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Posts Tagged ‘managing stress’

The ONE THING None of Us Should Eat

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Okay, okay, you’re tired of all the do’s and don’ts about what to eat.  One week coffee is bad for you, the next “they” are saying two cups a day will help avoid dementia.  Red wine is good…but not too much…or maybe only on Sundays.  And what’s the deal with kale? Or whatever. All this advice leads us to consume large quantities of the one thing we really do not need to be eating: FEAR.

There’s a lot of “information” out there about how eating this will stave off some awful illness and about how eating that other thing will trigger something terrible. Such advice is everywhere and often in contraction to other advice.  So you can’t do all of it (and who in the world really wants to?)  Still, “they” say this is important.  We want to be safe, to avoid the horrible “maybe” mentioned.  So instead of acting on our own behalf, we worry.  Worry is just another word for being afraid (passively).  Have another helping of fear, my dear!

Our current culture is very good at fretting about damn near everything. What if I take that job, and then there’s a lay-off?  What if I say the wrong thing, and I get a reputation for being policially incorrect?  What if the incoming Presidential adminstration is as terrible as my favorite news site says it will be?  Oh so much can go wrong.

And it may.  But that’s not the biggest problem here.  When we take this stuff in and let it define how we live, life becomes a prison cell.  There will always be something dangerous that might hurt us.  Trying to avoid all of it is like trying to avoid breathing nitrogen–which is a normal and major component of air–but not what we need to live on.  We don’t use the nitrogen but it doesn’t harm us if we are doing the natural thing–breathing it back out.  Same deal with fear.  It’s out there, and we need to notice it. Then the natural thing is to let it go. When we worry instead, we hold it.  And it imprisons and weakens us.

Life is dangerous.  Standing there paralyzed with fear is not going to change that. All it does is remove the chance to live happy and free.

It’s not just the nutrition experts  force-feeding us this bad stuff.  We get far more information about the “dangers” inherent in being alive than has ever been the case before.  We have access to massive amounts of information from a wide array of sources on devices we can use 24/7.  The message of “Be afraid” comes through loud and clear–and often.

Even worse, those who want us as potential customers–for them or their advertisers– will hype that “news” so it becomes even more terrifying.  This is NOT good for any one of us.  (It may, however, be very good for business.)

And it’s not the natural way for us to feel fear either.  When there is a real and present danger, fear is an ally.  Fight or flight–DO something.  All this “informational fear” isn’t like that.  When we are encouraged to be afraid of things that might happen, we move to a situation that denies any chance to effectively eliminate the fear by acting on it.  The possible terrible thing has not happened.  All you can do is worry that it might. We take the fear in and hold it.  Some day we may learn that doing that is the leading cause of heart attacks…  Fear generates stress.  We know stress messes us up a lot physically.

So, instead of actually eating and holding all that fear, we might be better off with something like the following:

  • Avoid clicking on all the sensationalized headlines about whatever thing to avoid, remove, etc.
  • Ask yourself if whatever advice you just read feels right to you.  Intuition is one of the best fear interceptors going.
  • Can you reasonably mitigate what they have said might go wrong?  If so, do that. If not, FORGET ABOUT IT.

Repeat after me: I will not eat fear.

Give a Caregiver a Hug

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Adult caregiving hijacks your life. None of us agree to do it because it sounds like fun. But when a loved one needs it, we step up.  Ongoing, it’s a daunting job; at times, it’s downright harrowing.  Once you are in the middle of it, reality warps.

An article published by the American Medical Association reported, “One of society’s greatest assets is the many family members who provide care to ill or disabled relatives.”  One study estimated there were over 15 million American adults serving as unpaid caregivers—in 1998.  And yet, the needs of those doing it remain unnoticed.

Last week in a single four-hour stretch, I spoke with three different women friends, each up to their ears in challenges related to caregiving for aging loved ones.  Each had taken on the caregiving role in addition to the ample responsibilities they still held as professionals.

The first was weathering a major health scare with the man in her life. She had taken him in when he got sick and then became his advocate through all the tests and procedures.  She was struggling to find the right boundaries in what she did for him.

The second needed to find a way to convince her parents to let the housekeepers, who were provided as part of their assisted living rent, into the apartment to clean.  Her folks said there was no need.  But she could smell their unit when she got off the elevator.  She’d been cleaning every time she visited and worrying in the interim that they might get evicted.

The third has been spending her own money for a caregiver for her husband, so she can continue to work as a college professor.  He has a non-Alzheimer’s version of dementia.  She has power of attorney and pays his bills.   His funds could easily cover the cost of the caregiver, but she thought she had to pay for it herself because he would have refused to let her spend money for that if he could still think.  Reality tilts in odd ways when you’ve been a caregiver for long enough.

It’s easy to think it would be different if you had to do it.  That you would draw clear boundaries and insist things be done your way.  But that’s the cruelest part of the caregiver role.  When it gets intense, you don’t realize the boundaries are out of whack or that what you’re doing doesn’t make good sense in the broader scheme.

It’s a lot like the classic experiment with frogs.  They did a study where researchers put a frog in hot water.  It jumped out to safety immediately.  But if the water was cool when the frog was put in and was heated gradually, the frog kept swimming until the water was so hot the frog died.

We do the frog-in-slowly-warmed-water thing as caregivers.  As the disease progresses beyond what we can really handle, we just keep going.  Our own lives evaporate.  We think we are doing fine when we’re not.

Three years ago, I became caregiver to my boyfriend when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Every day there was a new problem, and always one with which I had zero experience.  With each new side effect, I had to figure out something new that was needed to keep him safe and, hopefully, comfortable.  The volume of work was massive, and the possibility I might hurt him by not doing the right thing was terrifying.  Yet when friends asked me how I was doing, I’d say “Fine.”  I wasn’t being a stoic angel of mercy.  I was too worn out emotionally to find more honest words.

In an ideal world, unpaid caregivers would have mandatory breaks.  No one’s going to legislate that.  So it’s up to the rest of us to make a difference.  If you know someone who’s caregiving, do what you can to provide support.  A hug is a good start.  But then offer to do something specific.

I am all too guilty of saying “Call if you need anything” and leaving it at that.  For a long-term caregiver, there’s not enough mental juice available to convert those words to something useful.  “Would you like me to clean the kitchen?”  Or “Why don’t I sit with Aunt Irma for the afternoon so you can get away?” works better.

Caregiving is hard duty.  If we all remember this and offer support in all the ways we can, we can keep each other from ending up in need of care ourselves because we carried too big a load alone for too long.

 

Happy Shoes

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Do you have a pair of “happy shoes?” Maybe you need one.

I am blessed to have a son who is  one of the world’s happiest people.  If left to his own sense of how the world works, he always manages to see something good to focus on.  He clued me in to the idea of happy shoes.  He’s a tall guy and wears size 13’s.  When you see him in a pair of bright yellow vinyl sneakers with happy faces on them, you can bet something wonderful has happened in his life.  He recently wore them for his daughter’s birthday party.   But the real reason for the shoes was adversity that dogged him for five years.

He was the nice guy in the wrong place when the financial markets turned to goo.  He’s financially conservative but the company he’d been working for had gone in a bad direction and ended up imploding.  Prior to that event, he’d been able to find another job in a matter of days if not hours.  But with gazillions of financial professionals out of work, most of the jobs drying up, and the blot of “that company name” on his resume, the months turned into years.

His financial conservatism meant they’d been saving for this potential disaster.  Plus his wife still had a well-paying job.  The hit was ugly for the family wallet, but it pegged to downright grotesque in terms of its potential for destroying his self esteem.  He was a professional with good credentials.   In the aftermath of the finance sector’s meltdown, that probably worked against him even more–the “overqualified” issue.

But he didn’t sit on his hands while he waited for the right job to come along.  He  did all the things they advise doing.  (You will never find a guy more effective at networking.)  And when things didn’t turn around quickly, he didn’t head for the bar in frustration.  He just kept on believing it was going to work out while he did everything he could think of as the process dragged on and on.

He started studying for the CFA–an arduous credentialing process that some say is more demanding than an MBA.  He also remodeled their entire downstairs and  rebuilt a rock wall in the backyard.  He was in the middle of remodeling the kitchen when “the right job” finally materialized.

At some point in all that, he found these shoes–for when he would begin to celebrate the wins again.  He believed things were going to go right eventually. And they have.  When he passed the CFA’s (which really does take years), he sent a photo of his foot–in a happy shoe.  The image filled me with joy–and I wasn’t even the one who’d gone through the massive work effort to make the achievement happen.

I have a pair of silly shoes–pink suede, slide-on, sneaker style, 3″ platform shoes.  I got them for a costume party and they make me laugh.  (I am 5 foot 8.)  So I keep them.  But are they my happy shoes–or just my silly shoes?  What would it take to make them my happy shoes?

That’s beside the point.  The question here is how do you–and I–celebrate our wins?  And are our loved ones in on that?

Early in my writing career, I would treat my husband to dinner out when I finished a book  manuscript–simply because I wanted to celebrate that.  (Let’s not quibble about who’s “supposed” to buy in such circumstances.  Reality is often less romantic than we’d prefer.)

Going out to eat (at least if you don’t do it all the time) is a nice way to acknowledge completing a big job.  But you’re done  with the celebrating in an hour or two and the loved ones who are a thousand miles away don’t get to feel your joy.  Happy shoes send the message all day long and over the internet if you snap a photo.

I think I need some happy shoes.  I think you do, too.  Life is good–and when it’s even better for the moment because something good happened, it’s nice to mark that well.

 

Getting Fired

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

A month ago I got fired. Not from a job (that’s one of the perks of working for yourself–you get immunity from being fired). No, I got fired from a romantic relationship. Once it happened, it was obvious that doing what I’d been so committed to doing was way off course for me personally. But I had to get fired to learn that.  And that got me thinking about getting fired in general.

Sometimes, the firing really isn’t fair, right, or reasonable.  Those are really hard to get past because the hurt seems so legitimate.  But most of the time, getting fired also means that what you were doing was not a good fit for who you are.  Perhaps it was a matter of skills.  Perhaps it was a matter of personality.  Perhaps it was a matter of motivation.  Perhaps it was a matter of morals (and yours may have been higher than theirs). Regardless, it was a case of a bad fit.

I will not pretend this is easy.  Your ego takes a massive hit, and you may end up asking yourself “Am I good for anything?”  The answer is YES.  And that’s the beauty of getting fired.  That event removes the major obstacle to finding the right place to be…the right work, the right “significant other,” the right group of friends, whatever you got “fired” from.  Getting fired from what really wasn’t a good fit for you gives you a wide open shot at finding what is.

It’s embarrassing to get fired though–especially for those of us who joined the workforce when it was pretty rare and usually the result of flagrantly bad behavior when it did happen.  But embarrassment is temporary and the opportunity that results can make a huge positive difference for the rest of your life.

So back to my own recent firing…

Since that event, I have rediscovered myself in numerous delightful ways.  I have more energy.  I get up excited about the day and spend it trying to make a difference somehow.   I have reconnected with an unexpectedly large number of people I’d lost track of for the sake of “the relationship.”  I am doing things my way and loving the space I’m in as a result.  I am connecting with nature when I am out in it (instead of worrying about “keeping up” or “why isn’t he talking to me?”).  I am more alive.  Far more alive.

That potential resides in every firing-even if it looks bleak beyond words.  Sometimes, the Universe gives us a good swift kick instead of a gentle nudge when it’s time to do something different.  at some point, you will probably find yourself fired.  Be grateful.  It a painful, embarrassing, but incredibly effective shortcut to being something much, much better.

 

It’s About Time

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

I’m in a bar fight with Time right now. I’m not even sure who started it. At the moment, I’m in a big transition—moving to new space in a new area to a house that’s needed significant TLC before I moved in.

So I’ve been painting, cleaning, and  organizing storage areas, plus trying to corral all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in the two years I’ve been living where I am now.  All that takes time.  And I want Time to cooperate and give me enough to get it all done–to give me the sense that I have it under control. Time is not hearing a word of that. I am not in control. Nope. Not at all.

Time is not flying; it is evaporating, like needed rain that never gets all the way to the parched desert floor. There “should” be enough time. This move is certainly doable. I have good support from family and friends. I have good resources to call for paid help as needed. But still, I am in this absurd wrestling match with Time.

On the surface, it looks like it’s my own silly fault. This cleaning that I’ve been doing….I’ve gone through three toothbrushes at it…plus a bunch of bamboo skewers…untold numbers of Q-tips…a few toothpicks. I’ve been manic about getting that last bit of gunk out of whatever it is that I’m sprucing up.

There is so much to get done.  And yet I’ve been piddling around with a toothpick trying to get the dirt out of the ridges of a light switch. I’ve painted almost every wall and most of the ceilings of the new place. I’ve replaced the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors. I’ve been absolutely anal about how I set up the kitchen.

Have I gone over the edge—to where cleanliness is no longer next to godliness but instead has moved into the marginally functional wing of a looney bin? How can I possibly get all the work done if I putz at little things? Why am I fighting with Time like this?

But as I admit this and look more closely, it’s starting to make sense. There is a lot to get done with this move. And I do like to start with things as clean as possible. (Dirt is okay but only if it’s mine.) But this move is one of a kind and involves more than getting my stuff from here to there. When I move, someone I love will remain behind—by choice, but still…. Much of what I take with me will have to be replaced if he wants to be able to cook, clean, eat off a plate, etc. (He’s a guy; he may not….) So this preoccupation with getting things clean was probably a good way to end up with the right pacing.

Is there anything in this insight that’s useful for life in general?

Yeah, I think so.  I’ve always been an exceptionally well-organized person. I have not been like that on this move. Instead of making list after list, I’ve been blindly doing whatever seems to need to get done next. It turns out I have been letting my heart lead instead of my General-Manager-of-the-Universe mind.

Sometimes a list is not the answer. Sometimes, you just have to trust it’s going to work out and keep trudging along, even if what you’re working on seems to be getting a higher priority than it deserves. Sometimes, your hands have a better sense of what must be done than your mind does.

And that’s a good thing to realize at the start of a new year. “Because I’ve always done it this way” is a weak reason not to grow. By now I would be a raving lunatic if I’d have tried to manage this move the way I’ve done them in the past. I would also probably be heartsick and depressed. There are too many layers, too many extenuating circumstances, too much room to cause emotional hurt–to myself or someone else–by steamrollering through this move. What a blessing that I had the chance to piddle around with a toothbrush cleaning up someone else’s microscopic messes.

I haven’t been wrestling with Time after all. We were dancing, and I just didn’t know it.

 

Do You Ask for Help?

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

This time of year, we usually have too much to do. But asking for help doesn’t come easy for most of us.  You believe it’s just easier to do it all yourself.  But really, it’s not.  And asking the right people for the right help builds the kind of bonds we all yearn for.

There’s a lot more to effective asking than screwing up the courage to do it though.  First, you need to have a good grasp of the help you need to get it right.

  • Is it something you really don’t know how to do?  Trying to fix something better done by a professional (like electricity and cars) may end up in injury—or worse.  But we get off track in the other direction, too—like calling the electrician when all that was needed was to plug in the cord.  Check the obvious solutions before you call for help.
    • What really needs to be done?  When you ask for help, choosing the right resource hinges on knowing what needs to be done.  So get as clear as you can with yourself about what you need.  If you don’t know, admit that when you ask for help, but don’t send your saviour down the wrong road by being lazy with the information you provide.
    • Is it just a matter of time versus money?  I have friends who pay to have their houses cleaned.  This works for them because they would rather spend money than time on that.  But asking for help is not about taking advantage of family members and friends just as busy as you are (or busier) simply because you don’t want to do that work.  If you need this kind of help, pay up, one way or the other.  When you ask more of those you claim to love than you need to, you build resentment not those nurturing bonds you’re looking for.
    • Can someone else do it well enough that you’re going to be okay with the results?  If it’s critical that the results are perfect, and you’re sure you can do it more perfectly than anyone else, then you need to do it.  But is it really that critical?  And are you really the one who will do it best? Are you really that good at it?  Or do you need a reality check on all that?
    • Are there extenuating circumstances?  Sure, your cousin George has built three fences on his own properties and needs the money, but if you have a picky HOA and a bunch of restrictive architectural requirements to keep in mind, maybe hiring the fence company that’s done all the other fences in your subdivision is wiser.

Then there’s the actual asking.  For many of us, this is where the whole idea stops. There’s no high school class on how to do this well.  We don’t get to “practice” this under careful tutelage.  First attempts can be difficult and unsuccessful.  Learn to do this anyway!  Life is so much better when you feel like  you are on team.

  • Be clear about what you need.  It’s tempting to assume that the person you ask will just know.   Nope.  Be precise and complete in explaining the situation.  This is true whether you are paying for a top-notch reupholster job or asking your sister to prep the potatoes for dinner.
  • Get on the same page about timing. Don’t assume another person is on the same wavelength in terms of timing.  Be honest about when you need it done.  Do you really need that light bulb changed before the next commercial?  Or are you just trying for a power grab with a fake emergency?  Give the other person as much leaway as you can–but no more.  If the differences in timing aren’t going to work, reassess whether this is the resource you are best to ask
  • Ask wisely.  This is particularly true when you are asking for unpaid help which is basically a favor.  Pay attention to what the other person is doing before you ask.  Expecting someone to drop everything just to hear your request is setting yourself up for a “No.”  Don’t ask for more than you really need either. And when someone says, “Sorry, I can’t,” find someone else to ask rather than acting like a five-year old and asking again and again.  Be aware of the context and the other person’s needs in making your request.
  • Keep asking.  If what’s supposed to be happening isn’t once someone agrees to help you (paid or otherwise), it’s wise to follow up. But that doesn’t mean you have to make a federal case out of it.  People forget (even the ones you pay to do something.)  If nothing’s happening and your gut is telling you to find another resource, pay attention.  Sometimes there’s more than forgetfulness at stake and the longer you wait to deal with it, the bigger that kind of problem gets.
  • Have more than one option.  If you do need to shift gears on how you are going to get something accomplished, it’s a lot easier if you’re already have other options identified.  This is as true of who’s going to pick up Aunt Jen at the airport as it is of getting your cellphone fixed.

“The strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it.”  – Rona Barrett, columnist and businesswoman.

At some point, you’re going to need help. Be strong and smart. Ask for it well.

 

How Much Information?

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Decision making works better if you have good information. That holds true as much in personal life as professionally.  But how do you know when you have enough good information to get on with deciding?

Whether it’s buying a new car, choosing a new town to live in, or figuring out what you’re going to do about health care insurance, important decisions are typically not knee-jerk.  We look at the alternatives.  We try out different scenarios.  We compare options.  At least if we are intent on doing it well.

But how much is enough?  I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.  I’m buying a house.  I’ve been pretty thorough about assessing what locations would work the best, what kind of house would be the wisest, what level of upkeep I want to have to maintain, how much yard I am willing to take on, etc.  I looked at 43 houses before I was comfortable making an offer.  That was a big decision.  I needed a lot of information.

But now I am dealing with smaller decisions–what color to paint the kitchen walls, what materials to use in replacing the current flooring, even what to put where once I  move in.

Those decisions don’t warrant anywhere near as much precision in the information I gather to support my decision-making process.  It’s important I recognize it’s time to switch gears. Yes, I may not like the carpet I choose, but that’s not on the same order of magnitude as buying a house with a major structural flaw would have been.

So how much is enough on the current spate of decision-making?  I’m not sure it’s cut and dried, but it seems the following are going to be part of doing the research part well:

  • What’s going to happen if I don’t get this right?  If someone is going to die or your are going to be homeless, you need to do all the research you can.  If it’s just going to mean I spend a weekend repainting that room once I’ve moved in, go ahead and decide, will you?!
  • What are my options?  All too often, we choose the first possibility that comes to mind because we didn’t bother to take the time to think of the rest.  This is not good in any guise.  (You could have had pan-seared shrimp and fresh broccoli, but the first thing you noticed were the mashed potatoes that have been hiding in plain sight in the refrigerator for almost a week.)  Even if it’s just deciding whether you want to go out your driveway to the left or right, notice consciously that you are at a decision point–and that there’s more than one option.  There’s always more than one option–or else there would be no decision to make.
  • Know when to stop. Right now, I am researching flooring options.  I’ve spoken with four different vendors as well as a friend who is in the business (far far away).  Is that enough?  For the first pass, yes.  I have learned the jargon and recognize what the issues are going to be for me.  I will need to get some of them out to do bids, but I can’t make that call yet.  (I won’t own the house until next week…)  For now, I have enough information on that.  When I move to the next step, maybe not, but I need to assess that then.

There are a lot of reasons to keep gathering information after you’ve obtained enough to get on with deciding.  Most of those reasons are forms of “analysis paralysis.”  After a certain point, “enough information becomes “too much information.”  If you are well enough informed that you can make a solid decision, then you need to decide.  The exception to this is if you are waiting for someone else to provide more current information–but be careful with that.  Once you understand the issues and can compare the relevant dimensions for each option using solid information, it’s usually time to decide and get on with your life.

It’s easy to get hung up on amassing information  Be aware of what you really need to know before you decide and of how much of that you already have in the pipeline.  Ask yourself if you’ve already reached the best point in the overall process for making this decision.  If so, decide.

Good decision making relies on a variety of skills.  One of them is gathering the right amount of good information.  If you find yourself saying “I knew that” again and again as you speak with yet another resource, it’s time to get on with it.

And once you do, for heaven’s sake, don’t go back and make the same decision again and again.  Get informed, make the decision, and keep going.  Getting stuck remaking your decisions is even worse than getting stuck amassing more information than you need to make them at all.

**************

Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.    For more, see her website.

Take the Stairs

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

I’ve been whining about missing my stairs ever since I moved from a two-story house to a rambler 18 months ago.  Those stairs really were a plus in my life–I got exercise without having to schedule it all day every day. But a week ago, in an editorial in Talent Management magazine, Mike Prokopeak upped the ante.  He suggested “taking the stairs” in the business setting as well.

He was making the same point I’ve been–the more we incorporate physical exertion in subtle ways to do the things we have to do anyway, the easier it is to maintain some semblance of fitness even when things get overbusy.

He pointed out that some business meetings are now conducted standing up (which accomplishes two things–it involves more physical effort, but it also makes the meetings shorter.)  Some managers conduct important one-on-one conversations by taking a walk with that person.  That also has some extra pluses.  Difficult subjects are easier to address while walking.   Creative ideas also seem to come more easily when you’re moving on foot.

But after I thought about his suggestions for a while, I realized this is not just about being less sedentary in business settings.  It’s not even about real stairs.  It’s about taking the more demanding route on anything and everything just for the extra benefits that those approaches often bring.

Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi advocate something similar to this interpretation of “take the stairs” in Super Brain.  If you want to keep your mind operating at optimum capacity for the long haul, you can’t just do the same old stuff the same old way and hope for the best.  Look for a new restaurant instead of going back to the same old favorite every time you eat out.  Learn a new sport instead of relying exclusively on the one you already enjoy.  Make a point of meeting new people and going new places.

To live well as we age, we need a steady diet of new stimuli.  According to Chopra and Franzi, that keeps our brains creating new synapses and the more synapses you have, the better you can weather a situation where some of them are injured or die.

To create those synapses, we need to “take the stairs” as many different ways as we can.

Every time we decide instead to run on autopilot, we lose the chance to build more brain strength.  We lose the chance to build an even stronger social network.  We lose the chance to find new ways to love deeply and be involved in new things that are meaningful.  Those are the real elements of a rich life.  Why forego them just to avoid exerting yourself a bit?

Once we retire, even if it’s to–or in–a single story home, we need to remain committed to “taking the stairs.”  Do something that takes more effort than “same old same old.”  It will make a huge difference as time marches on.

 

Let’s Dance!

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

When was the last time you danced? Have you ever? Or are you intimidated by the intricate footwork and synchrony of the couple stuff on TV?

We all need to dance. Not just at weddings. Not just with old friends at a favorite watering hole with live music. Every day. It’s a good way to keep your body and soul on the same page.

I’ve always advocated walking. Walking helps you think and problem solve. It reduces stress. It’s a great cardio workout. Walking, at its most effectively practiced, is non-denominational meditation. As your shoes move across the land, you move closer to the forces of the Divine.

But dancing is another multi-purpose marvel for creating a satisfied life. The joy side of the coin. I’m not talking about the ballroom stuff where you have to follow prescribed steps and keep rhythm a specific way though. I’m not even talking about Western culture’s classic “man-leads-woman-of-his-choice-in-movement-on-a-dance-floor” stuff. I’m talking about any situation where you move your body to music.

There are many more fun ways to dance than the stuff we learned was dancing in junior high. You don’t have to wait for a guy to ask you–or to decide on which woman you’re going to dare ask.  You don’t have to limit yourself to places with an official dance floor. And ballroom dancing, with all its choreographed steps and showmanship, is a long way from the real fun. So let’s forget the Dancing with the Stars stuff for now. Please.

Dancing is celebrating. It energizes your soul. It takes you beyond your mind and your aches and pains. Good dancing generates joy. And joy makes everything else better.

So find the dancing that appeals to you. Line dancing, square dancing, contra dancing, folk dancing, salsa, swing, zydeco—and that’s just a quick list. There are groups doing this stuff all over and many of them offer lessons before the dance itself to help you get started. Most of them have websites or else list their events on bulletin boards.

If you don’t want to break into an existing group, take a class—ballet, jazz, tap. That way, everyone is starting together. If not that, you can get involved in a dance practice, where the movements of your body are a form of prayer. The options “out there” for dancing go way beyond the foxtrot.

You don’t even need to be at a defined venue to dance. Dance while you’re waiting for the shower to warm up. Or while your coffee is brewing. In the elevator. In line at the grocery store. Wayne Dyer tells the story of a toll booth attendant who danced his entire shift every day. When you got to his window, you paid your toll at a dance party.

Dancing isn’t about putting your feet in certain places in a defined sequence with a specific beat with other people doing the same thing. Dancing is simply moving to music. And the music can be in your head if that’s all you have to work with.

When you can dance in a social setting, milk it for all the fun you can. A dear dancing friend and I liven up an evening by getting other people up dancing. Sometimes it’s women; sometimes it’s men. Those we coax out on the floor seem to have a much better time than if they’d just kept watching. And we do, too. The younger kids have one upped us on doing this well. Not only do the women go out to dance “uncoupled”(either alone or in groups of more than two), in under 30 crowds, you’ll see the guys doing it, too.

Avoid reducing dancing to “exercise.” That’s a terrible waste of a good time. When aerobic dance first made the scene, I took a class taught by a college instructor who specialized in folk dancing. Lord that was fun! (A classmate suggested all that was missing was a basket of fruit on my head.) Unfortunately, “fitness types” decided aerobic dance needed to look more like exercise. Now, even Zumba comes across as just another workout to music. If you want to get the most out of dancing, find something where the music and moving to it—i.e. having fun–are more important than reaching you target heart rate.

Dancing is not a matter of “knowing the steps.” Dancing is about having the guts. Find some music and start to move. Be a kid again—dance like nobody’s watching (because they really aren’t). You don’t need a partner. You don’t need lessons. If you don’t have music, use what’s in your head. Be happy. Spread joy. Boogey down!

 

How Much News is Enough?

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Remember the adage “No news is good news?” What happened to that?  Now, no news means you’re either dead or lost in a South American jungle where even satellite reception falters.

“News,” at least in the dictionary, is “information about recent events or developments.”  Sometimes it’s in print.  Sometimes it’s on television and radio.  Sometimes it’s through the computer.  News is information about what’s going on where we aren’t.

If we care about that place or have loved ones there, of course we want to know what’s happening.  But what’s the point of being thoroughly informed about all the bad things that have occurred all over the world in the last 24 hours?

In this morning’s newspaper, I read about a train wreck in Spain that killed 79 people, a bus crash in Italy that killed 38, and an accident in Switzerland where two trains collided, seriously injuring five.  I live on the West Coast of the United States.  The only reason I can think of for needing to know of those three disasters is to pray for those involved.  But does such specificity improve Divine access?  Would I do any less good if I skipped the news and prayed “God, bless everyone who needs it right now”?

In my own life, there’s local news, sports news, national news, weather news, business news, and financial news.  Our local TV news starts at 4 AM.  The 24-hour news channels give me a dose whenever I choose to look for it.  The internet can even custom tailor alerts about whatever I’m interested in.  Around here, “the news” is often on midday, for as much as two hours at dinner time, and another hour or two before we go to bed.  Is that a good thing?

It’s nice to be able to find out what’s happening regardless of when I decide I need to know.  But being connected to everything that’s going on in the world all the time carries a lot of stress.  There’s nothing I can do about most of it.  Why is “the news” such a big presence in my life?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and there’s only one thing I’m 100% sure of.  I need to go on an information diet.  A lot of what I take in isn’t even good as “news.” Journalistic junk food.  A while back, I used a stopwatch and learned that over 50% of what I was getting from the local 10:00 news was ads.  Just how much of my time do I want to dedicate to car commercials and lovey-dovey couples touting erectile dysfunction drugs?

“News” can also be defined as “somebody or something interesting or something previously unknown.”   If I think about it that way, I can chart a wiser path to the information I really want to ingest.  If I want news about someone I love or want to get to know, a phone call or e-mail beats Inside Edition.  If I want to learn about something new, surfing the Net or going to the library will get me a whole lot farther than waiting through five minutes of ads so I can hear the 30-word follow-up to the 20-word trailer the evening news teased me with before going to commercial.

We hear way too much about stuff we don’t need to know–politicians who should have kept their pants on; paramours who should have kept their mouths shut; financial difficulties and deceits; personal tragedies and traumas.  We hear about crime and mayhem all over the globe. We hear the same awful stuff multiple times a day.  It’s not just me.  This is not good for any of us.

A steady stream of bad news is hard on you, even if you have no emotional connection to the people facing the problem.  The very best we can hope to get from witnessing the current horrible thing is a fleeting moment of “feel good” when we write a check or text a donation in response.  The rest is a combination of unrequited compassion and insensitive gawking.

I do want to be informed about what’s going on in the world.  And I do care about people.  But you can get too much of a good thing.  Am I an informed citizen of the world or a news addict?

I’ve decided I need to learn to imbibe more responsibly.  From now on, I’m going to make myself answer three questions:  Do I really need/want to be fully informed about this?  Is this the best source for the information I need?  And, much as it makes me uncomfortable:  Am I just watching/hearing/reading this news as a bogus way to feel connected?  If the answers aren’t yes, yes, and no, I need to pass.