Thursday, February 5, 2009

Taking a break...

Because my personal disposition runs somewhere between lazy and sloth-like, the concept taking a break shouldn't be too complex for me. After all, my favorite state of being is in my pajamas, reading a book and sipping a cup of tea. Or, stretching and relaxing in a Restorative Yoga class can also be a place I'm likely to be found. Understandably, the idea of taking a break should be second nature to me. Yet, when it comes to situations that simply aren't working, problems that aren't getting solved and dynamics that are counter-productive, I tend to want to be the peacemaker. I try to be the "fixer" for my own life, and for my family. When conflicts arise, I don't shy away from them. I try to be proactive and productive. Fixing problems right now, at the very moment they're happening, seems to be so much 'easier' in the long run. I worry about letting situations fester. I also worry that I won't be able to relax in my Yoga class if I can't shut my mind off from dealing with a pressing matter.

However, there are times in which no amount of being a squeaky wheel, or a diplomat, will solve a problem. You do your best, you rally the troops, and you still are stuck in a precarious situation. One of the most challenging personality traits I have is that, after sloth, my worst habit is not being able to let things go when I wish there was more I could do. I want to fix, help, solve, mend, mediate, remedy, cooperate, comfort, push and intercede. I find unbelievably frustrating when I want to do the best I can to negotiate a situation, and I'm stymied in all possible outlets. These are the times that it's best to take a break, walk away, and save my energy. It's a concept I'm still working deeply on within myself.

One my favorite episodes of "Friends" is the one in which Ross and Rachel argue over whether or not they were "on a break". Let me be fair: their meaning of "on a break" was under contention. My own is without any resistance. Still, it's a laughable scenario, and I still have friends who quibble over who was truly in the right: Ross or Rachel. I also like the episode because it wasn't happening to me. I believe many people have felt that same sense of laughter at the farce and humor of the show, and still done a mental "Whew...glad that wasn't me". The sad part was that Ross and Rachel really did need a break from each other (two words). They needed time to think, to process and to just move away from the back and forth drama of their relationship.

How do we know when we really need a break, or whether we're procrastinating? I believe that, deep down, we really know when we need to walk away. Whether it's from a project that seems to have us bogged down or a relationship that's just not healthy, time stepped away can be used productively. When we're too close to a situation, we often get caught up in every word, every nuance and every syllable directed our way. When we can channel our energies into something completely different, we can then focus back on the issue at hand. At that point, we have gained perspective. We're not in the heat of the moment. We have been given a gift to have freedom to walk away from frustration. The real test of maturity is knowing what's worth fighting over, what's the best way to navigate through murky waters, and what matters are best when laid to rest. Hard as it may be to resist, we can't fix everything. We can't mend every broken relationship. We can't solve every problem. There are times that taking a break from stress can renew our energy and help us to think laterally of creative solutions to a problem. At other times, taking a break can help us to see the problem for what it is...and sometimes that means moving our lives in a different direction.

Even though taking a break can be seen as a cop out by many Type A personalities, I believe it's vital for those of us who feel as if we've transformed into hamsters on exercise wheels. I am not advocating leaving responsibilities, abandoning important issues or even dropping people from our lives because of a few bumps in the road. What I am suggesting, however, is that if a state of affairs seems to twisting itself up like a ball of yarn that's gone through the dryer, taking a break can mean seeing the circumstances with fresh eyes. Being able to look at any problem, without being a part of the problem ourselves, can bring us one step closer to the solution.
You got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, know when to run. ~~ Kenny Rogers "The Gambler"

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


February 2nd was Groundhog’s Day here in the United States. It’s the day that Punxsutawney Phil gets hauled out of his burrow and is required to see his shadow. Or not. And, based on this overblown and unscientific method, six more weeks of winter is either predicted. Or not. Given the fact that I live in Maine, where Spring is a stealth season, the point is actually moot. What does amaze me, however, is the amount of coverage this event attracts. It’s the hot topic in the news, on blogs, and even in schools. It was a movie, that’s cited each year as a marvelous story about “reliving events over and over until you finally get them right”. Not to sound like Ebeneezer Scrooge, but “Bah! Humbug!”. I am a strong believer in Christmas, and the Christmas message. I am a strong believer in the call to love others as ourselves. But, predictions based on a groundhog’s shadow make me realize how much we are a people who need to believe in something, even if it’s simply an earlier Spring.

I have nothing personally against Punxsutawney Phil. He’s just a cute furry creature whose hibernation is disturbed by frenzied camera crews. I would just like to see the same kind of coverage over the every day, small miracles that we happen in our midst without us even knowing about them. The media has been filled with dire predictions: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the spiraling down economy, the job loss rate, the home foreclosures and 1 in 3 teen drop out rate from school. There are animals who, unlike Punxsutawney Phil, are beaten and starved and neglected. And yet, there are quiet, humble miracles that happen every day, to help create a world that will include much bigger blessings than a shortened Winter season.

Joshua James Lapp, age 16, saved his elderly neighbor from an overwhelming fire. He heard her cries for help and climbed in her window into the dense smoke. Although nearly overwhelmed by smoke inhalation, and covered in lacerations to his arms, Joshua was able to save both of them, as well as another building resident. He did this without thought to his own safety. In a world in which teenagers are maligned and marginalized, Joshua’s actions were both extraordinary and wonderful. His name was released with his prestigious Carnegie Hero award, and yet few had heard of him before this. He is a hero, and he created a miracle, but quite literally caring for his neighbors as he would himself.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary creates quiet miracles every single day. Although based in Utah, Best Friends reaches their mission nationally to inform and educate people on animal care, as well as to provide rescue missions for animals in dire situations. Some of the miracles this organization performs appear on their program, “Dogtown” on the National Geographic Channel. One of the stories that touched my heart was that of Tuffy, a nearly dead Dalmatian mix who was attacked by starving other dogs at a hoarding situation of 100 dogs abandoned in the Nevada desert. Against all odds, this “toughie” not only survived by thrived. His caregivers were incredible, and his foster father, Jeff, was a true hero, loving Tuffy back to life. The most heroic part of all was Jeff’s giving Tuffy to his new adoptive family, a healed and loved dog.

None of these stories make it to the front pages in the same way that bad news, or Punxsutawney Phil does. But, these beautiful stories of quiet miracles are a much better ‘prediction’ of what we, as human beings, are capable of. Winter will turn into Spring, both metaphorically and literally. But, we, ourselves, can help generate our own predictions for a better world by our own choice of actions: to be a heroic, to be humble, to be kind and most of all, to think of others before ourselves. I believe that’s a much better predictor of our future “climate”.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Superbowl Sunday

Sport is a preserver of health. ~Hippocrates

It's Superbowl Sunday again! Once again, homes will be filled with friends, family and laughter. Our tables will hold pizzas and giant sandwiches. Rational people will paint their faces, and spell words out with their bodies to support their teams. It's a time to take a break from the every day stress of life, and as a nation, sit back and enjoy the game. It's a day to place on hold our worries over the financial crises and fighting a war in two countries. It's a purely American holiday....and for most of us, the outcome of the game is even less important the fun of watching it.

We need more Superbowls in our lives. We need holidays that don't involve getting dressed up or buying presents. We need an excuse to pause and simply laugh, have fun, argue over nothing more important than whether or not a play made a first down. We need to just live in a moment that's bigger than us all, and yet includes our 'participation', even if it's a group of men discussing why the refs make stupid calls.

Every family has its Superbowl traditions. My mother used to always make a meatloaf in the shape of a football, with pimentos for laces. When my husband was growing up, his brother and he would gather all their friends on the high school field for a game of pick up football in the afternoon prior to kickoff. From the time the boys were about 6 years on, they'd play their own game, young and old mixed together, mimicking their favorite players move and attitude.

So, why does the Superbowl capture the imagine of so many people? I believe it's because the game gives up the chance to pick sides, to 'fight the good fight', but ultimately to go home, together, as Americans. Because my husband is an Army Officer, the only game that comes close to this intensity of feeling, and yet, unity, is the Army-Navy football game, held ironically on my birthday every year. In both games, we can cheer, we can shout and we can holler out our prowess over the other team. But, when it's all said and done, we go home as a nation, together and united.

In Yoga, there is no sense of competition. We are all in our own practice, with some being more advanced and others being beginners. There is not the sense of one of us versus another, in a healthy yoga class. Still, a little competition is not an inherently bad thing. Therefore, when practing Yoga, or swimming or skiing...or doing anything in which we can excel, I believe it's important to ourselves to push ourselves to the next level. This doesn't mean each of us must become a Master Yogi, or win an Olympic Gold Medal. It means that we can press on ourselves, without anyone acting as our battlefield opponent, to achieve our very best in whatever we set out to do. We can pursue our own glory, and our sense of empowerment, without having it be at the expense of someone else's 'loss'. In a sense, as we continue to develop our own talents and push ourselves to achieve, those who are close to us will, most likely, share in our successes.

As you watch the game today, enjoy the spectacle, laugh at the commercials and dream about your goals...and ways to make them not only possible, but achievable.

Now...are you ready for some football?