About Us · Contact Us   

Archive for October, 2012

The Value of Surrender

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Surrender is not the disaster we’ve been taught it is. Yes, sometimes surrender means you are giving up on an important dream.  But more often, it means you are giving up on a specific strategy. And almost as often, you are giving up on a massive amount of work that wasn’t getting you anywhere close to what you really needed.

This time of year is ripe for reasons to surrender.  In a couple weeks for those of us in the United States, the polls will close, the votes will be counted, and we will know who’s going to lead what for the next term at various levels of government.  Perhaps your candidate or cause will prevail.  Perhaps not.  Either way, there’s a form of surrender involved.

For those active in trying to make something political happen, the case is closed–at least for the time being.  Both winners and losers need to switch gears–either from proving that you’re “better than the other” to making what you have in mind work within the reality of a diverse population or to accepting that what you wanted was not what the majority wanted.

But it’s not just politics that requires surrender at this time of year.  Unless you live somewhere warm, sunny, and pretty consistent with its weather patterns, this is probably the time to surrender to the negatives of what’s coming with the change of seasons.  If you’re north of the Equator, that may mean surrendering to your inner hibernating bear.  If you are somewhere that’s moving toward a hotter time of year, it may be your lethargic lizard self that needs to be accepted.

Surrender is an important skill for mental health.  As humans, we like to believe that we can control whatever we decide needs to be controlled.  When that doesn’t happen on something you personally value, it’s tempting to assume that you just need to try harder–kind of like talking louder to someone who doesn’t speak the language you prefer to speak.  Sometimes trying harder really is the answer.

But sometimes, letting go of what you were trying to make happen is the wiser route.  It may be a temporary withdrawal, while you let new ideas come into your consciousness.  It may be reliquishing that outcome permanently.  When you first decide to let go, you won’t know.  What you do need to know is that what you’ve been doing isn’t working and that doing more of the same will net the same result.

This might be a hard pill to swallow if your ego is wound up in what you want to have happen.  (Helpful hint: tell you ego to go take a nap before you make the decision.)

Surrender is a bit like declaring emotional bankruptcy on a single dimension.  You accept you don’t have what it takes to make that thing happen.  “What it takes” may have always been well beyond what you could muster up yourself.  But whether it is or isn’t, you need to just say “I can’t make this happen.”

With that, the emotional slate for that aspect of your life is wiped clean.  That effort no longer consumes the energy you have asvailable to put toward all your hopes and dreams.  You get to start over and focus on more promising things without that burden draining your emotional bank account.

Surrender can mean any number of things–accepting a personal relationship is not going to be what you want it to be.  Or making peace with the idea that that the candidate you worked so hard to get elected is not going to gain office.  It can mean letting go of your frantic cry of “No, I want summer to last forever.”

Surrender, simply put, is accepting that you don’t have the control you thought you did.  That you can’t create the world that’s perfect for you simply by working as hard as you can.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?!  But the beauty of surrender lies in what comes after you accept that you can’t make what you wanted happen.  That acceptance sets the stage for other possibilities.  And those quite often hold far more beneficial outcomes than the one you were hellbent on making happen.

There’s a whole lot more good stuff out there than what we can envision–especially if we are focused on having it be one certain thing.  Surrender gives that stuff room to come into your life.


Autumn — A Lesson in Losing Control

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Life works better when you’re willing to lose control every once in a while. Not as in getting angry.  As in letting what’s going on around you decide what you are going to do with your time.  Too often, we let what we had planned to do prevail.  The result can be efficient but pretty mundane as a lifestyle.

The fall of the year provides some wonderful reminders of this.  This week, the fall color at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park (which, for lucky me, is an easy drive and one of my favorite playgrounds) has reached a level of indescribable intensity.  The area also experienced its first snow of the coming winter season.  Two hiking friends and I were blessed to be on the trail when the two phenomena were playing out together.  You cannot plan that kind of high.

The hike took about twice as long as it may have on a summer day, but not because of the trail conditions.  We just kept stopping to take pictures.  And more pictures.  Of course none of them did the beauty justice (which is just as well for this post.  I promise I will figure out how to get photos into these one of these days).

But the point here is not about how lucky I was to get to see such beauty.  The point is that if I wanted to see it, it had to be on Mother Nature’s terms.  We weren’t sure what we were going to see until we got there.  We weren’t even sure we wouldn’t get rained out.  But we let go of our commitment to being “right” and being “dry” and just gave it a go.  The “go” involved driving a one lane mountain road on ice, too.  but something told us it was going to be worth all the “concessions.”  Oh, boy, was it!

You can put some punch in your days if you go with what the day offers sometimes, especially  in autumn.  It may be a trip to a pumpkin farm.  It may be a drive to your local fall color mecca.  It may be taking the time to stay home on Halloween to answer the door and give out treats to the little goblins in your neighborhood.  It may be taking your grandkids to jump in the leaves at a local park.  None of these things will wait until you finish the quilt you are working on or the shelves you are putting up in the garage. The leaves are not going to hang on the trees forever and Halloween is one night a year.

Once you retire, it’s tempting to insist that everything be done when you want to do it.  You can make your own schedule, that’s for sure.  But you lose a lot of the richness in life if you don’t allow room for spontaneity.

This is particularly true if you live in a climate that’s got some “iffy” months.  I live in the Pacific Northwest.  We definitely have “iffy” months.  From the middle of October to about the middle of July, our sunshine most often comes as  “sunbreaks” that don’t last all day–and sometimes don’t last more than fifteen minutes.  Those of us who are smart about it, see the sun and get outside to do whatever we were hoping to do in the fresh air right then.  Those of us who want control expect that “sunbreak” to still be there when we finish reading the paper or washing the windows.  Ha!

It’s the same deal if you’re in Omaha in January.  If the weather gets nice, get out there!

As a kid, my family made a point of going on picnics all year long.  I grew up in Wisconsin.  Yes, some of them were in the snow and some of them were in the mud.  But they were all adventures that incorporated what was happening at the moment.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but my childhood was rich indeed.  I’m thinking I would be better off if I put more of that “now-sensitive” activity into what I am doing at this stage of the game.

Once we no longer work, we’re the best  resource as an example for everyone.  Notice what’s going on and take advantage of what you can savor right now.  Let Ma Nature have her way.  (Or let a grandchild have hers and let her play at the park for as long as she wants.)  You only get to live this moment.  The times you let go of what you thought you were going to do to take advantage of what’s unfolding that’s better are going to be what you remember and cherish.

Life is much richer if you don’t follow the script. Autumn reminds us of that.


The Secret of “Livin’ Large”

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Living the Good Life is not a matter of winning the lottery. People who have come into a lot of money often end up more miserable–and destitute–than before the “lucky” event.  Still, our fantasies are about having life suddenly become wonderful because we have all the money we could ever hope to require.

Remember the adage “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need”?  Well, that applies to money as a resource for “livin’ large”–in capital letters!

It’s not about “being able to have the money to do whatever I want.”  Money isn’t what’s stopping most of us.  We don’t put our priorities where our hearts are and then blame not having enough money for the disappointment.

Let’s try an experiment.  If you could do anything you chose with the day you are currently living, what would it be?  How many of you said “Buy a Ferrari”?  How many said “Buy a huge house with a massive pool and hire ten servants”?

It’s not the stuff that money can buy that makes the biggest difference.  Perhaps you said “Take my family on a cruise.”  Yes, that does take money, and you may not have it.  But what you want is some special time with your loved ones.  A cruise would be nice, but not doing anything because you can’t afford that keeps you from “livin’ large.”

There are all kinds of affordable directions to go with your fantasy of taking the family on a cruise.  You could do a “virtual cruise” where every family member chooses a port of call and then provides the images and information so everyone else feels a bit like they’ve been there.  (That means you would not be limited to a real route either.  On the web, going from Paris to Phuket, Thailand is just as fast as going from Minneapolis to St. Paul.)

Or you could invite everyone to your place for an overnight and do the “shipboard” things yourself–midnight buffet or elaborate dinner (with friends as staff), elegant clothes expected of the “cruisers”, ballroom dancing–or whatever parody of it you want to invent.

What you need is fun with your family.  Don’t wait around for someone to drop a wad of cash in your lap so you can do something someone else is trying to tell you and sell you as fun.

One of the most distressing aspects of our high-tech, buy-it-right-now culture is that we’ve forgotten how to invent fun.  We can chose any movie we want “on demand.”  We can buy clothes at midnight sitting at the computer in our underwear.  That progress may give us a lot of things “instantly” that we had to wait days or weeks and mount multiple shopping trips for before.  But it has left us a bit short in terms of creative success at coming up with an alternative when what we “want” is something we know we can’t afford–or find.  (It’s also whacked the daylights out of our ability to say “no” more often when “affording it” is a stretch.)

Livin’ large is about doing what you really want to do.  If your values and your actions are not in sync, no amount of money is going to make you happy.  If you are doing what you believe is the most important thing to do, most–if not all–of time, you are most likely grinning from ear to ear far more often than those more affluent and more rudderless.

If you want to feel rich, start with what you do with your time.  Annie Dillard said it well:  “How we spend oure days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Do what you believe in.  Focus your time and energy on the people and things you enjoy.  Publisher’s Clearinghouse may come along anyway.  If so, you will find that a lot of money is nice, but a lot of meaning is better.


Caregiving — A Foreign and Challenging Land

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Someday someone you love is going to get sick–sick enough to need care.  If you’re the one to take on that role, be ready for an unexpectedly contorted ride.

It’s not just the 24/7 nature of the effort that makes it such demanding work.  Caregiving transports you into an entirely different world.  That carefree, do-what-I-want-when-I-want lifestyle you had weeks before evaporates as you provide needed attention.  Your priorities change.  Your sleep patterns change.  Your means of keeping yourself on an even keel change.  Pretty much everything changes.

In particular, the person you love and for whom you’ve taken on the burden of caregiving changes a lot.  Your wholesome bride of 60 years may start swearing like a sailor as she descends into dementia.  Your big strong hunk of a husband may whine like a four-year old about everything in his life that isn’t fair.  Perhaps the someone who was “always there” for you is barely there at all now.  As you get farther and farther into the commitment, you feel less and less like you are living your own life.

And yet, caregiving can provide some of the most tender moments and incredibly rich love. Holding a hand or fetching a glass of water can be strong statements of a bond that can’t be expressed in words anymore.

But caregiving is also the quickest path to exhaustion you will ever find.  It’s hard to keep your own needs in the picture, but it’s also imperative.

Get Help.  Caregiver burnout is real.  A week of looking after someone else may be doable.  But a month?  A year?  A decade?  It’s wise to get help for anything more than a few weeks and for some of us, more than a few days.

This may be a matter of getting other family members to come in on a regular basis so you can have some time to rediscover yourself.  It may mean taking your loved one to an adult day care facility on a regular basis.  It may mean searching for local resources that provide breaks to long-term caregivers.  Whatever it takes, find a way to get some time for yourself.  And then take it.  Regularly.  (Please note:  A single getaway may leave you feeling more disconnected to yourself than before.)

Some patients are very good about encouraging this.  Some have become so unaware of the needs of others that they will berate you for wanting it.  It doesn’t make any difference.  Find a way to take some time for yourself.

If you can’t take significant time for yourself very often, go on “three minute vacations” several times a day.  Transport yourself mentally and emotionally to a place that’s soothing for you and let yourself experience that place for a few minutes.  Beach… mountains… the mall–imagining yourself somewhere you love really can reduce your stress level.

Watch your health.  Caregiver’s needs fall by the wayside very quickly and that can be catastrophic.  You do not get bonus points for doing the martyr routine—you just get worn out.  And then you get sick or have some sort of accident.

Respect your level of motivation.  You may not want to give up any time at all of what you have left with the patient if you are deeply in love.  But if you ended up as caregiver simply because there was no one else to do it, you’re going to need more frequent breaks and more extensive help.

Know when to quit.  Seek good counsel on when it’s time to admit that you can’t do what needs to be done anymore.  Search your heart for permission to stop carrying the whole load if your health—mental or physical–is deteriorating.  Accepting this fact is extremely difficult.  Setting some benchmarks early on so you know when you’ve come to that bend in the road might help.

It’s just as difficult to know when to stop if your patient is well enough to start caring for him/herself again.  That might involve some resistance.  When you’ve been getting all the attention, it can be hard to move on.  A caregiver may need to become unavailable so the person who’s resisting that step into complete recovery has to do it him or herself.  Or it may mean turning a deaf ear to whining about minor aches and pains.  Sometimes it requires a blunt conversation.

Eventually, you will get your own life back.  When you do, it will be richer.  A stint in the surreal land of caregiving leaves you with a stronger appreciation of your personal freedom, but also with the satisfaction of having handled some hard but important work.