I’ve been in a state of overwhelm lately. It’s not all bad, it’s just a lot. A lot to take in, a lot to think about, a lot to do. And still, I’m supposed to sleep every night? Nah, when everyone else is sleeping is the one time I can think.
I’ve got several posts on back burners in various stages of the editing process and most of them pretty deep. But I wasn’t up for deep today. I need breathing space. Fresh ocean air and plenty of space to breathe.
So I’m sharing it with you.
I’ll be alright, and I’ll catch up with myself soon enough.
I’ve written about my gratitude practice a few times lately, and one of the things it has most reinforced for me is that you find what you’re looking for. This video has been making it’s rounds of the internet lately, and for good reason. It’s lovely, and it’s inspiring. it’s worth the three minutes to watch.
The other day I had a rare moment of solitude after I dropped my husband off at the office, and drove back home All By Myself. I took the long way, the scenic route along the length of Lake Washington. As I drove, with the water and sun to my left, and mansions to my right, I pondered the week ahead and how I would spend the luxury of down time that would accompany the recovery from my upcoming surgery.
I would get caught up on my correspondence, do my taxes, get a number of blog posts prepared in advance, organize our finances, get started writing a series I’ve been plotting, edit a few thousand photographs, work my way through a stack of books I’ve been longing to read…
My head was racing as I pondered all the projects I’d finally have a chance to tackle, when I saw a big fat bald eagle sitting on a tree branch along the side of the road. I had to drive quite a ways ahead to find a place to park the car, then grabbed my camera and walked back to his tree. He sat there waiting, and watching me walk between the lake and the road. He waited and watched till I pulled my camera up to my face, then took off before my first click. Three clicks of the camera and he was gone.
But the stop was good for me.
It slowed me down.
I meandered back to the car. I stopped to watch birds play. I kicked a rock around for a while. I sat down and studied moss growing out the side of a stone wall.
It’s been three weeks since that drive, and nearly 3 weeks since my surgery. In that time, I have not done one of the things on my list. I rested. I watched a lot of movies. I colored in coloring books with my daughter. I snuggled. I let more than 2000 additional emails accumulate in my inbox. But, it’s all ok. I needed a rest.
Maybe, one of these days, I will get caught up on my correspondence, but it wont be today. Today, I’m going to snuggle on the couch with my little girl and watch Tinkerbell, and maybe we’ll sing some songs, and make up a few stories.
My gratitude journal started out as a quick list every night. I just got in the habit of listing 5 things for which I was thankful each night before bed; often it was the same, or a similar list, each time. Husband, daughter, a roof over our heads, and the last two varied, but it was a less than fascinating list.
Then I started putting some effort into mixing things up. I didn’t just say I was thankful for my husband, I got specific and mentioned a quality or something he did or said. Same with my daughter – and many other frequent flyers on my gratitude list. Soon, my nightly entries morphed from a quick five-word-list to an accounting of my day that was framed around an expression of gratitude.
I’ve kept a journal for most of my life, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but once I added the gratitude element, the journal took on a different, more energetic and pro-active tone – it’s my autobiography written through the lens of gratitude.
I found myself looking for things throughout the day, taking note of things – ooh, that’s going on my list tonight!
Still, there are days when I have to look really, really hard
There have been times when the world just falls apart around me, and yet still I can always find at least five things.
I resisted this idea for a while – it’s essentially dishonest, I thought, to disregard everything that’s going wrong. But that’s where I was wrong. It is not a matter of disregard.
A few months ago, my husband had a medical crisis while he was in Istanbul. It was a stressful and terrifying experience, but the relief I felt once we got him from the airport to safely admitted to the hospital was palpable. To acknowledge that relief underscores, rather than dismisses, the significance of that crisis.
This process doesn’t disregard the darkness, it looks for the light. My gratitude practice exercises the sames skills I use to find solutions to problems. I imagine there are worse mental pathways to make habitual.
And it is becoming a habitual practice.
Not to long ago, I took to my journal ready to whine and complain about everything that was going wrong, but out of habit, I had written the word “Gratitude” at the top of the page.
I couldn’t fill a page with whining when it had the word gratitude at the top. So I decided to go ahead and do my gratitude list first, and whine later on another page.
I never got around to whining. That’s when I knew my gratitude practice was really working.
As we head into the month of Thanksgiving, and tonight especially, there is so much for which to be thankful, and it does seem to be the topic of the hour. Today, among so many other things that bless my life, I am thankful for my gratitude practice.
I know that the idea of a gratitude practice is starting to gain some popularity. Anyone else out there make a practice of it? Any thoughts?
Friday the 13th was a travel day. My time was spent contending with weather delays, missed connections, mismanagement, cancelled flights, long lines, and four separate boarding passes before I finally broke free of the Houston Airport. That flight actually took me to Washington D.C. (yes, coast to coast) before I could reach my destination in Indianapolis.
Exhausted from the chaos of the previous day, I joined my colleagues for breakfast, and the opening address from our CEO. I leaned back in my chair, sated with a delicious breakfast, and allowed the coffee to find it’s way through my circulatory system. I was acclimating. Then the words she was saying started to sink in. Like scraping the needle across a record, something in my brain screeched to a stop. I sat up straight.
You want to change YSC? You want to change the one thing that has been most helpful in keeping me sane over the past two years? I looked around the room; I wasn’t the only one looking uncomfortable. This wasn’t just any room, this was a room full of breast cancer survivors and supporters. These are women and men who are all-too-familiar with having change thrust upon them, changes no one should have to endure.
While the purpose of the event was to steer the organization towards a sustainable future that supports its mission to provide services for young women with breast cancer nationwide, I got a little something else out of it as well. The three day weekend distilled itself quite neatly into a lesson in change management.
On one day I saw agents rolling their eyes, defensively barking at everyone that they can’t control the weather, and disparaging travellers who were exhuasted, hungry, sore, irritated, anxious, travelling with a hoard of kids, and some (who may or may not have been me) who desperately needed to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to lose their place in line after already waiting an hour. To be sure, I do not envy their jobs; dealing with that many people in a crisis situation far from home can’t be easy. But in many ways the agents themselves contributed to the chaos and stress of the situation, encouraging it to advance from an unfortunate inconvenience to angry, pushing crowds.
The next day, I witnessed a very different method of dealing with change.
These are big changes that impact programs that were built with sweat, tears, and heart by unpaid volunteers. They are mucking about with, what is for many of us, our safe place. But I went home feeling ok about the situation, not because I agree with everything that has been decided, but because of the way the announcement and the subsequent activities were handled. The day was programmed around providing more information, and requesting comments, criticisms, and concerns from the participants. I’m fascinated by how liberating it felt to make a comment and have it really heard. Each time that happened, the stress lightened up a bit. After a night of dancing, things started to look a lot better the next morning.
There is also a great deal of value in hearing management say they don’t have that nailed down yet because they intend to consider our responses. Whoa. This was more than just letting affiliate leaders vent to get things out of their system, they were really collecting information.
I think there were two elements that were most effective in helping us process these changes: understanding and time. There’s just no way to quantify the value of being heard and really understood. Additionally, I have a better understanding of the plan, and on a logical level, I can see that these changes will help our organization be more nimble and responsive, remain sustainable, and ultimately help more young women with breast cancer. My head is there, my heart may take a bit more time to catch up.
And time was a critical element here as well. It allowed me to get used to the idea. These changes are six months off, so we have room to acclimate, plan for them, and make the best of them. Over the weekend there was a pattern of relieving pressure by taking and answering questions, followed by some time, and then another pressure relief opportunity. By the time I got on the plane to return home, I was still unsure how I felt about some of the elements, but the angst was gone. The transparency demonstrated throughout the event gives me hope that concerns that arise in the interim will be handled with the same grace.
It should be noted that the participants in this meeting are women and men who have already faced daunting changes and challenges, rose above them, and used them as a catalyst for helping others and improving the world around them. We have plenty of experience in adapting, and making the best of a situation. Give us a little time, resources, and infrastructure; we will make this work.
On the other hand, less time in Houston would have been preferable. But DCA turned out to be a beautiful airport (top photo), and I got to see the Washington D.C. monuments from the air, both coming and going. It’s been a quarter century since the last time I saw them.
How do you deal with change? Do you prefer to have time to get used to an idea? Or does more time mean you stew and worry more before it happens?