Distillation

It’s a snowy day and I’m thinking about distillation. We’re having record cold weather – so cold my background noise is the sound of water dripping from the faucets accompanied by water boiling for tea. Today’s high may reach 14⁰ if we’re lucky. A quick review of the supplies on hand reveals several bottles of natural spring water as well as distilled water.

Distilling water was my first scientific experiment. It was eighth grade, and I was in Introductory Physical Science (IPS). I don’t know what the class was supposed to be, but in hindsight I’d describe it as the lab portion of the chemistry class I took a couple of years later.

We were thrown directly into this first experiment, learning the steps of the scientific method along the way. In groups of four, we were also learning about beakers, Bunsen burners, rubber tubing, glass tubing, and, I must confess, redoing experiments gone wrong. As we attempted to identify the distillates without resorting to tasting them, breaking down water into its basic parts seemed hard.

So much of life is like that. We get thrown into situations that require we learn on the fly, record the steps, master the tools, and learn the lingo all at the same time. It didn’t take a pandemic for this to be true, but like IPS, the pandemic has highlighted some weaknesses in our collective skillset.

By the end of the year, I had a top grade in IPS class. But that’s because I was willing to use my Study Hall to go back to the lab and try to distill water without the smell of burning rubber tubing if necessary. Mastery takes a willingness to fail, learn, and try again. Learning is the meat of that success sandwich, but there are other important ingredients.

Improving ourselves, our families, and our communities will require mastery of certain skills. Let me distill a few of them down for you:

Insight

Learning takes place not just in the understanding or retention of facts. Facts need context. Experience leads to greater levels of understanding the facts before us. Without this greater understanding, we may lack insight.

I don’t mean insight so much in the aha sense as in the ability to discern and discriminate between the subtle layers, distillates, of a situation. Without such discernment, it is difficult to find appropriate, durable solutions of consequence.

Empathy

Chemistry and physics don’t change if we have no empathy, but our application of the knowledge provided by them will. Likewise, the practice of medicine may be based on an understanding of physiology, anatomy, and chemistry, but if it is not practiced with empathy, there will be less healing.

As the pandemic has shown, vulnerable populations continue to be vulnerable. Our empathy seems to primarily extend to people with whom we identify. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t feel empathy for those who are different, it may only mean that we tend to ride along in our comfort zone without ever thinking of those outside our realm.

Some of us have trouble looking directly at things that are painful to see. It is hard to look horror in the face. But to live empathetically, we must learn to see the holes in our vision and figure out a way to fill the gaps.

Courage

Courage enhances both insight and empathy. It is the thing that allows us to stand by our principles, look horror in the face, protect our children, go out on a limb for our friends. Courage underpins innovative solutions to problems.

Courage comes in many forms and cannot be judged by any standard measure. Any time you do something although it frightens you, you are demonstrating courage.

Nimbleness

Some situations require swift, clearheaded decision-making. Feeling confident in your ability to choose well with or without input facilitates stepping into a role you did not anticipate.

Learning to compartmentalize without getting stuck also makes for more nimble decision making. Of course, it’s important to deliberately set aside time to process the feelings later.

Boundary Setting

No matter how much insight and empathy we show, no matter how good we are at making emergency decisions, and no matter how courageous we are, none of us can do everything. Knowing our own limits and setting boundaries that protect our physical and emotional health is critical. When we cannot, or do not, there is a price to pay.

The current pandemic will be followed by another one. While I cannot predict when or where it will begin or what form it will take, I can say with certainty that we can leave the future better prepared for it than we were.

To do so, we must develop skills that help us distill down the challenges, face those challenges, summon our courage, make swift and sound decisions, and set good boundaries. Then we must use insight and empathy to shore up the systems that support us, especially our most vulnerable.

Who Said Life Would Be Easy?

Many of us seem to be frustrated that things are hard right now, but who said life would be easy? Of course life isn’t easy! Why do we act like it should be? And why do we choose to accept that difficult is inherently bad?

Difficulty breeds innovation. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate moments of comfort and ease. Meeting a challenge brings a sense of accomplishment. These are not bad things.

Yes, we’ve been served a big dose of strong medicine all at once. But that’s not really the problem. The problem is trying to force things to go “back to normal.” That normal is gone. Adjustment is necessary.

strength

Adjustment often comes with a sense of loss, grief, helplessness, fatigue, sadness, frustration, fear, and anger. That does not automatically spell catastrophe unless we choose to define it that way. Most of us have within us the resources to weather much more than we imagine. We just need to believe it and draw on those resources.

When our internal resources need bolstering, we can say so out loud to someone capable of holding our truth, lending assistance, and encouraging us. I promise you, there are people who will listen, feel empathy for you, and can help hold your burden. There are people who can, and will, provide you with food, clothing, or assistance with bills.

It may not be those you WANT to or believe SHOULD provide for you. But holding onto the fantasy that a dismissive parent, self-focused friend, humiliating spouse, or bureaucratic system will suddenly change prevents you from finding better resources. Now is the time for letting go!

I am not discounting the strength and courage it takes to move forward when you’re terrified. I lived with underlying fear for at least my first 55 years. I am skilled at talking myself off the ledge. But that’s just it: I feel confident I can push through my fear and shift swiftly when I need to. I am, if anything, adaptable.

At this moment, I keep hearing Jack Nicholson in my head saying, “You can’t handle the truth!” like he did in the movie “A Few Good Men.” It feels like many people currently accept that as fact and choose to avoid information that is hard to hear. That’s a choice that can put you at additional risk both health-wise and financially.

But you can handle the truth. Life is hard. That’s not devastating news.

My eldest son told his wife the other day, “I was built for this.” I feel the same way. That doesn’t mean the current state of affairs would be our first choice. It doesn’t mean we don’t value easygoing, fun times. It just means we know about ourselves that we can handle this new reality. We will find our way through the challenges and feel our way through the heartache. It will not destroy us.

You will have new challenges today that you did not anticipate a month ago, a week ago, or yesterday. It feels like that is something new, but isn’t that always true in life? Think of all of the unanticipated challenges you’ve already faced. Those allowed you to build the emotional muscle you need to meet an even bigger challenge.

Celebrate your courage, bravery, stamina, and good decisions! Flex your resilience muscle by supporting your friends, family, or a vulnerable population that moves your heart. When your hands are busy, your mind will settle. When you channel your energy into helping others, the reward is always yours.

This week, when you meet each day, see if you can feel however any new difficulties make you feel and then let those feelings go or channel them into energy to make the most of the opportunities presented. After all, the flip side of a challenge is always an opportunity.

Life is hard. You cannot control every detail. There will be uncertainty. Within that uncertainty are opportunities for greatness and excellence! I choose to embrace and celebrate those no matter how small! And I am grateful for the chance to do so. I have never believed that life will be easy. Who said that anyway?

https://www.theschooloflife.com/

Looking Backward, Moving Forward

Now that it’s the new year, do you find yourself looking backward, moving forward; looking backward, standing still; or looking forward, moving forward? I think the implied correct, societally acceptable answer is to smile and indicate that the past is the past – I’m looking forward and moving forward with gusto!

But is that really true or are most of us pretending when we say it? Watching many of my friends, acquaintances, customers, and colleagues, I feel like many of us are pretending and I’m wondering why? It seems more acceptable to say we’re moving forward and then behave in ways destined to keep us stuck, than it is to say we’re struggling.

When I have verbalized difficulties, the real ones below the surface that make me feel most vulnerable, some friends have encouraged me to call my doctor for happy pills or said they’re worried me. In contrast, they never said that when I was wearing myself out working too much, playing too much, and buying too much stuff. Whatever the cause, I feel saddened that the result is a culture that supports overmedicating, overworking, and overindulging rather than supporting feeling, and healing. Let’s change that!

If you find yourself at the apex of this new year feeling alone or discouraged, but determined to make positive change, we applaud you! Not for feeling alone, of course, for having the ability to envision a better future and the courage to practice positive change. And we’re here to let you know you’re not alone!

I have spent a lot of time looking backward in order to move forward. It’s kind of a tricky move because looking backward makes it tempting to stay stuck in the same place, especially when the past was painful, difficult, or felt unfair.
looking backward

Yep, that pose is exactly how it feels sometimes! Are my emotional abs strong enough to pull me up to look ahead? Most of the time, they are now (thank goodness we’re talking emotional abs), and it’s been a long process for me to get here, but the result has been freedom and an abundance of choices! Isn’t that what all of us want as we move forward?

The recipe for practicing positive change includes these key ingredients:
Desire
Vision
Courage
Determination
Commitment
Truth
Good boundaries
Intentions
Paradox
Time to sit still
Feeling your real feelings
Trusting your body’s messages
Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude

The process will be facilitated by:
Inspiration
Acceptance
Kindness
Humor
Playfulness
Celebration
Positive emotional connections

The rest is just practice, practice, practice in a series of small shifts that lead to large change as we move forward.

Get your ingredients together. We’ll be here all year long to provide inspiration, playfulness, celebration and a safe place to share your concerns, struggles, and triumphs. Look backward, move forward, and make 2015 anything you want it to be!

Happy New Year!

One Step Toward Joy

The look of sheer joy on her face was priceless! My sister had just shot her first flying clay pigeon. It wasn’t the first time she shot a gun, or the first time she hit a target. It was the first time she let herself TRY to shoot a target that wasn’t stationary. Prior to yesterday, she referred to herself as the shooting challenged. She’d organize outings in the country for everyone to shoot, but limit herself to aiming at objects held by target holders.

Okay, before you get upset by the specifics of this post, please understand. We grew up on a farm in the South. Our father hunted quail on our farm. He taught us about gun safety because there were always guns in the house. In spite of this, neither of us ever shot a gun until we were adults. We were never included in the hunting because we were girls. Nonetheless, it feels perfectly normal to us to handle a 20 gauge or 12 gauge shotgun. We don’t have blood lust or killer instinct or a militant view about bearing arms. We’re just country girls who use guns the same way other athletes use a bat, a racquet, a golf club, or a hockey stick.

And guns and shooting really have nothing to do with the point of this post anyway. The point is derived from my observation of the joy of accomplishment I saw on my sister’s face and the process that led to that moment.

My sister just turned 43 and our cousin just turned 93. Both deserved a celebration, so yesterday Ben & I traveled a few hours to my mom’s house on the farm where I grew up. The weather was beautiful – clear, breezy, and about 70º. It was the perfect day to be outside.

Field

 

Thinking I was only joining my sister & her guests for a ride around the farm, I ended up at a makeshift shooting range carved out of the tall grass while Ben & I were making the drive. In the clearing, there was a basic target thrower, biodegradable targets, a single-shot 410 shotgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, and when we arrived 3 women, and one man. The competition began. When it was my sister’s turn, she easily broke some nearby stationary targets with the 410.

We switched to the 12 gauge. She was happy to shoot at the same target locations with this gun as well. I encouraged her to take a shot at a flying target. Her response was, “I can’t hit those. Haven’t you ever seen me try to hit a softball? It’s the same thing.” I’m not sure she’s tried to hit a softball in more than 20 years so I was struck by the statement. I pushed; she repeated that she couldn’t do it.

I recognized that she really believed what she was saying in spite of the fact that she’d never even TRIED. I took a few shots and missed on every single throw. I enticed her again to take a shot. As I reminded her, she couldn’t do any worse than I had just done. We started by having her leave the safety on and follow the target with the gun.

410On the first throw, she stood absolutely still. I assume she moved her eyes along with the movement of the bright orange disk, but her body did not move. It was almost as if she was frozen. I stepped in and gently reminded her that she would have to move her body along with her eyes for the sight on the gun to follow the target and I told her that I would give the “pull” command.

I said, “pull”. She followed the target’s movement with her upper body. One more time and she relaxed a bit. Now it was time to turn off the safety. Breathe, relax, follow, shoot. On the second round, she obliterated a target. It was a perfect shot. The look of joy and pride that washed across her was priceless!

And the effects lingered. She stood taller, excitedly told everybody when she got back to the house. And never again will she be able to say, “I can’t do that.” because she can, and she always could.

She had been preventing herself from the joy of experiencing the process by focusing on the end goal and projecting how bad she’d feel if she didn’t perform well. She imagined she’d feel the same way she felt on the softball field when she was a kid. This projection was preventing her from progressing from stationary to moving targets.

She couldn’t even see that there were steps in the process. She believed she had to pull the trigger as soon as she said, “pull”. This paralyzed her. She never realized she could just move her body in relation to the moving object or allow someone else to determine when the target was released. In fact, she was unable to see any options at all.

My sister is not alone. How often have you prevented yourself from joining a yoga class because you’re afraid you won’t be able to master every pose the first hour? How many times have you avoided a commitment to being gluten-free because you just can’t imagine NEVER eating another yeasty dinner roll?

However many times we choose the status quo rather than trying something different, we guarantee we’ll miss the sheer joy that can result from taking the first step in the process. Will every process result in joy? Maybe not immediately, but each step forward fills our internal bank with the courage, resilience, and confidence that makes the next step easier, and yes, I believe that ultimately it is the participating that brings us joy. And our joy brings others joy. Seeing that look on my sister’s face was my favorite moment of the day!

Have you ever experienced joy or exhilaration when you tried something you thought you couldn’t do? Would you encourage someone else to take that first step?