what bug bites taught me about brexit and trump

As I scoured this internet in search of remedies to relieve my discomfort from a bunch of itchy red welts on my face and arms, it occurred to me that my bug bites have a lot in common with current events -- specifically the Brexit vote yesterday, and the support that Trump has garnered in our country.

I think a lot of people are bugged by their current state of affairs, and just like me, are going in search of a remedy to relieve their pain.  We want to feel better, and we want it now. We don't want to have to go through a bunch of steps to heal the underlying dynamic that led to our suffering -- that would take too much time and energy. We just want relief, and fast.

Unfortunately, pain and clear thinking don't go together. Never have, never will.  

So when a Brexit or a Trump comes along, promising that one simple action -- filling in a little bubble or pushing a lever at the polls -- will solve all our problems, it is music to our ears: All I have to do is vote and someone else is gonna fix this mess? And I can go back to enjoying a cool beer or soda while watching my favorite show? Heck yes!

The reality is that the source of pain and suffering in our country and the world at large is extremely complex. There are no simple remedies. In fact, as I learned by putting lemon juice on my bug bites, sometimes simple remedies relieve the pain at first but very soon thereafter make it worse.

Voting for change is not enough to bring about change. We will each need to actively participate in solving the complex problems that cause suffering, and the solution won't be simple or quick.

If you want change, get it started right where you are. Look around your community and see what needs you can meet. Drive your neighbor to his doctor appointment. Bring a meal to the family down the street with a new baby. Hand a protein bar to the hungry person begging on the corner.  Ask how someone's day is going, then stop and truly listen to the answer. As my dad used to say, "When you see something that needs to be done, do it."

By all means, exercise your right to vote! But please don't stop there. Act, too.

your attention, please

The ringleader at the circus usually opens the show with a time-honored phrase: "Your attention, please!" Why is this? Because he knows that if he's able to direct your attention, he can control your experience.

In my opinion, the single most important skill to develop in life is becoming the master of your own attention. (And by the way, I have a lot of work to do in this area!)

At any given time, there will be many events, people, and circumstances clamoring for your acknowledgment.

slowin' it down

It recently came to my attention that all of my life I have moved at a particular and relatively constant speed when doing tasks like wiping the counters, typing, installing screws, and taking the stairs.

How did that speed get determined? Why didn't it allow for changes in pace to deal with obstacles? I have no idea. I don't remember anyone ever standing over me telling me to move faster or that I couldn't ever slow down. But I am now keenly aware that this arbitrary pace I've never questioned before has been triggering an awful lot of unnecessary frustration for me.

When I slow myself down by about half, frustration evaporates. Budgeting mentally for at least twice the time I think something should take has created a minor miracle in my life.

Nail goes in crooked? It's ok. Just take it out and try again. Price tag sticker peels off in micro-pieces? Find a comfy seat and work on it a little bit at a time.

When there's no rush, there's no problem. With no arbitrary timeline for completion, I don't waste any energy feeling outraged about how long it takes or how inappropriate it was for them to use gorilla glue on the price tag. And therefore ... no stress. Simply something to be done. 


the answer is blowing in the wind

Have you ever observed a grove of pine trees in the wind?

The younger trees, with their vibrant green needles and slender trunks, lurch wildly at the top as they are buffeted by the breeze. Although their range of motion is wide, they eventually settle back down to their home position before the next gust invites them to dance. They can bend quite a bit without breaking, and their trunks waver the least where they connect to the ground.

The more mature trees have thicker middles. Their needles and branches still whistle as the air passes through, but their trunks experience fewer fluctuations. No wild or excessive motion here, just a gentle accommodation to the whispered suggestions of the current, an acknowledgment of its will but no dramatic displacement or disruption.

The oldest trees have lost all of their needles, and many of their branches as well. With little on their periphery to destabilize them, they remain centered; steady, solid, seemingly uninfluenced by the pressure the wind exerts upon them.

hidden in plain view

I am writing at Panera this afternoon. I like it here because the buzz of activity helps me to focus. And yeah, the cinnamon crunch scones ain't bad, either. A few minutes ago, an older woman came and sat down alone at a table near me and started eating. That was unremarkable.

Things got interesting, however, when I noticed an older man ever so slowly shuffling toward her, carrying a very full tray. I thought she would jump up and help him with it, but she didn't even look in his direction, nor did she slow the pace of her eating one iota.

It took at least a minute for him to inch his way to her table, and the whole time she was just munching away on her sandwich. He set his tray down, picked up his empty cup, and started heading for the drink dispenser. She could have filled five cups in the time it took him just to reach the machines, but once again, she did not budge.

So I watched him, a turtle in a sea of hares, moving steadily and slowly toward his destination. He had a peaceful smile and a twinkle in his eye, and was clearly not experiencing even an ounce of resistance to his snail-like pace. And neither was the woman who I had realized by now was his wife.

My best guess is that he'd had a stroke. One of his arms wasn't as mobile or active as the other, and the leg on the same side seemed to be sort of reluctant to cooperate.

He decided he wanted butter, and off he went to the counter again. All in all I saw him cross the room five times, at a pace that would have allowed the other people in the restaurant to literally walk circles around him.

When they finished eating, she got up, put her dishes away, and headed out without looking back. She was already out the door by the time he finally scooted to the end of the booth, and gripping a nearby chair for support, slowly straightened up, shaking his leg a little to try to get it to move the way he wanted.

During the leg shaking process, some children ran past him giggling on their way to the bathroom, and he put his attempts to organize his body totally on hold to watch them intently. He broke into a big grin. 

He caught me watching from my corner table, and I beamed at him. I took off my headphones and told him he looked just like the Dalai Lama.  He smiled wider. And then said, "Who?" 

I repeated myself, and in a surprisingly strong and clear voice, he replied, "Thank you." Then he cleaned off his tray using only one hand, and headed out. Still moving at a snail's pace, he turned to look back at me and waved. He then proceeded to smile at every table he passed on the way to the exit, and at the man who held the door for him.  

I found myself tearing up as I watched him shuffle all the way to the station wagon in the handicap spot, where his wife was waiting in the driver's seat. 

I don't think I could have felt more blessed had he been the real Dalai Lama. This man was the quintessential embodiment of peace and acceptance --- right here in suburbia, eating soup and a sandwich alongside the rowdy soccer teams and corner booth writers and pregnant moms chasing toddlers.

replacing meditation with quiet time

meditation is such a loaded word and concept for so many of us that it can feel like something we'll never succeed at doing.

so I decided to take it down a few notches to something I am 100% sure I can do, like this:

just lay down

on your back.

choose somewhere flat - on the bed with no pillow works, but the floor is my favorite place

choose somewhere quiet - or put in earplugs or soothing music if that helps you relax. 

notice the places where your body meets that flat surface, and focus your attention on trying to mentally map the contact - what shape is the pressure, how heavily are you sinking into the support of the floor, what's the temperature. any sensation will do.

you don't need to try to change anything, but it's okay if you feel your muscles letting go of working so hard to hold you up as they realize the ground is supporting you. and no worries if you don't feel any changes happening at all.

that's it. do this for whatever pre-determined period of time you choose. I'm happy if I do even 5 minutes of this per day.

if you think of something you need to do, don't get up and do it. if you get stressed because you think you'll forget it later, keep paper near you so you can write it down. but no matter what, don't get up again until your time is over.

you can't do this wrong, I promise.  just decide on a time frame, lay down, and see what happens.

making a new year's resolution? try this

I was looking around the room during a meeting the other day, and noticed a bizarre looking mask (some kind of tribal art, I think) hanging at what seemed like an unusual height on the wall. Upon further inspection, it was revealed to be covering the thermostat.

It was also obscuring a small sign describing the effect that raising or lowering the thermostat would have on the other rooms in the suite.

"Ahh," I thought to myself, "Pure genius. What a perfect example of designing the environment to support the desired outcome."