Friday, June 17, 2011

Things my Father Taught Me

We started a program with all our guest contact people using a new secret oath:  “Everybody sells!”-- "Think Strawberries", James H. Lavenson

Most people believe that their father was a giant among men. In this, I'm no different. My father, Jim Lavenson, was an extraordinary man. His career had three major peaks: advertising, corporate hotelier and entrepreneur. He conquered all of them and set the standard for excellence in each field. That said, what I remember most about my Dad wasn't his glory and achievement in the business world. It is the lessons about life he taught me. He was courageous, he was terrifyingly smart and he was unbelievably witty. He taught me to strive for those three fundamental principles in everything I do.

Here are some other lessons I learned along the way:

  • Never lose your sense of humor. I'm serious by nature and Dad taught me that maintaining my sense of humor in all earnest matters will save me from continual heartbreak and hurt feelings. I also learned that a sense of humor can diffuse conflict more quickly than a need to prove that I'm right.
  • Never take anything personally. This is part two "Never lose your sense of humor". When someone makes a snarky remark to me, I need to think "They can't possibly mean me". 
  • Everybody sells. This was the cornerstone of Dad's business plan. It also meant to be gracious, to be outgoing, to be knowledgeable and to be enthusiastic. It doesn't matter if one is in a sales job or not. We are all sellers of our talents, our time, our point of view and our dreams.
  • Keep your eye on the objective.  Sometimes, when we're reaching out for our goals, there will be stumbling blocks. A lot of the time, those stumbling blocks are awful. We may have to eat crow in order to move forward. Therefore, keeping our goals clearly in mind when we are in a situation we hate, but must pass through, will be the key to 'sucking it up' to get where we want to be.
  • Never say "Here I am" when entering a room. Say "There you are!" to someone else. Humility is far more important in building character than a large ego. Dad taught me to always treat others as honored and inspiring, and to avoid puffing myself up with pride.
  • Family is everything. Despite my father's keen business success, I knew that my mom and I were the most important things in his life. I knew he had to work very hard. But, I also was always aware that I was the center of his universe. I never equated his long hours with his not wanting to be with me.
  • Nature is extraordinary. Dad was a conservationist before the term was ever a political buzz word. While he never managed to impart his love of camping with me (I still loathe it), I appreciate the beauty of the natural world. I want to maintain and keep stunning the unspoiled magnificence just as Dad did. In spite of a dislike for sleeping outdoors, Dad did teach me to ride (both a horse and a bike), sail (albeit poorly), ski (again, albeit poorly) and hike. My lack of 'Maine Guide' skills aren't Dad's fault. 
  • Root Beer Floats make an excellent lunch. So do Banana Splits. 
  • We are dog people. Both of my parents are dog people. Dogs, whom my father trained and loved, were always a part of our lives. If we had to claim a kinship to any animal, it would be dogs. 
  • The best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. I had this gift in spades. My father deeply loved my mother. He was a romantic until the end of his life and always surprised her in sweet ways.
There are dozens more lessons that Dad taught me. The tears in my eyes, despite his being gone for almost 13 years, are too heavy to keep writing. Above all, my father taught me, through his example, to always strive for excellence, but never to proclaim it for myself. He taught me to work as hard as I possibly can and to learn as much as I could throughout my life. He taught me to take chances, that it's never too late to try something new and to be brave in the face of my many fears. He also taught me to stand up for injustice and strive for peace in all areas of life.

I miss you, Dad. I love you always. And every time I see an "X" in the sky, or a heart shaped rock on the beach, I think of you. You were the best.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Bohemian Sloth

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.  ~Victor Frankl

I first began taking Yoga classes on a bit of a dare. My friend, Tammie, begged me to go with her. I was an aerobics junkie at the time. I loved going to step aerobics and even wore the (now foolish looking) leotards that Jane Fonda made so popular. At a dinner party at Tammie's beautiful Victorian home, she urged me to come with her. She wasn't sure if she even liked Yoga herself and had only been a few times. A long distance runner, Tammie was looking for something to help her stretch out and relax. She'd found a teacher she really liked, but the Yoga itself presented more of a challenge for her; like me, Tam had a hard time turning off her thoughts and mind. So with her lovingly finagling me to come and see what I thought (and promising me that we could laugh together), I committed I'd join her for the Monday morning class. We'd drop the children off at the day care at the health club so they'd all be together. We even toasted our new adventure with an excellent bottle of red wine.

By Monday, I had no idea why I'd agreed to go. I looked in my drawers and in my closet and had absolutely nothing suitable for a Yoga class. I knew my pink paisley leotards would be inappropriate, as would running shorts. With two young children needing a quick breakfast before we left, I had very little time to think about wardrobe. I literally threw on a pair of  navy blue leggings and a white Polo and hoped it would all be okay. I kicked on a pair of Sperry Topsiders, threw on an L.L Bean fleece and called it good. It was raining. I was dragging two exhausted, cranky preschoolers out of the door before 8 am and I was regretting my decision to go. All in all, the gloomy weather fit my mood.

Once the kids greeted their friends at day care, once my own friend had helped me find a mat and a blanket, and once I felt slightly settled in place, I met the teacher. She was lovely and so down to Earth I couldn't help but adore her immediately. She put my fears at ease and urged me to take 'my practice at my own pace' and just to do the asanas that made me feel comfortable. If I didn't like something, I didn't have to do it. This wasn't a competition. I remember letting out a sigh of relief as the class began.

Little did I know that that one class would change the course of my life. I began to loosen up for the first time ever...both physically and mentally. I became stronger than I had ever been, in body, mind and spirit. I began seeing the links between thoughts and reality. I opened my very closed mind to an entirely new way of experiencing the world. It was, in short, miraculous. After fighting cancer the first time, I became a yoga instructor. It was a great challenge for me because I had to further expand my practice and knowledge beyond the styles of yoga with which I was comfortable. In a sense, it was as if I'd began anew, as there is a great difference between being a student and becoming a teacher. My voracious appetite for knowledge was a boon as I memorized endless terms in Hindi and studied every muscle group in the body.

My moniker actually was given to me, at this time, by an obnoxious master teacher whose class became the bane of my existence. I couldn't stand his preening, self-aggrandizing manner, the way he berated and degraded his students or the inferior way, I'd felt, he explained the poses. Because I needed to become proficient in all forms of yoga before earning my R.Y.T. (Registered Yoga Instructor), I was stuck with Master Contemptible Crabby Pants for at least three months. When Yogi Beastly made one too many objectionable remarks to me, I snapped at him. I reminded him that a good teacher instructs and helps students to perfect a lesson and that a bad teacher belittles to massage his own ego. He erupted in a stream of nasty comments to me, which ended with "You're nothing but a silly little preppy yogini." I smiled. I honestly liked that. Why? It was the first time I'd ever heard him refer to me as a Yogini. 

And so a name was born. What the Gloating Guru bestowed as an insult, I took to heart as a badge of honor.

After 7 years of my own teaching students to appreciate and love Yoga, I now find myself at an impasse. I am, thankfully, able to take classes once again. But, I can no longer work as I once had teaching Yoga. My latest bout of cancer rested in my lower abdominal muscles, necessitating their removal along with the tumor. My strength and ability simply isn't what it once was. Additionally, my sense of style has evolved over the years. I can't imagine wearing a Polo anymore. Long flowing dresses are more my style, as well as chunky necklaces and an arm full of bracelets. My energy level has been quite low since the surgery. I now feel more like The Bohemian Sloth than I do the Preppy Yogini. I'm in search of my next adventure. Wishing for a life I once had is an understandable sentiment. But, I can't allow myself to wallow in regret. I need to move forward towards an unknown destination.

I just will have exchanged my Penny Loafers for Turquoise laden sandals for the walk.