Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Sweet Peace #28: Stretching the space between trigger and response

Mountain Meadows Reservoir

    I'm at Lake Almanor on something of a vacation, having successfully sold my RV, the chore that I came up here to do. Since I have three days to enjoy this beautiful lake and land, I'm planning to kayak one of my favorite places today. First, though, I went looking for something to eat.

In my refrigerator, which is just barely stocked because I will only be here for a few days, I found half of a two-day-old grocery store sandwich. It wasn't particularly good two days ago: a smear of turkey on a thick hunk of pasty, white bread. Definitely not gourmet or even tasty or healthy. I push it aside for the two lemon cookies leftover from last night's dinner with the neighbors. They didn't do anything except set off a cycle of eating, and once again I was rooting around in the fridge. There's that sandwich again. I'm not *really* hungry and I know that sandwich is mediocre at best, however ... 

You probably know where this is going. I ate the sandwich, and now I'm wondering why. It was an interesting process to observe: thinking the problem was too much bread, I removed the top bread layer and slathered honey mustard on the turkey and limp lettuce. That didn’t help much, but I ate it anyway. Now, I was no longer hungry but very dissatisfied, so I fried the sandwich top in the little bit of butter I had. That left me overly full and feeling stupid for eating something that bad with no redeeming value. It occurs to me that this is like a hangover ... maybe a food-over?

Once again I wonder why? I've been here before when an unsatisfying food triggers an eating binge. An hour later I'm still overfull, lethargic, uncomfortable and unhappy with myself and decide to see if I can follow the rabbit trail that got me here. 

Many years ago when I smoked, I recognized how much it was affecting my breathing ... and also saw the black lung photos going around ... so I quit. It wasn't easy, but I did it. Some years after that I stopped drinking because I hated having hangovers. Why is food so much different? The phrase that pops into my mind is "looking for love in all the wrong places."

I know that food and eating is connected to childhood triggers so there's no reason to keep gnawing on that bone. What I really want to do is to create a space between the trigger and the eating response, a way to press pause and allow room for a rational decision.

After the sandwich fiasco, I pulled myself together and headed out for my favorite kayaking spot, about ten minutes away and opened Drafts, the simple note-taking app for my iPhone, and began to talk about what happened this morning. I’ve started recognizing triggers, although that doesn’t help much when I just ignore them. I thought maybe talking myself through these triggers would help me understand them and find ways to love myself in a more productive way than eating something which rightfully should have been thrown away. The goal is to make better decisions.

During this conversation with self, I recognized a mild sense of depression at the loss of this special place on the lake. It’s probably not stretching the metaphor too far to wonder if I was trying to fill up the empty space created by this loss with whatever food was handy, even if it was pretty awful. Writing this seems on target and I feel tears welling up. Buying this lake place was a huge step, a gift to myself, an honoring of something I’ve always wanted. Leaving it is painful even when I know the move that prompted this change was the right one for me right now. To honor this sadness, I decided to make a tribute to my time at the lake, a loving ritual of letting go.  I begin pulling photos and reliving the memories of this place.

This note was created using Drafts and then cleaned up for this post. I am making a commitment to use this process when the next triggering event happens.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Sweet Peace #27: Exploring the iceberg of procrastination

    Procrastination is a fraud word, an idea wrapped in false colors. It starts out with a positive prefix … “pro” meaning “for” or “forward” as if we’re making progress or proceeding or producing. That profound prefix is then glued to the Latin word crastinus meaning “of tomorrow” creating a word that basically means moving forward … tomorrow, or basically, not doing today what you could … or might … do tomorrow.

   Over time, this word became an enemy to success, happiness and feelings of self-worth. Wearing the procrastinator label was akin to wearing a scarlet A, something to be scorned in polite company, and especially on the path to success. Even worse, it became a volcano of negative self-talk … I’m lazy, irresponsible, a slacker, a dawdler, a dilly-dallier, an idler, lagger, loafer, slowpoke, or straggler. I will never be a … (fill in the blank).

   Yesterday, an unsourced sketch showed up on my Facebook page. It was strikingly simple, worthy only of a glance … until it started to dawn on me how powerful it was. The iceberg metaphor holds true for so many things … perhaps even for everything. What we see is never all there is.

   Because procrastination is such a rich source of negative self-talk, it’s worth exploring. It helps to think of all the things you could be doing as two buckets of potential procrastination:

First, there’s the outside bucket of all the stuff the world wants you to do … from getting a job, getting married, raising a family, to brushing your teeth, bathing regularly, and balancing your checkbook.

   Then, there’s the interior bucket of everything that’s important to you … from hugging your children or reading a just-released novel by your favorite author to walking through a forest or marketing your latest creative work.

   It’s important to understand the repercussions of procrastination for both buckets. Procrastinating regarding the outside bucket triggers a response from others … from mild disappointment to outrage depending on what they expected of you. The repercussions of procrastination on the interior bucket stuff can range from a momentary oops feeling to a creeping, soul-rotting feeling of having broken trust with yourself and feeling worthless.

The Gift of Procrastination

   As I have walked deeper into the practice of gratitude, I keep coming back to David Steindl-Rast’s statement: Everything is a gift. That’s a mighty big everything. 

   How is procrastination a gift? It is a reminder that we have things to do … things the world wants us to do and things we want us to do. The world is a big, open door to mysteries to explore, problems to be solved, beauty to be stunned by, people to love, places to go. One lifetime is not enough to do it all, so we have to choose. 

   In order to procrastinate, there has to be something to be done, whether it comes from the world bucket or the me bucket; whether it is critically important or an arrange-the-spices task. So, we create To Dos, tasks we’ve accepted from the world and tasks we’ve set as our own priorities. Then the question becomes: Why don’t we do them?

  • Time management folks say we need better organizing systems.
  • Self-improvement folks say we need to prioritize and be more disciplined.
  • Tech gurus offer us notifications and Siri.
  • Habit gurus recommend stacking and tracking.

   And then along comes an iceberg graphic that basically states: it’s all about what we can’t see … what we feel and what emotions are triggered by the task and the expectations around it. The Facebook graphic started me wondering and wandering through Google where I found deprocrastination.co, apparently an unknown entity sitting in a cave downloading wisdom from the Universe such as the following:


= a short-term escape from stress 

associated with a task or a decision. 

Procrastination is not the problem. 

It's a tactic we use to make ourselves feel better. 

It’s a symptom of temporary or deeper psychological issues.

   Well, that puts a different spin on it. I decide to test it on a current procrastination in my Me Bucket: marketing Gratitude Mojo. 

   Recently Lynne Snead and I completed the creation of this 26-week, workbook/journal based on advanced gratitude practice tools. We have been using it as we developed it for almost a year and a few of our friends have joined the journey. All of us are convinced it is changing our lives, so it’s now time to take it out into the world. But I am procrastinating, claiming the need for more research, putting other tasks at the top of the to do list, talking about doing but not doing.

Gratitude Mojo, advanced gratitude journal/workbook

If I go back to the graphic above, I own at least the following:

        - fear of failing
I’m not capable, worthy
it’s not perfect, it needs more editing
I’m afraid … I don’t know enough
        - who am I to do this?

   It makes me laugh … almost. I’ve been studying success for decades. I know that everyone goes through this and that the people who succeed are the ones who push through all this fog of doubts and all the dithering. So, rather than sitting here writing this long exposition about procrastination, I should recognize that what I am doing is procrastinating, not sending the letter I’ve already written (and rewritten a dozen times), not walking across the hot coals to get to the other side.

   I know that this procrastination is actually producing the outcome I least want: failure. STOP. Maybe that’s not true; maybe there’s something even below that least wanted outcome: the fear of being rejected. As long as I procrastinate, I am safe. Procrastination is like a giant, bullet-proof shield I can hide behind.

… pause … pause … pause …

   Okay, I just pressed send to the letter and to a tweet. My expectations are nil but I have faced the dragon and sent the letter. We'll see what happens.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Love Letters to My Life #48: What if this were the last time ...

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my joy-filled life.

- Joyce Wycoff)

One day … or maybe night … your mom or your dad was holding you and put you down. You didn’t know it then … they didn’t know it then … but that was the last time they held you in their arms and then put you down to walk on your own.

In a podcast with Tim Ferriss (#599), Sam Harris reminds us that everything has a last time. This week, I walked down to the beach at the end of my street. When I walked away, I didn’t think about the possibility that it was the last time I would see that beautiful Pacific Ocean. Turns out, it wasn’t. I saw it the next day and the day after that. If I’m lucky, I might see it a thousand times more.

However, knowing that there will come a last time for everything, makes each time, each moment more precious. If you could go through your day embracing each moment as possibly the last time you will have that experience ... whether it's ice cream or the voice of a loved one or the feel of words flowing from your brain onto a keyboard or simply sitting in your favorite chair gazing out the window ... you might not make it through the day without weeping for the joy of it all … or feeling the overwhelming grief of knowing that this moment will never happen again.

I wonder if this is the underlying reason I take photographs? Each one could represent the last time … actually the only time … that particular light will fall on that particular leaf, casting that particular shadow at that particular angle. Taking photos slows me down, engages my attention, allows me to examine the momentary beauty of a particular ordinary thing in all its luminous glory.

Everything ends.
There will always be a last time. 
Knowing that is a powerful reminder to appreciate now.

For the coming month, I want to take this “last time” thought to a deeper level and truly look at my life and the world around me from the perspective of:

“What if this were the last time 

I ever saw or experienced this?”

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Sweet Peace #26: Bingo on Tuesday

Beauty in Life and Death

I am at that age. You know the one where the world’s expectations of you can be met by merely breathing in and breathing out on a regular basis. 

The former exhortations of family and friends were to get out and see the world … live while you can … do something …  be somebody …  make a mark …  do something that matters … leave a legacy. Now those thoughts are generally replaced by relax …  take it easy …  why bother …  there’s bingo on Tuesday. 

This week, on my way to see a lecture that looked interesting, I sat in the car, key halfway to the ignition, making up excuses for not going … Covid’s rising … it’s chilly … I don’t know anyone … who cares whether I go or not … why not just go to a coffee shop and write in my journal. Finally, I turned the key, backed out of my conflicted state and went forward.

Philosopher, author and podcaster Sam Harris says everything we do changes our brain. We can train it to pay attention to urges like the one I faced and make a choice based on what we truly want. My brain switched from a focus on external expectations and validations to the willingness to walk into an uncertain experience ... which, by the way, wound up expanding my perspective. I think my brain shifted a millimeter and I gave myself a high-five.

"This may be one of the most 

significant challenges of this stage of life."

This may be one of the most significant challenges of this stage of life. There are few expectations or cultural norms to guide our actions. Retirement, empty nests, being single for the first time in decades, as well as facing the loss of beauty and strength have left many of us in an identity crisis limbo … who are we and what are we supposed to do with our remaining years or even decades?

Maybe that’s the great gift of this age … time to figure out what still calls to us and knowing we have the freedom to pursue whatever that is without waiting for permission or validation from others.

PS Since this is #26 of this year-long commitment to finding peace with food, body and self, I’m at the half-way mark! Definitely deserves an attagirl celebration. This afternoon, I’m going to set my to do list aside and play with photos and dive into my new art tutorials. ;-)

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Sweet Peace #25: When life goes akimbo

Flowering Gum Breaking Free

     Moving makes tossed salad out of routines and habits. This “easy move” began three weeks ago and I’m still sorting out time and schedules, always feeling slightly akimbo.

(Sound of brain brakes screeching.)

Akimbo? I don’t think I’ve ever written that word before. Specifically, it means standing with hands on hips, elbows bent. Metaphorically, it carries the sense of things being out of alignment, not quite straight forward, awkward, bent out of shape.

Akimbo … a word gift from my scrambled brain. In some ways, my life is more bent out of shape by this move than previous ones: I’m in the midst of 200 very close neighbors and I have no kitchen. I didn’t think not having a kitchen would matter all that much since I’m neither much of a cook nor particularly particular about food. 

Having a cafeteria available seemed like a grand idea … no cooking, no shopping, no cleaning up … all seemed perfect. And it is. However, it comes with a few challenges. The cafeteria has a set schedule: an hour and a half for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What if my stomach isn’t on that schedule? To date, I’ve conformed to the schedule of three meals a day, arriving within the designated window of time.

I do believe this is where feeling akimbo was birthed. For the past several years, I’ve been following an intermittent fasting schedule focused on two meals per day within a six-hour eating window. It left my mornings free of food and thoughts of food. I liked that schedule and the way it made me feel, both physically and mentally. 

Now, it feels like my days are ruled by cafeteria hours and it’s time to rethink the program to make this system work for me. The answer seems simple and obvious: skip breakfast. That would put me back on my intermittent fasting schedule and leave my mornings free.

And the problem is? … … …

Meals are included in the “rent!” 

Not eating a meal seems like a waste of money. Somewhat like not eating everything on your plate because the starving children in China … etc. etc. 

Wow! I’m feeling akimbo because of childhood indoctrination about eating everything on my plate? That’s rather startling. And, I realize I have indeed been eating everything I put on my plate exactly three times a day, on precisely the cafeteria's schedule.

Today, I’m going to break free. Perhaps that’s the message that came through the last piece of art I made: “Flowering Gum Breaking Free.” It was my brain sending me a message that I need to make this new place and this new schedule fit me rather than me fitting it. 

How fun to get a message from a piece of art and then have it pounded into place with a completely unexpected word.