Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cultivate Curiosity

Yesterday, I sat and read at the cafe at Kroger while Jack and his therapist shopped. A smiling lady walked by and asked, "Is it a good book?" 

"Well, I just started it." 

"What is it?" 

I closed the book and showed her the front cover. "Alan Alda's If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art And Science of Relating and Communicating."

The lady's smile became fixed. She said nothing (not one word!), turned, and walked away.

I hadn't learned much by page 8 of the book. Oh, the irony!

Now, I don't want to draw too much meaning from this amusing little exchange. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I do. I'm an English major. It's what we do. 

So let's start with unmet expectations. My sister suggested this woman might have expected me to be reading "Hot, Savage Love." While we will never know what she expected, it seems fairly obvious this woman thought I'd be reading something she would read or at least something she could relate to. Why else interrupt my reading with her question in the first place?

When confronted with a cumbersomely long title about the art and science of relating, however, she was stumped she couldn't even muster a polite "how interesting" or "I hope you enjoy it." 

Her expectations ran head-first into a brick wall with my reading choice, and she walked away stunned and unable to speak.


In the early pages of the book, Alda explained that the success of the television show Scientific American Frontiers came, at least in part, from his willingness do two things simultaneously: to embrace his ignorance of science and to communicate burning curiosity to the scientists he interviewed. Frontiers ran for 11 years and covered an enormous range of scientific topics. These two things--Alda's ignorance and curiosity--brought out the scientists' own enthusiasm for their subject and brought greater clarity to their answers. 

Ignorance and curiosity. 

We all have the first characteristic in abundance, but rarely do we want it to show. Yet the only way to overcome ignorance is to be curious. Curiosity takes energy and effort, openness and vulnerability. Yet great things happen when we can admit our ignorance and seek answers.

I don't know if it's our our current cultural climate of anti-intellectual bullying and divisiveness or simple human nature that's killing curiosity and causing us to walk away from that which we don't understand, but it makes me sad. 

The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing. 

These words can lead us to despair and give up, or they can inspire us to fresh curiosity. They led me to pick up Alda's If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Twenty-two pages in, I'm glad I did. 

Where are you cultivating curiosity in your life? Where are you walking away from something you don't understand? How might you (and others!) benefit from your letting your ignorance show?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Radical Self Care: Cut the Clutter

Just in case you need a reminder or are new to this are the first four posts on Radical Self Care

Suggestion One: Have a Hobby or Two

Suggestion Two: Cultivate Comforting Rituals

Suggestion Three: Say No to What Deserves a No

Suggestion Four: Practice the Pause

'Tis the season for respiratory crud, and it laid me low in February. The number of products we need to get well is simply astonishing, and as I recovered, the clutter of tissue boxes, medicine bottles, cough-drop wrappers, and pill blister packs overwhelmed me.

While putting away all that "sick" stuff gave me deep satisfaction, I simultaneously noticed an alarming amount of other clutter that's accumulated in my house, especially my bathroom and bedroom. My make-up drawer was so cluttered that looking for the right item was like finding Waldo. Minutes pass, and then I exclaim, "There it is!"

With these experiences in mind, I stumbled across this pin on Pinterest.


Unmade decisions contribute mightily to stress. Half the stuff in my make-up drawer, for instance, simply needed to be tossed: used-up lip gloss tubes and eye-shadow trays, dirty cotton balls, an empty mascara, a dozen hair clips that my new, shorter do won't even accommodate. I needed to make the decision to throw away the trash and move the unused supplies to storage.

I made that decision.

It felt glorious!

A half hour of my time cleared all the clutter from my bathroom and my beside table. Ever since, those places fill me with satisfaction and peace each time I visit them.

Often, we labor under the assumption that we have to clear all the clutter at once. This is such a huge undertaking for most of us that it's much easier to procrastinate...and add to our stress. Instead, take care of the small, manageable messes. Pick one small but frequently visited area and tackle that. Then pick another. And another. Cut the clutter one manageable mess at a time.

You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Radical Self Care: Suggestion Number Four

Just in case you need a reminder or are new to this are the first three posts on Radical Self Care

Suggestion One: Have a Hobby or Two

Suggestion Two: Cultivate Comforting Rituals

Suggestion Three: Say No to What Deserves a No

I've gone rather silent in the past weeks. Interestingly (at least to me), I've written several posts for the blog and Facebook, and deleted all of them. There's been a LOT of reacting to the events of January, and much of the reaction--on both sides of the political divide--has made me sad and reflective.

Where do we go from here? How do we turn knee-jerk reaction into effective response that brings our nation and our world together in compassionate, productive, healthy ways?

I was pleased that the Women's March on DC (and all over the world) stayed safe and non-violent, not least because my sister, niece, and nephew were marching in DC and friends were marching in Atlanta, Denver, Cincinnati, and Dayton. Without exception, all my friends and family who marched felt inspired and uplifted by the experience, but I watched, concerned, at the viciousness of some of the signs waved, the gloating and insults of the Trump camp toward those who were marching, and the completely appalling nastiness on social media toward Trump's ten-year-old son.

In the spirit of my series on Radical Self Care, inspired by Anne Lamott's excellent turn-of-phrase, today's post suggests a way to exercise radical self care in the midst of all this weirdness, conflict, fear, and anger.

Practice the Pause.

That's right. Pause. Reflect. Don't react. At least not yet, not right away.

It's helpful to remember that when we get a piece of information, it's only one piece of a much larger and very complicated puzzle. There will very well come a time when reaction is necessary, helpful, and just. You might even have encountered such moments in the past weeks. Wisdom includes being able to know when to react, why you're reacting, to what purpose you are reacting, and how to react to achieve that purpose.

When you react without pausing to think, especially in negatively charged situations, you contribute to the chaos.

We often regret our reactions when they are made in haste and high emotion. We read a post on Facebook, are immediately outraged, share widely, and then learn that the post is inaccurate, misleading, or an outright lie. A friend posts an opinion we find offensive, we slam them hard, and suddenly we've lost a friend over nothing more than a poor choice of words.

Much of what we encounter in media these days is specifically written or photoshopped to generate strong emotions...often fear and rage. When you feel those two emotions sparked by something you encounter either in mass media or social media, pause.


Ask questions. Who is sparking this emotion in me? Why would they do this? How are they trying to manipulate me? Does this issue truly matter, or is it superficial, distracting me from more important issues? Is my reaction worthwhile and productive, or am I being unhealthily manipulated?  Does my immediate reaction represent my true self or am I being manipulated to serve someone else's agenda?

Emotions come and go. Pause, and let your character manage your reactions, not the temporary and changeable whims of emotion. Are you kind, compassionate, thoughtful, helpful, constructive? Let your reactions reflect your best self.

How many of the people who speak or write hateful, hurtful, angry, self-centered, condescending, racist, destructive words see themselves as hateful, hurtful, angry, self-centered, condescending, racist, destructive people? Perhaps more importantly,  do they see themselves at all? Have they become so superficially reactive to the world around them that they simply don't pause to think, to reflect, to fact-check?

Slow down and take care of yourself radically in the midst of the media drama.

Practice the pause.

Have you reacted recently without thinking? What were the consequences? Do you regret it? 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When the rhetoric of our time has become so divisive and ugly, so self-serving and petty, we need men and women who speak the truth in love. We need this day to honor a man who gave us powerful words that call out for justice and equality, for peace and love, for compassion and unity.

While many of Dr. King's words have been quoted on social media today, I want to highlight one sentence that strikes a powerful chord in me tonight.

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

It's so easy to feel as if there's nothing we can do in times of division and crisis...times such as we see now. It's too big for us, we think, and we focus on protecting ourselves, our interests, our piece of the pie. Sometimes, we even join in the mud-slinging and division because it feels safer to join in with the crowds.

But these feelings of helplessness are a fallacy. We are far more powerful than we think, and Dr. King's words point us in the direction of exercising our power for wonderful good.

Uplift humanity.

Do this with excellence, wherever you are and whoever you are. Start with your family, your neighbor, your church or temple or mosque, your community, your workplace, your city. Uplift humanity, even if only in the form of a single person, each and every day. Actively look for places you can serve.

Commit to lifting others up, and you will be lifted along with everyone else. That is the truth of service to others. Everyone wins, and the victory ripples out into a world that badly needs victory for all its people.

Dr. King also said, "Every man must choose whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." That key phrase, creative altruism, involves looking out from where you are and seeing the need in front of you...and addressing it in whatever way you can, small or large.

We have that power. Each and every one of us. And in taking it up, we gain dignity and freedom not only for ourselves, but for the world.

Thank you, Dr. King. The painstaking excellence of your words lives on, and I will do what I can to uplift humanity in my own creative ways.

How might you uplift humanity where you are right now? How might you create ripples of victory?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome 2017

Starting fresh.

Turning a new page.


Beginnings make us reflect on where we've been and where we are and where we are headed. In the past, I've always wanted to find a word or theme for the the new year, and most years, by April, I've forgotten what that might be. But there are themes that have stayed consistent for me in the past decade or so...themes like love, gratitude, acceptance, inclusion, caring, compassion, books, minimalism, simplicity, faith.

And coffee. We must not forget coffee.

To start this year, I'm reading The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams. It's fantastic, and it's a sure bet that you'll find thoughts on that book here in the coming months. To start this year, I'm drawing on a quotation from the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama:


So the challenge is this: how can I be more of a peacemaker, healer, restorer, storyteller, and lover?

I like challenges. I'm already working on this one. And I'm feeling optimistic.

Are you with me?

What challenges are you working on this year? What sort of person do you want to grow toward this year?