Is Upset Optional?

IMG_9912 Isadora storm 2010Upset is Optional. This is a practice that sounds easy, but is not necessarily simple. It takes enlightenment (in Buddhism, a state that is marked by the absence of suffering or desire) to be free from upset all the time. But with mindful practice, we can shift from being victims of our emotions to being managers of our emotions. When we take a moment to just notice when upset is arising in our body, and then do nothing but just observe this emotion, we are more likely to be responsive to the upset, rather than reactionary. The 13th century Persian poet, known to westerners as Rumi, states that when we take some time to welcome each emotion as a guest in our house (mind/body), it will feel listened to and leave sooner, having felt observed, noticed. We don’t have to react when the upset arrives. Just observe it. “Oh, hello anger, I know you are here. How fascinating that you have arrived here and now” I say to myself when I am in mindful practice. This gives me some time to be a manager and not a victim of my emotions.

Founder of On Purpose Networking for Women, Ginny Robertson, shared a story recently, where she was able to practice “Upset is Optional” and make the shift from being reactionary to being responsive. She had just spent several minutes sharing some thoughts with her husband, feeling the wonderful gift of having just been listened to and hoping, maybe for some validation. A moment later, her husband asked the question that she had just spent several minutes answering. She felt upset arising and noticed she wanted to say, “Don’t you ever listen to me?! I just told you what I was feeling!!” But before she reacted, she remembered that her new practice was to be more heart centered in her response to life. So she simply repeated the answer. No blame, no story, no victimhood. Mindfulness in action indeed.

In Chapter 13 (Guests) of Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys, my lovely monkey friend, Isadora, is able to transform her upset quickly and offers a teaching to readers.

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Duck, Duck, Human

Every Sunday morning, I get in my car and head down to the Quality Inn and Suites in Laurel, MD to attend the Science of Mind service at the Center for Spiritual Living-Laurel. There is not a Sunday where I don’t walk away with a new practice or an inspirational story or quote that has me take a refreshed look at something I may be questioning or dealing with that week.

Two Sundays ago, the senior minister, Reverend Nancy Stepp, shared with us an experience that happened to her on the way to the service that morning. Our dear Rev. is a master at opening with a story that immediately draws your attention. Her stories always make a point that tie into the morning message and she is never afraid to be openly and humanly honest about her feelings. On this morning, she had been running a bit late, only to find that the route she most often takes had been blocked off. There was a foot race/run taking place and the police guards were there to ensure the runners safety. As she sat there waiting for the way to clear, she noticed a feeling of aggravation and impatience arising within her. The police seemed in no hurry to let the traffic back through and seemed to be happily chatting away with each other.
As she described the scenario, I noticed that a feeling of empathetic aggravation was arising within me. I have been in similar situations and could relate completely to what she was saying. My body was remembering what it was like to be held up when I was already running late.

On that very morning, I had also been held up in traffic. There were four cars in front of me, completely stopped on route 1 between Jessup and Laurel. This is normally a busy road, with traffic coming in each direction. I could not immediately tell why traffic had stopped at this point, so the first feeling that arose was curiosity. And just moments later, I saw it. A mother duck in front, six ducklings in the middle, and a father duck at the rear, were crossing this very busy road. As I sat there in awe, I noticed complete love, patience, and a disappearance of the concept of time. It was as if the Universe was in complete harmony to allow all of this to happen and without a single car coming in the opposite direction. There were no horns beeping with impatience, nobody pulling out to try and get around. There was only this moment and we were all in it together.

I noticed that morning, after Reverend Nancy had shared her story, that my body responded very different in these two situations. Why, when waiting for my fellow humans to cross, would I feel such impatience in my body and yet such reverence and awe for the little family of ducks making their way to the other side? This was an Aha! moment for me. In this new awareness, I now see there really is no difference in which species is crossing the street. Human=Duck=Monkey on the Universal scale. “I am he as you are he and you are me and we are all together” (from John Lennon’s I am the Walrus lyrics).

What’s Your “Red Bull” Word?

_red_bull_donne_des_ailes_WallFizz1A few weeks ago, our family took a hike on the Butternut trail in Worlds End State Park in central Pennsylvania. My daughter, her husband, my son, my husband, myself, and our grand dog, Juno, were all staying with my husband’s parents for the weekend. To take advantage of the beautiful day and scenery in the area, I suggested we all take a hike. I also wanted to give my father in law some time to rest, as he was not feeling so well that weekend. Thanks to google, we were easily able to find a list of local trails. Since my husband knew how to get to Worlds End in Forksville, PA, and the distance was what we figured would be just perfect given the time of day, we settled on the Butternut trail.

Perusal of the trail map before leaving the house had my mother in law give warning. “That’s going to be a very steep trail. I can tell by the elevation.” Eager to get going before we lost any more daylight hours, I replied, “No worries. We can always turn back if it gets too steep.”
The walk to the trailhead from the parking lot was flat and beautiful and at least one third of a mile (maybe half), running along the side of the Loyalsock creek. Once we reached the Butternut trailhead, we saw the elevation my mother in law was talking about. So, we all started up the steep incline, eager to see the beautiful vista the trail description boasted about. Before we even reached the top of the first hill, my breathing was labored, my head started to hurt, and I had to remove my jacket. My son was certain at this point, he had not worn the right shoes for this terrain, and my son-in-law had an aching back. It would have been fine with me to turn back at this point. My mind was chattering in the background saying that this was much more than I could handle-enough walking for the day so I said to everybody, “Why don’t we just turn back now!”

My daughter, up ahead of us all, shouts out “Come on Mom, COMMIT!”

At that point, it was if there was a power switch that was turned on in my head. I am going to do this! The biochemical reaction that goes along with each thought had switched from water to Red Bull and I was now determined to complete this hike. And I did. Between the incline, narrow trails on the edge of a steep drop, and a rocky decline, it was one of the toughest trails I think we all had ever taken.

If you don’t have a phrase that gets you supercharged when you feel like you can’t complete what you set out to do and are wavering on the edge of quitting, you can use my daughter’s words. She, after all, had gotten them from her fitness instructor and they gave me/us the power to carry on.

Taking a Look at Your Feedback

I recently presented at a Caregivers Conference in Maryland, where I gave my talk entitled “Laughter and Other Monkey Business: Transformative Life and Business Practices”. In this one hour session, I discussed therapeutic laughter as a practice to relieve the huge amounts of stress that caregivers often carry and invited the audience to join in some playful laughter exercises. In the second part of the talk, I shared some stress relieving techniques from my book, Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys. The audience participation was magnificent and the verbal feedback was profound and deeply validating. I received feedback from the conference chairperson a few days later. I was in awe of the lovely comments, feeling quite happy that people seemed to have experienced at least some temporary relief from stress. And, as you read the feedback below, please notice that one of these comments is NOT like the others:

• Great stress reducer while having fun! Laughter is the best medicine.
• Enjoyed the practice of how to relieve stress and how to make a negative a positive. (makes a happy person) • Ho ho ha ha ha • Loved that she gave some ideas of what we can do to bring laughter to our lives – very physically engaging • Excellent (2) • Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha! Yea!
• Fun
• This is excellent. Love the laughter and stress relief • Ms Heather is a very delightful, caring person who makes one laugh.
Thank you!
• Truly enjoyed the laugh lessons. Heather is the perfect person to present after lunch.
• Laughter is good for you.
• Great
• I would love to go to a laughter workshop. Will check it out.
• A fun time for laughter to handle my stress & pain.
• I loved the way she showed how to release stress.
• Very good
• Invigorating & learned much
• Great exercises & relief of tension
• This was a great session. Ms Wandell knows her stuff. She makes you feel like you are the only one in the session. The laughing exercises were great. I will use them.
• Hard to relate to most of the information • I thought the session was going to be about laughter; the exercises were not really funny. The act of the exercise made me feel childlike.
• Good
• Very informative

Did you notice that the third comment from the bottom had a completely different tone from the rest? There will always be some percentage of the people who will not resonate with your message. Even in a room full of laughing people, this person did not recognize the presence of people laughing and engaging with each other (comment: I thought this was going to be about laughter?!). And, that is ok. I offered a practice that may help to relieve stress. For some, a different approach may be needed because they are not in a place to even be willing to laugh. You must start with the willingness. People are unique and there is no one approach that will work for 100 % of the people 100% of the time. This is true for every teacher, every manager, everywhere throughout history. This must be kept in mind. If I stop delivering my message because of the person(s) I could not reach, then I would be depriving the rest from the the practice that served them so well that day. I allow this person to be where they are and I carry on with my message, putting my energy into those who are willing and those who respond.

The Monkey’s Student

We have all heard the cliché “We are One”, yet, it is for most of us a very difficult concept to grasp. We tend to see things as separate from our earthly perspective—a tree, a dog, a star, a man, a child, etc…

Yet, as many before us have understood, there is only ONE collective subconscious or universal mind.  And, we all have access to it.   It does not play favorites. Every thought that has ever been thought is contained in this one subconscious mind.  Individual human thought is like a stream whose original thought is unknown.  If you think about how many radio stations are broadcasting simultaneously, we know that whatever we set the dial on is what we receive.  The same goes for our thoughts.

A reviewer of Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys claims frustration that I have quoted many authors.  Yes, indeed!  Tapping into the ONE mind, the subject connected me to their brilliant words.  In each chapter of Monkey Business, I report back all the hints I have collected from the ONE universal mind and springboard from these thoughts, seeing the connection between human behavior and monkey behavior.  I simply add another piece to the wisdom already written and observed, joining in the conversation that started way before any of us here today.  I am not only the author of this book, but a student of it. 

Is Your Message Sticky?

Willy and Me

Got a call from my husband who presented yesterday on a panel at the Information Technology Security Entrepreneurs Forum in Palo Alto, California.  He was still feeling energized from the panel discussion with several brilliant minds in the same field.

I asked him if anybody commented to him privately after the session was over.  “Yes!”  He answered.  “Someone thanked me and said that I was the only one who gave any advice.”

Even though you may be interesting and knowledgeable on a topic, people will forget the majority of what you said, either by the end of the day or by the end of the week.  But, your message will remain with the participants much longer if it has some “stickiness” to it.  Offer something “sticky”, a piece of advice, a first step, a phrase, or a practice to take away, and your message will remain much longer. 

My monkey friend, Willie (wedge capped capuchin) will take my hands, not worrying at all about the juice from the orange that he just ate, and I walk away with the “stickiness” on my hands that I cannot forget about until I get to the soap and water.  This is not the kind of sticky we want to leave in a person to person interaction, but this is Willie’s brilliant plan to get the point across.

Is There a Connection Between Eating a Blueberry and Finding Lodging in Sedona?

grisha and mirror

It was my responsibility to arrange the lodging for our trip to Sedona.  My husband had already purchased the airline tickets weeks before.  I put that task on my “to do” list, but did not see any great urgency to get it done that day….or the next….or the next…..

I woke up two days ago and the urgency had finally arrived in my mind, in my body.  Gotta get to that today!  The trip is two weeks away.  I got online and started searching.  Oh yes, that place looks nice.  As I checked on the availability of room after room, I found no suitable room available.  By suitable, I mean, rooms that fit within what I was willing to pay and photos of the room and views that gave me a sense of comfort and relaxation.  I reached out to friends on facebook to ask for recommendations.  A couple of people responded and for one reason or another, these places did not work out either.  I gave up on day one and went to bed, figuring I will have a fresh start in the morning.  Yesterday, I decided to check the VRBO website (vacation rentals by owner) and found the perfect little place!  I called the owner, feeling certain that it would be available.  It was for the most part.  The first night of the four nights I intended to book, there was availability in the smaller room only.  The second night there were no available rooms at all, but they could have the king room available on the third and fourth night.  Oh dear, this just isn’t going to work out, I said.  The lovely proprietor offered a suggestion.  There is a little hotel on the same street as us that some people stay at for part of their stay because all nights are not available at our place.  “Hmm, I could think about that.” I was not convinced. But it was what she said next that made me see this as a viable option:

“We’re all so busy here in Sedona starting in March, that we have to get creative.”

All of a sudden, this felt like a brilliant plan.  So I booked both places, having fun with the idea of us walking back and forth with our suitcases.  After all, one of the things I want to do out there is hike.

My monkey friends at Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary are always coming up with creative ways to use things.  Grisha is a marmoset monkey who loves to look at himself in the mirror.  He has also been seen using the same mirror as a way to see around corners. Diana, a guenon monkey, used to peel her blueberries before she ate them.  Are they being creative or just not limited in their thoughts?