Monday, February 27, 2012

One Week In

Last week I wrote a very open and somewhat difficult blog about a transition I'm making in my life. First off, let me say that the response I received was incredibly positive. I got numerous comments on my Facebook page when I posted the blog link, along with private messages from those who have gone through similar times who were excited for and proud of me. So thank you. It truly means a lot.  What a great way to start this off. While this journey is focused on this decision to work and focus on myself, no person is an island, and support during these times is a key element.

As promised, I am keeping people updated during this process via my blog, and thought I'd "check in" after my first week or so. Upon reading my last blog, someone asked me what my first step was, and that's an excellent question. Besides the obvious answer of deciding to do this, my first step is to start to adjust my thinking. Actually, before I can even do that, I have to know what thinking to adjust. On closer observation throughout this past week, I caught causing my own stress, in a variety of ways, numerous times. Whether it was doing something for someone else at the expense of myself, letting my brain get ahead of me and extrapolating a long list of difficulties that hadn't happened yet, or just not taking a step back and taking a deep breath, I was amazed at how aware one can become of their actions if they only look for them. I was further amazed at the number of times that the cause of the stress was me, and how much I could help myself if I just focused on these more closely. As the old adage goes, though, easier said than done.

I do want to be clear on one point before I continue: I'm in no way saying that I was exaggerating things that weren't actual concerns. I've had a lot of major personal blows in the past few years and I certainly have had every right to be upset, frustrated, stressed out, hurt, you name it. However, in paying attention to myself, I realized that some of my reactions to these did more harm than good, and that in dealing with the situations, I was hurting myself further. I can't necessarily help it if others hurt me (other addressing it with the persons involved to prevent it from happening again). I can, though, not make it tougher on myself.

With that out of the way, I'll continue. I've realized that observing myself in this way could take a few weeks. It's one thing to notice an action or thought in a particular instance - that's a great start. But building the capacity to catch oneself regularly and make adjustments, until you notice those actions occurring less and less, is quite a process. Furthermore, making these changes in a wide variety of situations - good moods, bad moods, at home, away from home, alone, in the company of others, and so on adds to the complexity. I'm considering documenting the actions I notice to see what trends I find, so that I can break down the various actions and situations. They say it takes six weeks to form a habit, and I'd say that's probably right. For someone with a lot of energy and little ability to wait like me, this practice of patience could be  the most troublesome part of the task.  I'm hoping to resurrect my meditation and yoga practices (or at least one of the two at the moment) to assist with this patience issue. My inability to have patience comes from, I believe, my need to feel I am always moving forward in a process. Even if it's just one tiny baby step a day, this forward progress gives me the motivation to keep moving and the confidence that I'm on the right track. Does anyone have any tool for working on patience or lack thereof? I'd love to hear it!

Now for something slightly unrelated but not completely, I leave for Peru Wednesday (the 29th). It's a combination of business and pleasure, and it certainly fills the "do something for yourself" requisite. I'm incredibly excited. Travel virtually always helps me reflect, clear my mind, and just have fun, and I think this trip will be great for that. If I don't get to post while I'm away, I'll update when I return. Until then, thanks for reading and I look forward to your thoughts! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Break It Down

Sometimes when life gives you lemons you make lemonade. Sometimes you take the lemon and throw it at the head of someone upsetting your life (kidding, I hope). Sometimes, you need a totally different approach all together because neither putting on the rose colored glasses or taking out your aggressions on someone will work. At least not in the long run.

2012 hasn't been kind to me, despite my super positive predictions for it. I was ready to take it on, excited about the prospects. Suffice it to say, those prospects didn't go as I thought they might.  In fact, that's an incredible understatement. Basically, 2012 has more or less kicked me in the ass.

So what to do when that happens? Well here are some options: mope and whine (I've done my fair share of this to my best friends, I'll admit); get super pumped up that you're going to change the world but get knocked down with the next difficult thing because in actuality you have no idea what to do (the constant self-improver of me tends to do this); or you can break it all down, and build it all back up. With the help of someone trusted, I'm doing just this. And you know what the really startling part is ... guess who I'm doing this for? Me! (gasp). I have a major issue with people's selfishness - as in I don't understand it at all. I bend over backwards to make other people happy, forgive their mistakes, take care of them. So much so that I could probably be in the circus for all of my flexibility. It often is a detriment to myself and to others, who don't learn to take responsibility for their actions because I always try to make it ok. This time, though, I'm doing this for me.

The honest truth is that it's downright scary. It is causing me to face my worst fears. It's causing me to be very honest about myself. Here's the trickiest part of all: it's forcing me to understand and accept that  when things go wrong it's not always my fault. You see, it's easy when everything is your fault - it gives you control to make everything better, fix everything, constantly work on a situation - often to no avail. It causes a tremendous amount of pressure to be perfect, but it gives you the feeling of control. For a control freak and perfectionist like me, this is perfect! Right? Here's the kicker - it's not really control, it's just helplessly trying to control things that you can't, and it results in a vicious cycle of frustration and negativity for you and others. When you fully understand that it's not all your fault, it's damn frightening. Because if you can't fix everything who can? The jaw dropping and admittedly terrifying answer is "no one".  Oh my gosh, I don't have all the control! What do you mean? Yep, that's how it goes.

There are, without a doubt, going to be rough times throughout this process. Mainly because I'm completely breaking down so many of the thoughts that I "knew".  It's a day by day, step by step process. I've truly never just focused on me, at least not for any length of time, and I think that will be my toughest challenge. It feels terribly selfish and I hate selfish, almost above anything else. I have to remember that what comes out on the other side of this process, hopefully, is not only better for me, but for those in my life. In that sense, it's not selfish at all. It's making a better me, and creating better relationships with those in my life.

Has anyone else gone through this type of process?  Anyone else going through this right now? I'd love to hear from you. I'd love to share stories and draw from each others' energy and strength. I plan to keep people posted via my blog (and in private for those that have more personal questions or don't want to discuss in public, which I completely understand). I've always been open about my life, my triumphs and my struggles. If people judge me because of my "issues", they're not the type of people I want in my life. Period. If I can inspire and help someone even the tiniest bit with my journey, fantastic! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Elephants?

Someone recently asked me why I liked elephants. I don't remember the exact reply, but I believe I'd had too much coffee (or perhaps too little) and didn't actually give a very clear or intelligible answer. So many people inquire about my love of elephants that I thought it warranted an explanation in the form of a short blog. So, here you go. 

Bronson, my adopted pygmy elephant from Borneo.
(Photo courtesy of WWF)

As most people know, I love animals in general. I don't eat meat - or seafood, poultry or pork -  I don't wear leather or suede, I donate $1 to homeless animals every time I shop at Petsmart. So the fact that I'm so attached to an animal species should not come as a huge surprise to anyone.

Elephants have so much going for them. First off, they're also vegetarians. So they get big points there. Secondly, they have so much history. Their earlier relatives lived hundreds of thousands of years ago (or there abouts, I'm not writing a historical piece here). They've evolved a bit, but you have to admit, they do still look somewhat pre-historic. They have strong family values. Families travel together, and they rarely let anyone wander off on their own. They've been known to stay back to help an injured family member, all risking their lives to not let one of their own be left behind. If a mother dies, the others in the family take her young under their wing. I mean, these family values aren't even common in some humans, let alone other animals. Then you have their abilities.  For big guys and girls, they can move pretty fast. They're very smart; you know the phrase "memory of an elephant?" There's a reason for that.

Elephant back safari, Zimbabwe
(Photo by Michael Northen)

I've watched elephants roll in the mud and play on the banks on the Chobe River. I've seen them bathe in the river, utilizing their trunks as a large hose. I've had a stand off (in a jeep, with a guide, thank goodness) with a large male elephant. He won. We respected the species all the more for it. I've ridden on the back of an elephant through the river valleys in Zimbabwe. I've fed them food out of my hand. They're truly incredible creatures. They're generally peaceful but willing to defend what's theirs, or what they want to be theirs. They can be graceful, gentle, playful, loving, committed to their families. If you've interacted with them like I have, I can't imagine that you'd not only love them, but have a tremendous respect for these giant, intelligent creatures.

Jeep safari standoff with an elephant. No zoom used.
(Photo by Michael Northen)

Elephant bathing in the Chobe River.
(Photo by Michael Norhten)