Meltdown in Snow

“Get away from me! GET AWAY FROM ME!!”

The voice was loud, angry and quivering with emotion. I turned around on my skis to see what was going on. There it was – a snapshot of a domestic distress at the entrance to the ski lift in Park City, UT.

The woman had two small children clutching each of her legs. She was crying. Both children were crying. Their skis were lying haphazardly on the ground around them. Her partner was standing 3 feet away, gesturing as if he wanted to help, but being told to stay away.

The meltdown of self control that typically happens in the privacy of our homes, away from prying eyes, was happening in front of the transfixed crowd.

“GO AWAY! GO AWAY!!”, she continued yelling at him. Everyone paused to see what he would do. He stood there, looking at her. Her hands tried to comfort the two sobbing children. “Don’t touch me! I don’t want you here! GET AWAY”, she shouted, ignoring the crowd, her eyes flashing at him.

What had snapped her reserve? With two small children, they had to have been together for several years. How long had this been going on?  Or was it just a bad day due to the accumulated stress of the ski vacation – flights and cars, a new hotel room, getting the children dressed, the heavy boots, the cold weather, the falls of beginning skiers?

No one dared intercede. The woman shuffled over with her children to a bench at one of the outdoor tables. Tears were still streaming down her face as she hugged them. At that moment, my skiing group showed up from their run. I left with my group into the anonymity of the lift lines, leaving her sitting on that bench.

For the rest of that day, the woman and her situation were on my mind. Except for the public loss of self control, perhaps we have all been in her shoes. Memories of times where anger, frustration, fatigue, loss, misunderstanding, rejection, or unfulfilled expectations, have led to yelling and screaming. Not our proudest times, but these signs of pain and suffering are what make us human.

On that day, I wished that she and her family could find calm and peace, and I continue to wish for a better future for them.

 

 

 

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Less Than Perfect

 

 

By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9576892

Wabi-sabi: Accepting transience and imperfection

What happens when you are not the best you can be with someone you love?

This evening, while driving N home, I asked if he had spoken to his coach about missing practice, like I had asked him to do. N replied that he had, but in his own way, leaving out what I felt was an important detail.

The frustration of a long day caught up with me. With a raised voice, I pointed out, where, several times in the recent past, N hadn’t done exactly what I had asked him to do. By the time I finished, N had tears in his eyes.

I remember a Q&A session at a meditation retreat. I asked the monk how I could protect my children from hurt and suffering, since I am not with them during most of their day. The monk replied that I couldn’t save anyone else from suffering. I could only save the person I was with 24 hours a day – myself.

Not only had I not protected N, I had contributed to his distress. I had modeled a focus on missing details, instead of complimenting N on his independence in talking to his coach. I had demonstrated how to carry troubles of the past, unresolved conversations, unfinished tasks, anxiety for the future, all the disappointments of the day; I had illustrated how to unload this ammunition onto an unsuspecting loved one.

After I apologized to N, because of his big and generous heart, he accepted my heartfelt apology.

But I carried the disquiet of my behavior into the evening. How to forgive oneself?

First, with acceptance of the hurt from my thoughtless words to my son.

Second, by letting go of the deep regret I felt for the way I had behaved.

Third, by resolving to be more mindful and in the moment, by not carrying the burden of a frustrating day into my next conversation.

Finally, by accepting that I am less than perfect, human, still a work in progress.

 

Show Up and Own It

Ergs ready for competition

Getting Ready for the Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championship

 

The Peninsula Indoor Rowing Championship took place last weekend at Canada College. All the prep work was done by parents and rowers from Stanford Rowing Center on Saturday, Feb 6.

A task list was circulated by the coach, and parents and rowers signed up for different tasks – loading the ergs, unloading and arranging the ergs, testing the ergs, etc. However, no one was directly in charge to issue orders and allocate work.

With this uncertainty on what to do next, some parents and rowers jumped right in and started doing something, even if they didn’t know exactly what to do. They saw someone working and said, “Can I give you a hand with what you are doing?” Other parents and rowers stood around, averted their eyes, and checked their phones.

Why would someone volunteer and show up at an event, and then not be fully engaged in the work? In no particular order, here is my effort to understand this behavior. I thought about this as I drove home after the prep work was completed:

  1. They didn’t really want to do work, but wanted to say that they had volunteered. They wanted to be seen as a volunteer.
  2. There was something more important going on in their life at that time – school, family, work, etc., but since they had committed to showing up, they did so. But their mind was elsewhere.
  3. They didn’t feel comfortable breaking the ice and introducing themselves to someone they didn’t know. Or asking a more experienced person what to do. Because of social anxiety, they retreated to their phones.
  4. The tasks they wanted to do were already being done by other parents/rowers. They didn’t want to do open tasks, and no one was there to tell them what to do.

Nonetheless, all the work got done on Saturday. Sunday was again managed by volunteers, and it was a spectacularly successful event, on-time and well organized.

To organize and run a successful event, doesn’t require everyone to be 100% committed. Even varying levels of engagement are enough, as long as a core group is fully engaged.

But it sure is more fun, if you Show Up and Own It!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit to the Hospital

Entry to the Cath Lab at Stanford Hospital

Cath Lab at Stanford

Yesterday, I had an unscheduled visit to Stanford Hospital for a relative. Chest pain, Emergency Room visit, then the Cath Lab. While waiting for the doctor to come out and give us an update, I reflected on the transience of life.

One moment and everything is different.

Thinking is clear. Priorities are uncomplicated. Relationships regain importance. Words have urgency. Time is finite.

Why can’t we carry over this clarity of thought into our daily lives?

Perhaps it is because we suppress thoughts of our mortality, that we will all exit stage right. Constantly thinking of our own mortality could lead to a defeatist attitude – why does anything matter anyway.

Perhaps we make ourselves the center of the universe, and think everything revolves around us. Since we are so important, of course, we will always be there.

Perhaps it is the mystery of an event that has no experiential answer. If there is no answer, why think about it.

Perhaps societal norms guide us to ignoring the finiteness of our bodies. No one wants to strike up a casual conversation about mortality. When such a conversation is necessary, it is accompanied by uncomfortable emotions.

Perhaps thinking about our own physical transience is accompanied by too much regret and remorse. We revisit actions that we would do differently, and mull over actions we should have taken.

Then the doctor came out and gave us an update. All had gone well, the angioplasty was successful, the patient was recovering.

But I am still reflecting on these thoughts and feelings and hoping to carry the urgency and clarity of those moments into my daily life.

 

 

 

A Small Beginning

A game in progress

Game

When starting something new, I hear so many voices in my head:

  1. Will I fail?
  2. Will it be hard?
  3. What if I do it wrong?
  4. What if it is not good enough?
  5. And the big one – What will others think?

It has taken me a long time, and I am still a work in progress, but I have developed an approach for such questions.

The approach is to start with a small beginning and think of it as a game.

A game has goals, rules and feedback, which can also be applied to a task in our lives. But a game downplays and sidesteps questions like those above. In a game, if you fall over, you get another chance. If you die, you get a new life. If you hit an obstacle, you get another attempt. Because dealing with failure is built into the mental framework of the game, I find that I can sidestep the critical mind that raises questions.

This is similar to meditation. During meditation the instruction is let your thoughts arise and pass without any judgment. Similarly, a game calls for no judgment as you play. Without any judgment, everything becomes easier.

Still a work in progress, but with a new and hopeful approach.

 

Habit vs. To-do

A human being sitting in Meditation

Meditation

For a long time, I struggled with creating a meditation habit. I would meditate consecutively for a week, at different times during the day. Then I’d miss a day of meditation due to a change in my routine. Perhaps it was a late evening, or travel, or a day that wasn’t great. The one day missed would turn into two, and then three, and I’d struggle to create a chain of days meditated.

I had read that 21 days was a myth, and that creating a habit takes much longer. I had also read about the parts of a habit – the cue, reward, routine. I also knew all the benefits of meditation. Despite knowing all this intellectually, I still struggled with the practice of meditating daily.

On some days, I would meditate in the morning, just after I woke up. On other days, I would meditate before going to bed. I had set a reminder alarm, yet I would ignore the notification when it popped up on my phone.

If I missed my morning slot, I would run through my other daily activities, and then try to check off my daily meditation at the end of the day, before going to bed. There were days when I was so tired that sitting was easy to skip. On other days, if I didn’t have the 20 minutes I thought I “should” sit for, I would convince myself that I should miss it, since I wasn’t doing it right. It was a daily struggle.

Then I read a post (perhaps here – I don’t remember), that helped me make sense of my struggle. Instead of a creating a habit with an automatic trigger, I had put meditation on my daily to-do list – as in I have to meditate sometime today. As the day went on, my desire to sit was overcome by the daily schedule, or by tiredness, and it didn’t happen.

But by not seeing meditation as a to-do daily list item, instead as a commitment to a habit, meant I had a different sense of urgency when the notification appeared on my phone. I knew I had to drop everything and do it right now. A small tweak in thinking, but it had a big impact on me.

So – 25 consecutive days and counting…..

 

 

The Passing of a Friend

iStock_000013768953Large_lotus

A Graduate School classmate passed away from cancer last week, and I attended his funeral. My first funeral for a friend, a contemporary, not an older relative.

He knew it was bad, and over 18 months, there were good times and bad times. He was sent home from the hospital at the end, and after a few days at home, passed away with his family around him. His family, friends and colleagues, all came to pay their last respects. As I sat on the carpet, listening to the Sikh priest sing the funeral hymns, a mix of thoughts ran through me.

First, what my funeral would be like. The future is totally unknown, except for the singular known fact that I will die. Depending on the circumstances, there will be a funeral.

Second, death is so different if expected due to cancer, versus a sudden passing due to an accident. When expected, along with the sadness, there seemed to be acceptance. I can imagine dazed expressions if death came unexpectedly.

Third, what happens when we die? If form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, the essence unchanging, what happens to the person? Like water that turns into ice or steam, have they just changed into a different form? Their memories continue with us, and perhaps if we practice deeply enough,  we can see them in the world around us.

Fourth, the family left behind thinking of their futures. The children missing the guidance and support of their Dad. A wife missing the smell and warmth of her husband. A parent distraught at the passing of child. Over days and nights, objects that remind us of a person who is no longer with us. It is so hard to be in the present moment, to not revisit past memories, or think of what the departed would say in future situations.

Fifth, how this situation is so unusual. For time immemorial, death was a constant companion for everyone. Whether by disease, war, accident, or old age, the distribution of age at death was very different, with many deaths at earlier ages. Even a journey may have meant that one would never see a loved one again. How stressful and uncertain life must have been in the past!

I sat and listened to the music, lost in these thoughts and in memories of my friend, and I wished him goodbye.