Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Reacting and Responding - Part One

One look says it all.
Sculpture by Bill and Lori Gregory.
Once, during my early career in banking, I extended a one-finger-salute to another driver.  I was proceeding through a green light, and she pulled directly in front of me.  Clearly she had no business being behind the wheel!  Imagine my surprise when our eyes met, and I realized that we worked together.  My reaction that day caused me to reevaluate my behavior, and it was the last time that I used that finger in that manner. 

Hi.  My name is Jean.  I'm addicted to reacting.  

At least I was at one time.  I was young.  I was passionate.  I cared deeply.  At the drop of a hat, I was quick to proactively defend the principles and people closest to my heart.  Vocally, forcefully, and frequently, I did exactly that.  I tended to be righteous in the certainty of my position.  In the heat of a discussion, I'd barely take a breath to allow my perceived opponent to speak, and if they did manage to squeeze in a word or two, I'd mentally prepare my retort as they spoke.  In hindsight, this behavior didn't serve me or anyone else very well.

Through the years, I've softened. Time has taught me that our differing opinions are worth celebrating.  I enjoy listening to the thoughts of others in hope that I'll develop an understanding of why they do what they do and believe what they believe.  While we may never agree with each other, we can always be respectful of each other's feelings.  

Do I still react?  Absolutely and with great regularity!  Only now I try to use the power of my reactions for good.   I'm less enthusiastic about expressing my reactions to the world at large in the moment.  Instead I sit with them.  I reflect on the expressed and unexpressed feelings of everyone involved.  I strip away the rawest of my emotions from my reactions, and I consider the validity of all that remains.  

Then, and only then, I respond.  I find it to be a kinder gentler manner of expressing myself in most situations, and couldn't we all use a bit more kindness and gentleness in our lives?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Breathing

My Mother was officially diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia several years ago, and in hindsight the symptoms had begun to insidiously weave their way into our lives long before that.  She was living with Ken and me at the time, and there was no question in our minds that we would care for her to the best of our abilities for as long as we were graced with her presence. 

From my collection of Folk Art
and Vintage Prayers and Icons.
As I write this, it sounds noble.  It wasn't.  My sister, Janet, and I were blessed with warm wonderful parents who loved us unconditionally throughout our lives.  They sacrificed for us, whether we deserved it or not.  Never ostentatious, and expecting nothing in return, they were shining examples of what it means to live with a giving heart.  For that I will be forever grateful.  We cared for Mom through good times and bad because we learned what we lived.

Early in this process, Ken would listen to my conversations with her.  He could tell that my level of frustration was on the rise, and he reminded me that logic was losing meaning for her.  He was right.  And his words lived in the forefront of my mind after that.

Thereafter, when we faced a particularly challenging situation, I'd seek a moment of quiet to reflect, count to ten, or silently pray.  These moments often took place in the space between my Mother's bedroom and our kitchen.

Consistently during these times, I breathed; I breathed deeply; and I breathed with intention.  With each inhalation, I focused on all that was right and good in our world.  With each exhalation, I mentally released all of the stress and sadness that seemed to be descending on us.  It's hard to describe the impact that this simple practice provided.  It allowed me to gain perspective, and it supplied me with a measure of relief amidst the chaos.

This year, as the speed of Mom's decline accelerated at a staggering pace, her challenges presented themselves more frequently and with increased intensity.  There was less time to regroup between episodes.  It was as if we were caught in the surf with no time to recover between waves.  All of our energy was focused on staying above water, and everything else in life was ancillary to that.  Calming breaths became a luxury reserved only for the most trying of times.  (In hindsight, this wasn't a great strategy; but it was our reality.)

After Mom died, on Thursday, May 14th, I immediately began to "do", and I immersed myself in it with a vengeance.  A few days later, when my pace failed to slow, Ken kindly suggested that I should stop doing and just be.  As soon as he said it, I realized that he was right.

The next day he escorted me out of town as we made our way to Pennsylvania for Mom's funeral.  A few hours into the drive, memories of Mom and our family in happier times drifted in and out of my mind.  We talked; we laughed; I cried; and we laughed some more.  As we marveled at the natural beauty around us, I exhaled loudly and fully.  In that moment, I realized that I'd been holding my breath for weeks.
The Prayer of Saint Francis speaks to my heart.
This one lives between my Mother's

bedroomand our kitchen.

Note to Self:
Inhale fully.
Exhale fully. 
In good times and bad. 
Be aware. 
Practice daily.

It's good for the soul.


Do you breathe deeply?  Exercise?  Meditate?  Pray?  
Or practice some other form of stress reduction in your life?  
I'd love to hear about it in the comments section that follows.

Monday, June 1, 2015

On Slowing Down

2015 has been quite a year so far.  The highs have been extremely high; the lows have been extremely low; and the speed of life has accelerated at an alarming rate.  In the midst of addressing one challenge, the next one seems to be knocking at the door.

I am strong.

My bench block, with the wise and loving words
of my dear friend and our ReMe Guest...
"Don't hurry.  Be happy."

I am woman.

I am overwhelmed.

I am also hopeful.

As I've done my best to navigate these uncertain waters, a few truths have revealed themselves to me again and again.  (Yes, I can be a bit hard headed and it often takes a few times for me to really get it!)

The first of these truths is that I need to slow down.  I realized this in the physical sense when I did a less than graceful swan dive on my stairs on my way to our ReMe Retreat earlier this month.  Ken, my calm loving husband, and a trained first responder, gently suggested these very words to me as he drove me to the emergency care clinic for x-rays.

He was right, and not just in the physical sense.  As we talked that day, and as I reflected on our conversation, I realized that my mind is generally at least ten steps ahead of what I'm actually doing. As I gazed at my bruised and swelling ankle and ego, I realized that this behavior wasn't serving me well.

As I walked down the stairs that morning, my mind was on Ocracoke Island and all that the next week would hold, on my Mother, on her last month in an inpatient rehab facility, on her current condition, and on my concern for her during my time away.  All of this thoughtfulness was great in theory; but it didn't help one bit as what my feet were doing at the time never even crossed my mind.

Speeding through life and badly multitasking has become my normal, and the time for change is now.  I will slow down.  Mentally, I'll focus on the task at hand.  Physically, I'll live in the moment.  I'll softly remind myself to do this again and again until the behavior is as natural as breathing.

Speaking of breathing, I'll address that in my next post, and then I'll share my thoughts on responding instead of reacting, and then...

There I go again!  One step at a time.  For now I'll slow down in the quiet confidence that this step, my next step, is where I must focus.

Please bear with me as I do exactly that, and share your thoughts on under-focusing, over-thinking, and multitasking in the comments section below.