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.

Preparation for Healing: Manage Your Expectations

Once you’ve set clear intentions, it becomes easier to manage your expectations. You know what you aspire to accomplish. You know how you want to behave during the process of reaching that aspiration. You know how long you’ve committed to the intentions. You know how you’ll measure success. With the process in place, all you need to do is follow your intentions. You can let go of anything you expect to happen along the way or when you reach your aspiration.

It is not necessary to have expectations in order to accomplish what you hope to accomplish. I mention expectations because they can be a real stumbling block. It bears repeating that it is not necessary to have expectations, even high ones, in order to improve your life.

What is an expectation?

An expectation is something you believe is likely to happen or you anticipate will happen. An expectation can also be something you believe should happen because of your efforts, position, relationships, or view of the world.

Why do expectations matter?

If you are going to begin healing, it is important to know the process may take an extended period of time. That doesn’t mean you won’t see incremental improvement quickly, it just means that once you reach the length of time to which you’ve committed, you may find that you need to commit more time in order to make lasting change.

If you were raised in dysfunction, your expectations of normal and acceptable may not be aligned with healthy or productive.

If you have an internal expectation of failure, your behavior and effort will reflect that. If you have an awareness of this possibility, you can counteract your tendency to invite failure.

If you expect things to be one certain way and they are not, you may tend to focus on what’s wrong (wrong as in it doesn’t look like what you expected) and miss out on any abundance and joy that are present.

If you expect negative feedback, the manner in which you solicit input will reflect that and can mean you get exactly what you expect.

If you have lived a privileged life, you may expect other people to adapt to you. This can prevent you from seeing the effect you have on others.

If you have lived with neglect, you may expect and allow mistreatment that keeps you from being kind to yourself.

If you expect others to harm you, you will not be able to receive help, encouragement, or have a sense of support from the community.

If you expect to be treated as less than, your behavior will reflect that and it will be difficult to treat you as an equal.

If you feel inadequate to a task, you may perceive unspoken expectations as pressure or stress.
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None of those apply to me, so why would I need to manage expectations?

We live in a culture in which we’re bombarded by messages that promise an absolute and specific outcome if we will buy into a certain product or approach. We believe if we participate, we should get the promised result. Advertisers sweeten the pot by telling us it will happen FAST! We come to expect not just the promised outcome, but the promised outcome right now! Who doesn’t want the desired result immediately?!

Weight loss and fitness programs are famous for making such promises. Pharmaceutical ads promise quick relief from depression through medication. Some psychiatrists prescribe medication for PTSD in lieu of yoga, somatic experiencing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, consecutive counting and talk therapy. Some physicians prescribe meds in place of attempting dietary changes to treat diabetes, reflux, or IBS. Physicians are now having to rethink the tendency to overprescribe opioid pain medication without trying other options first.

It’s seductive to believe that anything we want to achieve can be had immediately, without effort. In rare cases that may happen. It is not common. On some level, we know this whether or not our behavior reflects this knowledge.

Unfortunately, when we believe hype, try a quick fix and then fail to sustain any lasting resulting change, we may create an internal expectation that our efforts are futile, nothing will work, and change is not possible. This limiting expectation can prevent us from trying again.

And it’s not uncommon to stop trying. You probably know someone who has prevented herself from doing something because of an expectation that she won’t be successful or trying is futile – asking for a raise, asking for a date, getting a higher degree, applying for a dream job, doing yoga, starting a band, starting a business, cooking, setting boundaries for family visits, auditioning for a lead role, painting, skiing, or learning to fly? Limiting expectations come in many forms and are a powerful impediment to healing and improving your life.

If you’re a planner like me, you’d probably like a guarantee that things will turn out a certain way. After all, you put in a lot of effort to explore options and create the best plan. The reality is that life brings no guarantees. You can minimize risk, but you can never anticipate every possibility that will come along to change the end result. If you become too attached to your expectation of that end result, it can create tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision takes you out of the present and blinds you to the opportunities that are happening around you at any given moment. These opportunities are often where growth occurs. The present gives us moments where we can build resilience, self-trust, and fearlessness. If we miss those, we make the overall journey take longer.

The other problem with being too attached to a specific outcome is that as you grow what was once acceptable to you may become unacceptable. That means your desired outcome may not reflect your growth and may inadvertently hold you back.

I know it’s hard to let go of the idea that specific outcomes are not all that important. It’s often hammered into us by our parents, teachers, bosses, and pastors that meeting a certain list of expectations is critical. Sometimes that many people can be misinformed. Sometimes using fear to manage diverse groups is ingrained in cultural institutions.

Unfortunately, many cultural forces converge to make it more comfortable, and in many ways easier, to exist in an unhealthy state so long as we meet superficial expectations than it is to heal and thrive. It’s counterintuitive to our rhetoric. It’s counterproductive to our desire to live healthy, rewarding lives. And yet, it’s a reality for many of us.

Again, I’ve thrown a lot at you. Hopefully, you read something here that prompts a helpful insight. Increased awareness is a beginning point for improvement. And you can just ditch the expectations. They’re not necessary for you to heal!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201011/parenting-expectations-success-benefit-or-burden

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cui-bono/201802/the-psychology-expectations

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201408/new-treatments-may-deliver-immediate-relief-depression

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/let-surprised/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/made-love-served-kindness/

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Forget Mindfulness!

Mindfulness pshaw. Forget Mindfulness! What I need is a little MindLESSness!

Don’t get me wrong, my life is filled with mindful practices and I believe they’re important. I practice yoga 3 or 4 times a week. I may squeeze in a guided meditation. And, I’m immersed in a Daring Way class where I’m learning to practice empathy that includes mindfulness. There’s nothing WRONG with mindfulness. In fact, sitting in the moment and being present has led me to recognize that I am worn out!

I need to turn my mind off temporarily. I don’t want to consider anything. I don’t want to answer a text, send an email, or read any research. I don’t want to cook a meal, test a recipe, or review any video. I don’t want to pay a bill, wash a dish, or plan anything! And I know I don’t have the emotional energy to listen with empathy to someone who is making my life more difficult. I just don’t have it in me.
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I want to lie in the sun, feel it’s warmth and ENJOY it rather than feeling like I need to dig up tulip bulbs from my yard while the soil is soft. I want to float in the pool and feel nothing but the softness of the water as it supports me. I want to savor my coffee in the morning and eat chocolate at leisure with some wine at night. I want to laugh at everything silly, jump in a pile of warm laundry, take a nap at 10am, find a new show to binge watch, or read a page turner.

Feeling carefree may not be achievable, but it’s a good goal.

It takes a lot for me to feel overloaded, but if there’s never any relief — no full day off, no carefree moments, not enough laughter, no one to depend on to pick up the ball when I drop it, I can get to a point where I’m constantly poised for the straw that may break me. It’s easy to say, set better boundaries so you don’t get overtaxed, but difficult to practice if you’re a caregiver, sole provider and parent, sole proprietor, or just financially strapped.

For me, it’s better to recognize and accept that I may not be up to any greater challenge than lying on the couch than to numb my feelings with food or alcohol, to lash out in anger, or to turn in a half-assed performance at work.

Is it difficult for me to admit this? YES!!!! I am driven to achieve, solve problems, and fix things.
It’s really hard to admit I may not be up to the task. While I know this is temporary, it feels huge and frightening!

It’s worth remembering that down time often provides powerful insight. It’s easy to think of doing nothing as time wasted, but that’s selling it short. Putting my mind in neutral allows it to travel paths it would otherwise miss.

I just talked to a friend on the phone who asked what I was writing. When I told him, he said, obviously taken aback, “That’s what you’re writing!?” I could tell he thought the decision was risky. But I know I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who feels this way, and maybe, just maybe, you need to know that because you need some mindlessness too.

So, if you’re in my boat, let’s just let it float with the current. We’ll be able to get back to shore when we need to. I’m certain of it.

http://thedaringway.com/

Made with Love. Served with Kindness!

StuffingYou hear that the food always tastes better when it’s made with love! It seems to be true, but why mention it now? A lot of us are tying ourselves in knots preparing for this week’s Thanksgiving meal. In our heads, we hold an image of a large harmonious family gathered over a delicious meal composed of perfect replications of our great grandmother’s traditional recipes. We work ourselves into a frenzy to create a real world experience that matches this image. We focus on our expectations and feelings of obligation, then learn too late that along the way we have lost any feeling of connection and joy.

I’m thinking about this because I have a friend who just abandoned his car 2000 miles from home in a city where he was temporarily working, bummed some frequent flyer points and flew across the country to see family who had begged him to come home for the holiday. They picked him up at the airport and within five minutes began blasting him for not doing well because he doesn’t have as much money as he used to have before he lost his job of 15 years, his wife, and his large house. Soon after this berating, he called me.

For the first 8 minutes of the conversation, he mentioned none of this. He did not disclose that he was 2000 miles from where I thought he was, or that he was changing the plans we had made for this week. He accidentally let the story slip when I asked why he was breathing so loudly. As it turns out, he was walking 4 miles to get a ride from a friend. I was taken by surprise. He began explaining that he had made a last minute trip because his mom wasn’t doing well. I felt alarmed, assuming she must be in the hospital. Then he told me about the scolding she’d given him at the airport and how the guys at the gym were giving him trouble. Soooo, obviously, mom was well enough to go to the airport and he had been home long enough to work out. I felt confused. I started asking questions to try to make sense of the story. He still did not address our plans. As the details slowly revealed themselves, I was not pleased with him for failing to notify me of his change in plans and I may, or may not, have said, “There’s no excuse for that!” If I said it, I meant it. I believe I was right and I feel just fine about feeling angry with him.

At the same time, I recognize that it doesn’t matter how right I am, how disappointed, angry, annoyed, unimportant, or betrayed I feel. The bigger truth is that he is afraid and struggling, and, in spite of that, trying to accomplish the impossible task of pleasing all of the people he cares about. This often leads him to over promise and under deliver. While that could be called creating his own problem, my “no excuse” response did not make him feel loved, accepted, or supported. Reviewing the conversation, it seems clear that I have created a space in which I happily confirm for him that he’s not living up to expectations causing him to feel even more worthless and afraid to tell me the truth. That is a bigger problem than anything specific he has done. So while I may be technically right about the situation, I am woefully wrong at the same time.

This is a spot in which we often find ourselves. We are both right and wrong at the same time.
A coworker refuses to take on a task at work that belongs to a slacking worker and the company loses a customer because this task was left undone. What she did may have been technically right, but her choice was detrimental to the team overall.
A friend plans a move to Nashville to become a songwriter, but a mutual friend discourages him because for fear he may eventually have to move back home. Whether he stays home or moves back home isn’t really all that different, is it?
With her kids playing in the room, a neighbor screams to her best friend that her lousy husband cheated and she’d like to kill him. She may be right to feel the betrayal this strongly and to seek support from her friend, but expressing it this way in this situation, creates an environment of insecurity for her children. Can that be right?
A husband gets his kids every other Thanksgiving and it’s his year. He refuses to negotiate when the kids mom asks if he can switch out holidays this year so the kids can visit with her extended family that’s rarely together. Of course he’s within his rights to refuse, but is it the wrong thing to do?
Every time Uncle Paul sees his nephew, he reminds him, and the rest of the family, about the time he slept through Thanksgiving ’cause he was drunk. No matter that it was 10 years ago, then 12 years ago, then 15 years ago and he’s been sober 14 of those. Is Uncle Paul right about the facts, yes! Does it accomplish anything positive to bring it up now?
A woman in your Sunday School class doesn’t like her son’s girlfriend so she treats her politely while making sure to inform family and friends with a big eye roll that the girlfriend was once homeless, hasn’t finished college, uses bad grammar, and has been to, gasp, jail – all correct facts. She fails to remember to mention that the girlfriend has also had the same job for 5 years, is still in school, can sing like an angel, is an incredible artist, supports herself and the nephew she took in, and has never been charged with a crime. Does the portrait she has painted give the right impression?
A man misses his daughter’s evening wedding because his current wife’s daughter loses her house in a fire. Everyone lives in the same town, there were no injuries, and there is a 12 hour window in between events. Is it wrong to celebrate a joyous event in the face of a tragic one?
Aunt Betty never misses an opportunity to tell your sister she’s fat whenever there’s a family meal. She pointedly passes artificial sweetener when she asks for sugar and brings her an apple when she’s passing out pie to everyone else. Aunt Betty says she’s worried about your sister’s health. Your sister cringes every time Aunt Betty enters the room.

I’ll admit it’s sometimes difficult to determine when to challenge an affront and when to let it go because sometimes things that look the same on the surface are exactly opposite underneath, but let’s face it, most of the time it’s just easier for our egos to cling to being right, feeling angry, and lashing out than it is to admit we have been wrong or shortsighted. It takes insight, courage, and commitment to keep your heart open when loved ones let you down or make sure to let you know you’ve let them down. It may help to remember that we can all be right and still be wrong.

You’ll know you have a Thanksgiving made with love and served with kindness when:

• You feel no need to join the chorus when your mom and sister find fault with your brother’s wife who insisted on bringing cherry pie even though your mom told her not to. She also brought her big smile and warm hugs. The pie was just, you guessed it, the cherry on top.

• You notice that your grandmother always finds another place at the table for an unexpected guest without ever missing a beat.

• You discover that you want to forego a large menu and choose a few family favorites that you rarely have time to cook. If your husband loves slow-cooked ribs, you fix ribs! If your daughter has been raving about her friend’s mom’s chocolate lava cake, you forget the pecan pie and make chocolate lava cake. If your son likes pizza better than anything on the planet, you serve mini pizzas as an appetizer. And you make sure to include your favorite roasted cauliflower as well. You make these choices to deliberately show your family that you know and value their preferences. You feel at peace with your decision even when you happen to overhear a snide comment regarding the menu from a traditionalist cousin.

• You enjoy seeing your cousins so much that you hardly notice that your mom, who is angry with you, hasn’t put a single gluten-free item on the table other than turkey.

• You find yourself taking time to absorb the gratitude your family expresses for your efforts. You feel free to sit down and let your kids serve coffee and dessert or wash the dishes.

• You feel comfortable saying no to an 8 hour drive home for Thanksgiving during a time when you have been over obligated and feel that you need quiet renewal time. Will Aunt Helen say a few ugly things to your mother when you don’t show up? Possibly, but you know you are able to choose to let the bad behavior stop with her. You view your decision to stay home as a loving gift to yourself and your housemates.

• You feel more excited than disappointed when your mom encourages the family to volunteer at a shelter that feeds the community instead of maxing out a credit card to meet the expectation of a fancy meal.

• You find that you are beginning to show up for holiday events with your courage and boundaries intact and your defenses down.

• You feel free to gracefully let your reluctant relatives refuse your invitation to dinner and easily shift your focus to providing a fun experience for some close friends.

• You find that you are able to feel grateful for the gifts given you by your most difficult moments.

I am grateful for the insight I gained from the recognition of my shortsightedness. We wish you a holiday full of love, kindness, joy, gratitude, and delicious food!

Happy Thanksgiving!