Monday, January 31, 2011

Go Figure

For most of us, to teach is to present and explain new material, to demonstrate its application, and then to provide opportunity for students to try it out and receive feedback and guidance. It never occurs to us that there may be other approaches, let alone approaches that are much more effective.

How many times have you heard someone insist that she can't do something because, "no one ever showed me how to do it" or that he doesn't know what to do because the current situation doesn't exactly match any of the scenarios he'd been taught to handle. The idea that one must first be taught to do something before doing it is pervasive, it's crippling, and it's not limited to would-be frie-station attendants at MacDonalds. Many doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, PhDs and other professionals lack the ability to comprehend, diagnose or ascertain the answer to problems that they haven't seen previously.

Figure It Out
One alternative to the explain/try approach is the scenario/solution approach. Rather than explaining a method or technique and then providing guidance on how to employ it, you present a problem and provide a set of tools and aids without explanation of any solution save for the requirements that a successful solution must satisfy. You provide a kitchen full of dirty dishes and cleaning implements to a group planning to cook; you provide a bag of 5 apples, a cutting board and a knife to 12 hungry kids; you provide bicycle with a flat tire, tire-irons, a pump, patches and a bucket of water to someone ready to ride.

The students then, working together or individually, solve the problem using the tools that are available to them.

Framing the Problem
Another challenge in most educational systems is that teachers and writers of texts are far too anxious to frame the problem. Given a repeatable method, solving any problem is easy as long as it has been presented in a manner that makes it clear which technique to use and how it applies.

However, in daily life, problems rarely come packaged in a manner that is completely framed. Math problems don't come in the form of "what is A plus B" or "what is 20% of 450?" Instead they come in the form of the oft-dreaded story problem (except with even fewer hints). For example:
Sally is having a party to which she has invited seven friends, three girls and four boys. She asked each of her friends what they would prefer to eat: hot dogs or hamburgers.

Two of the boys said that they'd like one of each, one of the boys said he'd like to have just a hamburger and the other that he'd like to have two hamburgers. Each of the girls said that they'd like to have just one of what the boys like most. Sally wants two hotdogs. Drinks, one per person, are $1.25 each. Hamburgers are $2.37 each and hotdogs are $1.89 each. At 17.5%, how much does Sally need for tip?
The above is already framed out pretty well and yet many of us would be scratching our heads somewhere in the middle of its presentation.

It would be easy to walk through and divide the above problem into simple steps of addition and multiplication. There's no advanced math required; the techniques are not difficult. However, framing the problem (translating it into those simple steps) is where most of us would fall down. We'd fall down simply because we'd never spent that much time doing it.

What Is the Problem?
Of course, the biggest problem facing most would-be solvers is the question, "What exactly IS the problem?" A side-effect of pervasive, gratuitous problem-framing is that graduates of our formal education systems have always been taught to solve problems that were clearly formulated and presented. However, in the day-to-day world it's not often clear what exactly is the problem.

When a child who can't communicate gets angry or starts crying, your problem might be his anger or crying, but what is his problem? What is the root cause of the anger or crying? When an accountant determines that a business is netting less money month by month, his problem is the business running out of cash, but the question is, "Why is the business netting less each month?"

When a car won't start... when a piano goes 'thud' when you play a middle C... when your dinner guests suddenly get up from the table and leave... when your heart starts racing in the middle of the night... when you can't find your keys (again)... What is the problem? Sure, there's the immediate challenge, but that's not the root of the problem.

In short, we're terrible at finding root causes. Why? Because we're rarely taught to find root causes. In fact, we're typically provided the cause and taught to discern which method or technique to apply and how to apply it.

Ask, Ask, Ask
In the end, as teachers and parents we want to provide environments in which students must learn to discern and frame problems and then figure out solutions. When we do, they not only learn more, they learn better (unlike solutions that have been memorized, a solution that you've figured out cannot be forgotten.)

One of the first steps is to simply answer questions with other questions. When someone says, "Hey, thus-and-such just happened and I'm not sure what to do?", rather than providing an answer you could ask, "Well, what would you do if there were no one to ask?" and then "Why would you do that?" or "What do you think would happen if you did that?"

Help the student work through her own process of figuring out situations by asking questions.

In some instances, you might start with helping diagnose and frame: "Why do you think that happened?" or "What do you think caused that?"

If you're instructing people on playing the flute, after each student plays, you could ask others about his technique. How did he hold his flute? Did it look comfortable or uncomfortable? How were his lips shaped? How would you describe his sound? How would you compare his sound to her sound? How were they the same? How were they different?

By asking questions like these, you help students discern technique without ever presenting technique.

In short, if you want teaching to stick and to optimally beneficial, ask, don't answer.

Start-up Costs
Of course, waiting for a nubie to figure something out takes time (sometimes a lot of time), and there are times where getting done is more important than learning. However, the time spent in teaching someone to diagnose, frame and figure out pays for itself over the long haul.

Go figure?

Happy Monday,

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Small, smaller, smallest

We drove on Route 66 and decided to turn into one of the unhardened roads towards the Grand Canyon. We passed some caravans and tiny houses on the Indian Reservation while we slowly slipped and slid our rental car over the surprisingly maintained road. We climbed up and down the hills and stopped when the road became to challenging for the car.

We were the only ones out there and land was everywhere around us with the canyon meandering in the distance. I smelled the lavender bushes that grow in that area as soon as I got out of the car. The views were absolutely stunning. The air was filled with a nothingness that made a bird whistling in the distance sound like it was sitting on my shoulder. What a different world. No wonder the Native Americans called the land their mother. She was always there. She fed them, carried them, guided them and cared for them.

Today it seems that most believe the that world is a dangerous place, where mother takes more than she gives, and everything is unfair. While I overlooked the views I realized that what has changed most since the Native Americans traveled over this land is the people’s perceptions.

We drove back to the road and decided to find another road towards the canyon, in the hope we would get closer. With some amazing phone and Internet technology we set out our new route and dove onto another unpaved road. To our surprise it slowly went down and down. We stopped regularly to take pictures of the growing mountains around us not knowing it was nothing compared with where we would end up.

We ended up in the middle of the Grand Canyon after another forty-five minutes drive. It was the total opposite experience from the first route where we looked over the land. Now mountains rose everywhere around us, and they embraced us as if we were ducklings in a nest. The sand on the floor was as pink as the Native Indian pottery you can buy. The mountain walls were in some places yellow, in other places brown or rusty, or grey. After every corner there was something different to see.

Since I was a little kid I have felt very close to nature. In the early mornings I loved to go out while the dew was still on the plants and grass. I would walk barefoot through the grass and feel the moist on my feet. I liked the smell of the trees and flowers in the early morning. I liked to find quiet places where you could not hear anyone, and where I could pretend that nature and I were one.

When I grew older I would walk outside town into the beautiful lowlands that the Netherlands is rich. In wintertime, if there was ice on the little canals, my friends and I would skate out of town into the fields to become one with nature. It would never be longer than half a day, but these moments are still the most vivid experiences in my memory.

In compared with everything out there I was so small, and it felt so comforting. Even though I was only six, seven or eight years old the land had taught me I could not control everything that was going on in the big outside world, or even in my tiny world of family and friends. It taught me that you could always find something beautiful or peaceful independent of the situation you were in, as long as you are willing to shift your view from one place to the next.

When we had hard times in our family, which happened regularly, I would go out and find something beautiful that would help me let go of my sadness, and frustration. I would stay out until I had myself back together and than would go back filled with peace and acceptance.

In the Grand Canyon these memories came back and I feel grateful for the teachings that helped me get through childhood. I also feel a longing to go back to the road I was on the other day. I would love to travel it by foot over an extended period of time and experience that place in my bones. I know that so many more teachings are out there. Teachings ready to be re-discovered...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pardon Me (Part Deux)

When last we conversed (Pardon Me), I was sitting cross-legged on the floor at Gate C22 in McCarran Airport, Las Vegas and they were calling my seating group for boarding. I'd been sharing some of my thoughts as to why people seem so reluctant to be generally enthusiastic, energetic and or happy, reserving those experiences for a small number of limited circumstances.

I had enumerated four reasons for regulating enthusiasm.
  1. Fraud: the assumption that people who appear to be positive and happy all the time are somehow faking it and that there must be some hidden agenda or ulterior motive!
  2. Flakiness: the assumption that people who are overly enthusiastic and energetic are simply out of touch with reality.
  3. Disappointment: becoming enthusiastic and happy is just a setup for future disappointment when it doesn't work out the way you planned it.
  4. Conservation: if you use all your energy right now, you'll burn out.

As we boarded our plane, I passed our companions from the gate. The husband was having difficulty maintaining his general sense of malaise as the plane replacement had resulted in only a ten minute delay. He grunted something about not reading too much into the apparently miraculous turn-around as I moved on towards the back of the plane to find open seats in the emergency-exit row. I grabbed one for me and one for Iris and sat down with plenty of room for my 17" MacBook even if the guy in front of me were to way 400 lbs and were to nap from Vegas to Hartford.

Enjoying the spaciousness of my primo exit-row seat, I thought some more about reasons for not being happy all the time.

You're Insensitive
There seems to be a commonly held sense that your being happy can cause others to be unhappy and that it's important to calibrate your happiness to that of those around you. For example, you don't want to walk into a funeral laughing loudly and telling jokes or into a cancer ward beaming about all that is good in your life. You don't want to highlight how unhappy others are by turning up the contrast with the brightness of your own happiness.

Stagnation and Failure
Another reason to not be too happy is that you'll never be motivated to change or to do better. Why would you ever move on to a new job if you're happy in the one you have? Why would you ever leave a bad relationship if you're happy there? How will you ever get A's in school if you're happy with C's?

Everyone needs a little unhappiness to motivate themselves to move on and to do better, right?

Of course, if you were happy all the time, then it would be easy to push you around. You'd never take a stand for anything. You're sitting at dinner enjoying an ear of buttered sweet-corn and your older brother grabs it from you, replacing it with his gnawed leftover. If you were to be happy regardless of circumstances, then you'd just pick up the remains of his efforts and continue where he left off.

But I Don't Want To!
Of course ultimately the reason that we govern and regulate our levels of energy, enthusiasm and happiness is simple: we do it because we want to.

We want to, because we feel that it's the best way to take care of ourselves.

We may fear being perceived as fakes or a flakes; we may fear disappointment or burn-out; we may fear being insensitive, or losing our drives to do better, or becoming victims and not fighting for ourselves. In the end, however, regardless of the motivating fear, lethargy, apathy and unhappiness are choices with reasonable motivations.

They're reasonable, but likely not well founded.

OK, being perceived as a flake or fake, is probably well founded, but the question would be, "Why do you care?" and more importantly, being perceived as a flake or a fake doesn't make you a flake or a fake. I believe that it's the deepest and most sincere people who find abiding happiness.

Not getting what you want is only coincidentally associated with disappointment (disappointment being just one of many optional responses) and, as far as I can tell, lethargy and apathy drain you much more quickly than energy and enthusiasm.

Being happy doesn't require a loss of decorum; energy, enthusiasm and happiness can come in the form of a dancing, babbling brook, but also in the form and intensity of a deep, steadily flowing river.

To be sure, unhappiness is a great motivator of change, one that we use all the time. In effect, unhappiness propels us away from what is; however, there are other more sustainable motivators for change, ones such as vision, recollection and role models, ones that draw us towards what we want. And of course, one can take a stand for who they are and what they want militantly or happily.

Time to Plow
Well, when we got home last night, turned out that it had snowed a bit while we were in Vegas. Iris will be off to play with her little friends in a just a bit and the car is about halfway up the driveway. Time to jump on the ATV and plow (enthusiastically, energetically and happily!)

Happy Saturday!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pardon Me

It's 8:20 (PST) and we're sitting at Gate C22 in McCarran Airport, Las Vegas, near the counter. After a brief debate as to who would bring the bad news, one of the airline staff members just announced that our plane has "issues" and won't be flying to Hartford today. However, they should be getting us another soon...

Iris and I continue chatting and the man sitting next to us announces to no one in particular, "No one should be so happy!"

I turn to him and ask, "What do mean?"

He kind of grunts and says, "What happened, did'ya win big or something."

I say, "Nope. Didn't even gamble. We just finished playing a gig at the Four Seasons and are heading home to the snow."

He looks to his wife as if to garner some support for his assertion as to the ridiculous nature of our energy and enthusiasm, but instead, she leans over and says, "He complains about everything! Never happy with anything."

The SouthWest Airlines staff member announces, "Looks like our replacement plane will be on the ground in about ten to twenty minutes. We'll keep you posted."

He grunts.

I get up and walk over to the far wall where I've spotted an open electrical outlet just below one of the illuminated signs tolling the opportunities that await new arrivals to Las Vegas.

I tend to approach new challenges and opportunities with a significant degree of enthusiasm and energy. For some, that would be a significant understatement; for them, I approach new challenges and opportunities with a completely unreasonable and unrealistic sense of enthusiasm and energy.

However, as I consider my fellow would-be traveler this morning, I think, "Beats the alternatives. Why not be unreasonably and unrealistically enthusiastic and positive?"

As I sit here, legs folded under my laptop, my back against the cement wall, it occurs to me that the reasons might be as follows.

1) It's Fake!
I think that a lot of people assume that people who appear to be positive and happy are somehow faking it. That it's all a show. People who are being "real" aren't happy all the time! People who appear to be must have some ulterior motive!

2) You're A Flake
The second reason that occurs to me is the belief that people who are overly enthusiastic and energetic are simply out of touch with reality. They don't understand the gravity of things, of the economy, of the environment, of the plight of this or that. People who are in touch with the way things "really" are, can't be happy all the time. Shit, they can't really afford to be happy much at all.

3) It's a Set-Up
Of course there's the old don't get your hopes up reason. You know, you don't want to count your chicks before they've hatched. What will you do if it doesn't work out like you planned?

4) You'll Burn Out
And of course there's the if you use all your energy right now, you'll burn out.

We're Boarding
Hey, Our plane here and we're boarding.

Got to go!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Questions with Few Answers

I have been having a debate with myself this week. Am I a creative thinker or am I indecisive? Am I indecisive because I am a creative thinker? Does being indecisive foster creativity? As you may recall from my last blog, we are in the process of evaluating performance. As people have shared their thoughts and perspectives on my contributions throughout the year I am fascinated with how the same behavior is categorized so differently. Some people admire my ability to be open to so many possibilities while others feel that if I came back down to earth a little more often, things we be done more quickly. Some people say that my creativity inspires others while others suggest I continue to derail the conversation by offering up impossible solutions. I am referred to as a role model for "forward thinking" and my development plan includes improving my ability to stay in the present. As I reflect on all of this feedback, the reality is, it is all true.

So what does this really mean about me? How do I take these insights and perspectives and turn them into something meaningful? Why are skills and competencies strengths when applied to one piece of work and opportunities when applied to another. Why am I such a creative thinker at work and a total dud in the playroom with my children? Why am I resistant to creating a project plans at work and a task master at home. Why do my colleagues find me insightful while members of my family tell me to "get off my soap box"?

Do I have multiple personality disorder? What do you think?

Love to all,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Week Three, Look at Me!!!

Well, as you can see, I'm still here. As you can see from last week's chart, I am doing pretty well. I'm managing to stay within my target values about 80% of the time. I can't say I really have a sophisticated grip on how my eating affects my blood sugar, but as I am compensating for that by being way conservative in my food choices it's doing wonders for my diet. As of this morning I am down to 344 lbs., almost. 20 lbs. Lost since I started this adventure.

The Diabetes Nazi and Other Helpful Souls

This week I went to see the Diabetes Nazi, Dr. Richard Mahler, in NYC. He is an endocrinologist/dieabetologist. I am really glad I thought to ask for more referrals. I was not put off by his style at all. He is no nonsense, very bright and has a quality that I just love -- he gets what I'm talking about right away and gives me actual answers to my questions, not just general attempts to answer what most people would be asking in my situation. As a for instance - I asked him what's up with the accuracy of my glucometer. I can stick myself and measure my BGL 4 times in a row and get results that vary by more than 20 points. This is somewhat daunting when you're measuring a process to control it within plus or minus 20 points. He not only confirmed for me that that's pretty common, he told me that I should just get over it because that's as good as it gets. Prior to the advent of glucometers, the only way you could tell if your instantaneous blood sugar was high was if you has glucose in your urine. That occurs when your BGL is over 200 mg/dl.. Below that there was no visibility at all and above that you didn't know if you were at 200 or 2000. He went on to explain that the more accurate tracking tool is Hemoglobin A1C, which is expressed as a percent and is 6 or less in a non-diabetic person. This test represents a measure of your average BGL over the past 3 months. He went on to tell me that when he does the test in his office ( it takes about 5 minutes) he has an accuracy of +- 0.1%. I tested out at a 6.2, the lowest I have been in over a year ( I don't have data earlier than that).

Help Me Mr. Wizard!!

I also asked if there exists such a thing as a Diabetes Educator that can work with me to up the level of my game. He clues me in to an RN/Nutritionist that he works with whom he likes. He said he wouldn't send just anyone to her because his patients tend to complain that she's too demanding and makes them work too hard, but seeing as how I walked into his office with charts of my BGL and copies of old blood analyses I would get along with her just fine. I' m looking for someone to work with that's into the details at a level that equally or more obsessive than mine. So now there's Claudia, my diabetes personal trainer, and we meet on February 8th to get started. More on her in my blog of February 15th!

I Told The Witch Doctor......

I also had my initial phone intake visit with my new holistic physician, Richard Dominique, the Witch Doctor. He spent about an hour and a half probing me on every aspect of my life. We talked about my medical history, eating preferences, sexual habits, sleep habits and a variety of other areas. He told me of a patient of his whose BGL was unresponsive to medications and out of control. After 4 months of working with him her blood sugar is consistently under 90. I was pleased with the level of detail Dominique went to and his insistence that he will treat me by treating ALL of me. I then went for an exhaustive battery of blood tests which he is reviewing and we will be getting together over the phone soon for him to give me the results and outline a treatment program for me.

All in all I am feeling in much better hands and like a concrete program will gel soon.

Meet me here next week when I intend to talk about "Tools of the Trade", the various special foods, tracking tools and devices I am using to run my program.

Thanks again everyone for coming along for the ride. Somehow it helps to walk with the crowd. And listen, i know i am pretty heavy on facts and light on sharing my thoughts and feelings about this experience (you know, the good stuff), but I know it too and will do more on that in blogs to come.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Because you loved me

I am in a room where the sun is coming in from the windows in the roof and from the doors. I'm surrounded by twenty-five people - the youngest in his mid twenties, the oldest in her mid fifties. People are dancing - most are dancing with themselves. Everyone seems to be deeply connected with their heart, which is shown as a special depth in their eyes when you catch eye contact with them. Most of the people seem to be in deep, deep gratitude.

In one corner stand two men - they dressed in black, both are in their early forties. One is tall - with a shaved head, dark hair and very blue eyes. The other is smaller, very slim. His black and grey hair is in a small thin ponytail. Both men look very masculine - and yet one of them has a french manicure. They are both watching the people dancing. They are smiling and their eyes seem wet.

The men are Alex Vartman who is leading the New Tantra workshop and his assistant Matt Schwent. The song that we are dancing to is "Because you loved me" by Celine Dion.

Since November 2010 I have participated in three workshops with The New Tantra and over the next weeks I'll relate some of my experiences, learnings and insights.

Most people who talk about Tantra will talk about flows of energy, sharing of love, about connectedness. Many of these people would be surprised if they attended a workshop with The New Tantra which goes deep into your deepest longings - however dark they might be - goes deep into your physical armouring - and transforms it all into divine spiritual experiences.

When I listened to the words of Celine Dion, as I danced among people that I had come to know and love, I got in touch with some of my deepest longings: the longing to be loved unconditionally.

You were my strength when I was weak. You were my voice when I couldn't speak. You were my eyes when I couldn't see. You saw the best there was in me; Lifted me up when I couldn't reach. You gave me faith 'coz you believed. I'm everything I am Because you loved me.

You cannot go to that place without love - and you cannot love without going deep into yourself and finding the love for the one who gave you the biggest gift of all: Life!!

But as I was dancing I became sad. To me the song reminded me of a deep and unfulfilled longing. I went to a place of not feeling good enough: it looked to me as if "everyone else" had had the experience of this big beautiful unconditional love.

At the end of the workshop I signed up for a personal session with Matt Schwent. Mostly he helps with dearmouring of the vagina, about how to enjoy pleasure, how to give etc. With me we had a talk about why I found it difficult to be in touch with my feminine self.

In a girl or a woman the feminine self is first created by mirroring her mum - and later by trying to make her dad be attracted to her (without him acting on it).

When I was with my mum there was a lot of pain - so I disconnected from her, and I was often jealous of the attention she got from my dad when she was crying.

When I was nine my parents got divorced. I was happy and looking forward to living with my dad. I dreamed of getting ALL his attention. And I did. Not in the way I had dreamed of but as someone who would be laying on my bed when I came back from school not moving until he got kissed. Someone who would stick his tongue in my mouth when he put me to bed.

I remember the weight of his body, remember how I tried to push him away - but I just wasn't strong enough. I remembered how he pretended that it was all just a funny game. But it was not fun. It was not fun to me.

In my session with Matt he worked on the tension in my belly and suddenly he asked me to call for my mum. My first inclination was to hit him, the next was to get away from him - get out of the room. Instead I looked into his eyes and trusted that he knew that it would be good for me. As I started to call for my mum I also started to shake and cry.

Never, never, ever had I known that in the moment I felt my dad's tongue in my mouth, I had a deep deep longing for my mum. For her to come and hold me, for her to care for me.

That's why I was sad when I heard Celine Dion sing:
I'm everything I am Because you loved me

I never trusted my mum's love - and I never truly appreciated that she gave birth to me. But that day I got in touch with the feeling inside which will always love my mum.

I believe that being in touch with a deep love an appreciation for my mum, seeing her as the divine goddess who gave birth to me - is what was needed for me to deeply feel love, give love, be love and make divine love.

with Love


Teach Your Children: Competition and Comparison

Here's a for what it's worth.

I love competition and competing. I love finding strong competitors who challenge and stretch me. I learn and grow the most when in the heat of competition with people who've broken through barriers that still daunt me.

I've noticed that many people find competition distasteful, something to be avoided, something that can lead to poor self-esteem, something that can end friendships. They discourage competition in everyday situations and limit it to areas such as athletics and chess matches. They'll say things like, "Why do you have to turn everything into a competition?" or "Why must you always compare yourself to others?"

They seem not to discern the difference between opponents and enemies and they seem to personalize comparison and critique.

I believe that folks who have disdain for competition and comparison miss out on endless opportunities to learn and grow. I believe that comparison is a good thing. It's a wonderful tool for learning. When we instruct children not to compare themselves to others, we deny them those opportunities as well; we teach them that there is something wrong with comparison or worse, that if they are the subject of negative comparison or losing a competition, it means something about them.

However, the problem doesn't lie in competition or comparison. The problem lies in the judgments we draw from competition and comparison, when we translate competition into winning or losing and when we translate comparison into better or worse. We amplify the effect of these judgments when we personalize them, when we go from winning and losing to winner and loser, or from better and worse, to good kid and bad kid.

Consider the following scenario. After working hard on a paper that you feel you've done a good job on, you take it to school excited to be reading it in front of your class. However, before your turn to read, Sally Smithers gets up to read her paper. It's so good that the class applauds loudly. The teacher walks over to Sally, claps her on the back and joins in the applause. Everyone is saying things like, "Wow, that was awesome!" and "I never heard anything so good before."

Sally returns to her seat, the roar slowly fading to a buzz and then to a low hum. The teacher claps her hands and says, "Alright class, let's get back to our readings. Let's see, who's next?"

She looks down her list and calls your name. How do you feel?

C.S. Lewis said that true humility does not come in the form of a brilliant woman denying her brilliance or a beautiful man denying his beauty, but instead from each person making honest assessment himself and being as pleased with his own skills, capabilities or attributes as he would were they held by anyone else. Marianne Williamson talks about our greatest fear being the revelation of the brilliance within. We judge greatness and we judge weakness because we make them mean something about the exhibitor of greatness or weakness.

In the above scenario, would we ask that the teacher not have the children read in front of the class? Would we ask the class not to applaud Sally? Would we instruct the children that they shouldn't be comparing themselves to others or competing?

I would say "no" to all the above. I believe that we want to seize the opportunity for self-instruction afforded by Sally's great performance, asking questions such as, "Why did you applaud after Sally finished?" and "What did you like about Sally's paper?" and "Why did you like that?" and "What would you have changed to make Sally's paper even better?"

Following the next reading, the teacher might ask similar questions, but additionally, "How was Henry's paper different from Sally's?" or "What did Henry do that Sally didn't do?" or "What did Sally do that Henry didn't do?", all along guiding the class with more questions that get to the critical differences between the two papers and away from the personal ones.

I believe that by actively encouraging competition and comparison, and by guiding it, we help children to become so comfortable with comparison that they use it all the time to better understand how things work, to be inspired to greater achievement, and to inspire greater achievement in others.

I also believe that when we actively discourage competition and comparison, we teach our kids that competition and comparison are things to be taken personally, that doing well or poorly means something about who they are as people. Further, by not actively guiding kids on constructive competition and comparison, we leave them open to the instruction of others who believe that winning means everything, that you don't want to be a loser, or that you need to vilify the competition. Vilification and taking things personally becomes normal.

Well, that's what I woke up with this morning.

What do you think?

Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Your Truth, Really

I set the last plate on the rack to dry and turned to survey the kitchen/dining room/living room that accounts for about 70% of the floorspace in our home. All the food was packed up and put away, the pots and pans were in the cupboard, the table had been wiped clean, and it was just 10:30.

I walked over to the cupboard, pulled out the bottle of Macallan, grabbed a couple of glasses and then sat down at the counter next to my buddy Jeff who was in town for a training course. We each swirled the single-malt about our glasses, took a deeply satisfying sip and then leaned back into our seats, just enjoying the quiet of the moment.

"Mark, you mind if I ask you a question?"

"Not at all. What's up?"

"What do you consider to be your truths?"

"What do mean by my truths?"

"I mean the bedrock beliefs that form the basis of who you are and how you operate. They may or may not be what you profess to believe. They would be the beliefs someone would discern after observing you closely for a couple of months."

I looked at Jeff and said, "Wow, great question!" and then I looked to see exactly how much Macallan we had left.

We talked til about 2:30. I shared my foundational beliefs with Jeff and then he shared his with me. It was quite revealing. I learned a lot about myself and the usefulness of discerning your theoretical truths from your operational truths.

Nothing I Can't Figure Out
The first truth that came to me in response to Jeff's question was this: There's absolutely nothing that I can't figure out. To be clear, this may not be true in the conventional sense of fact or fiction. However, it's absolutely true in terms of the way I operate. Naively or not, foolishly or otherwise, I get completely jazzed by new challenges and impossible situations. I always assume that there's and an answer and that I can come up with it.

This belief is so core to me, that I don't actually think about it, I just act upon it. It doesn't vary from situation to situation. It just never occurs to me that I could fail.

Not All Truths Are Desirable
Another of my truths is one that I wouldn't have listed were I thinking about it from an academic perspective. Although, I might tell you that I believe in and trust people, observing myself operationally, I would conclude that I absolutely believe people to be generally unreliable and inept.

When working on something jointly, I'll typically check and verify the work of others (multiple times). When playing with bands, I always bring spare parts, extra batteries and pieces of gear that I don't use myself, just in case. If I'm meeting someone in town, I always bring something else to do in case they don't show up or show up late.

So, on the one hand, I'd like to believe that others will do what they say they'll do, that they'll deliver on their portions of a shared task, etc. On the other hand, I don't operate with that belief.

You might ask, "Why would you want to believe one thing, and yet operate believing something to the contrary?"

It'd be a good question and the answer is simple: You do it because it works, or at least partially works. It's a way of taking care of yourself.

So what do you do with undesirable truths? First of all, recognizing that you have an undesirable truth in your quiver is useful. It's the starting point for self-exploration. After exploring, you can decide to accept your undesirable truth. You can decide to toss it. You can decide to merge it with what you want to believe.

I operationally adhere to my undesirable belief that people are generally unreliable for good and rational reasons
  • I've experienced people not showing up or not having prepared.
  • I'd rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.
  • Thinking more holistically about my role in a team effort provides me a better perspective for leadership
Once I articulate and understand these reasons, I can take a look at my desired belief (to trust people to be reliable and adept) and explore the benefits of operationalizing it:
  • By trusting people to be reliable and effective, I would reduce the amount of work that I have to do.
  • Trusting people would allow me to better focus on the tasks that I want to complete.
  • Trusting people and relying them often leads to them becoming trustworthy and reliable.

Recharging Beliefs
I am Lucky1.

I believe that I am truly lucky to live the life I am living... Lucky to be with a wonderful woman whom I adore... Lucky that she usually adores me back... Lucky to have terrific kids and great friends... Lucky to play music and to work passionately...

I'm not sure I can explain it well, but there's something about feeling lucky that transforms the stimuli that bombard you day-in and day-out into blessings rather than non-events or curses. I guess it leads to that sensation that it's all good.

2010 was a challenging year for Iris and me, perhaps the most challenging year of my life. There were times when my core sense of being lucky (being blessed) was shaken. Although this is oxymoronic, you might call it an existential crisis of faith. At times, I leaned over the precipice of exponential exacerbation, the pit of endless cycling on the musak of lament, where falling in would have simply required me to shift my focus from the immediate effect of not being lucky, to the loss of luck itself.

The loss of faith can be challenging enough. However, when you start lamenting the loss faith, rather than the effect of losing faith, well, you're screwed.

The thing I discovered, though, is that the loss of faith (the decommissioning of an operational truth) doesn't actually mean anything. What you believed can be recovered and it can be recovered quickly and easily.

Unlike TRUTH in the classic sense (something that is absolute, immutable and fail-proof), the value in operational truth resides in how well it works for you. It's not about believing in your mind or even about believing in your heart; it's about believing in your muscles and your sensory systems. Recovery is not philosophical; it's physical. You don't contemplate it or philosophize; you act.

As you act upon your truth, you breathe life into it. As you reinvigorate your truth, it returns the favor, invigorating your action. And then you begin to see the supporting evidence.

In my case, the loss of feeling lucky (a general sense that it will all work out great no matter what) had led me to becoming hesitant and indecisive in some cases and controlling and inflexible in others. Cycling through it mentally got me nowhere. However, when I decided to act upon the belief that I was indeed lucky (to operationally believe that it was all good), I began moving forward; things got easier, I made whatever decisions came my way quickly and easily, and I started to see all the evidence of my great luck.

What Are Your Truths
So, what are you truths, the bedrock foundational beliefs that define who you are and how you operate? How do they influence your daily activities? How do they contrast with and compare to your philosophical or theological truths? What would you change? What would you grow? What would you recover?

Happy Friday!

1 For those of you who would choose to anthropomorphize the attribution of your well-being, you could replace "lucky" with "blessed".

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It takes a village

I’ve always heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. The picture created by that saying always fills me with thoughts like warm, nurturing, safe. Although I am fully responsible, I am not alone. Although I can take care-of myself, someone else will always have my back. This idea of interdependency is timeless. As we care for each other in community, we each become stronger individual entities, with more to contribute to the larger community, making the community as stronger habitat, a both a fort, and a force to be reckoned with.

Somehow, things seem to have changed. Although we all still agree with these ideas, we are behaving differently. Slowly, we have shifted to valuing independence over interdependence, autonomy over shared responsibility. We used to say ‘no man is an island’. Now, we can lustily sing ‘each man is an island!’ The village has vanished, and is replaced by single huts communicating superficially by various electronic devices, sharing pictures of the life we live virtually alone.

This may not be everyone’s experience, but it was mine, especially after my first son was diagnosed with autism. The crowd huddled around us, sharing sadness and horror, then slowly slinked away, until, there we stood, alone.

Friends are not to be blamed for their reaction. They were in as much shock as we were. They were in as much denial as we were. They too didn’t know what to do with this child. But, we had to learn, they didn’t. So, the easy babysitting arrangements for the date nights became not so easy. As Jay got older, people seemed more daunted by the prospect of being with him. Intuitive, skilled, loving, childcare was very difficult to find. There was no predictable source. When we did find it, we couldn’t afford it.

Parents of children with autism are on the job night and day. For my family, there is no down time. The super vigilance leads to frayed nerves and sharp tempers. Innocent children can get reprimanded for almost nothing at all. Sleep deprivation, poor diet, limited social interaction outside of work (for those who work outside the home) and generally poor self care lead to partners who cannot even love themselves well, let alone love each other and their children. On Mazlow’s hierarchy, we are on the bottom rungs, scratching around to meet basic needs like food and shelter and rest. Self care ranks up there with self actualization, a lofty and elusive goal.

The thing is that this situation is not sustainable. Recent news stories of depression, suicide and other atrocities in families dealing with special needs children highlight the level of strain being experienced by all concerned. With autism currently affecting about 1% of all children born in the United States, it really is time to dust off our village mentality, roll up our sleeves and get to work.

A lot of wonderful work has gone into many areas, including diagnosis, causes, medical care along the lifespan and so on. Still, families feel lonely and stressed. Every child with autism represents the need for an entire team, an entire village of people rallying around. Both the child and his or her family need people to be physically present, through thick or thin, through tantrum or poop, through apparent starvation or aggressive behaviors.

We just need people around. But not any person. Not people who will judge our parenting. Not people who will ask how we manage and comment that they could never manage, not people who think our children are insane. We want people who want to deeply connect with others, no matter how different they are, who have a wide definition of ‘normal’, who define being helpful by really tuning in to the child and his or her family’s experiences, not by that they think would be helpful.

The village I imagine is a place where we go with an idea, rather than against it. In that village we learn to see opportunities for celebration, gifts in unlikely packages, joy where others see sorrow. We experience love and happiness, we move to the music we hear, we see the beauty around us. We are energized to dream and create and strategize, and work and work and work, all because we decided to find joy, not tragedy. That’s what happens in this village.

I used to find our engagement with autism to be a very dark, depressing and defeating experience. I gave up my dream of what could be, I focused on my fear of what could be, I lost my energy and drive for life. I have decided this isn’t the way I want to be in the world. I have challenged myself to see the joy in the precious gift that is Jaedon, my 12 year old son, diagnosed with autism. When I have joy, I can dream. When my dream is alive, I can create and strategize and work and work and work to fulfill my dreams. I am more vibrant, more fun and so much more alive. I live in the moment. I enjoy today, while working towards tomorrow. More than anything else, I can enjoy Jaedon. And he truly is a joy

I have had to create my own village. I allowed Jaedon’s beacon to shine and he has attracted some wonderful people who have helped us as we transition to our ‘new normal’: holistic, joyful life engaging autism, and everything else life has to offer. Our transition is still in process, and as we journey, I see many others at various stages of their own journey, and many who have yet to start.  

Sign up!  Just pick someone, anyone that needs a village.  Let's create these musical, beautiful clusters of community everywhere.  It still takes a village...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reviewing Annual Performance

Well, it's that time of year again. The time of year when most American companies close out last year's books and evaluate the performance of the business. In evaluating business performance, every individual has the opportunity to be evaluated as well. Before "Belief Makers" and my new lens on the world, I felt really good about stewarding this process on behalf of business leaders across the world. Now, I have a new perspective. For the most part, performance evaluations are one person's version of the truth measured by their own beliefs and values. If you are lucky and happen to work for a "progressive" company, you may have the opportunity to receive 360 feedback and gather several people's version of the truth. Most importantly, if you work for a "really progressive" company you may be allowed to provide your own version of the truth but it doesn't usually count much toward the final "grade".

Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work and juggle family, friends, and hobbies in the few hours left. For some of us, this results in contributing over 2600 hours a year to the success of the company we work for. During the performance evaluation process, our managers and maybe a few others take a few hours, reflect on our contributions, and summarize the 2600 hours of accomplishments in a neat one pager. In addition, the "grade" or "rating" typically a word, phrase, or in more technical fields a number is intended to capture the essence of our contributions. Our company uses a 5 point scale with grades defined by "1-exceptional, 2- excellent, 3- successful, 4- inconsistent and 5- not meeting expectations". Now, although we have a 5 point scale, most managers won't use "exceptional" because they don't want you to think you are perfect and they don't use "not meeting expectations" because they can't stomach the conversation or the required action plan needed when using this rating. By default, we have a three point scale and since managers can barely stomach telling someone they are "inconsistent", 95% of our population has their year summed up as excellent or successful.

Now, the performance evaluation process is not really my issue. My real issue is how much value each individual places in their assessment. I have had highly talented, well-educated, senior leaders, accountable for the livelihood of thousands of people and budgets of well over a quarter of a billion dollars in my office in tears because they were rated "successful". What is most interesting is their argument that if their prior manager had stayed in their role, they know they would have been rated "excellent". Often times my initial response of "your probably right!" makes things worse for a few minutes until we can talk through their emotional response to a single word which in and of itself is quite complimentary, "successful" and more importantly that because one person calls it "successful" and another calls it "excellent" their actual contributions were the same.

Do your emotions change about something you accomplished if it is not valued by others?
Do you place more weight on one person's assessment verses another's? What criteria determines which assessment you value? How does the assessment of others impact your behavior?

What I learned for myself was that if I focused on how I grew throughout the year verses someone's assessment of me, I felt good regardless of the "rating". In general, the years I was rated lower than others, I actually learned more which opened up new opportunities for me. In the years where I was rated "excellent" I was deemed too important to a department to be given new and different opportunities and therefore although my rating was higher, I didn't learn or grow as much making me ultimately less valuable to the organization.

How do you define and measure your value?
How will you change your value in the world this year?

Love to all,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fan Mail From Some Flounderer

Well, here we are, week 2! I have been taking my diet seriously and as a result am down from 352 lbs to 348 lbs. this is a huge deal for me because the doctor's scale I use at home (you know, you step on the platform and slide the weights around till it balances. Surprisingly inexpensive at a used surgical supplies store.) only foes up to 350 on its own. Then you have to hang an additional little weight on the slider bar to get you the next 100 pounds of range. Of course I have set my first goal to retire the little weight and am thrilled to see it go, but (here comes the kernel of doubt that Mark mentioned yesterday) I have crossed this border before and snuck back up again. I think I'm going to wait a while until I stay below 350 to say I'm there now. The hope is that sometime I will see myself as a skinny person, much like Iris' realization that she is a runner. Right now I identify myself as old, fat and bald and have thrown diabetic into the mix. It will be interesting to see what I call myself whenever I decide to identify with the strong, capable, physically well maintained version of myself. Of course I can just feel all of you out there thinking - Why wait? Why not make your belief outcome independent and see yourself that way now? Great question, I'll get back to you on that.

Below is my BGL chart for the past week:

You may notice that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are missing. Last Friday I was out with a friend running around town. I had just found a carrying case for my BGL measurement paraphernalia that goes on my belt, held there by a velcro fastened strap. I was jazzed because I could carry my stuff around with me everywhere and started measuring my BGL 5 or 6 times a day to create a more detailed picture for myself of how my body responds to food. I have a pretty obsessive iPhone app to track my food intake. More on that another time. Well, while I was running around i reached down to my belt to take out my glucometer and discovered it was gone. Apparently it had fallen off somewhere. So, after waiting a couple of days to see if I had lost it in the car or at home I couldn't find it, and started using another unit I had gotten from my doctor when I was first diagnosed. anyway, as you can see, for the past few days I have been doing a good job staying within my target range but I am not sure that the numbers I am getting from this other meter correlate to my old meter. I seem to be getting lower numbers now and I don't believe that my diet has changed that much. Fortunately, i ordered my preferred kind of glucometer online (2 units so I have a spare) and it came today, so I'll be back in business for next week. This kind of thing is par for the course for me. I live a somewhat scattered and disorganized life, not unlike the guy on the old ed Sullivan Show who kept all those plates spinning in the air. The difference is, I drop a lot more plates that he did.

However, the question of whether a different meter accurately shows if I am within target range raises another interesting question - What should my Target Range be?

Some stuff I've read says you should try to be below 140, and a non-diabetic blood sugar is less than 100. My podiatrist (taking care of your feet is an important part of the diabetic experience) says that more than the actual level of sugar in your blood you should try to avoid big swings in your blood sugar as this is what damages nerves and causes loss of feeling in your feet (diabetic neuropathy). She would rather see me have a higher average value as long as my numbers don't vary by more than plus or minus 20. Now my endocrinologist/diabetologist who is supposed to be the hub of my diabetes team has given me no direction at all so I don't know what numbers he thinks are good. After talking to my GP she referred me to a guy she calls the "Diabetes Nazi" whom she had hesitated to refer me to at first because the guy is so overbearing and directive. Personality wise this is not a great match for me, I tend to react by telling guys like that where they can put their advice. But since working with Mr. Rogers is not getting me a program to follow I am going to try at least one consult with Adolph Hitler and see if his program makes sense to me.
I have also consulted a French homeopath (Dominique) that my sister uses. She calls him the Witch Doctor and he has been helping her breathe new life into her beleaguered and diabetic pancreas for some time. Apparently she has gone from diabetic to pre-diabetic and has recently come off the medication she was on because her body has become less insulin-resistant due to his ministrations. I spoke with Dominique and will give him a whirl too. He tells me that he has one patient whose blood sugar wouldn't come down no matter what allopathic medications her western doctors tried on her. After 4 months of working with him she is now consistently below 90 and her regular physician has told her to stick to whatever she's doing because he could never find anything to help her. This sounds very appealing as my aim is to be diabetes free as soon as possible. The thing is, Dominique's methods involve a lot of mixing of little drops to take in very specific ways at very specific times and you have to mix them fresh, you can't just sit down on Sunday and make a big batch for the week. Given the peripatetic chaos which is my lifestyle I an skeptical of my ability to successfully implement this promising looking treatment, but for right now I will stick to not believing that my past way of doing things is predictive of how I will do this. The again, I spoke to Dominique last Tuesday and still have not gone in to Lab-Corp to submit my blood for the rather comprehensive analysis Dominique requires to design my treatment. OK Iris, maybe at the beginning one does a lot more walking than running, we'll see how it goes.
I have to say, I continue to be grateful for all of you for your eyes on me and your good wishes. If I didn't have to update the community today I doubt I would have set aside the quiet couple of hours I did to review last week's results and focus on this issue for myself.

See You All next Week!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Owning the Mountain

Just after Thanksgiving, I sat in my home office, looking out at Catamount, the ski mountain across the street. They'd begun making snow and I felt a bit ambivalent about it.

We live on a mountain with a steep driveway that winds half a mile to the road. It's idyllic, really. It's a place that others only dream of living, a place to spend holidays, a place filled with natural beauty, a place of serenity. But then there's the snow.

We moved here four years ago. I can remember the first snowfall in early December, silently drifting to earth, sponging all the sound from the air, slowly blanketing the ground with a pristine white that left everything feeling bright and clean.

The next morning, when we got up to leave for work, the driveway was still covered. Although we pay a couple of guys who own a garage in Hillsdale to plow, they hadn't showed up. Iris called Chris, the owner of the garage, who told us they'd be there in twenty minutes.

Two hours later, we gave up on the plow-guys and decided take on the driveway, snow and all. We hopped into our little red Saab-aru, let the engine warm up a bit, and headed down. As we descended, all the reasons that I don't like anti-lock brakes were brought home.

Growing up in Illinois, I learned how to drive used controlled skidding to navigate precarious icy and snowy patches. It works really well, and I'm quite comfortable with it. Anti-lock brakes neither let you have control, nor do they actually stop you from sliding. They're kind of the worst of both worlds. All the way down the driveway, it was slide-stutter-stutter-stutter-roll, slide-stutter-stutter-stutter-roll with no hope of actually being able to stop. By the time we slowed to a halt on a relatively flat section just before the road, my heart was pounding at about 180 and Iris' grip on my right arm had reduced the blood flow to my hand to a mere trickle.

After a few deep breaths, we drove onto the road and headed for work. Iris, continued calling the plow guys throughout the day, and when we got home, the driveway had indeed been cleared.

Our first winter continued in this manner. Sometimes the guys would show up on time, sometimes they'd show up late and sometimes, not at all. We tried to enlist others, but everyone was booked. We started parking our car at the bottom of the driveway on nights where snow had been predicted. We bought these little traction devices that attach to your shoes so we could walk up without slipping.

Every once in a while, someone would overestimate his car's (and his) capacity to climb the driveway and end up sliding backwards. The experienced among them would safely roll back to the bottom. The less experienced would try to brake and quickly come to learn just how immovable trees are.

After one big snowfall, they guys showed up so late, that they simply couldn't get up the driveway with the plow. For the next three weeks, we parked at the bottom and walked up.

Our idyllic home had became a source of anxiety.

The next winter, I bought a big 36-inch snow-blower to clear the parking area and the steepest parts of the driveway. It worked pretty well. However, it took forever to clear even half the driveway and it was too big and unwieldy for Iris to use. So I spent a lot of time learning to love my snow-blower. It wasn't the greatest solution, but it at least meant that we wouldn't get completely stuck if the guys were late.

Throughout that winter and the next, as I trunched up and down with my mega-snowblower, I'd think to myself, there's got to be a better way. I thought about getting a plow for our truck, but then wondered about driving around all winter with the extra weight. I thought about garden tractors and whether or not they could be equipped to plow. And then I started thinking about about ATVs.

ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) are like four-wheel-drive motorcycles. They're powerful. They have big nobby tires for driving through riverbeds and over steep hills. Why not get one of them and equip it with a plow blade?

I started asking people about whether or not they'd every seen an ATV with a plow blade? How much would something like that cost? How well would it work? Would it work at all? And I got every response from, "Sure, it would work great!" to "No way that would work. An ATV is too light to plow snow!"

When I talked to Iris about it, she seemed a bit dubious. Actually, she just kind of laughed and said, "Yeah... Right..."

Then one Saturday, just after Thanksgiving, we got up early, and I told Iris, "C'mon, let's go look at some ATVs."

I wrote before about our experience buying the ATV and deciding to embrace winter (stopping at the KMart for long underwear, hats, mittens and overalls), and I want to report to you today that it has been transformative, in ways that I'd never anticipated.

We've had several big snowfalls and I've had no problem plowing through 18 inches or 24 inches. The ATV does indeed work, and it works well. It even plows going up the driveway. I regained my love of snow! I love how it brightens winter amplifying every drop of sunlight into buckets of gold and every ounce of moonlight into gallons of silver. I love how a windless snowfall consumes all sound, transforming nature into a huge anechoic chamber. I love how center and focused I become when it's snowing and I'm not doing anxiety.

However, there's more. Not only am I not anxious about snow, but I look forward to it. It's really fun to plow! My enthusiasm for snow has been accompanied by a general enthusiasm for all things winter. Whereas many who live here in the frigid northeast begin to long for spring just about now, I am loving winter! I don't know if it's all attitudinal or if it's because I've been spending more time outside or if it's because I've been juicing every day (that's another story), but I am absolutely in no hurry for winter to be over. I haven't even felt cold yet. It's just amazing.

I guess the thing is this: if there's something that you can't avoid, something that's just gonna be a part of your life, deciding to embrace it completely can absolutely transform your experience of it.

I think the operative word is completely. Whenever, you leave room for lamenting or regret or doubt or simply wanting something else, you undermine the effect. Sure, you'll see some change, but it's marginalized by the compromise. However, when you completely embrace a situation, everything changes. Although I've been cognizant of the effect of attitudinal changes, I've never experienced them so fully and so multidimensionally as I have this winter.

What's waiting for your embrace?

Happy Monday,

PS, Happy Birthday, Eila!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I see your eyes

My white truck made a comfortable buzzing sound while we idled in front of a red stoplight. We were on our way to the playroom at school and my little friend, who sat in the back seat in his blue winter coat and grey hat covering half his eyes, pointed and excitingly shared with me all he saw along the way. We just got back into our routine after a couple of weeks of holidays and I was amazed by the changes my friend has made for himself in the last weeks.

He is a wolf
He is a car
He is blue
He is green
He is a bike
He is flying

You must know that my friend didn’t speak for a long time and that when he finally started to speak it became clear that his brain was not having an easy task with it. He would learn to say a word and use it, but then the word might suddenly disappear again from his vocabulary. It would happen that what came out of his mouth was clearly different then he wanted to say, which could make him visibly frustrated. Sometimes it seemed as if words were lined up in his head in a certain order that could not be changed. If you asked him a question while he already had some words lined up, those had to some out first before he could answer you...

This same boy now sat in the backseat, eager to share with me as much as possible of what he saw around him. The shop, the car, the walking man along the street, the green light, he shared it all. His sentences sounded like music to my ears. I finally got to see more of the person inside the little boy package. It was very exciting to see him open up.

And now my friend finally seemed to have totally embraced the idea of expressing himself, I finally learned some more about the language challenges he seems to have. So, in the last two weeks it became clear to me that he quickly is expanding the concepts he likes to share, but his sentence constructing skill is behind. So for example, he would like to share a sentence like “there is a car, here is a pencil, I see a man walking, the bird flies etc.”, but he says: "he is a car, he is a pencil, he is a man walking, he is flying etc."

It took me a bit to understand that one of his challenges is the use of action words. And while thinking about it, I realized that without action words it is really hard to express yourself. So, I decided that it was time to help him with that.

In our last session this week I focused on the action word “see”, knowing that he likes to share what he "sees". During our session I showed him how he could use “I see” in sentences like “I see a wolf, I see a car, I see a lion cub” and I created a couple games around it and we had a great time. At the end of the session, we put our coats back on, loaded ourselves back in the car and drove back home.

While my little friend quietly sat in the back I pointed out things I saw along the way: “ohh look, I see a green stop light. Yeah, we can ride again”. Our enjoyable ride came to an end in front of his house where I parked the car and walked around to help him get out.

Then, while I unlocked his seatbelt he said in his clear boys voice: “I see your eyes”.

“I see your eyes too” I responded while pushing away some tears I felt welling up.

My little friend is not so little anymore...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Vision for 2011

I have a vision for 2011. It started out as a vision for my relationships: my relationship with work, my relationship with family, my relationship with friends, intimate relationsships and the relationship with myself, but it grew into a vision for my life in 2011.

My vision is: to be open to receive.

It almost sounds like some new age, "Let's trust the universe and trust that the universe is benevolent and that the universe will always provide us what is actually best for us."

Maybe it is, but to me it's more; it's life-changing.

How Did I Find My Vision?
To some people it might sound weird that I "found" my vision versus I "created" my vision. But that is really what it feels like.

I was at a Melting Monday where we performed a set of soft tantric exercises. This day, most of the exercises were split by gender. So while the women opened up to feel, see, hear their 2011 vision regarding relationships, the men were deciding on their live's purposes.

As soon as we were given the exercise, it came to me: this is the year to receive.

The women were lining up in row and walking into a tunnel created by men and lead to some madresses. To the sound of music we let our bodies decide what we wanted to do, first in a group of women and later with the men. I enjoyed being in the feminine energy. Feeling the closeness of women, moving in silence, touching, carressing, breathing.

I realized that sometimes giving is the deepest way to receive. I also realized that, to get the full experience of receiving, you have to let go of the outcome.

My heart was deeply touched and it was as if my life would never be the same.

What do I mean by receiving? How is my focus different than what it used to be?

Among Friends
I often feel that I am giving more than I am receiving, especially when giving a lot of attention. I call people. I follow up on their lives. I remember what their challenges are. And yet, it seems that they rarely call back, nor do they remember what I told them.

Now that I have decided live in receiving, I no longer expect relationships to be "equal". I see how I often used to give in order to receive. So going forward, I will give only to receive the pleasure of giving. It's funny how deciding to change a behavior makes you so much more aware of how often you did what you are changing. I wasn't aware of this deeply ingrained behavior: giving to receive.

In 2011, I will not call as often as I used to. I will not expect others to call back. I will feel more grateful when they pick up the phone. I will feel grateful when they call me.

At Work
2010 was a busy year at work, and 2011 started with my manager pointing out all the things I did not do in 2010. I was stunned. Not a single word about how I had spent evenings and weekends fixing things that were changed in last minute. Some of the things were even things I had made clear I wouldn't focus on since I was lacking ressources.

Yet my manager was like someone focusing on the holes in the cheese, and I was not happy about it!

Then I got my vision and I decided that focusing on getting the job done was enough. Enjoying doing what had to be done, becoming better at vizualising what I have and will have accomplished.

The funny thing is that something changed in my manager; he is now starting to see what I have been doing. I keep telling my employees what I like about the way they do their jobs. I don't care so much about whether or not I am recognized for my accomplishments, which means that I do not get more or less happy. I just get the job done and I feel good.

My Relationship with Myself
I have often had a list of things I wanted to do, things I wanted to accomplish, things I wanted to change in myself. It can be very motivating, but it can also create a feeling of have to or should.

I have a new strategy now. Whenever I have the time (or should I say, "Whenever I remember"), I just breathe in and open my heart. I open my heart to the feeling of should, to the feeling of sadness, to the feeling of happiness, to whatever is present. It feels like I am opening up to myself. Often I get teary, I get the feeling of beeing blessed, of being seen. It feels like I am receiving love, from myself, from the universe.

Receiving and Letting Go
What has been most important to me is learning this:

to get the full feeling of receiving
I had to let go of what do I want to receive.

It's like having sex. You can't fully enjoy the moment if you are busy giving direction about where you want to be touched. However, when you let go and totally trust that your partner is giving you what you most deeply want to receive, then you can achieve ecstasy.

It doesn't mean that I can never tell someone what's on my mind; it just means that I do not plan to tell what's on my mind. I told my manager that I would want a completly different position in the company, but for now I just do the tasks that need to be done without worrying about what the future might bring.

What Did You Receive Today?
I invite you into my universe and ask you the following questions:

What will you receive today?

Will you be fully open to receiving?

Will you enjoy and savor receiving, or will you immediately start thinking about giving back?

Will you find the blessing in being able to give?

Will you fully experience and enjoy someone accepting what you give them?

With gratitude,


Friday, January 14, 2011

Teflon's Guide for Guys (Part I)

On Peeing
Lift the seat.

Aim and pay attention.

Make sure that you hit the target.

If you don't hit the target exactly, clean up after yourself.

Strike that. Clean up after yourself period.

Replace the seat.

Actually, strike all the above. Just sit to pee and everyone will be happier.

Flush, not with your foot, but with your hand. If you're really concerned about germs, then grab a sheet of toilet paper that you can use to hold the handle, and then toss it into the toilet as it drains.

Note: all the above assumes that we're talking about a toilet (not a urinal) and that we're considering dual-gender environments.

On Entering a Home
Notice the floor when you enter.

Notice everyone's feet.

If the floor looks clean (even just barely) or if others are not wearing shoes, take off your shoes at the door.

If there's a white carpet, take off your shoes regardless and check your socks as well.

On Eating
If there's a TV, make sure your back is to it.

Put down your fork between bites.

When you finish eating, take your plate to the garbage can and, using your utensils, scrape the remainders into it. Walk over to the sink, and rinse your plate and utensils, using your hand to rub away any residue. Set them on the counter next to the sink.

If you're dining with someone else, offer to do the same for them. You don't have to explain the entire process to them, just offer to clear their plate(s).

Do NOT dump your plate (grime and all) into the sink.

Do NOT assume that there is a garbage disposal.

On Toileting
After shaving, rinse the sink basin. You may need to rub it with your hand to ensure that nothing you've deposited is sticking to the bottom.

After gargling or brushing or spitting or pretty much anything that results in a deposit into the sink, rinse the sink basin.

If you brush your teeth vigorously, you may want to wipe down the mirror as well.

On Dressing
If you want to check whether or not you need to change clothes or underwear or socks, don't smell just what you've been wearing. Pick out something you know is clean and smell it before smelling what you've got on. If they smell pretty much the same, you're good. If not, change. Even if you think your current attire doesn't smell bad, it does. Don't check for bad; just check for different.

On Cooking
Remember that cooking is not hard. It just requires you to pay attention to a few basics.

Never use metal utensils with non-stick cookware. Use plastic or wood.

Put a bit of oil in your pan before cooking to make sure nothing sticks.

If smoke rises from the pan after you've put the oil in it, then your pan is too hot.

Gas stoves change temperature much more quickly than electric ones. If a pan is too hot on a gas stove, turn down the gas. If a pan is too hot on an electric stove, turn down the temperature and immediately remove the pan from the cooking surface until the surface cools.

Things cook faster when there's a lid on the pan.

Pans with lids on them can boil over quickly, even when the stove is not that hot.

You can make meat, chicken or pork taste good by:
  1. Tenderizing it (hammering each side about a hundred times with a large knife or meat tenderizer).
  2. Rubbing olive oil all over it.
  3. Rubbing a mixture of chopped garlic, salt and pepper all over the olive oil.
  4. Tossing it on a grill or in a pan on the stove.

You can make vegetables taste good by sautéing them in olive oil and garlic. To sauté something, all you have to do is put a frying pan on the stove, add some oil and garlic, and then, after the garlic starts to smell really good, add your vegetables and stir them around a bit.

Don't cook vegetables too long.

On Communicating
Just listen.

Don't even attempt to coalesce what is being said into something rational.

If you're going to say something, ask a question.

Questions that start with something such as, "Why the hell would someone..." or "What were you thinking when…" are likely not going to be effective.

If you do want to understand and you can resist the urge to make sense of what you're understanding, the best questions start with something like, "Please tell me if I'm misinterpreting, but what I'm hearing you say is..."

Don't get defensive.

If you find yourself saying, "But I'm not being defensive.", you are.

Happy Friday,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Village

Smoke curling up from the fire, the happy sounds of children playing nearby, villagers engaged in the life of the village.  This is my village, my home.  This is the place where I belong, where I feel safe.  I'm not safe because I'm impervious to my 'not wants'.  My sense of safety is inside me. It's from knowing that I am in my place at my time, completely doing my thing, my task.  I am completely absorbed, completely immersed, completely consumed, yet not so much that I am not aware of what other villagers are doing.   They are also completely absorbed... yet somehow in tune.  And all our tasks, roles, all our beings, so unique, so fulfilled, yet so completely part of a bigger task, role, entity.  This is our village and our village is us... together, yet individual.  Unique, yet, in so many ways, the same.

My village is alive.  It hums with the passions of every villager.  It grows and swells with the thoughts and dreams of every man, every woman, every child.  It opens up, and makes room for every conceptualization.  The village isn't limiting.  It is organic, and constantly increases its capacity for more.  As it accepts our thoughts and ideas, our village represents our unique legacy and our amazing potential.

Every villager can walk throughout my village and feast on the thoughts, dreams and imaginations of others.  They can look at the innovations, the activity, the work, the sweat, the pain, the strain, the ideology of the past, and hold it together with the ideas, the concepts, the hopes, the growth, the everything of the future.  They stand in today, with the beauty of looking on every direction, back in time, forward in time, all from a spot in my village.

As a villager stands, and looks, and feasts, she sees the past and the future, she sees herself.  She sees her village.  She sees her wants, her dreams, her imaginations, an amalgam, a mosaic, a smorgasbord of everything she has taken in.  The same, yet so different.  Her village stirs within her, grows within her, is birthed from her as she throws herself, absorbs herself, engages herself in her thing, in her task, in her role, for the moment.  Her absorption is fully freeing.  Tomorrow, another day, maybe another task, another passion, another role.  All part of her village.  And the story goes on.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hurry up and "Get It"!

I am so excited by the inspirational blogs I have read over the past few days.  I have been anti-blogging/ blogger/ bloggiest  for a while as I judged myself for not blogging and once I let that go....  how amazing the blogs have been.  Ok, so here goes....  I have been thinking...  what really is the master plan?  You see, I have this belief that we continue to experience life until we have learned everything we need to learn to be fully "actualized" in the spiritual world.  Each life experience is designed to promote reflection and learning and we will be continually challenged by life experiences until we "get it".  My problem is that I now have a fear that as a result of my "not getting it" the experiences are getting increasingly challenging and if I don't "get it" soon, I'm not sure I can handle the next experience.

My wonderful family moved to the beautiful Berkshires about two and half years ago.  We moved because I thought I found my "dream job".  A role where I could use my talents to make the world a better place.  What a crock....  That didn't work out so my first thought was "ok, I guess I'm not getting it yet.".  The next noteworthy experience was when our son miraculously taught himself how to swim.  You see, we moved into a house that had the pool fenced into the house.  We were beyond paranoid about safety locks on the doors and alarms on the pools to be sure our 6-year-old son with autism didn't go into the pool unattended.  Sure enough, within weeks of moving in, my husband and I bumped into each other in the kitchen and simultaneously said, "where's David?". Within a minute, David walked into the house, fully dressed, but drenched from head to toe.  We have no idea how he got into the pool or more importantly how he got out but... a miracle happened that day.  My first thought... "oh my God, thank you, and what am I not getting?"

Then, there is November 1, 2010.  The day our house burnt down and another David miracle.  For those of you new to these blogs, some common behaviors amongst children with autism are strong attachments to objects and constant repetitious behaviors.  Many people refer to them as "stims" or "isms".  One of David's current "isms" is repetitiously playing games on the computer.   On this beautiful Monday morning, David was "isming" on the computer while I was at work and dad was in the basement working on a project.  Dad came upstairs when he heard the smoke alarms going off to find the counter where David was "isming" on the computer ablaze.  David had moved himself about 15 feet away and was reading a book quietly on the couch in the family room.  After my heart broke thinking about a child who may or may not have understood what was happening but couldn't or didn't ask for help, my next thought was "ok, now I really know I am not getting it".  David, our miracle child who has taught us so much about life, has now almost died twice in his seven years.  I really wish I would hurry up and "get it".

Do you believe in a "master plan"?
Do you believe that life is full of lessons that need to be learned?
Have you ever had déjà vu and wondered if you experienced this "lesson" in a previous life?
Any thoughts on what I should be "getting"?

Love to all,