Pass the Rock

This morning, a dear friend of mine asked me if I wanted to attend a workshop at our local library titled Mindful Listening and Speaking. The workshop was scheduled to run from 2-4 pm (Did I mention that today is the last Sunday of my vacation week and that the weather outside is sunny and in the 50s…in February?).  But as many of you know, my OLW for 2020 is pause, and I’m really trying to work on pausing and improving my listening (at work and at home). So…..I said yes.

The workshop began with a simple activity.  We were seated in groups of six.  The task was as follows:

Pass the rock from person to person.

When you get the rock, pause.  Really pause.  Give yourself  time.  Feel the rock. Think. Be mindful. (This is SO hard for me!)

Then state your name.

Share how the rock feels in your hands.

State how you are feeling right now.  Be precise and lean with your language.

Pass the rock to the next person.

There is to be no reaction to what people say.  No judgement.  No, “I feel the same way!” No, “I know exactly how you feel.”

This activity sounded so simple.  It wasn’t.  I listened as people paused and shared.  The pausing made me feel so awkward (I think the person with the rock felt awkward too.).  Some people closed their eyes.  Some looked down.  Some paused briefly.  Others for longer periods of time.  Then the rock was passed to me.  I paused.  I looked down at my sneakers. I waited.  I tried to feel the rock.  The seconds felt like hours, days maybe.  Then I shared my name, how the rock felt to me (a little sweaty), and how I was feeling (extremely vulnerable). I passed the rock to the next person.

Pausing was hard.  So hard.  So awkward.  But I have to say, it gave me some sense of power.  It gave me a sense of being grounded and focused.  A feeling that what I was about to say and what others were saying was important and deserved some time. It helped me to slow things down and really listen (to others and to myself).

I’m so glad that I gave up a few hours on a sunny day in February to pause and learn and listen.


Getting Set to Jet

I love to travel.

I love searching for deals on flights and rental cars.

I love getting organized.

I love packing (I start about a week before the trip. I lay out all sorts of options, and then, over the course of the week, I cull and change, and make final decisions about what will go and what will stay.).

I love figuring out who will watch the dog, and making contingency plans (If it snows, do I have someone to plow the driveway?  If it gets really cold, do we have enough heating oil? If the dog sitter can’t get here, do I have a backup?).

I love getting the house clean and organized, cleaning out the refrigerator, taking out the garbage, running and putting away the last load of dishes and laundry.

But what I love most of all is when all of the organizing and preparing comes to an end, and I’m on the plane, heading off to a new adventure. I only have a few more hours to wait, and then I’ll be on my way!


Small Gestures Matter

This weekend we attended our grandson’s basketball game.  He is 8.  We were in an elementary school gym, a few parents and grandparents scattered around the perimeter sitting in stackable, brightly-colored plastic chairs.  People clapped at every attempt, said things like, “Great try!” quite a bit, and generally enjoyed the game.

But at about thirty minutes in, it was clear that one team (It did happen to be my grandson’s team.) was making all the baskets.  They have a few great little players on the team who can really hustle the ball down the court and sink a shot from the side (quite impressive for 8 year olds). It got to the point where it started to feel awkward for every one of the people sitting in those brightly-colored plastic chairs.  Every time the children on the other (yellow) team threw the ball toward the hoop, you could feel everyone in the gym hold their collective breath, hoping that somehow the ball would arc up just a bit higher and move a little more toward the middle, and somehow make it through that metal ring up there, but…..alas….no.  The shots were not even close.

That’s when our daughter, the coach of the blue team, talked to her young players.  After a quick huddle, the blue team went back out on the court.  As the yellow team started dribbling down the court, our team waited.  Our daughter called out, “Put your hands up!” but it was clear that she had told her players to let the other team take some clear shots.  The yellow team shot, and missed.  Then they tried again….missed. At that moment, the yellow team’s coach leaned over and said to our daughter, “Hey, coach.  Thanks.” I felt tears well up in my eyes.

We need more of these moments.  Moments when we try to work together to make the world a little bit better. Moments when we show each other some gratitude. Thanks, coaches!

Epilogue: The yellow team eventually made two or three baskets.  The crowd went wild with each shot.  The kids all smiled.  The coaches gave each other a knowing wink.

Exploring My Dark(er) Side

I’m an optimist.

I was raised by optimists. For example, when I talked with my mother on the first year anniversary of her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer, she said, “You know, Erika, this has been the best year of my life.”  She went on to say how much she had appreciated people’s kind words and how she would never have known how much impact she had had on people if they hadn’t had a reason (her terminal diagnosis) to share this with her.  But really?  In 82 years of living, she selects a year when she knew she was dying, received horrible treatments, took medications that made her feel sick, and lost all of her hair as the BEST year of her life?

I’m bad at sharing negative emotions.

My parents were not good at sharing negative emotions either (see above).  In addition to my wonderful rose-colored-glasses mom, my dad (who is 89 years old) has an incredible ability to look ahead and not let himself get down.  Years ago when I was having some trouble with anxiety, he told me, “I love you, and I really want to be helpful, but the only thing I know to say is ‘Pull up your socks!'”).  This has become sort of a joke between us ever since, but it is evidence of an inability to deal with negative emotions.

To be honest, I kind of like being an optimist and being a person who is eternally positive, and I truly admire the way my parents lived/live their lives, but I know there are consequences to this way of being in the world. Being eternally optimistic often leads to disappointment when things don’t turn out the way I had hoped.  Sometimes my optimism and excitement take over what someone else is trying to say. And let’s face it, life is full of bad experiences, tragedy, and sadness.  I sound ridiculous at times when I’m trying to find a positive spin to a horrific situation.

There is plenty of research out there (I’m reading Marc Brackett’s Permission to Feel right now.) to tell me how unhealthy and unproductive suppressing negative emotions can be. This weekend I had an honest conversation with one of my daughters about some of this, and she said that sometimes I’m too hopeful, too positive, and that maybe it would be helpful to balance a little optimism with a healthy dose of reality.  My younger daughter said something later in the weekend about watching podcasts, and then said, “It might be good for you to watch some darker shows, mom.  I actually think you might like them.”

So…based on some research, some wisdom and advice from my daughters, and an interest in exploring and experiencing all that it means to be human, I’m planning to be a bit more realistic, find ways to share some of my darker feelings of anger, sadness and frustration, and maybe I’ll even watch the movie The Joker this week (OK, maybe I’m not quite ready for that….yet…).