Oh, Hornswoggle!

Oh, hornswoggle! I’ve felt so much cognitive dissonance through the pandemic. I had hoped against hope that this feeling would lessen in 2021, but it has not. I need a way to put a marker by something that strikes me wrong so I can decipher why in my own time. I’m choosing the word hornswoggle as my red flag word.

In the strictest terms, hornswoggle means to trick or deceive. Telling me one thing is true while contradicting it with your next sentence feels like trickery. I experience this day after day after day from the news, from Twitter, from blogs that feature headlines contradicted by the story beneath and other blogs that misstate the results of a study.

I feel frustrated and weary from this. When it affects me directly, I feel angry. When it means horrible government and governing, I sometimes feel helpless. I know that my ability to affect positive change is related to the size of my platform and the amount of time and energy I’m willing to devote to my message.

But I have very real time and energy limits. I have priorities that sometimes supersede my public policy concerns. And increasingly, I am choosing to change the flow of my days to a kinder, gentler flow. I can only combat so much hornswoggle in one day. But I can flag it when I see or hear it. And you can too. Perhaps “Oh, hornswoggle!” can become a battle cry to combat misinformation.

Unfortunately, misinformation sometimes comes from seemingly credible sources. Or it’s delivered without full context. This creates loopholes that make it easy to argue with science. I hate this. We need evidence-based information!

I also hate the role that credentialed professionals sometimes play in dissemination of hornswoggle. This is often done with good intentions, but it’s harmful and ultimately creates distrust.

One of the most prevalent themes in hornswoggle is that there’s an immediate fix for everything. Have a pain? Take a pill. Need to lose 10 lbs? Eat only protein. Have PTSD? Try psychedelics. Want to be stronger? Use steroids. Can’t sit still? Take a pill. Annoyed by your kids? Give them a pill. You know the routine.

And many of these solutions work short term. The question is whether they actually promote healing of the underlying problem or just lead to dependence on repeated short-term solutions.

Beyond that, I’ve begun to wonder whether frustration over widespread failure to address underlying problems is contributing to the increase in violence we see playing out at grocery stores, hospitals, and on airplanes. The stats on airplane violence are sobering. Forbes Magazine reports that “Through May, about 2,500 such incidents have been recorded, and those categorized as “unruly” reached 394, compared with well under 200 for each full year of 2019 and 2020.”

And we’re confronted with mass shootings every week. I’m hearing an increase in gunfire in my neighborhood recently. If you’re interested in tracking this particular type of violence, visit the Gun Violence Archive. They’ve been doing evidence-based research since 2013 and the site offers detailed charts.

In addition to glossing over underlying conditions, hornswoggle’s demand for immediacy can impede due process, in-depth conversation, and carefully considered consequences. I can’t see the positive gain from immediacy if those are things we give up. The cost is simply too great.

I think we’re feeling all of this under the surface. When we try to express it, we may be dismissed or demeaned or canceled or bullied or shamed or, very possibly, never acknowledged at all. And then we’re faced with the choice of how to respond.

In order to avoid feeling dismissed, humiliated, shamed, or unheard, some of us suppress how we’re feeling. But at some point, we may not be able to do it any longer. And if anger is the first emotion to reach the surface, it may explode into violence.

I’m not going to tell you that hornswoggle is the cause of all violence or that removing it tomorrow will solve our problems immediately, but seeing it for what it is and refusing to perpetuate the narrative can help raise awareness. Calling hornswoggle when you see it can put a pin in topics that require thorough examination and thoughtful consideration.

And maybe if we slow down a moment, we’ll come to our senses and realize no one should have to repeatedly swallow hornswoggle.

Gratitude Workout

It’s Thanksgiving week, let’s breathe our way through a gratitude workout. A study of the effects of the pandemic showed that 90% of us have been emotionally affected by it. That’s really not surprising. But for 25% of us, this has resulted in depression. While a temporary state of depression is a natural response to change, it’s possible some will experience long-term or clinical depression as time goes on.

Many Americans are facing trauma and hardship they’ve never seen before – job loss, hunger, severe illness, loss of family, lack of physical contact, unsafe working conditions, and more. This takes a toll even on the strongest and healthiest of us. Yet some will rise to the occasion, feel the effects, find a way to cope, and thrive in the future. Others will become stuck. Genetics, personality, support, and choices all play a role in how we fare.

Even when outside support is lacking, we can become our own support system by building the emotional resilience that will facilitate processing through difficulty and coming out the other side better than before. This can be accomplished through deliberate practices. One tool to build an emotional toolkit is a gratitude practice. I’ve written about this before because it’s always a wonderfully useful tool, but it seems especially important right now.

So much of our cultural conversation is focused on what we don’t have, can’t do, can’t buy, can’t see, can’t experience that we’re at risk of losing sight of the good that surrounds us. A gratitude workout may be just the shift in focus that revitalizes us when we’re dining alone this week.

I’ve used many techniques for practicing gratitude. I started with a series of journals. In those books, I made a list every day of 10 things for which I was grateful. On days when most everything had gone wrong, I had to sit for a very long time to think of that first item. But I’m sure you’ll find as I did that once you think of one thing, you’ll think of more because your focus has finally shifted.

One year, I used a series of neon colored post-its that I collected in a brightly colored plastic box with a pull-out drawer. At the end of each month, I’d go back and read all of the notes. It was a great way to gain perspective on the events of the month. If I gleaned an insight that seemed particularly significant, I’d record it somewhere to ponder later.

The specifics of how you record your lists are not as important as the discipline of doing it. In fact, it’s the discipline that will pave the way for the greatest insight. Those moments when you really don’t feel grateful for anything will get you to dig deeper. But you won’t dig deeper unless disciplined commitment to the process requires that you record something. It’s a lot easier to eat ice cream and pout.

This week of Thanksgiving, you may not be with family. That brings the temptation to only see what’s missing. That’s why I’m planning to combine two practices and breathe my way through a gratitude workout.

How? Before I prepare my Cornish hen, I’m spending some time on my yoga mat. I’m going to sit in easy pose (Sukhasana) or stand in mountain pose (Tadasana) and slow my breath bringing my focus to my sit bones or the four corners of my feet, my thighs, my shoulders, my neck, my face. Once I’ve found the balance between effort and ease, I’ll begin to breathe my gratitude. A long breath in through the nose and a slow breath out for each item on my list. I may add a twist in between and a series of warrior poses before I rest in corpse pose (Savasana).

I’ll express gratitude for grocery delivery, Zoom & FaceTime, the warm weather that made fresh tomatoes and spinach from the garden possible for Thanksgiving, the flavor of those tomatoes, my grandchildren’s laughter, the internet, the heart of healthcare workers, brilliant maple leaves, and strong oak trees with rough bark.

None of those are equal to sitting around the table with my family, but grocery delivery means I have groceries without virus exposure. Zoom and the internet mean I’ll can see my family in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. Fresh vegetables from my garden mean both healthy and tasty food. And cooking for one rather than a large group means I have time to sit still. Things don’t have to be perfect to enrich my life or make things better than they would be otherwise. I can be grateful for things that are just okay.

In fact, I am grateful for things that are just okay as well as things that are magnificent. But it’s easy to miss the magnificent if I only focus on what is wrong. In this year when it feels like so much has gone awry, a gratitude workout is just what the doctor ordered.

Lessons from the Garden

While I was pulling weeds yesterday, I began reflecting on lessons from the garden. Beyond healthy food, fresh air, sunshine, and closeness to the Earth, gardening brings other positives. And time in the garden when your hands are busy, but your mind is free is time that can be spent exploring them.

I’m not a landscape-pretty raised-bed gardener. Even though I live in the city, I garden like we did on the farm. I have a wire fence enclosure and plant seeds directly in the ground. I’m not as haphazard as my stepfather who just throws a few seeds in a patch of weeds and lets them all grow together. I have rows and I weed in between them as well as in between the plants.

My watering schedule is observational and instinctive. I try to mimic nature. Sometimes I spray with the hand sprayer to impersonate a hard rain that removes larvae from leaves. Other times I use a sprinkler to mimic a slow, soaking rain. If an afternoon is hot, sunny, and bright, I don’t water. Nature would rarely combine heat, bright sun, and rain. So far, I’ve been rewarded with good harvests.

That brings me right back to lessons from the garden:

Finding Balance

Balance is key to my health as well as the health of my garden. Finding balance is part instinct and part effort. My senses tell me when I haven’t had enough water to drink or enough sleep. If I’m a careful observer, I know when I need to say no to that one small obligation that will rob me of needed down time. I know when I need to seek something that stimulates my mind or comforts me physically.

While it sounds like a simple planning issue, a schedule doesn’t work perfectly for keeping balance. Unexpected weather rolls in and everything changes.

Yield to the Weather

And so the garden teaches me that I must yield to the weather. Think how much time we spend attempting to anticipate the weather. Newscasts feature forecasts multiple times an hour. A phone app or website tells us what’s happening 10 days out. We discuss it with friends and look out the window and still sometimes we’re left in a house with no food and no power because a tropical storm turns out to be a Category 2 hurricane or a tornado roars through.

Obviously, not all sudden shifts are from the weather, but the principle applies. With any sudden change that I can’t control, my options are to be flexible and adapt to my new situation or be stuck with a plan that no longer fits.

Patience

While my spring garden had a few weeds, my fall garden was overrun with them by the time I finished forming rows to plant. I weeded and within a day or two the weeds were back. Swift weed removal became my focus. Then I walked down the row of mâche and realized I couldn’t tell the seedlings from the weeds. In order to protect the mâche, I had to let both grow for awhile.

I’m not much for waiting when I know a task is at hand, but the garden teaches patience. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later the wait paid off and there was no question which plants should be removed.

Estimations Can be Wrong

It’s hard to gauge the size of a harvest the first year. You can estimate. You can follow the guidance of experienced gardeners, but your particular garden plot will be unique. Greens may do well and carrots may not. Two of your rows may get more shade than you realized. Having a contingency plan when estimates don’t pan out is always a good idea.

Small Wounds Can Yield Big Pain

My garden has ants. If you’ve ever had an ant bite, you already know the kind of pain they can inflict. It seems wrong. They’re so small. And their bites are so tiny. In fact, they’re so small you may ignore a bite at first. But soon it itches. Then it hurts. A blister forms. By the next day, your whole finger or hand may be swollen. You can’t think about anything besides the bite (especially if there are multiples). All the while, your brain is telling you this is silly. It’s only a tiny ant bite. Get a grip.

Like the physical response to an ant bite, an emotional response may seem disproportionate to a situation. When that response is yours, you may immediately understand that you’re responding to much more than anyone else sees. This is just the straw or it triggered an emotional flashback of sorts. Other times, you may witness someone else experience a large pain that appears to come from a small wound. This can be disconcerting.

Maintaining a connection and holding space for each other to work things out is a soothing compress. The swelling must subside before the pain is gone and that takes a minute. Thank goodness the garden already taught us patience!

For lunch I enjoyed a spinach salad fresh with lessons from the garden. Yum!

Ant Bites

Free Your Mind

“Free your mind and the rest will follow.” 1

Remember that song, “Free Your Mind” from the 1990s? It’s seared into my memory by a moment on the dance floor. I looked to my right and grooving to En Vogue as if she had not a care in the world was a woman about to go on trial for killing her husband. I knew her from the pictures that were plastered on the front of my newspaper every day. I felt shocked, amazed, and somehow challenged/inspired. Even if she was innocent, how could she possibly feel free enough to fully enjoy that moment?

I’ve come back to this question from time to time in the ensuing decades. I inherently understand that no matter what has happened or what other people think, my thoughts are mine. And I’m happy letting my mind roam free. But understanding on a deeper level why she could dance freely in a situation in which I would be more likely to hide requires an exploration of the emotions, training, and thinking that limit me.

Exploring these has led me to some thoughts on how can freeing your mind improve your life. Here are a few:

You cannot control anyone but yourself.

The dancing alleged murderer could not control the crime investigation, the newspaper reports, her employer (who fired her the minute she was arrested without waiting to see if she was guilty), or any of us on the dance floor. She could only control herself.

Attempting to impose limits on someone else so that they will conform to you is futile. When you change yourself, everything around you will shift. Sometimes this may be joyfully in the direction you desire. Other times it will be painful. I witnessed a moment of joy on that dance floor. No matter what my training said about an alleged criminal enjoying life with abandonment, that moment was inspiring.

For everything you think you know about someone, you don’t know much unless you’re willing to invest.

So often we make choices based on people’s outward presentation. This limits our choices for friendships, romantic partners, employees, and caregivers. The caregiver who treats you with kindness, gentleness, affection, and respect may use bad grammar or vote for another political party. The well-read, well-spoken, impeccably dressed professor may beat his wife.

My parents greatly diverged in their understanding of this concept. Very few of my dad’s friends were acceptable to my mother. They were mostly what you’d call colorful characters that brought him laughter, adventure, and intellectual stimulation. My mother preferred socially acceptable appearance above all else. She missed many opportunities for expanding her thinking and enriching her life even within our extended family.

Free your mind to visualize.

When you learn to waterski, you also learn to fall. If you can’t get the falling out of your mind, you won’t get it out of your muscle memory. We accept that many sports require conquering the mind game. Life in general is no different. And just like you can improve your basketball shot by visualizing, you can improve your chances of becoming successful at any goal using the same technique.

I’m not saying that visualization will suddenly make me a great basketball player, but unless I can see the possibility of becoming one, I’m doomed before I start. Many of us have learned how to visualize failure.

Most limits are self-imposed.

If your initial response to this statement is a four-letter word, that’s not surprising. It’s more enticing to believe that we are limited by outside forces. It is a fact that outside forces affect us and may change the options, but they limit us less than we believe they do. When we let go of the idea that outside forces control our fate, we are required to face our own demons.

Taking responsibility for our limiting thoughts and behavior is much more emotionally difficult. It may require processing through anger, grief, and loss. It may require a shift in self-image. It will require some decisions that don’t feel good. Letting go of self-imposed limits is not easy, but to the degree it’s hard it’s also healing and rewarding.

Flip the script.

If you understand the value of freeing your mind but aren’t sure how to start seeing the possibilities, try flipping the script. For example, instead of imagining only how awful you’ll feel if you don’t get the job you really want, imagine how great you’ll feel when you do. Don’t stop there. Imagine days, months, and years filled with excitement and fulfillment. Hold onto those thoughts and feelings until you feel a shift from anxiety to confidence.

It is at that moment that the world of possibilities will open. You don’t need that particular job anymore. You want it, but it’s not the only gig in the world worth having. There are millions of opportunities. When your mind is free to embrace all the options, you’ll be free to see abundance instead of scarcity.

It’s not mind over matter.

For some this will work differently. If you have experienced significant trauma, you may need to free your body before you can free your mind. The two are significantly intertwined. There’s nothing wrong with this and there are great tools to help – somatic experiencing therapy, EMDR, and yoga for trauma are all great options for helping your body release so your mind can follow.

Another benefit of freeing your mind is problem solving will get easier. There are multiple solutions to any problem that presents itself. An open mind makes it possible to imagine creative and innovative approaches. Easier problem solving alone is a great reason to free your mind!

I’ll just dance my way out now.

https://www.kheljournal.com/archives/2015/vol1issue6/PartB/1-5-77.pdf

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/preparation-healing-manage-expectations/