Monday, May 30, 2011

It's All Unhappiness

OK, there are going to be folks who say, "of course", and those who say, "WTF", but try this one on for size: the root cause of chronic drug abuse, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and overeating is unhappiness, not addiction (read physical dependency) nor illness. Nope, all these "addictions" bloom from one seed: unhappiness.

For those of you who are not nodding your heads saying, "Sure, so what?", I'd like to explain a couple of things. In the past, when I've shared this perspective with friends and family who've participated in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous, I've received a less than enthusiastic response. I've heard dozens of explanations as to why the challenge was physical or genetic. How it was something that couldn't be overcome without great effort and support. How, when one was once and addict, he was always an addict.

The idea that all the pain, angst and destruction caused by substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, food, cigarrettes) could simply be the result of unresolved unhappiness seemed preposterous and (if I read the tone correctly) insulting. However, if you think about it, you need only know yourself to know that what I'm talking about is true (not in the absolute God-said-so sense, but in the Hey-he-might-have-something-there sense).

What do you do to unwind after a really stressful day? Do you meditate? Down a couple of martinis or a nice glass of wine? Grab a smoke? Eat some ice cream? Get a massage? Go running? A big bowl of pasta? Watch TV?

Whatever it is, why do you do it? To feel better. Whether it's Rocky-Road ice cream or hot sake or a fine cigar, the experience causes you to relax, to feel better, to become happier. It it didn't (or more correctly, if it hadn't at some point), you wouldn't do it. But it does (or did) and so you do.

Now you may say, "But, I don't drink only when I'm unhappy. I drink at parties where I'm perfectly happy already."

However, even then, you'd be drinking alcohol versus water or juice, because of the anticipation of becoming even happier.

Alternatively, let's say that you were in a persistent state of euphoria. Would alcohol or nicotine or marijuana or cheesecake have the same appeal? Absolutely not. There may be some appeal if you lack creativity and simply use them to combat boredom, but that would be it.

So in the absence of unhappiness (or relative unhappiness) addictions lose all their power. When you feel happy (stress-free, satisfied, clear, comfortable, present, positive and optimistic), the things that bind you loosen. On the flip-side, when you feel unhappy (stressed, dissatisfied, scattered, uncomfortable, lost in thought, negative and pessimistic), then you can struggle all day against those bonds and they'll be no looser at the end of the day than when you started.

Why is this important? If you've been trying to quit smoking or to lose weight or to watch less TV and have had little success or not been able to sustain success, then you might want to forget about addiction and work on happiness. Get happy and the addictions will take care of themselves.

Happy Monday,

NEXT: Getting Happy

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I drove home after my personal training session with Ari Zorn. I was marveling to myself about the beauty of life, about my wonderful amazing husband, about how fun it is to learn all the new things like playing trumpet, playing drums and writing. I recognized my euphoria, and I saw that it was comparable with the happiness I enjoyed as a kid. Unattached happiness...

Later that night I told Mark with a smile and amazement about this fabulous feeling I had lingering over me. I said, “I cannot do anything else then smile” and laughed out loud. He looked at me curiously, and than responds with a very enthusiastic “that makes sense”. “What do you mean that makes sense?” I responded, not understanding his spontaneous insight that seemed to brighten up the room as if someone just turned on a light.

“I should have know a long time ago” he responded, a response not clarifying anything to me. I must have looked kind of sheepishly at him, because he sees my face and stops. “You have runners high”! As response I pull up my eyebrows. “You get a runners high from lifting weights”. Still trying to comprehend what he said I didn’t respond to his words. He jumped up, waved his hands to get my attention, and continued, “you are like Clay. Your muscles are built for moving heavy stuff, and so you get a runners-high from lifting weights. Just like Clay. I am built differently and I get a runners-high from running.”

“Really” I said. “So, how far do you have to run to get a runners high” I ask him. “I have a runners high every time I run” he answered excitedly. You can have a runners-high every time you lift weights.

Since this conversation I thought about how to implement some weight exercises around my running, so I will have the same great euphoric feeling at the end of my run.

I went running on the beach along the shoreline, bare feet. I would sink in the sand a lot and after a couple of hundred feet my lungs were already burning. I had planned a four-mile distance, and I knew it would be too far to run. What ended up happening is that I ran until I couldn’t anymore, then I would walk for ca. 3 minutes to recover and I would pick it up again. This is more the way you train with weights. You exhaust yourself in an exercise, then take time to recover and redo the exercise a couple more times.

I ran through the water which gave extra resistance, I ran on the sand, I ran around kids playing with buckets and spades. I continued while a string of eyes followed my movements along the seashore. I greeted another runner going the other direction. We were two runners passing through a field of resting, playing and talking holiday goers. It felt so good. I felt so strong. I felt inspiring.

I learned that I am a weightlifting runner. I am not fast, but I can teach my body to work under hard circumstances and still love it.

What kind of body do you have? Do you have easily bulking muscles like me that love to work hard and short, and than take a break, or do have the think lean muscles like Mark that want to run for a long time? Does this information make you think about the way you take care of your body? How do you get your runners-high?

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Laws of Attraction

What first occurs to me is the notion that what we find least interesting about ourselves is often that which others find most interesting. Perhaps more significant is the fact that it's often the things that we find most disquieting or repugnant about ourselves that others find most endearing. In the end, what I think it comes down to authenticity: people are most attracted to the "real" you, whatever that is.

I know, that sounds a bit foo-foo, like "everyone's beautiful on the inside". However, I'm not talking about beauty, I'm talking about attraction; sometimes they coincide, but oftentimes they don't. For me, the most attractive feature in any person is confidence. It could be confidence that manifests loudly and boldly or confidence that manifests quietly and easily. It's the confidence to be whoever she or he is without facade and without apology. Perhaps that's what I'm getting at by authenticity.

Most of us have fairly narrow notions of what a confident person looks like: someone who never gets flustered, who's always prepared, who takes charge when things are out of sorts, who is not only confident, but also competent. However, confidence has little to do with leadership or taking charge or even being any good at whatever it is you're doing. Confidence is simply a clear statement of you, neither understated, nor overstated, just matter of fact.

Last night, Iris, Will, Scott and I around the living room talking for hours on end. The whole evening was wonderfully engaging and even though we had to leave the house at 4:15 this morning, we stayed up talking to well past midnight. As I watched Iris confidently express her thoughts, experiences and opinions, I was struck by how confident she'd become since moving here in 2003. Back then, Iris would mainly observe others talking occasionally expressing her opinion with the group, but more often reserving it to share with me later.

When asked her opinion about someone, she would never state anything that might be perceived as negative. In fact, when someone noticed that she never made a "negative" comment or a comment that someone might perceive as unflattering, Iris would respond that she had none, that she never judged anyone or anything as negative.

Then one day during an exercise at a personal development course designed to help people learn to provide and receive open and honest feedback in a way that lacked judgement, and fear, Iris was asked to provide an observation about someone else in the group that might be perceived as negative. She looked at a friend who beckoned her to bring it on, but said nothing. She'd start something and then pause, start and pause. Finally she blurted out, "I think your trousers make your hips look bigger than they are."

That was it. The woman to whom she'd provided the feedback smiled, welcoming the observation. However, Iris just stood silently. She cried on and off all night long and by the morning had lost her voice which didn't return for two days. In a raspy whisper she would say, I don't understand why I have to say something negative about people. I don't have any judgements of people. This is stupid.

However, over the next few days Iris came to the question, "If you have no judgements about what you said, then why was it so traumatic?"

She then realized that she not only had judgements about others, but also that she had judgements about her judgements, and that whether voiced or not, they influenced how she perceived and felt about others. Slowly she began sharing observations as they occurred without interpretation or judgement. Her expressions became matter-of-fact and over time loving and caring.

As Iris, Will, Scott and I talked about sharing observations and opinions, it became clear to me that the "what" of the observation or opinion has little to do with how it is received, relative to the "how" of it. If you state your observations with love and respect (not just in manner but throughout), then you can say anything that comes to mind. If not, even compliments might be perceived as slights.

It's an authenticity that is neither belligerent or mean-spirited. It's not loaded or manipulative. It's open, easy and honest, and to me, incredibly attractive.

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

King of the Bridge

If there's one thing I've learned over the past five or so decades, it's this: if you find a teacher who's truly great and who is willing to work with you, just do what she says, even if you don't have a clue as to why she's said it. Strike that: specially if you don't have a clue as to why she's said it.

Tonight at our writing jam I was presented a clear directive that (based upon five or so decades of learning) I cannot ignore. After an exercise in which Jenny instructed us to recall a photograph and then write something beginning with the phrase: In this one, you are..., I wrote the following. The directive was that it appear here.

Happy Friday!

In this one, you are climbing a staircase made of rough hewn wood. It leads from a foot bridge crossing the river to a trail that runs along the ridge line. You raced one another across the bridge and just as you got to the steps, Eila slowed just enough to let Luke win.

Luke shouted, "I win! I'm the king of the bridge."

Eila just smiled and said, "You did win. How'd you do that? You're getting really fast."

See how the two of you are smiling, your mouths open as you both try to regain your breath. See how Eila is standing just behind Luke as the two of you climb the steps, her hands gripping the rails on either side, close enough to catch him if he falls, but not so close that he notices.

Eila, even at seven, you had more confidence than most adults I know. Once you knew you could win, you no longer needed to win. You were always happy to take second place, or third, or to drop out completely to help someone who'd fallen or just given up. You didn't shy away from the spotlight, but you also never minded taking the supporting role, whether it was singing harmony with Joy or dropping back to make sure that Luke didn't fall too far behind the rest of the kids.

Even as you let Luke win the footrace, you're beaming as if you'd won, and you did.

Enjoyment and other such fun

Now, you might as well enjoy him.  Not everyone gets to have a Jaedon to enjoy, and to grow from.  So many people are bored, just raising ordinary children.  I glanced at Tanya as she waxed philosophical.  Poor girl, I thought.  No kids.  No idea.  This was thought a little sarcastically, because Tanya is my current angel.  She donates 2 days of her week to me, helping me around the house and caring for the kids so I can get a few ordinary things done.  Tanya's stint with me is winding down, and I will miss her tremendously.

Yup! I get to do extreme parenting.  You know, like extreme sports?  I envisioned people going across the Sahara and climbing Everest.

I though back to the past week and thought Whew!  Made it so far!  Let me fill you in on one of the things I've been enjoying.  Well, I didn't enjoy them in the moment, but I have been enjoying them in retrospect.  I have been telling the stories and enjoying my own laughter, and the joy and diversion it brings to others.  Somehow, I would like to play it forward a bit and remind myself to enjoy it in the moment.  But to be honest, my lack of enjoyment come from the obvious incompatibility between what I want to be doing and what Jaedon wants.

What's that sound? I thought.  It was a dull thud, like a ball falling that doesn't bounce, or a doorstop that has been wrapped in cloth hitting the bottom of the door after being slid across the ground, a window sliding shut. What could that be?  What window is that and who would be opening it?  I looked outside just in time to see Jaedon moving away from the upstairs passage way window.  I can be slow, but I quickly figured out something just sailed through.  It had been raining all day and I was panicking.  Don't do that Jaedon!  Let's keep things in the house.  Don't open the window!

Just then, we receive visitors. so multitasking, I engage them in scintillating conversation while keeping track of Jay's movements with some other..., Excuse me!  I dash off to rescue some item as it is being taken to the window. I usher the guests out and decide to take a look out the window. What if he had been doing this before I noticed?  He could have been populating the narrow crevice between our house and the next for days! This window is about 40 feet above the ground, and is pretty high up the wall. To get a good look out the window, I climb on the radiator and put half my body out the window. My heart sank. I was greeted with a slew of domestic items: a tube of toothpaste, the soap dish, some toys, a few books, the pajamas I had just taken off, 2 pairs of children's sneakers, 2 towels from the rack,.... And here came Jaedon, with another towel in his hand. Nooooo! I yell.  He looks at me with new interest and giggles. Oh boy. If there is anything that's going to get a big reaction, it's this. The lock on the window is broken, and I'm at a loss as to mechanisms for keeping the window shut. A hammer and a nail?

The doorbell rings and Jaedon and I go arm in arm to see who it is.  It's our neighbor. The narrow crevice with my pajamas in it half belongs to him. Faith. A hmm... Could you get some shoes on and... Could you come.. I'd like to show you something.  He is obviously uncomfortable. I assure him that I'm aware of the situation but am prioritizing the things yet remaining inside the house. I'll deal with the things already out in due time. I explain the challenge and he offers the idea of jamming the window with a stick. He offered to fetch me an appropriate stick if I measure the window and I hurry off to do just that. In a few minutes, he is back with a hefty slice of wood that would have worked perfectly if I had measured the right part of the window.  I get it to work somehow, and slow Jaedon down enough to that I can at least have a minute to say calmly Let's not put those towels through the window, ok?  I'm finally able to release Jay from the close to vice grip I had on him, in addition to our arms being interlocked.  I finally get to go to the bathroom to handle my business alone.

Perhaps I became too relaxed. Jaedon started checking out the other windows in the house....Sometime later I noticed that my stick was no longer in the window.  From my now familiar perch on top of the radiator, I see crevice with the obviously offensive stick, some toys and a bottle of lotion.

After Isaiah's blue tooth headset sailed through the bedroom window unto the roof, all the windows in our house have been (temporarily) screwed shut. In lieu of the inoperable windows, Jaedon is now depositing his finds behind the radiators, a more convenient, though no less irritating location.

I'm sitting in the doctor's office this week, and the nurse asks Do you exercise regularly?  I see myself dashing at full speed up the stairs 20 times in a day.  Fun and exercise!  What a life!

I'm enjoying all this in retrospect, and realizing that this is yet another example of my own inflexibility. I'm having a hard time because I don't want to do things differently. As with many things that appear to be incompatibility, it's simply a matter that I don't want to change my m.o.  As I massage my own shoulders with the encouragement, Change is ok, I'm heading to the store to get a few locked bins to secure my stuff.  I may have to develop a system for knowing which bin has what, and I'm doing to have to secure the bins with something other than keys. I don't do well with keys.

Hope you enjoy all your moments today and figure out when you need to bend, so you don't break!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NOTICE: A Belief-Makers Alert

It's just come to my attention that the vast majority of the population is unskilled at the use of chopsticks with the opposite hand, i.e., right-handed people tend to fail chopstick proficiency-exams when using their left hands and vice versa.

Rather than ranting about the obvious failures of our education systems, I decided to take action to correct this tapestry of education by declaring Saturday and Sunday (and Monday for you Americans) to be International Opposite-handed Awareness Weekend.

"What is International Opposite-handed Awareness Weekend?", you ask. Well I'm not sure, but I think it's about getting in touch with all the neglected portions of our intellects (and extensions thereof) that are perfectly useful but have been somehow discarded and forgotten (or worse, actively avoided).

Anyway, heres the deal, to celebrate IOAW all you need to do is switch hands when you use chopsticks this weekend.

What, you don't use chopsticks?

My goodness, IOAW is even more important than I first believed. If you're an exclusive employer of steel-based eating utensils (versus wood-based), then the first step is to abandon steel for the duration of the event and employ only wood to eat. If in fact you are NOT facile with chopsticks in EITHER hand (and I can't even believe this is a condition), then don't worry about opposite-handedness (you can save that for next year). Instead, simply use whichever hand feels most comfortable and, by all means, DO NOT use knife, fork, spoon or fingers.

If you're reasonably adept at the use of chopsticks with one or other hand, then all you need do is NOT use that hand.

Believe me, IOAW is a good thing, an important event, a timely event, perhaps a just-in-timely event. By all means, please help spread the word because an opposite-hand is a terrible thing to waste.

Thank you for you attention. We now return you to your regularly scheduled post.

Waking up

In the last days Teflon and I have had some wonderful discussions on what we can learn from how our mind and body works together when we sleep and wake up. You will hear more about this in different blogs to come. Today I want to start with “waking up”, because he suggested in a comment on his article “sleeping” that I could distill the waking up process a bit.

I have no idea what the world has researched about waking up after sleep habits. I surely will do some research on that and share it with you. But knowing nothing is not going to stop me from exploring my own habits.

I would say I am a morning person. But there are differences in the time I get up. There are periods I am up at creek of dawn, and there are periods that I like to sleep in. (Sleep in means 7:30 am!) Why is it that I sometimes jump out of bed, and other times I like to sleep longer?

Chronically Late

Let me first tell you that I am do not sleep through alarm systems and that I am not a person who is chronically late or too late for appointments. I have no experience in that area. If you are a person like that or another variation I don’t discuss here, I would love to invite you to chime in.

Getting Up is Easy

I agree with Mark that excitement for the day helps me to get out of bed. Looking forward to something is very motivational. For me it can be anything, as long as it is positive rewarding in some way. I still have very vivid memories from the mornings I got up as a teenager to go to my summer job in the tulip fields.

Getting Up is Hard

If I don’t look forward to the day, I surely like to sleep longer. Also, when I feel physically less good, I will sleep longer. This last one I want to explain a bit more. When I have for example hay fever or bellyaches, I will not notice them when I am sleeping. There is no sneezing, and my body doesn’t really register the pain in my belly. This morning for example, I got up at 5:30am, but without the happy “oempfff.” Five minutes after awakening I start to realize that my intestines are cramping painfully. The pain goes away after I am able to visit the bathroom a while later.

I also sleep longer when I have been sleep deprived, but this is generally only a couple of days to catch up. In this last case, I also prefer to go to bed earlier instead of sleeping longer in the morning.

What does this say about me?
I am not sure yet. I think it has something to do with the article about discomfort I posted last Sunday. I like to avoid discomfort.

What about you?
I would love to hear stories about your waking up experiences so we can take this conversation to a next level.


This morning, I hear the engine growl, feel the tow rope go taught and find myself suddenly standing in Jonathan's guest bedroom (see Waking). We've had rain in the Berkshires for the last forty days and nights, so when I see sunlight pouring through the window overlooking the Atlantic, I think for sure I've overslept. Turns out that it's late spring in New Jersey, It's 5:15.

I step in and out of the shower, toss on my clothes, make my bed and jump in the car. I head up Sea Bright to the bridge that'll take me across the Shrewsbury River to Rumson. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Jersey shore, Sea Bright is a town built on this thin strand of sand that God placed between the ocean and Rumson in order to protect the houses of the rich folks who live in the latter from hurricanes and floods.)

I get to the bridge. There's this traffic light there that, no matter when you arrive, is always red. Not only that, but it stays red as long as there are no cars approaching its green counterparts. The New Jersey traffic engineers excel in this unique skill: long cycle traffic signals where the only cars anywhere near an intersection are the ones that are stopped.

So I get to the bridge and there's a bunch of guys working on the road. Strike that. I get to the bridge and there's a bunch of guys dressed as though they might be gonna work on the road. Mainly they're sitting by the side of the road drinking coffee. The light is flashing red and there are orange cones flung across the entrance to the bridge.

I begin to compute alternate routes to the bagel shop when, to my wonder and amazement, one of the might-be road workers leaps to his feet, runs to the center of the road, pulls away a couple of cones and waves me through. Just like that.

I turn left onto the bridge and wave as I pass. He waves back, smiling.

I look around just to make sure I'm in New Jersey and then this word pops into my head: craft.

Craft may be one of my favorite concepts. Traditionally speaking, craft is an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill. However, occupation and trade are byproducts of craft, not craft itself and for sure there are plenty of people in occupations and trade who have no craft.

Craft cured me of carpal-tunnel and tendonitis.

I depend pretty heavily on manual dexterity and fine-motor skills. For years, the pain in my right hand and elbow was so significant that it would wake me up at night. One day, I decided to do everything left handed for a month. I began writing with my left hand. I dragged and dropped with my left hand. I gestured with my left hand.

Over the month my left hand went from apprentice, to journeyman to master craftsman. The skills were all new and I reveled in them. I had two completely different work personalities: right and left. When I wrote with my right hand, I was all about getting things done. My hand and arm would tense. My neck and shoulders would shortly follow suit. The blood flow would become constricted. The temperature of my joints would drop.

However, when I wrote with my left hand, I was like a kid who'd just learned to carve turns on a snowboard or just received his driver's license. It was all about the motion, the flow with no thought of the destination. Everything was loose and easy.

One day, I decided to emulate my left hand with my right. Taking two pens, my hands paralleled each other, my right hand following the left in mirror image. As I did so, my righthand relearned craft. The experience was completely different: no carpal tunnel, no tendonitis.

It's craft that allowed me to spend eight hours a day with a metronome playing scales. It's craft that engages me so deeply in software that I forget to pee. It's craft that's gonna help me write this novel.

Happy Tuesday,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Never Thought that Was an Option

"Wait did you say peanut butter?"

"Yeah, peanut butter, lettuce and tomato on sprouted wheat toast. It's really good."

"It doesn't sound very good."

"Well, you've gotta use the right kind of peanut butter. If the side of the jar says anything other than peanuts and salt, it's probably not gonna be that good. Then you're really talking about corn-syrup, lettuce and tomato."

"Well, if it's so good, then why is it I never heard of it?"

"Can't tell you that. That's more about you than it is about PBLT."

Your WTA
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how often I stumble upon simple solutions to longheld problems that I could have employed for years, but simply never considered the possibility. I think there lies in each of our minds a processing center that we'll call the Way-Things-Are center or WTA.

The WTA provides a mass store of catchphrases such as, "But you have to be home for Christmas" and "You can't just pickup and leave" and "What would happen if everyone did that?" Sometimes it holds combos such as "Everyone needs a good education" inextricably linked to "a good education means going to college." The WTA is s the central processor for guilt, uncertainty, fear and doubt. Most importantly it provides the body's primary defense against change, excreting legions of mental antibodies at the first sign of any thought that might disrupt status.

If it weren't for the WTA, the average age of motorcycle-enthusiasts would plumet to forty and the number of people who played music rather than simply listening to it would double; College enrollment would be reduced by 50% and job satisfaction ratios would increase by 100%.

The WTA keeps people in unhappy marriages while simultaneously serving as the source of unhappiness by substituting guilt for desire as a primary motivator and by limiting expectations of what the relationship could become.

Your Sousaphone and You
It's that combination of "what you should do" and "what's possible" that makes the WTA so powerful. To undermine and self-improvement initiative is child's play. For example, lets say that you've always wanted to learn the Sousaphone. The WTA quickly manufactures and dispatches shouldness antibodies: "What gives you the right to go off taking Sousaphone lessons when you already don't spend enough time with your kids?" or "Remember when you tried trumpet as kid? Your parents spent all that money and you never did anything with it!"

Next come the cannotness antibodies: "Besides, you can't afford Sousaphone lessons right now" or "It takes at least 10,000 hours to become any good at playing Sousaphone. You'll be dead before you ever really learn to play the thing."

Because of the WTA, we don't think: "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if little Susie and I both took Sousaphone lessons together? Susie with her little half-size Sousaphone and me with my big one." or "I wonder if there are any YouTube tutorials on Sousaphone playing. Maybe there are cheap Sousaphones on eBay?"

When I was ten or so, my dad the doctor told my dad that he needed to drop a few pounds, to diet and to exercise. This is of course long before I fully understood the inner workings of the WTA and how it was using me to thwart his efforts to run daily.

One day I discovered a brand new pair of running shoes in my dad's closet. Since my dad never did anything even remotely athletic, I was excited. I asked him about them and when he mentioned jogging I said, "Cool, can I go jogging with you?"

The look on my dad's face indicated that the WTA had completely hoodwinked him.

What's your WTA telling you?

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, May 23, 2011


"Oh, there you are?"

What? Who said that? The people in my dream all pause like actors awaiting a character who's forgotten his line. I look around to see what's going on.

Umf. Someone drops a 130 pound beanbag chair across the length of my body.

I will my eyes to open and find two eyes staring back at me, just inches away.

"I was wondering what happened to you?", says Iris who's lying on top of me her arms folded and propped on my chest. "When did you get out of bed?"

"I... what time is it? Where..."

I turn my head. I'm on the couch in the living room. It's light, but not that light.

"Umm... oh yeah, I woke around two and needed some noise to sleep."

"It's almost six."

Iris climbs off me. I sit up and plant my feet on the floor, groggy. My mind refuses to engage. What day is it? Umm... It must be Monday.

I stare at the floor. My mind just keeps going, "Umm... umm... umm..."

I push myself up off the couch and stand, still staring, still drifting.

"OK, I better get up. I'm going to take a shower."

"Sure, but if you'd like to come back to bed, I'll come with you. You look like you're not really ready to get up."

I reach to turn on the shower, and then think, "Hmmm... maybe just a few more minutes in bed."

I walk back into the bedroom and lie down. The bed is still warm from Iris having slept there. She climbs in next to me, my right arm sliding under her as she throws her right leg and right arm over me.

I close my eyes and drift away. I dream.

Thoughts form, images really. They begin to cluster like small groups of friends at a cocktail party. The small clusters float and swirl. It seems random at first, but then patterns emerge.

It's about waking. Do people normally awaken the way I did this morning? How do they do that? What gets them through the day?

The clusters meld into strands. The strands become cords.

Thoughts become ideas. Ideas become themes. Themes form a line of reasoning.

I feel my mind being pulled rapidly to the surface like a skier being pulled from the water by a speed boat. My eyes flash open. In a single motion, I sit upright, roll might feet over the edge of the bed, take a couple of steps around the end, and then stand looking at Iris, fully awake.

She smiles at me seemingly delighted and says, "What did you figure out?"

I say, "I realize that I always wake up knowing exactly what I want to do. While I'm sleeping my mind begins building the plan. It could be solving a software puzzle or writing a blog or washing dishes. Whatever it is, something reaches critical mass and I just pop up."

"Uhh huh."

"When you woke me this morning, I didn't go through that process and I felt groggy, totally disoriented. Is that how most people wake up? I can't imagine doing that every day. How do they do it?"

How do you awaken?

Happy Monday,

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wonder about Discomfort

It is sunday morning 10 am. I take my computer and settle myself on a comfy chair to write this blog. I have swollen lips from playing trumpet for the last half hour and my hand that held the trumpet is exhausted, and my brain is clear and peaceful.

It makes me wonder about discomfort.

I just picked up learning the trumpet and it is so much fun. It is a very physical instrument. You need air (the more you have the better), you need to constantly hold the thing in the air (with a saxophone you have a strap and that takes most of the weight of the hands) and you make sounds by changing the airflow through your lips.

Afterwards I often cannot move my arm for a while, because it is cramping and my lips are a bit swollen. And I feel good... so good.

I wrote in earlier blogs about running and how I feel discomfort for miles into my run. But afterwards I always get to this place of satisfaction. Last week I was lucky to be running along the cost of San Diego, and the views of the sea with seals and birds and beautiful flowers made me want to be uncomfortable every morning. Every day I would run a little further. And every day after my shower I would feel wonderful.

As a person I have avoided discomfort for a long time. I always tried to go with the things that felt good. Only over the last couple of years I started to do things where I do not feel comfortable and challenge myself in new ways.

Yesterday my dad called and we talked a bit. My dad loves music and told me he was going out that night to hear a local band play. He said, “you know that I am not a jealous person, but I really envy people who can play music”. Than he added... “yeah. I know that Mark would say that I should just start playing an instrument but it is not for me...”

Writing this all down my mind wonders to the following questions: “Does not wanting to challenge discomfort mean we are getting old?” Would my dad start to feel younger if he would not hesitate but just start playing an instrument?

In some ways I believe that I was older in the past than I am today. In other ways I am older today than I was as a kid. And now I wonder if that has to do with the areas where I conquer discomfort, and areas where I think I want things a certain way. What would change if I would always embrace discomfort believing that growth and my youth come from doing that?

Have a great Sunday!

Writing a Novel: Week I

So, I've been having great fun living in a world I've been creating. It's full of intriguing characters each passionate in the pursuit of his or her agenda, each with remarkable strengths and weaknesses, each holding a unique perspective on the events that are bringing their worlds together. I've got plot twists that no one will see coming until they arrive, after which they'll have been obvious the entire time.

The plots and subplots build layer upon layer upon layer. After digging through them and feeling you've finally got to the bottom of things, you find a hidden trap door leading to the next level. The whole world is laid out in my mind just waiting to be written.

And therein lies the rub.

On Thursday night, our merry band of writers sat together on the deck at Will's house sharing what we'd written the previous week. As I listened, I thought, "Wow, everyone just keeps getting better and better. This is really good stuff."

When it was my turn, I pulled up my latest installment from my novel and began to read. As I heard myself, something seemed off or more accurately, everything seemed off. My pacing which is usually smooth and even, was jerky or non-existent. Critical elements about the characters (who they were, what they were doing and why) were missing. By comparison to what I've been writing, the whole thing felt dry and boring.

As I finished, I looked around the table at the expressions of people wanting to help but not sure where to begin. I felt loved and cared for as each of my friends provided feedback on what he or she saw was working or not, trying to help me nail down the root causes. As I listened to each comment, I tried it on to see how I might change my approach. Everything said was helpful and everything was accurate. I felt grateful that we would spend such an inordinate amount of time on me and my writing.

Afterwards, Iris and I talked over dinner at 20 Railroad Street. I sorted through all the guidance I'd received still feeling that I hadn't got to the root of the problem. After an hour, I felt no closer to an answer. I had lots of things in mind that I could do differently, but nothing that felt "core".

Friday morning, I awoke to the sounds of a parade--a parade of work items and undone tasks marching through my brain. I determined to do my least favorite ones first, saving the best for last. As I sat at my desk, I noticed my mind moving quickly, wholly focused on "getting things done."

I stopped.

I asked myself, "So, how you feeling right about now."

I answered, "Ummm... Stressed, I guess."

"How come?"

"Because I've got more work to complete today than I've got time, and most of it is drudgery."

"What do you mean by drudgery?"

"You know, boring, been there, done that, no challenge to it, nothing new."

And that's when it hit me. The core challenge with my writing was that I'd worked out the entire plot and now all that was left to do was to transcribe it, a clerical task in which I have no particular interest. Normally when I write, I just write. I have no notion of who the subject is or where the story will lead me. It simply unfolds as I go and that keeps my interest. Once I know the story, I never go back to it.

It's the same with music and school and photographs and everyday events. I'd always rather play something new or improvise than play something I've already learned. I usually take copious notes in meetings or in classes, but then never look at them afterwards. I've taken thousands of photographs that I've never seen. And when someone asks me about my day or events of the past week, I'd much rather talk about my plans or what I'm thinking in the moment.

I'm a terrible story teller if I'm retelling a story, but really good when improvising.

OK, so what do I do?

Jenny suggested that I may have to actually slow down and take the time to fill in all the details, to bring the reader along with me. She's right of course, but I still find myself balking at the idea. I'd have to change my overall MO. Then again, it might be useful to be able to explain things I already understand rather than being at my best when I'm just figuring them out. Hmmm...

Iris suggested that I simply abandon the plot and write as I've been writing, "Why don't you just do what works for you?"

This of course appeals to me especially the idea of maintaining lots of threads and harmonizing them as I go. But I keep coming back to the thought that it might be good to figure out how to make stuff I already know how to do something other than drudgery.

So I've been thinking about this on-and-off since Thursday night.

This morning as I stood washing dishes at the sink, it occurred to me that dishwashing isn't drudgery; it's fun, really. So, what if I made writing about things I've already figured out more like washing dishes? I guess it would be a zen kind of thing.

Not sure where this will go yet, but it does have my interest.

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Are You Aroused

It's Saturday morning, the last day of IMFAR (International Meeting For Autism Researchers). This morning is special. It's the morning in which all the "technology" presentations are to be made. The display aisles are lined with researchers who are employing technology to better understand autism and how to help people with autism better relate to others.

I walk past displays of imaging systems designed to help people better interpret facial expressions, video coders and audio processors. I listen to the spiels about distance learning and remediation. I ask questions and collect business cards. I'm really enjoying it.

At the far end of the last aisle, standing next to a bar-height, circular table holding a laptop, is a young asian man. He wears bluejeans, a white button-down shirt, and an a sports jacket. As people stroll past him, he smiles ingratiatingly, extends his left hand, gestures to it with his right, and begins to speak. As the passersby pass on by, he stops, bows ever so slightly, and then turns to look down the aisle for oncoming traffic.

It seems he can hardly contain his enthusiasm for whatever it is he's presenting. So I decide to go ask him about it before he bursts.

Jackie Lee seems surprised as I walk directly to his table and ask, "So, what have you got here?"

He extends his hand to show me a milky-colored, translucent device shaped like a heart. Every second or so, a light embedded in the device flashes. He points to it and says, "See the light flashing? That is my heartbeat."

"Uh, huh. So, why do you have a device that flashes each time your heart beats?"

Jackie's now getting very excited.

"I am using it to measure my arousal level."

"And why do want to do that?"

Jackie goes on to explain that arousal levels are important to track when working with children with autism. If a child is over-aroused (e.g., has experienced an overload of sensory stimulation), he won't be receptive to interaction. When that happens it's pretty much useless to undertake any kind of therapeutic activities. It's like trying to have a deep conversation in a crowded bar after the band takes the stage; the distraction is so complete that you're unlikely to be heard, let alone understood.

Jackie tells me that it's important for parents and therapists to pay attention to the arousal level of a child so they know whether it's time to engage or time to simply help the child calm down.

I say, "This seems quite similar in nature to the wrist-band that the guys at the Media Lab (at MIT) developed. The only problem is that many kids with autism have hypersensitive tactile systems and the wristband itself can cause overstimulation. Oftentimes a child won't tolerate it and will immediately rip off the band."

Jackie steps back, his expression a mixture of surprise and delight, and then gestures to himself, saying, "Yeah, I'm one of those guys!"

Jackie completely forgets about his demonstration and begins asking me questions. We brainstorm ways to non-invasively determine arousal levels. What about using an infrared camera to measure changes in body temperature? Could we build sensors into the materials used to make clothing? What about hats or toys?

We have a great time. Jackie asks me for my business card and we agree to connect.

Later in the day as I say goodbye to a researcher from a university in Canada, I turn around and there's Jackie, his smile as bright as it was in the morning. He shakes my hand wanting to pick up on our conversation. He tells me that he wants to engage in a project just as soon as he completes his PhD work in June.

I ask him about his thesis. He explains that he's been using various biometric devices that help determine arousal level and then coordinating the measurements with external observations of the subject and that much of the time he has been the subject. He records how he's feeling throughout the day and then compares it with what the devices measured at that time.

I say, "So, basically you're using biometric devices to help increase self-awareness?"

He smiles, "Yes!"

Jackie explains that since he's been doing this work, he has become increasingly aware of his state of being and how that manifests physically.

Really cool.

We both ended our conversation quite excited about the possibilities and working together.

I'll let you know what we come up with.

Happy Saturday,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I walked through the cubicle maze under a sea of florescent lighting distracted by my blackberry and bumped into one of my most favorite business leaders. He smiled, declared fate, and asked me if I had a few minutes to talk.

As we exited the maze into his plush corner office, he sat in his favorite chair as I took the one directly across. Before I could sit down he asked "What do you think about power?"

Interesting question for a flyby chat--even more interesting given I knew that Mr. Favorite Business Leader just had a conversation with his boss resulting in a promotion. Not just any promotion but a promotion that in our corporate world of hierarchy really "means something".

As an HR executive with little use for titles, hierarchy, or power, I always find the conversations after a promotion like this enlightening. Where I work we have Directors, Assistant Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senior Vice Presidents, Executive Vice Presidents, and Presidents. That's six layers of executive hierarchy before the CEO who all make six- and seven-figure salaries and none of them ever directly interact with a customer. Throughout my many years with this company the insightful conversations always happen at this level... Executive Vice President.

Although this achievement is wonderfully important for so many reasons to so many leaders, I often have mixed emotions when this important milestone is achieved by business leaders I really like and in this case, the best leader I have ever worked with. This is the turning point where the context of my coaching always changes from how best to run a business and lead an organization to how to navigate the shark tank they have just been dumped into.

Back to the "power" question.

"Interesting question, why do you ask?"

FBL (Favorite Business Leader) moves over to his desk, picks up the newspaper and says, "I was just reading about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and thinking through the history of people with "power" who so easily abused it."

At first I am distracted that EVP FBL has time during his day to read the newspaper given I barely have time to go to the bathroom, but I quickly bring myself back to the conversation.

I pause a moment to evaluate whether or not I have the time to do justice to this conversation, realize I don't, re-evaluate what I mean by "justice", drop the expectations, and simply share my thoughts. Here are a few tidbits from our conversation:
  • Most people talk about power from the perspective of the person with said power. I always talk about it from the perspective of the people who actually give the power.
  • To me power is a result of the beliefs of the people who based on those beliefs choose to act in a certain way.
  • Power is dependent both on the beliefs of the person with the perceived power (my perspective is important, right, people should rally around this, etc.) and the people who give the power (I believe in this and therefore I will do, act, say, etc.).
  • Whether or not the person is abusing power or using power for good is dependent on the beliefs of the people or society judging the actions. Hitler's power was judged as good by many at the time. It took a different group of people with a different set of beliefs to determine it was bad.

As we talk through it, the real catalyst for the conversation is FBL's belief that status creates power and power changes people, usually in a bad way.

My response is simply, "only if you let it".

How has power affected your life? How have you let it?

Love to all,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Call Me When You Finally Decide

My friend Jonathan often pokes fun at me and the amazing cast of characters that pervade my life. The object of poking is not the people per se, but the manner in which I tend never to question the sincerity, motives or likely outcome of someone's stated intentions. Whenever someone says, "I really want to...", I buy in.

To be clear by "buy in", I don't simply mean believing them; I mean really wanting for them what they say they want for themselves, helping, spending hours thinking through the possibilities and ways to achieve their goals, googling, calling friends who've achieved similar goals, working out exercises and methods, checking in, encouraging and, umm, challenging. So the object of ridicule isn't the people, nor my "gullibility" (well sometimes); it's the disparity between the effort and energy I put into helping others to achieve their stated goals and that of the would-be achievers.

I guess that "object of ridule" is the right phrase because it can get quite ridiculous. For example, when my friend Clay, a software engineer, lost his job, he came to me saying that he really wanted to learn to use the new web technologies and make a go of it on his own. So I fired up my support thrusters and spent hour upon hour helping, getting him set up with a programming environment, showing him the ropes, creating exercises, reviewing his work, providing guidance, even setting up some consulting gigs. Jonathan just kind of laughed saying, "I'll give him three weeks before he blows this off and is out trying to find another job."

Now to be clear, Clay has been talking about setting out on his own for years. Nonetheless, I decided nth time's the charm; this time could be "the one". Oh well...

Jonathan's not alone in his observation of me and his finding amusement therein. Iris shares both, though she sometimes finds the amusement part to be less funny. Neither of them hesitates to point out the evident futility of my actions. And yet, unlike my experience getting my Adderall prescription filled in San Diego, I don't experience frustration when my would-be achievers have way less "would" than I do.

OK, there's one set of circumstances that are the exception to that, but I'll leave that for another day. Nominally, I just keep helping without giving it another thought, even as Jonathan and Iris sit across a plate of sashimi explaining for the nth time that I don't have time for another lost cause, looking at one another as I explain how this time could be different, and then back at me, Iris sweetly shaking her head and chuckling, Jonathan rolling his eyes.

As I think about it, nine times out of ten, the would-be won't, but then there's that tenth time. OK, maybe it's one in one-hundred. No strike that. It could be zero in one thousand, and it wouldn't change a thing.

This morning I woke up with a completely new (and totally obvious) perspective that did change something; the perspective of being finite. Being finite has never struck me as much of a limit; I have this perspective on my own capacity that is somewhat analogous to tubes of toothpaste; I can always squeeze a bit more out of myself if need be. However, every moment I invest in one person is a moment that I didn't invest in someone else. (I told you this was obvious.) I've just never thought about it that way.

Now I am.

Not sure what to do with this perspective yet. I don't know how to tell the lost-causers from the just-need-a-helping-handers. Maybe I'll just let them tell me.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, May 16, 2011


New Year's Eve 2009, Iris and I sit talking about the upcoming year and what we plan to do differently. As we explore, I notice that almost everything we talk about is incremental: more of this, less of that. I look at Iris and say, "What about big changes? What about doing things we've never done before? What about doing things we never imagined doing or being capable of doing?"

Iris says, "Well, I hate running! I've always hated running. With my asthma, running long distances is nearly impossible. Maybe I should run a marathon? Is that the kind of thing you're talking about?"

I look at her smiling and say, "Umm, yeah, that's a great example. Are you serious?"

She looks straight at me in a way that says she's temporarily left the arena. After a few seconds her face reanimates and she says, "Sure."

The next morning Iris registers for the NYC marathon and posts a blog announcing that she'll be running a marathon in 2010. Many of you know the rest of the story. Iris starts running (well at first walking). She post weekly articles about her progress and challenges. She determines that learning to run isn't enough and that she will instead learn to love running. She does it.

Over the past couple of months, I've been contemplating doing something in 2011 that I've never done before, never considered before, never thought possible. I've been contemplating writing a novel.

Unlike Iris who with running simply decided, declared and did, I've been taking a more conventional approach with writing. You know, dip your toe in the water, wade in slowly, occasionally glance over your shoulder to ensure that you haven't strayed too far from shore, and then wade a bit deeper. I've even swum a bit in waters where I could no longer touch the bottom. But I've never really decided, never really declared.

So here goes.

In 2011, I Mark Tuomenoksa (aka Teflon) will write a novel. I will love writing it. I will post regularly about my experiences, progress and challenges. And (here's the hard part), it's gonna be a really good novel!

If this were a film or a phone call, you might just have heard the shrill sound of air racing past my lips as I exhaled.

Happy Monday,

PS Below you'll find the first installment.

Her thighs ache as she cranks down the bike-path running along Memorial Drive towards the Longfellow Bridge. The Cateye strapped to her handlebars reads 28 MPH and 155 BPM. Not to shabby for someone just completed a ten-hour shift. 

She'd be on her way home, but the guy at her last stop had paid her fifty-dollars to deliver a heavily-taped envelope to his lawyer's office near Government Center and told her there'd be an extra fifty-bucks if she got it there by six.

Jetting past as line of roadies clad in matching spandex logos, the leader curses as she nearly clips his front tire sliding back to right in order to avoid an oncoming commuter.  

"You gonna let her do that to us?", says one of the riders from the middle of the pack.  "C'mon, man, let's catch her."

She doesn't need to turn her head to picture the scene behind her. Bodies bent low over the handlebars. Heads angled up. Eyes fixed on ass in front of them. The wheels of each bike separated from the next by just two to three inches. She pictures their faces distorted with grimaces of determination. So serious. But then it's hard to take a bunch of guys wearing matching neon pink and green spandex seriously.

She slides the Shimano's thumb-shifter under the right bar-grip momentarily easing her cadence as the chain slides smoothly onto the big ring and then doubles down using the cleats of her Giro's to pull up on the pedal passing from six to twelve as she slams down on the one passing from twelve to six. The sounds of determination fade behind her as the Cateye flashes 35 MPH and her pulse climbs to 180.

Across the river, the golden dome of the State House plays peek-a-boo behind the centuries-old, brick and stone row houses that carpet the mound of dirt rising from the Charles. Decision time: stay on the path and climb the steps onto the bridge or join the rush-hour traffic on Memorial Drive and ride up the ramp.  

She bunny-hops the curb landing just inches away from a Mini Cooper whose driver drops his iPhone as he fumbles for the vehicle's horn. By the time he finds it, she's three cars ahead and two lanes over hammering down the exit ramp and then gliding up onto the bridge.  As she rolls over Memorial Drive, the roadies pass beneath her, one of them noticing her and nearly crashing into the guy in front of him.  

She pedals on.

Her tires scrape the pavement like a belt-sander as she crushes the brake levers to avoid the side-mirror of a delivery truck frozen mid-lane-change at the end of the bridge. Beyond the truck, the traffic's so densely packed that she can't squeeze through even with her trimmed-back bar-ends, so she hops to the sidewalk and weaves through a series of startled pedestrians onto Charles Street. She threads her way around double-parked delivery trucks and out-of-state tourists who mistakenly believe they'll find street parking in Back Bay, and then pulls a left onto Pinckney heading the wrong way up the hill to the Government buildings. Her lungs scream as she hits 30 MPH midway up the hill.

At five-to-six, she pushes her way through the double-doors of the Hancock Street entrance, momentarily considers the elevator, and then ducks into stairwell running up six flights to the offices of Hedgewick and Crawley.  The lights shine brightly through the frosted glass of the firm's outer door, its name stenciled in six-inch gold-leaf. 

Two minutes to spare.

She grabs the doorknob, but it doesn't turn. She tries the other direction. Nothing.  

She wraps on the window and listens for the sound of movement. She wraps and listens, wraps and listens. Nothing.

She looks at the envelope in her hand, stuffs it back into her bag, and turns to leave. As she does, she hears a dull thud from behind the door and turns to see the light go out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Doctor will See You Now

Although I often hear people lamenting the side-effects and potential pitfalls of medications for conditions such as ADD, I for one find them to be a godsend. In my case, the medication is Adderall.

My mind seems to have two speeds: on and off. When on, it's like a wood chipper on mission searching high and low for something to consume and process, never resting until it's found more input than it can process, enough to slow it down a bit. In the absence of sufficient ambient stimulation, I tend to manufacture it searching for problems to be solved, provoking debate, transforming ceiling tiles into puzzles.

For me, large meetings, lectures and classrooms are torture. Three lines into a presentation, I'm pretty sure I understand where it's going and what the conclusions are; attending to the remainder of the presentation is like watching a poorly produced thriller where someone told you the ending during the opening credits and you really need to pee.

Fortunately, I've got what people refer to as a "creative" mind. Left on my on my ADD isn't an issue; it's never a challenge to adequately supply it. However, when working with others, well, Adderall is a godsend.

Last week, I attended the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in San Diego. For me, conferences with lots of academics and PhDs are the core reason god created Adderall. The problem is that my prescription for Adderall ran out in the middle of the conference. Why is that a problem? Why not just get a refill early? Why not plan ahead?

Adderall is what is referred to as a Schedule-II controlled substance, an amphetamine that must be prescribed by a doctor, filled by a pharmacist, and delivered only to the person to whom it is prescribed. The prescription cannot be called in to the pharmacy and it cannot be filled earlier than required. Instead, you arrange for your doctor's office to mail it to where you're going to be at the time you need it refilled.

We did that.

So, on one particularly wood-hungry morning, I mention to Iris that I'm off to the local CVS to get my prescription filled. I walk to where Google-maps says the CVS should be, but there is none. I close my eyes and visualize a second location. It's there. I walk back to the pharmacy desk, pull out my driver's license and prescription, and hand them to the attendant.

She looks down at the prescription, up at me, down at the prescription, up at me and then says, "I'm sorry, this prescription is not written on the right kind of paper."

She hands it back to me, turns and walks away.

I call out, "Wait, what do mean it's not written on write kind of paper?"

She turns back, "In California, a prescription must be written on blue prescription paper like this. It's the law."

She turns again.

"Wait, then how am I supposed to get this prescription filled?"

She turns. "You can't." She turns.

"But, there must be something I can do?"

Turns. "You could get a doctor here to transcribe it." Turns.

"Do you know a doctor?"

I head down Market Street looking for Gas Light Medical. The sign on the door reads no appointments necessary. The receptionist finally concludes her conversation about her previous evening and turns to me asking how she can help me. I explain. She hands me forms and tells me the visit will cost $120. I complete the forms, pay her and take a seat in the waiting room.

Ninety minutes later, a young man in hospital blues sticks his head out the locked door leading to the exam rooms and calls my name in a beautiful Jamaican accent. As I enter the examination area, I pass an armed security guard whose name tag reads "Dolores". Her grim demeanor melts, she smiles, says, "Hey, Honey" and winks at me.

The nurse straps on a blood pressure sleeve, places a pulse sensor on my index finger, thrusts a thermometer under my tongue and instructs me to relax. After five attempts in which the measurements read,'Error', he scribbles something on a pad and tells me that the doctor will be in momentarily.

I wait. In the background, I hear the receptionist screaming at a speaker phone complaining to someone that the fish tank is a disaster and that the called party needs to "get out here and fix it."

Thirty minutes later, no doctor. I get up, throw my backpack over my shoulder and head out the door. There's a commotion behind me and then someone calls out, "Sir, please, the doctor will see you now."

The doctor emerges from his office, still chewing on his sandwich. I explain the situation. It takes him twenty seconds to complete the task. I hear Dolores call out, "You come see us again!" as head out to the street and back up to the CVS.

The attendant says, "That will be four to five minutes, sir. Would you like to wait."


I take a seat and notice the other man behind the glass don his jacket and head out the door.

Half an hour later, I walk up to the attendant and ask here how much longer she expects it to be. She looks at the clock and says, "Sir, I said it would four to five minutes."

I say, "Yeah, that was half an hour ago."

She says, "Yes."

I say, "But I thought you said it would be four-to-five minutes."

"I did."

"And that was half an hour ago."

"Yes. It's not yet been four t'five minutes."


"I see. Well, is it possible that you could just fill the prescription now?"

"No, I don't have the key. Only the pharmacist can fill the prescription."

"You mean the guy who got up and left a few minutes after I returned?"


"Well, umm, seeing as you knew why I was here and that I'd already spent two-and-a-half hours trying to get my prescription filled, do you think you might have asked him to fill it before he left?"

"I guess so."

She turns.

Half an hour later I walk into the Grand Hyatt and up to the conference with an amazing sense of frustration.

This morning I've been contemplating how to persist like the proverbial dog-with-a-bone without becoming attached to the outcome.

Any ideas?

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A 5000-year-old take on Acceptance

Chapter 2, verse 47 may be the most quoted verse from the Bhagavad Gita, which itself is probably the most well-known of the Hindu scriptures. The Gita is commonly dated to circa 3000 BC, so it’s been around for a little longer than our recent blogs on this topic (here and here), but as with most material, especially scripture, it can lie completely undiscovered by most people, or equally commonly, widely misread and misinterpreted.

My personal journey of discovery with the Gita began with this particular verse. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Picture a sunny spring day in North Carolina. I’m at a non-denominational worship service, a Sunday morning interlude during a weekend business conference, sitting on the bleachers in the Annex building of the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum, in Winston-Salem, NC, listening to the voices echoing off the bare walls and high roof. I’m feeling calm and somewhat meditative after two hectic days. About third or fourth on the agenda, Mr. Kulin Desai steps to the lectern, and after a short invocatory prayer, recites the above verse in Sanskrit and proceeds to unfold it in expansive, lucid & contemporary terms. When he steps off the podium, I hear a giant click in my head as a big piece in this jigsaw puzzle of life moves into place, and I can truthfully tell you that my life hasn’t been the same since.

In what way? For one, I can probably count with the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve felt frustrated in the decade since that precious moment. It has been a lot easier to let go immediately when the spilled milkdrop hits the floor, and to instead focus on uprighting the milkjug or mopping the floor (see HERE for original reference). Easier to “keep your head when all about you / are losing theirs and blaming it on you“, and to “meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same”. However, I admit I’m still working on filling the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run” and many other matters (enjoy the rest of this Kipling gem here).

But to return to the subject verse. My literal reading of it (informed by my 6th-grade knowledge of Sanskrit) goes like this:

You have authority only over action, never its fruits.

Be not (ie. do not take yourself to be) the source of the fruits of the action, and do not be associated with inaction.

Basically it says action is the only thing we are entitled to, not results, that we do not create the fruit of an action, and that shirking from action is no solution to the problem of responsibility. But this is very commonly misinterpreted; you’ll find a plethora of senior Hindu figures intoning solemnly - “The Gita says to perform your duty and pay no heed to the result”. The way Kulin explained it, in line with Advaita Vedanta philosophy and also plain common sense, it would be foolish to expect anybody to perform an action without expecting a result, without a desired result as motivation. I swing the bat fully expecting to connect; you leave home in the morning fully expecting to get to work in good shape and good time, and so on. What this verse really implies that is that the actual result could be different, and that it behooves us to be prepared. In the example of driving to work, I could get any of four results: exactly what I wanted (I reach the office right on time), more than what I wanted (arrive with plenty of time to spare and a better-than-usual parking spot), less than what I wanted (construction forces a detour and I arrive very late), and the opposite of what I wanted (I get into a bad accident and end up in hospital instead). So if I am clear that my chosen action does not guarantee my desired result each time, and that not acting is an action too, it prevents success from going to my head and failure from getting me down. Now that’s a set of beliefs I can buy.

The ready way this lends itself to misinterpretation is not limited to the sphere of Hinduism. Just in the last week, I’ve come across two different books where acceptance was used in the sense of ‘taking no action’ or ‘being a doormat’. As we have seen, the Gita recommends anything but.

Go forth, act, and don’t play God.