Public Display of Excrementing

In China, I saw more than my fair share of people unleashing their bowels in open areas. I’ve pointed and howled with judgment. But today I realized that I do the same thing, except I don’t drop my pants, I drop my jaw.  I’ve been “shoulding” all over the place.

Lately, I’ve been in a foul mood. I feel like all I can see is the negative in situations and in others, especially in myself. It’s felt like the very worst verbal snowball that I have ever created, as one crappy thought sticks to another flake of criticism and complaint. And the worst part of it is that this snowball has been gaining speed and growing, as my only hope is that it reaches the bottom of the hill and stops. But how much negativity can I really generate and collect in my mind, I do not know? It is an incredibly unpleasant experience, especially when I am conscious enough to observe it, yet not disciplined to stop it from exiting my mouth, to begin with.

The irony, of course, is that I have been setting this intention to find more good in life so I can open up to awe. Yet the more I dig into this, the more I see what is wrong and the beauty and joy of life seem to hover beyond this dark cloud, blocking my sun.

This is the worst thought of them all is that something beyond my control is creating this worry and despair, that this mood will stay and become a part of my personality–that I am becoming less agreeable and cheerful with age. No frickin’ way do I want these crappy thoughts to take up permanent residence in my head. I gotta kick these unwanted guests out!!

But what if I am changing? What if I was to embrace my inner-grumpy, to become more curious and kind towards these unloveable thoughts? To look at me as you might see a toddler having a cry over dropping their cracker–despite this absolute trivial brooding, there is an opportunity to have a laugh over the ridiculous self-imposed helplessness of the situation and extend a hand to pick up the cracker.

Change does not have to be about becoming someone else, but about rearranging the pieces of the puzzle in your life in a way that better serves your purpose. Maybe it is not ‘something’ that is missing from your life – it is how everything fits in the bigger picture of your life that makes the difference -Astro Butterfly-

I read that quote the other day and have been examining my mood to see how perhaps this is serving me, that, perhaps I am in the midst of a wonderful transformation, as the pieces of who I am, shift into new positions and will create a new picture of Who I Am. Perhaps what I am experiencing is what people call a “dark night of the soul.” And, although it is awful to swell with such feelings and have a lot of diarrhea of the mouth, the mental muscle I am gaining in overcoming this and the faith that I am developing is creating the most delicious experience of renewal.

And with this insight, although I stand in a gloomy place, there is now an opening, a crack, in which I can put a wedge into to let some light enter, recognizing that this moment can be ethereal if I give it permission to be present in my life. Yes, I can accept this phase, while simultaneously attending my gaze towards the light. There is good in this experience and I have the capacity to find it.

This weekend we intend to drive to Vien Viang, a riverside town in central Laos. We intend to go tubing on the Nam Song River and explore caves in the area. Even though it is impossible to predict the end of this “shoulding”,  I am hopeful that this respite will accelerate the demise of my funk and give birth to a more content and hopeful version of me. If nature is really an antidote to unease, then there stands a chance that I may be injected with revelation and joy, as this dark cloud comes to pass. And, although I feel mentally feeble,  Inshallah, God willing,  I will hold on to the prospect of this possibility.

 

Things Life Taught Me

I’ve always been optimistic about aging. Although I was never a kid who was dying to be 10 when they were 9 years old or the 19-year old that was desperate to be 21 so I could get into bars, getting older was never something I longed for nor dreaded.  I distinctly remember a time when one of my friends had a meltdown because he was turning 28 and was nearing the 30-year-old mark, which seemed like middle age back then. That seriously makes me laugh out loud when thinking back to that moment.

Recently I saw this article: 30 things you should know before 30 and I equally guffawed aloud. Maybe 30-year-olds these days are this savvy but I swear I learned most of this stuff just last year. (kidding, sort of).  I’ve yet to have a teacher or mentor in my life who has impressed upon these lessons. It doesn’t mean that people haven’t influenced my thinking but most of what I know if from my own experience, which has been my best teacher. There are no college courses like the school of hard knocks. With that in mind, I’d like to add to this list a few quintessential lessons that I have learned that shapes so much of my thinking today.

The 10 Ten Things You Should Know When By 40.

  1. Quit the “Can’t”: With so much research done on neural plasticity and intelligence, there is literally nothing that we “can’t” do. Wgrowth-mindset.027e may not be able to do it this moment, but if we literally put our mind to it, we can become good at something at a minimum of 20 hours and an expert at it within 5 years. The first step is to develop a growth mindset and reframing failure. You can unravel long seated habits and create new skills when you omit this sort of language and thinking in your life. Period. Here’s an example: I became an “expert” at non-smoking because I practiced being a non-smoker. If I made a “mistake” and puffed on a cigarette, I wasn’t harsh on myself but admitted that I am learning a new habit of non-smoking and got back to trying my best. Over time I got momentum with longer times of non-smoking and eventually I no longer identified with this addiction. Now I the only thing I “can’t” believe is that I thought breaking this addiction was hard. It’s not when you embrace the right mindset.
  2. Travel Opens Your Mind: People are a product of their culture + experience. These 2 things create the majority of their beliefs. And our beliefs create the filter in which we see the world. If their culture is rigid and experience is limited, then their problem-solving skills are few and they often feel victimized by the world. Travel exposes people to new ideas and gains a variety of life experience, they can break out of their culture’s restricted perspectives and be more resilient and creative.
  3. Anger Must be Fleeting: My friend Shannon actually taught me this. She experienced a really big betrayal in her life but she explained to me that she could only be angry and rant about it for 3 days. After those 3 days, she no longer permitted this concern to dominate her thoughts or conversation. She set time limits to her emotional investment in the “wrongs” in her life. I loved that and have used that experience in my own life. I actually think 3 days is too generous, but that’s because I have practiced this enough times. I try to let go of my irritation within 24 hours. There are 2 thoughts that usually release me from the grips anger: compassion for others (“If they knew better, they’d do better. They aren’t evil, they just don’t have all the facts/skills”) and compassion for myself (“You made an error of judgement, but now you know. Now that you know better, you can do better”). If I am in a red hot rage, then I do eft/tapping on my meridians points. It looks weird (unless you live in China–you see this sort of thing all the time) but it really helps to diminish negative emotion. Then when I am cooled off a bit more, I make a list of all the things I appreciate about this person or myself. This really helps to reframe the emotion attached to the person.
  4. Life Is A Yoga Tree Pose: Have you ever tried to balance one leg at a time? Sometimes you can stand on one leg for a long time before switching to the other. Other times, you keep toppling over. This is how life goes. Sometimes we can maintain a “posture” for a long time, which I often equate with emotion, but eventually, we have to switch legs. So goes life. Sometimes life is full of absolute joy and sometimes it is shit. But whatever it is, these emotions and situations will pass; and I can always choose to stand on my other “foot” if I want to change my perspective.
  5. Give to Get: True relationships are built on trust and support.  Your generosity is proportional to the generosity you experience. It’s not that you only do things quid pro quo but what you practice in abundance (patience, appreciation, kindness) is tantamount to your experience.
  6. Ask, Not Assume: Misunderstandings happen. Best to ask questions rather than assume someone is doing you wrong intentionally. But don’t be patronizing–be genuinely curious. I gain a lot of insight into their perspective when I ask thoughtful questions and it improves my relationship overall. I do this all the time with my daughter and I can’t tell you how much this has helped me of be a better parent.
  7. Shut Up and Sit Down: Meditate Daily. Your brain and body will thank you. The amount of time isn’t as important as the consistency of the practice.
  8. Three’ss the Charm: 3 is the magic number so they say. Take a hint. When I hear something 3 times, I know it’s something that the universe is telling me to pay attention to and I do.
  9. It’s All Good: Our life’s tradegy is often our best blessing. Lately I was discussing my father’s death and how it took a toll on my adolescence but how I no longer look back with grief and longing. Although I wish he could have been a part of my adult life, I know that my life is for the better as a result of his loss. That trauma in my life helped cultivate so many important life skills that I might not have developed if it hadn’t have happened. There are No Victims, only people who give away power to circumstances. You can make diamonds out of life’s pressure if you choose to do so.
  10. Don’t Wait For The Lesson: If you know what you are doing is not helpful in pursuing the type of dreams you have or develops you into the person you want to become, then STOP it! Don’t wait until there is some drama that you have to contend with. Be smart in advance and make changes that will produce the outcome you want. Right. Now.

What am I missing? What would you add to this list?

 

To Africa, with Love 

A long time ago I had a friend from Senegal who used to admonish me for telling kids at camp to finish their food because “there are starving kids in Africa”. He would tell me that there is so much more to the continent of Africa than kids with bloated bellies and he didn’t want me to spread this message. It has taken me years to finally grasp what he meant. I owe him a sincere apology.

I reckon most people from the western world don’t travel to countries in Africa unless they want to go on safari or are involved in some religious/charity work. I don’t know what compelled us to journey to South Africa exactly but we ventured there during our long Chinese New Year holiday. It’s been, hands down, the most amazing time spent as a family.

From the moment we boarded our Ethiopian Airline’s flight in Shanghai, the whole atmosphere of the airplane was different. It was a full flight with seeming strangers but I immediately felt like we were apart of a community, in which fellow African passengers helped each other with their luggage, made jokes and referred to each other as “brother” and “sister”-even though they were not even related.  I am not a person who knows much about the history and culture of many African nations, but it was obvious to me that they shared some common values which were easy to connect with, no matter the age or language barrier between them. I’ve done a lot of traveling but I’ve never experienced anything like this before. Needless to say, it left an impression on me.

I’ve known quite a few people who feel drawn to the soils of Africa and now I totally get what they cherish about it. Even though I only spent time in Addis Abbas and Cape Town, I believe that you can be anywhere in Africa and have a similar experience. And what experience is that? An experience of breath-taking beauty–not just of nature but of the human spirit. And it was a place full of contradictions, particularly between poverty and wealth. It’s really hard to even relate this in words. Words can not capture what it is that I want to say, but I am utterly grateful for my experience there. And, I urge you, the reader, to go visit and experience for yourself. And if you keep your mind and heart open, I believe that you will have an unforgettable experience that will leave an indelible mark on your consciousness.