Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Comedy of Errors

How often is it that we use expressions for which we have lost the original meaning and context? The back story to this often-used slang, meaning, "Everything went so wrong that it had to be funny...." is actually the title of one of William Shakespeare's earliest plays, about two sets of identical twins. The play is not his best or most well known work, but it certainly spawned a cultural significance Shakespeare couldn't have foreseen. The truth is, a mediocre play became a household name. No one remembers the characters, the plot, the setting or even who penned the phrase! Yet, it remains an idiomatic expression in other languages besides English. That, alone, makes "A Comedy of Errors" quite ironic...and quite fitting. Considered to be a flop, how is it that even people who aren't English majors use the term for a ridiculously bad day?

We have all had dreadfully comedic days. Days that the car breaks down when we're late for an important event that we didn't want to attend in the first place. Or that we lock the keys in it. On one memorable occasion, I actually accidentally locked my keys in the car, with the car RUNNING, and my babies strapped into their car seats in the back seat. My son was 2 1/2 and my daughter was 4 months old. I was sleep deprived, emotional and forgetful. I'd forgotten my purse, and my reflex was to hit the automatic locks on the door as I got out of the car. My emergency set? In the car with the kids! Thankfully, my husband was only working ten minutes away at the time and reachable by phone. But, those ten minutes seemed to last forever. The only option was to break a window. The irony? This was our new car, not our old one, and to keep within our budget, we chose to eliminate the window coverage from our car insurance to save some money. While waiting for Jeff to arrive home, I was walking around the car, peering into see the baby sound asleep, and Josh waving at me, wearing his full firefighter regalia (a big stage for toddler boys). I was in a tearful panic by the time Jeff realized he couldn't shimmy open a window. When we were able to "rescue" the children, our son was giggling beyond measure, and our daughter was still sound asleep, lulled by the car engine. Josh told me, "Mama! You so funny! Let's do that again!". My horror was my toddler's amusement.

This episode proved to me that, at our worst times, we have to find ways to laugh. During those days that the washing machine floods the basement when you have weeks' worth of loads to do, or the dog throws up on the rug minutes before guests arrive, seeing the humor in life's comedy of errors can not only take the edge off of anxiety and stress, but can actually help you solve your problems more creatively. During my Yoga teacher training, I was required to take at least 3 classes in every Yoga discipline. This led to me to a great variety of styles, theories, stratagems and beliefs. From sweltering Bikrahm Yoga (practiced in a 100 degree, or more, studio) to Kundalini Yoga (which involved chanting words that made no sense, and made me uncomfortable), I tried my hand at gathering as much experience and knowledge as I could. Some of these classes broadened my knowledge by helping me to learn and grow as both teacher and student. Others simply taught me which styles of Yoga I did *not* want to practice. The most entertaining of these outside courses was "Laughing Yoga". The premise behind this discipline is " joy is your unconditional commitment to have fun from within, regardless of outside conditions." Initially, I had no idea how I would accomplish this! And yet, it was just like the popular You Tube video: once one person got going in nonsensical laughter, during a depressing, oppressive commute, the whole train joined in. The Yoga class was much the same way. I was worried that I wouldn't 'get' the class...that I would be dreadful, that I would make a fool out of myself and that I would manage to practice in the "wrong way". Yet, it changed my perspective, and I found the most extraordinary sense of joy and silliness inside of my anxieties.

If we look at our lives with a sense of humor, we can improve our health. That's an amazing thought, isn't it? Countless medical studies have shown that laughter, in the midst of trial, can bring us an improved immune system, boost our metabolism, help lower our blood pressure
and even reduce our need for medications. Therefore, when I'm under stress, when I'm late, when I'm worried about something, when a situation is far out of my control, I try to see beyond the silver lining; I try to see the comedic lining. In doing so, I not only improve my own health and my own perspective, but I'm sure the people around me are glad that I'm not being snarky over my troubles. Additionally, when you laugh, it's amazing how much the answers to these problems just seem to materialize in your brain. Once you get over "yourself" and take your situation out of the mix, it's exceptional how these issues seem to resolve.

At the very least, you will have a far better time looking at life as a "Comedy of Errors" rather than a tragedy of epic proportions.

Monday, September 28, 2009

And lead us not into temptation...

"How oft the sight of the means to do ill deeds makes ill needs done."
~ William Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John

For most church goers, a standard part of the service is reciting the Lord's Prayer. Regardless of whether one asks that our trespasses or our debts be forgiven, we humble ask God for redemption. We entreat Him to meet our daily needs, and we ask that our will be in congruence with God's. Most of all, we beg God's favor by leading us away from temptation and evil. This beloved prayer has been translated into more than 170 languages. If there is a Bible, there is the Lord's prayer, taught to Jesus' disciples, instructing them in the best way to pray. Far too many of us take this prayer as a memory verse, simply mumbling along with the rest of the congregation, as we speak these words from Matthew's gospel. Others expect it to be a magic spell....reciting it will make all our problems go away, in those people's hopes. Yet, what I feel about the Lord's prayer isn't so much the word for word scripture recitation. Rather, it's the meaning behind the words. The intention wasn't for us to use this prayer as a "get out of jail free" card. It was not the prayer itself, as beautiful as it was the method in which Jesus was asking us to open to our hearts to something bigger, something more valuable and something humbling.

Although I plan to write further on this, the one line I'd like to focus on for this piece is "And lead us not into temptation...." That's a very tricky one, isn't it? We implore a higher power not to take us to places in which we will be tempted into making mistakes, into hurting ourselves or others, into feeding bad habits. For each one us, the place of temptation is different, and temptation itself wears many different faces. In the life of a woman struggling with food addiction, the sight of the supermarket candy aisle might be her worst temptation. For a man dealing with the crisis of wanting a cigarette, being in his old spot in which he'd smoke, or being with friends who are smokers, can be an intoxicating lure. These temptations carry with them life threatening consequences. The first case could be facing high blood pressure, diabetes, angina and many other physical ailments. The latter could be facing lung cancer, emphysema and stroke. The temptations for these cases could literally take their lives, and have done so, in far too many cases.

What about those of us who are tempted in ways that aren't visible? What if we are tempted to brag about our lives to people around us, puffing up ourselves in self-importance, making those to whom we speak feel badly about themselves? What if we are desperately want to keep shopping, buying things we don't need and can't afford, just to look a certain way? What if are tempted to do a mediocre work related project, only expending the bare minimum of effort, when our clients are expecting our full attention? What about gossiping with our neighbors regarding the new family who just moved in? What about the ways we sink into bad habits that destroy our sense of value, our belief in excellence, our humility, our friendship and our honor? I believe that we can call on the God of our beliefs all we want, begging for His mercy for our many faults. But, if we lead *ourselves* astray, are we really allowing ourselves to be led away from temptation? I believe we can be our own worst enemies, and can invite temptation into our lives, even while giving lip service to asking it to be removed from our hearts and minds.

What do we do next? We know we have one stumbling do we overcome it? In Matthew 5:30, Jesus writes, "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you." Should we actually maim the body parts that cause us to walk right into the behaviors, or thoughts, we don't wish to have? Of course not. We would all be blind, deaf and unable to walk or hold items in our hands if this were the literal case. Metaphorically, however, I do believe we can take a great deal of meaning from these words from Matthew. If something isn't working in your life, if a behavior pattern is unhealthy, unproductive, lazy, or unkind, we need to find ways to remove any triggers from our lives. We're addicted to junk food? Do not buy it. Do not bring it in the house. We want to quit smoking? Don't be around smokers at all. Obviously, gain assistance from professionals in mastering these behaviors, but the first step is telling ourselves that we are not going to be our own enablers. Shopaholics? Take 60, or even 30, days and buy *nothing* but food. Don't purchase so much as a pair of socks. When catalogs come, through them in the trash. If we receive an email that a great sale is going in a store we love, delete the email without reading it. Don't allow yourself to say "Well, I'll just see what they have....", and set yourself up to place an order. Gossiping? When your friend wants to badmouth a mutual acquaintance, politely change the subject, or simply have to get off the phone. Laziness? Just do the work entrusted to you to do....make no excuses, and set yourself up for success by creating plans of attack for any project. Sometimes looking at too big a picture can throw our best intentions into sloth. Just create one goal and a time and do your best in every goal.

In Yogic tradition, a Zen master wrote, "In the spiritual life, the most important,
significant and fruitful thing is self-control. No self-control, no self-realisation." How similar this idea is to the meaning behind not giving into temptation, but becoming something higher...someone more committed to living the life we are capable of living. How easy it is to give into temptation! How difficult it is to say, "No. I'm choosing a different way." The truth is, temptation exists in all cultures, in all circumstances and in all lives. We each have different areas in which we stumble. But, for the rest our lives, we can choose to remain on the ground, having given in and surrendered to our worst faults. Or, we can acknowledge that life isn't about how many times we mess up, or how many times we fail, or if buy that candy bar, or we buy shoes we don't need. It's about all the times we apologize to those we've wronged. It's about learning from our mistakes. It's about finding ways to help ourselves succeed. It's about walking the course slowly and methodically, achieving our destination with honor....not about getting to the finish line first, pushing others out of our way or using bad habits to help make the race easier.

When you find yourself sliding into those temptations, don't cut off your hand: place it in the hand of someone else. Find something worthwhile for that hand to do that's completely different from your problem area. In overcoming our own temptations, you may just discover that you find yourself helping someone else. Isn't that what it's all about?