Friday, January 16, 2009

Treasure Life's Unexpected Adventures

This is a true story that a friend shared with me over a cup of coffee the other day. It inspired me to trust that my path - that all paths - unfold perfectly.

My friend told me that not long after her 20-something-year marriage ended, she got a job driving a school bus. Though that position was a high-turnover job, she found a joy in the freedom of being outside, and driving about her town. She said that looking back now, she puzzles at how long she stayed with it - three years. She now believes she would not have kept it if it were not for an unexplainable joy she felt while driving. Instead she would have pursued a career and gone to school for massage therapy, which at the time was a dream of hers. Yet she continued to drive the bus because she felt this almost inexplicable joy.

One day as she drove a busload of kids home, she noticed a smaller child being picked on by a bigger boy who had a reputation as a bully. When it came time for the bigger boy to get off the bus, she said to him, "You are a strong boy, physically and mentally." He just looked back at her with a set jaw and a confident "I know" look.

She told him, "You are a smart boy, too."

He just kept staring back at her with that same impenatrable expression.

Then she said, "It's up to you whether you use that for good or for bad."

She saw his steel expression melt. Something between understanding and relief washed over his face. Then he spoke. "For good," he declared, and he stepped off the bus.

She knew in that moment that the reason she had been driving the school bus for three years - the reason she had found an inexplicable joy for so long in this high-turnover job - was for that one connection with that boy.

We think time is some indicator of our successes and failures, but when we have the ability to transform the way a child sees him or herself, what does time matter? When we can be that conduit through which a new idea of himself can flow - the super hero or valuable good-guy - that can change his life and the lives of other children for a loving, higher good, what is three years?

When we look at our own dreams, whether it's going back to school, starting a business, or just finding our elusive purpose, and those dreams seem side-tracked or lost, it is not failure. It is the Universe compassionately setting us on a path that will line us up perfectly with what we genuinely need. On such an Unexpected Adventure, we may touch another's life, like this child's. Or we unknowingly assist in another's unfolding situation. Or we may simply be put in a holding pattern until outside elements can line up our dream with far more preferable circumstances and people than if it were occuring when we believed it should. Or it may be all of the above!

"Why ponder thus the future to foresee,
and jade thy brain to vain perplexity?
Cast off thy care, leave Allah's plans to him-
He formed them all without consulting thee."
-Omar Khayyam, The Rbaiyat

Not long after this, my friend went on to massage therapy school. Doors opened, she took the classes she needed and learned her profession. She even got a job with a chiropracter. It was her dream come true.

But check it out ... the happily ever after, though not as she predicted, continues to unfold even now. It turns out the job with the chiropracter, though necessary to give her a start, proved to be an inspriration to move her into her true dream.
The chiropracter was greedy and over worked my friend. She still believed in her dream and asked for guidance. She trusted she would get guidance, and when it came, she was shown two paths: One was to stay with the chiropracter, continue to get a reliable paycheck and be overworked. It was a feeling of a narrow tunnel that was constricted and tiny.

The other path was to move to a new town and work in an herb store that she discovered was looking for a new massage therapist. And while this path was far more uncertain that she would earn enough to take care of her family, it was a feeling of opportunity and hope and of a path that lead to wide-open possibilities.

She began to make preparations for the move. She applied for a home loan and, to her surprise, got it. She gave her notice to the chiropractor and started working at the herb store. She moved into her new home and began her new job. She never knows if she'll have enough customers, but somehow they keep coming and she is able to pay the bills. She continues to trust that everything will be fine, and even told me she doesn't count her money anymore. She felt guided to stop watching it because by doing so, she was only focusing on what she didn't have. And still she always finds that there is enough in her account.

So reach for the more hopeful thought: Life is an adventure, even when it turns down unexpected paths. Ask for guidance and see what comes. Trust that God or the Universe or your angels or whatever higher power you believe in, is guiding you and taking care of you. Trusting at that level when much is at stake is huge - I am learning this very lesson myself. And I am so grateful for her shared story.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Snow Days

To my teenage daughter and her friends, our schoold district uses a most unfair and inaccurate termology: "Snow Day." In reality, according to the teens, they never close school and when they do it's never about snow.

Her sentiment one morning last year as she surveyed the 6-inch ocean of new snow on her path to the bus stop: "It could snow 5 feet and they won't let us take a Snow Day!"

I suppose there is some kernel of truth to that. And, yet, if I recall 5 years ago, there was one day during which 12 inches did fall in the region. We lived in Anchorage then, and school closed there, so it is likely the Mat-Su School District closed school that day too, though it is not certain. Rugged, those Valley folk.

Nevertheless, snow or no snow, every year the district does cancel school for a day, sometimes two, under the Snow Day allowance. One might ask, "If they don't close for snow, then what?" The translation for a Mat-Su Snow Day is in actuality "Ice Day" aka "Treacherous Road Day."

This has a lot to do with the 40-foot school buses sliding off of the smaller neighborhood roads. No child left behind: they are not allowed to leave the bus, even if they are in front of their house, until a medic and another bus shows up. Insurance rules, you know. And the medic and replacement bus' arrival is, of course, dependent upon whether they do not ditch-dive.

On those days, the main and arterial roads are often safe and even dry. But the side roads are snow-packed all winter, so when temperatures begin to warm, this hard-packed surface accumulates a sheen of water, creating an ice rink. Icy roads are also created when the wind buffs the hard-packed surface. Neither condition is preferable to the other...they both suck, as my daughter points out when she has to walk in the knee-deep snow on the side of the roads to get home. On these surfaces, no matter how stable one is, and regardless if one wears cleats, there is no chance of standing up without slipping. Though you might be able to ice skate.

If I have to drive on such a road, I have the vague impression that I'm playing a video game with high stakes: my job is to slowly and gently steer the $14,000 car in the direction that the road leads, more as one would a guide a boat with a rudder. Triumph is to successfully get to the end of the road, gently administering corrective navigational techniques when the vehicle's rear side threatens to come along the front side. All the while during this crossing, you hope that you don't meet another car driving toward you. It is most exciting.

My daughter recounted how bizarre it was recently that officials in Tok, AK, which is not in our school district, were discussing closing the school when temperatures there recently hit -60 degrees F. In our district, school closes at -40 degrees F, and wind chill doesn't count. I admit that seems barbaric when you consider that children of all ages are waiting at their bus stops for as long as 15 minutes.

Worse yet, my daughter contends, is that they do not factor in the wind chill. Her school is positioned in the path of the Matanuska Glacier (right), a relentless wind-generating natural phenomenon that: 1) clearly exists to make high schoolers suffer; 2) prevents them from breathing or feeling their faces as they walk from the bus to the school (across the largest parking lot in the world next to Disneyland); and 3) forces them to walk bent into the wind across said parking lot.

But honey, that's what scarves, hats, gloves and coats are for.

* Snerk * Mother, I will not wear that. It's not necessary.

Of course dear, I would never ask that of you. Far better to not breathe than to wear a scarf.
Among the non-teenage population in our community, this wind has a more widely known reputation for dirtying the sides of houses, filling our skies with silt, and turning over tractor-trailer semis on the Parks Highway where the highway runs perpendicular to the "wind tunnel." This perpendicular stretch is called "the flats," and is in fact flat and appears barren (pictured above). Though the fact is, it is far from barren. Many moose range for food here, and birds of all kinds nest here among wild iris and marsh grasses in the spring and summer. But back to the weather...

The recent cold snap that saw temperatures dip to -30 degrees and lasted for weeks finally broke yesterday, and it appeared southcentral Alaska may be back to more normal temperatures ... normal being somewhere around 10 to 20 degrees above zero.

Then last night a wind started to gust. The temperature when I went to bed was 20 degrees; this morning, around 5:40 a.m., we were bolted out of bed by the ringing telephone. It was the Assistant Superintendent's pre-recorded message in a mass spamming of the landlines that officially pronounced driving to be treacherous from the rain on ice-packed roads. In a most urgent and serious tone stated that school was cancelled.

My foggy mind thought, Rain was what was hitting the woodstove's smokestack last night? Huh. I thought it was crystalized snow. And as my mind cleared a bit, a roaring gust of wind rattled our tight doors, heaved our windows, and shuddered vent pipes on its path across our home. Freight train winds. Hm. I checked the outdoor thermometer: 40 degrees F.

So in a matter of 36 hours our temperature increased 50 degrees, from Monday night's 10 below zero.

The winds from the south and east that bring us warm weather in Alaska are called the Chinook Winds, which I understand are actually born from the Canadian Rockys and are very familiar to Canadians. And may I add here that there's only one thing I love more than Canada: that's Alaska. But that's another blog...

Meanwhile, upon hearing the Assistant Superintendent's pronouncement of devastating roads, my daughter gleefully leapt from her bed - a leap created by a jolt of joy that no surging adrenaline could rival. She gracefully flipped off her alarm clock, jumped back into bed pulling the covers over her head, and produced a blanket-muffled "YAAAY!"

There was no complaint about the "Snow Day" terminology; school is out, going back to bed, call it what you like.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Mirror and the Teacher

OK, more deep stuff from the deep-cold capitol of the nation. Perhaps being driven indoors by prolonged subzero temperatures is making me exceedingly "thought-ful".

A few weeks ago before the cold snap (it's up to -10 degrees F), I was walking my dog Brandy. Visualize this pooch on this trail ...

In this season, same trail...

...And as Brandy eagerly leapt out of the truck to go for our walk, I suddenly realized I was watching her intently - as if for the first time. I noted how happy she was to just be there, to be with me, doing Stuff with mom. She didn't care what the weather was, what we were doing, or where we were going. We were together. I know others have seen this before, as have I. But it was as if I was watching her for the first time...

And then I had the realization. She was in her moment, and in that moment, she was pure, unconditional love. A familiar thought, but this was one of those rare moments that a familiar thought becomes crystal clear - and it completely integrated into me.

As I watched her trotting along beside me joyful in her Now, I recalled the times when I had "had a bad day," been angry or grumpy, or snapped at her, or ignored her ...

...In that moment of grumpiness or anger, she observed me. She held a space for me to be what I thought I needed to be. Then, in the next moment, I may have gazed into her observing face and realized my state. I may have let go of the anger as I could see it reflected in her calm face as she observed me.

Negative feelings seem to be only background noise sometimes, and one can't even really say why one feels the way they do. But I have learned that all negative feelings are tied to regretting the past or worrying about the future. The only place where there is no anger or grumpiness or frustration is the Now. And so as Brandy's warm brown eyes observed my face, I may have slipped into the Now. And I saw her recognize that I was back - I was in the Now with her. And she went from observer to pure joy, still holding unconditional love for me.

This dog never lives in the past. She is always in her Now. Very present, very aware, very nonjudgmental.

I can only laugh at myself as I realize with great humility, that this canine, this brown-eyed, warm-bodied creature who came into my life, is not here because I deemed her my pet. She is not in my household because I rescued her from a puppy rescue, to meet my needs as a pet owner or a dog lover. These are illusions of a dog owner. We crossed each other's paths in a mutual agreement. She is giving me the opportunity to watch her and learn. By being present, she is residing in joy.
Does this mean she should open an Ashram atop a Himalayan mountain and go into month-long meditations with a following? Probably not. She's actually not so great when it comes to the cold, and her down doggy jacket induces paralysis, as her vet has observed (note to self: put jacket on after she gets out of the truck - otherwise, she tends to fall out of the truck with legs extended).
Brandy is here, agreeing to be in my life as an unusual and extraordinary friend. She reflects back to me all that I express toward her.

When I let go of the negative, she reflects only pure love and pure energy. She is joy in motion. And how lovely that she is as in touch with her spirituality - or more so - than any great spiritual guru sitting atop a Himalayan mountain. She is spirituality. She doesn't even need to seek it.

To be like her; to just be whole: mind, body, spirit - no seeking of the spiritual, but to just be all of it. And then to be this whole person while in the company of others. Wow. Just being present for another person. And maybe they can see themselves as I hold space for them, just as I see myself when Brandy holds a space for me. Holding nothing but love for them and their situation, with no judgment. Just as Brandy does for me. That is true unconditional love. It's not about sacrificing or being really really nice to a person. Or cajoling or empathizing. It is about being present for that person. Holding space for that person in the moment.

Brandy is my teacher of unconditional love.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Crappy Cell Phone Love

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. out of a dead sleep this morning and thought, "I will never buy a Samsung cell phone again!" and then I thought, "It's my money, I will MAKE my daughter return that crappy new phone that doesn't hold a charge!" and I absolutely believed I was right. Who wouldn't? I spent $200 on a phone that doesn't work unless it's near an electrical outlet. Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense in our lifestyle. We live in Alaska, and if we're not out enjoying the wilderness, my daughter and I are still often miles apart. The cell phones are supposed to be reliable and lend a certain amount of comfort that we can communicate.

My daughter and I even exchanged the battery through AT&T's warranty program, but the new battery didn't last any longer than the first. And my head-strong teenage daughter, whom I love and is the light of my life, refuses to return it.

Regardless, there I was in a comfortable bed at 5:30 on the first morning of the New Year, and a morning I could have slept in, and the only thing I could think about was the crappy phone and how I could send it back, and I was feeling pretty negative.

Take it back!

I knew that this negativity was not what I wanted, but I also felt my thoughts surrounding this phone were right. Still, my goal is to become peaceful all the way around. The struggle was really not about AT&T, crappy Samsung products -- or my daughter. The struggle was born from my believing negative thoughts. Thoughts come and go - good thoughts, negative thoughts, neutral thoughts. It is up to us to become the observer of our thoughts, and choose the ones we want to feel.

So as I observed the negative feelings overwhelming me in my nice warm bed, I realized that was my wakeup call to do Byron Katie's questions ... to do The Work. At 5:30 a.m.

I've done enough of The Work to know which thought I would need to accept to have peaceful feelings. I jumped ahead of myself before I began the questions, and felt uncomfortable that this "other" thought, this "positive" thought, seemed a little Pollyanna-ish. In that moment, it didn't feel right to me at all. After all, as of that moment, I had disliked Samsung products for approximately 6 months, 9 days, and 17 hours. I didn't like them because it didn't seem right to pay hundreds of dollars for a product that is not of satisfactory quality. I won't go there now, but just for the record... grrrrr.

So, the statement is: I will never buy another Samsung.
Is it true? Yes, they suck.

Is it absolutely true that I will never buy another Samsung?

Well, no, maybe not. I can't really say anything is absolutely true. Plus, I already did buy another Samsung ... 6 months, 9 days and 17 hours ago, after I said I wouldn't. So no, it may not be true that I will never buy another Samsung; I can't know that for sure.

So then I asked, Who would I be without this thought? I'd be peaceful, calm, happy. I'd be this chick on the right, but without the breast implants, the short-shorts, or the belly-button-diving T. I'd even get my power back, and I'd feel positive, peaceful energy because of it. (Why is it that you can find a large variety of stock images of angry people with cell phones, but no images of happy people with cell phones - unless they have large breasts?)

What would the turnaround be? "I am willing to buy another Samsung." That was a hard one to sit with. Our world has always told us, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me..." But no! Even Byron Katie says in her book Loving What Is that when she first started questioning her negative thoughts, she found her answers were going against everything that her friends, family and the rest of the world found perfectly acceptable and true - without inquiry. And while they struggled with their thoughts, she found peace in her truth after inquiry.

So found that I am willing to buy another Samsung under certain circumstances. And I began to work on the harder thought: "My daughter should return that crappy new $200 phone that doesn't hold a charge." She's been resisting it because it's what I want. We have 30 days to return the product.
So, I thought, is it absolutely true that my daughter should return the phone?

No, she doesn't have to return it, and if she doesn't return it, we'll all still be alive and okay.

How do I feel when I believe my daughter, light of my life, should return the crappy new phone?

Very negative, righteously indignant - I felt it in my solar plexus, so my sense of offense was very high because the solar plexus is the "I am." Interestingly, my righteousness is tied to the cost of the phone - money. And money is always about self-worth and self-value. Buuut, that's another blog...

Who would I be without the thought that my daughter should return the phone? I'd be so peaceful, and calm. And for the turnaround: My daughter should not return the phone. I saw myself look at her calmly and saying, "OK, honey. If this is the phone you want, it's yours." AND I would mean it without sarcasm or this thought: "...FINE! and you're stuck with it forever!"

When you do The Work, you do not say it is true for you unless it really is. So I have to really mean it when I tell my daughter that she can keep the phone.

Byron Katie never insists that a person find their own thought untrue if they still believe it is true. She may guide them into further inquiry, but if it is still "this is true for me," then she accepts that without judgment, and moves on. And she's right, because if it's not what is true for that person, they are not ready to find a new thought that would let the negativity go. When they are ready, they will know.

What is your thought that brings you grief, anger or frustration? Write it out, and ask, Is it true? Is it absolutely true? How do you react when you think that thought? See yourself in your predicament, then ask yourself who would I be if I didn't believe that thought? Then the last step, turn the thought around.