunity!

The gift in disguise, if you only know how to look for it.

And overall, it IS the best thing that could happen to us. The changes, both personal and professional, that have occurred in just the short time since Mike’s come home are both a telling example of what is wrong with Big Business today, and a striking example that not all seemingly devastating change is, in actuality, devastating.

Encourage your curiosity!

Gain the perspective that will allow you to see that it is a Time of the Tower and to look for those opportunities that are there if you only have the curiosity to look for them.

Once you realize it’s only a ‘Time of the Tower’, you know it’s a side effect of a growth spurt – along with the associated opportunities – so you know there is no need to waste any more time with fear.

If it’s ultimately going to be a good thing, then why worry?

But, remember one thing.

The old ways of doing things may be part of what is going away.

So, be on the lookout for new, outside-the-box solutions and methods for your future.

Encourage your curiosity – you will find it quite profitable!

* * * * *

Mike Diamond, man of mystery & science. Aviator, astronomer, inveterate questioner & explorer. Also a channel, he & his Guides eagerly await opportunities to educate folks on what’s out there in the Universe. You can find him most often on the decks of the A.E.V. CrowTarot (http://www.crowtarottours.com) or in the Mind Arts Lab of Blanket University (http://www.craftycrows.com), but he is also to be found flying about through all the sites of the Avian Empire. (http://www.theavianempire.com)

Birdy Diamond can most often be seen flying around the web gathering bits for her ‘Roving Robin’ columns for such sites as: Birds on the Blog, CustomerLove, and the Caffeinated Business Community. In her native habitat of the ‘Avian Empire’ (www.theavianempire.com), she is most often to be found in the Studio of TwOOwls Art (www.twoowlsart.com), the Mysticphoenyx Cafe (www.mysticphoenyxcafe.com), or the Talking Tree over at ‘An Encouraging Bird’ (www.anencouragingbird.com), though she is also to be found on board the A.E.V. CrowTarot and on various parts of the campus of Blanket University.

* * * * *

Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Testing Ground


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In Nova’s “Car of the Future,” which I watched recently on PBS, one of the technologies profiled was hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are being tested in Iceland.

Iceland prides itself on helping to improve this technology by testing it every day. Says Jon Björn Skúlason of Icelandic New Energy, Ltd., “You go to a small society like Iceland, where a lot of things are simpler than in a big society like the US or Europe, you can actually test things out here. That’s actually how we think we can help the world (emphasis mine).”

Hmm. That made me wonder: If that’s true of a small society like Iceland, is the same thing true for small organizations? How can small organizations help the world by testing ideas, processes and technologies?

Please tell me what you think!

Compassion Is a Pain in the Ass – or – Stop Making Sense, Part Duh


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Compassion has recently been a recurring theme for me. I noticed this after I published a blog post titled Stop Making Sense on the ridiculously stupid decisions that pass for logic sometimes, especially in a bureaucracy. In that post, I told two (true) stories that made me shake my head for years. I had started the post some time ago, but I couldn’t finish it for a long time. Why? Because I couldn’t get past it being a rant. I was left with a big “So What?” by my own post.

I hate it when that happens.

Scene Change

I discovered Pema Chodron several years ago (thanks to Bill Moyers’ PBS series “On Faith and Reason”), and one of the things that appealed to me about her, and about Buddhism in general, was her focus on compassion, or “loving kindness.” Especially toward ourselves. But it wasn’t until recently when I went through a process of coming to terms with a vocal condition that makes it difficult for me to speak, admitting how I truly hated my voice and choosing instead to be compassionate with myself and my voice, that the concept of compassion went from being a “Yeah, that’s nice,” abstract concept to something real.

In other words, it wasn’t until I stopped kicking myself in the shins every time a word wouldn’t come out or I struggled to make myself understood, that it started to get easier to not want to kick other people in the shins.

Case in Point:

That blog post. I couldn’t finish it for the longest time because I still wanted to shake the silly bureaucrats who make decisions like the ones I described. And I didn’t know how to get past that – until it occurred to me that they were (possibly) trying to do a good job – but maybe they were hampered by a variety of unexamined beliefs that led them to their conclusions. (I confess I am still tempted to say, “a variety of mistaken beliefs that led them to their ridiculously stupid and counter-productive conclusions.” I still have work to do.)

Which reminded me of an essay I read a while back, written by Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsico. In her essay, “The Best Advice I Ever Got,” she wrote about how she learned from her father to “assume positive intent.”

That’s when I was able to finish the blog post.

And I was actually pretty proud of that post. I thought it was well written, it had a catchy title, and it wasn’t a rant. It offered something practical about getting past being stuck when dealing with those ridiculously stupid and counter-productive conclusions.

But it got no comments. None. Zero. A big goose-egg. “Waah!” I thought, “I stink as a blogger!” But my posts on “What Spiders Teach Us About Building a Great Team” and “Bobby Fischer Teaches Systems Thinking” got comments. So what happened?

Maybe compassion just isn’t catchy. Maybe I didn’t make it catchy. Maybe I should have admitted how HARD it was for me to get to that point – a little confession might have been catchier. Humility can be very funny, sometimes.

So, I’ll put on a big red clown nose and admit that being a change agent is HARD. (Actually, just being a decent person is hard.) And it’s hard because in order to be any kind of effective, I have to be compassionate, not superior. (That’s one difference between being a Consultant and being an “Insultant.”) I have to be aware of my own stuff and be able to meet people where they are, not where I think they are.

There is a big difference between compassion and pity, between being compassionate with myself and indulging in self-pity, and between having compassion for others and being patronizing. Compassion does not allow us to collude with bureaucracy and mistaken beliefs, nor does it allow us to judge those with whom we disagree. Compassion is a pain in the ass, actually, because it strips away our ability to simply react and take the easy way.

But compassion is also what makes it possible for us to consciously use ourselves, and it gives us room to learn from the differences between us, to ask for the sound and current data that is needed to replace unfounded beliefs, and to play infinite win/win games instead of win/lose power games.

In other words, compassion is one of the things that makes curiosity possible.

Now that makes sense.

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Take Life by the Lapels and Shake It


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November 3, 2010. Today my late husband, Robert (the) Bruce MacRury, would have been 62. This is his fifth birthday since his death on June 14, 2005.

This birthday is a lot different from the first birthday. One of the things any widow(er) can tell you is that the first of anything is hard. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Holidays. Weddings, baptisms, funerals. The first car accident. The first time you have to figure out how to turn on the sprinklers. The first date. Some of those you see coming, some you don’t. But it’s still the first time you have to go through it without him. (Or her.)

One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that the anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. After dreading the event for days (or weeks) in advance, it was almost anticlimactic once it arrived. But perhaps that is because I also learned to be gentle with myself on those days. Although there was little planning I was able to do in those early days when all I could do was take each day one at a time, I did plan what I was going to do on those days. Even if it was only to plan to do nothing, or to play it by ear.

On Bruce’s first birthday after his death, I took the day off from work and went to a local park with a big lake. Bruce loved lakes and lake life, and if we didn’t live near a lake we would always find one near us and go hang out there whenever we could. So I honored the day by keeping some traditions, such as getting the first carton of eggnog of the season and a cranberry-orange muffin, and I went to the lake.

As I drove into the park, fairly early in the morning, the woman in the gatehouse asked if I was there to go fishing. “No,” I told her, “It’s my late husband’s birthday so I’m here to have a talk with him.” And she said, “Cool. Tell him I said Hi.” So I did.

I sat on the dock and drank eggnog and ate half the muffin and threw the other half in the water, along with a rose. I just sat and enjoyed the quietness of the lake, and talked to Bruce, and missed him. Then I made a little spirit bundle of autumn leaves and feathers, and went home.

The next year, when I was no longer living so one-day-at-a-time and was able to plan a little further in advance, I went to Yosemite for four days. By myself. We had been to Yosemite twice together, and it was a special place. This was also a special trip, symbolic in that it was my first trip by myself.

Every year it gets easier, although it is never Easy. I still miss him. He was smart, and courageous, and funny. He could always make me laugh. (When I showed the slide show for his memorial service to the minister who was to lead it, she said, “He was goofy, wasn’t he?” Yes, he was.) He was always up for an adventure. He watched cartoons on Saturday mornings. He would go out of his way to help people, and he was a teacher and mentor. He was my favorite person. And he believed in me.

I was talking to two girlfriends a couple of years ago, and I made the comment that I was very lucky. “You’re still lucky,” one of them said. She’s right.

It does get easier. It is a process. The third year I went back to the lake with a friend, and I can’t remember what I did last year (which says something). This year there was very little anticipation, and I am writing this post.

It does get easier. It is a process. I have reconnected with the wonder and sense of adventure that was part of our lives before. It’s part of what helped me commit to being here once I started to come up for air. I have learned not to drive myself crazy with guilt and what-ifs. I have learned not to ask, “Would I do this if Bruce were here?” He’s not here, so that question doesn’t have a place here either. I do sometimes ask, “What would Bruce say?” and that’s another question entirely.

I look at life differently now. I appreciate it more. I live it more. Not by going skydiving; I notice it more. I choose it more. And sometimes I have to grab it by the lapels and give it a good shake. I was thinking about that image last night, and how it’s not exactly a very Zen image. And yet it is a completely Zen, in-the-moment-right-now thing to do.

I have fallen in love twice since Bruce died. Neither relationship turned out the way I had hoped, but we are still friends. Those relationships do not diminish what I had with Bruce, nor does what I had with him diminish other relationships. I am writing, and singing, and taking photographs, and starting my own business. I am living a life I could not envision in the first months after he died. Life is good, even when it’s hard.

It is really too bad that it takes something significant like this to wake a person up, to make a person choose life. Maybe it doesn’t have to; maybe I can help with that. You can live. You can choose.

Yes, I look at life differently now. And I’m ok. I think Bruce would be happy to know that. And he’d be proud.

Happy Birthday, Bruce.

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