Lately, I’ve had a lot less free time to spend as I wish so I indulged myself the other day by taking in one of my favorite Do-It-Yourself (DIY) television shows (Divine Design with Candice Olson). As is their purpose, a high-powered design and construction team had descended on a tired home, intent on completely re-working the lucky family’s interior.
These people were serious…kitchen, living, dining rooms and entry hall – the whole enchilada! In the time-line of things, you knew the big reveal was right around the corner because cameras were cutting to a small fleet of furniture trucks pulling up out front. As if on cue (duh!), the entire crew went running outside to unload the new furniture and make the transformation complete. Seeing the energy with which they all rushed out the front door to greet the fleet, I knew they were serious about meeting their deadline of getting the lucky family back into their new and improved digs. Rivaling any army of carpenter ants, pairs of hands were all hoisting couches, rugs, tables and lamps on their way back inside.
But just as suddenly as the frenetic cavalcade of furniture had erupted, it all came to a grinding halt with one simple question. The lead ant, standing in front of the newly installed (and self-closing) front door asked, “Does anyone know the code?”
After a moment of sheepish silence, laughter rolled across the front yard/furniture showroom like good-natured thunder. Seems in their rush to finish, no one had remembered to write down the new password for the military grade alarm system installed as a surprise present for the subject family. With that one fell realization, this group of highly trained professionals were left standing on the outside looking in.
Several times this week, I’ve heard folks reference the old expression: “Man plans and God laughs”. Ain’t that the long and short of it. Life just seems to work that way. Having been the oh-so-less than suave one looking through his car window at the keys still swinging in the ignition, I hereby affirm the old Yiddish proverb. You too? Maybe that’s why you’re smiling right about now, isn’t it? Having commissioned my own extensive (and pseudo) field research, I’ve concluded no one ever really looks cool gazing through the glass at their car keys locked inside. Deal with it buckeroos, the ‘cool thing’ is just not going to happen for you. Like it was for the design team, there you are – on the outside – with all the protection systems you paid for, looking back at you. They are not wired to forgive your absent-mindedness. Take a number.
Interesting how as a society we’ve got alarm systems for most everything. And yet, no one hopes they’ll ever need them. Our underlying wish is they never sound. Our banks, railroad crossings and homes all have them. Even our bedrooms are equipped with clocks designed to wake us up in the morning. And yet, for putting them on our dressers, at one point or another, what have many of us done? We crush the snooze button so often that we finally snap and (allegedly) throw the device against the wall, reducing it to shrapnel. And what do we say? “Stupid alarm clock”. Nope. Sorry sleepyhead, but the alarm clock isn’t the stupid card in this particular hand. The alarm clock was just doing what it was designed to do. It depended on you to tell it what time to launch, and then did so, raising you from your slumber. So you see, this one is clearly ‘operator error’. I was the one who set the device and then, resented it to the point of breakage. What gives?
Early in my emotional recovery, a wise clinician observed I wasn’t defective. He saw evidence that I’d been equipped with all ‘normal’ psychological warning systems that come as standard equipment on infants. What had happened over the years were those same systems having been burned out of me to the point where they no longer played their right role in me, in dealing with myself or the other humans on the playground. I get it. Feelings can be painful; and I had so very few tools with which to process so many of them, to the point I had grown extremely suspicious of anything even remotely emotional. ‘Safer‘ to ignore all things emotional and at least then, I was able to survive – if only on the margins. Put another way, a blacked-out room is no challenge to a blind man. But put a sighted person in that same situation and you can begin to see my difficulty.
With that mental picture firmly planted in the fly leaf of my imagination, I began a guided and thoughtful audit of every value statement I had ever come to hold and – the choices flowing from them as a consequence. DING – It made sense! Without a valid yardstick that was mine, any talk of re-activating what I’d been born with was going to be a waste of oxygen. “Is that what you want?” ‘No.” “Then let’s get started…”
So with professional guidance and a mountain of support from Rick and my adopted family, we started. When a circuit was found that was serving a legitimate purpose, we carefully brought it back to life. Conversely, when a learned behavior or emotional reflex didn’t fit my new paradigm, we flagged it as being bogus and began the work to de-energize it. As tough as it was, I honestly believe learning to walk again was easier than re-learning to pay attention to what my heart had been trying to tell me all along. But one-by-one, we worked through all ‘the glory that is me‘ (sic) in order to get me back to square one. “Wait a minute…square one? You mean I’m not done?”
Not even close.
Back then, I had no way of foretelling that as we ‘woke up’ my emotional lights, buzzers and bells, the real challenge lay in what was I going to do when they went off? I distinctly remember asking myself, “When is this going to get easier?”. For those of you in the studio audience, fear not. With practice, it did (and continues to) get easier.
Coming to trust my newly re-conditioned self remains very much a work-in-progress, but there are several bits I use that you might find helpful in your own walk. If so great, I’ve done something good. If not? Please be sure to tip your server on your way out.
If your life feels like a personally sized tsunami, create routines.
In so doing, you reduce the number of choices you’re confronted with every minute of every day. I had to learn to choose what wasn’t ultimately important, putting those things on auto-pilot.
For example: I routinely carry a small smooth stone in my pocket. Geology tells me it’s a least two-million years old. There’s nothing it hasn’t seen over that time that makes what I’m facing in that moment seem so bad or new. Perspective. And all of that comes to me the instant I touch its smooth surface. Not bad. But I had to learn to do it. I had to make the commitment to put my stone in my pocket as I get ready to move about my day.
I also have to consciously remind myself that my body is a machine. And as such, requires down-time, aka sleep. In the same vein, I make it a point to eat something at least three times a day – every day…even if it’s not a lot. It’s the point of signaling my body that it is not going to starve while it’s busy responding to the demands of my day.
How about you? If you agonize over what to wear each morning, lay out your clothes the night before. If you’re at a wedding reception and happen to be a diabetic, what do you do when confronted with the rented chocolate fountain? That’s right. You’ve learned the warning signals and walk right by. Or how about what I read the other day about our President. Seems he used to agonize over what to have for breakfast. So what does he do now? He has a bowel of cereal and a banana every morning. We may not be quite as busy as he is, but if you can’t seem to channel the torrent of thoughts flooding your brain every waking second of every waking day, adopt a strategy ahead of time.
You know something unexpected is going to happen, so why not decide to write yourself a note in that moment; or decide the next time you get angry (and it will happen), you’re going to walk around the block five times. Point is, we each have our own unique sense of what ails us, and when it’s likely to bite us. Why not plan for it and build an emotional corral ahead of time that’s a safe place to put all that ‘stuff’ – and move on. I remember another complaint I used to have: “I can’t seem to ever find time for myself to just think”. So for me, I had to consciously claim a specific time on the clock for a few minutes (or more) to review my Soul before the rest of the world wakes up and starts making the noise of the day. Now I do – without fail – no matter where I am. I insist because I know that’s what I need.
I don’t know what it is for you, but I know that I’ve been able to free up a lot of emotional energy in choosing to not spend it on things that don’t really matter. It’s my code and I rewrite some of it every day. And when things go wrong? I am not so destined to scramble around, agonizing over what to do. I’ve already thought about it ahead of time and then, I just do it. While I’m sure Pavlov would be proud, why shouldn’t he be? When a 911 call comes into a fire station, do the fireman continue eating around their kitchen table? Of course not. They’ve figured out exactly what you and I are talking about. The bell rings and they roll. Done. Next.
Life does come at you fast. That’s what it does. And let me be clear, I still get stung by my old dan behaviors all the time. But now, I have an alternative approach that’s becoming my standard operating procedure.
During my resurrection, I learned a really clever little litmus test that I could turn to in-the-moment to help me get a handle on whatever was rolling over me in that particular moment. It’s called H.A.L.T.
So in the spirit of giving, I’ve included a free coupon at the conclusion of our time together. You may not need to clip it out and carry it around in your wallet for months like I did, but then again, maybe you’d benefit if you did. I don’t know. It’s you you’ve got to worry about. Either way, my hope is you’ll join me in taking command over your knee-jerk reactions to that which cannot be predicted or controlled. They can, however, be managed.
The warning systems you have inside you are going to go off this week. Mark it down. And really, you should be grateful your systems are operational at all. My challenge this week? Join me in deciding (ahead of time) what you’re going to do, when what you know is going to happen, happens. Who knew? Your alarms are going off and then, they’re not. Congratulations. Seems you’ve got code. Well done.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, test your feelings by running them through the four initials. It’ll help you get a handle on what’s really going on. Accomplish that and you’ll be better equipped to respond accordingly.
HUNGER: Key to having a clear head is to not be hungry. Eat a little something. Fuel your body so it can serve you in the time of crisis.
ANGER: Nothing wrong with feeling angry. What’s key is how you channel it. If you’re really mad, nothing wise is going to come out of your mouth. Call it for what it is and don’t hurt yourself or anyone else. Treat this one with respect.
LONELY: “L” is for lonliness. As seductive as it might be, don’t isolate yourself. Find a community. Reach out if only by going on record that you’re feeling really alone. While it’s true that we’re born alone and we die alone, it is not a prescription for all that comes between those two singular events. Find a book club or a counter at a coffee shop. Connect. Plug thyself in.
TIRED: Studies have shown fatigue can cause more auto accidents than drunk-driving does. Pay attention to what you body needs. Get some sleep. And if you can’t, get professional help involved. There may be more at work here than not being able to shut your eyes.
You can read more about HALT from any number of sources. For your convenience, one of them is available online at:
And now for our musical selection. There’s no fancy way to say it so I’ll just say it: I get goose bumps when I listen to music this good. Enjoy…
Josh Groban and Vusi Mahlasela perform “Weeping” at Mandela Day 2009 from Radio City Music Hall. “Weeping” also appears on Mr. Groban’s album, Awake (CD-DVD – Disc 1). Check out this live performance at:
And if you’re still in the mood to start some trouble, check out a really imaginative spin on civil disobedience and what the Occupy Movement is up to this week with this handy link to the story on salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2012/09/18/occupys_new_ground_debt_resistance/
Or, go straight to the source and see for yourself by visiting: http://strikedebt.org/debt/ (ironically a WordPress powered site).
SOURCES and ATTRIBUTIONS: Opening Graphic: Source Text: Furman, Israel (1968). די צוקדונפט, Volume 73,Nummers 11-12. Aroysgegebn fun dem Alvelt. Yiddishn kultur-kongres. p. 568. Bibliography: Ayalti, Hanan J., (ed.), Yiddish Proverbs, New York, 1949. Bernstein, Ignaz and B. W. Segel, Jiddische Sprichwörter, Frankfurt a. M., 1908.
King, Alan, Alan King’s Jewish Joke Book, Crown; 1st edition (October, 2002)en:Yiddish proverbs. External links – Yiddish Wit – Yiddish proverbs in Yiddish (Hebrew letters), YIVO transliteration, and English translation.
PHOTO and ILLUSTRATIONS CREDITS: Frankfort Rail: http://www.saidthegramophone.com/archives/2012_07.php; Man Plans, God Laughs Graphic: compilation by dan4kent.; Divine Design: http://www.hgtv.com/divine-design/show/index.html; Burned Out Circuit: http://www.electrical-forensics.com/EDP/EDP-Fires.html; Quiet Morning by Barbara Bagley: http://www.barbarabagley.co.uk/naive-landscapes/198923_quiet-morning.html; HALT Graphic compilation by dan4kent; Crossing Into Being by Kamila Planerova (Original textile – 1972); Occupy Photo by Seth Wenig – September 16, 2012: Associated Press in Salon.com.
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