Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Time

Yesterday was apparently Pumpkin Spice day at Starbucks. I know this because no less than four people have told me, including an announcement on the morning news. Despite our insistence on moving ever-closer to “all things fall,” the weather forecast for the remainder of the week is all 90’s, all the time (kinda like my Pandora account…). So, we wait.

That’s the thing about time, no matter how much we want it to pass or to stand still, it keeps on ticking. Time, as we know, doesn’t change. The length of a second, a minute, an day, a month, and a year are always the same. What changes is our relationship to time that alters our perspective. When we want time to move more slowly to preserve something wonderful, time perseveres and passes anyway. When we want to be squarely on the other side of something less wonderful, time perseveres at the allotted  pace despite our most desperate desires.

Time, it turns out, doesn't care about our feelings.

Because of our ever-changing relationship to time, scientists have labeled time-perception as an officially fluid thing. The way we feel about whatever it is we are experiencing will affect the way we perceive time in that moment. For many years, scientists described a theoretical model of time perception as sort of a

biological stopwatch that sped up and slowed down in line with our focus and attention. The more attention we pay to time itself, the slower it seems to pass. The more attention we pay to what we are doing, the more quickly time seems to pass. Happiness draws our attention to the source of the emotion. Happiness pulls our attention away from time, so we are less aware of its passage. Sadness and fear, on the other hand, are emotions from which we turn away, focusing our attention more on the passage of time as we painfully await the end of the experience that is the root of these more negative emotions. To make it even more complex, witnessing an event such as watching a video or a live performance of some spectacular (dangerous) feat will alter our perception of time. If we watch someone on YouTube careening down a hill on a mountain bike, our adrenaline will change our perception of time and we may be surprised by how little time has passed. When we are in nature, time often feels as though it has all but stopped, because our relationship to time is almost suspended and irrelevant. 

Suffice it to say that time is relative to how we are feeling and what we are doing. This past eighteen months of pandemic time have definitely had their impact on us, and the longer we need to wait for the end, the more slowly it feels as though time is passing. It’s taking FOREVER to be on the other side and realizing that new normal they promised. Two things that will help us weather this storm are our ability to bounce back from adversity and our ability to push through when things get difficult: our resilience and perseverance. So as we wait for fall, with joy or with dread, time will pass as it will, but we will keep moving forward, perhaps with a pumpkin spice in hand, knowing fall will come when it always does—no matter how we feel about it.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Writing--for Publication!

Greetings, Dear Readers. 

For those of you who've been following this space, I am sure it will not surprise you to learn that I am finishing up a book for publication. It is more of a guided journal, and it represents so much of my own development over the past five years that I am feeling a little apprehensive. 

The work contains 52 weekly reflective essays, each with a few bullet points to guide the reader toward incorporating the lesson into their own life (similar to my previous two posts, which are excerpts). Each week falls into a theme of leadership, personal development, or professional development, with plenty of overlap between them. It is designed for a working individual, whether at a for-profit, a nonprofit, or as a volunteer, and my hope is that this work will provide a framework for examining previous experiences and taking those well-earned lessons into the future as we all work to become better versions of ourselves. I also included a list of vetted recommended sources, a complete bibliography, and an index, so you can go through it "choose your own adventure" style. 

Writing this out feels good. I am proud of what I have created, and with many of the essays first posted here in earlier forms, I think you will be prepared as well as pleasantly surprised by what I'm offering. That being said, since this book represents so much of who I am and my process of becoming, the imposter syndrome is arising a bit. 

So, I write these words to announce my work. It's not published just yet, but placing these words here as a promise are the boost I need to move past my own misgivings and wavering confidence to finish up and share my work with you. 

You are all stars in the night sky of my life. I appreciate your light, no matter how far away you may be. 

Best,
M

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Compassion Through Imagination

Not all of us are great scholars or even interested in scholarly pursuits. Most of us want to do our work, do it well enough to finish the day with a sense of peace, and go home to our loved ones where we are the masters of our domain, pursuing our own delights and catering to our own whims. During this time of autonomy, we often turn to reading or watching television as favored pastimes.  Our favorite books and shows wash over us, sweeping us into their stories as the reality of our own world floats away. During these times, when we are engrossed in the dialogue and nonverbal communication, we assess and make sense of the situation, even anticipating what may come next and preparing ourselves to react. We find delight in guessing correctly what turn the story will take and equally enjoy being surprised by an unexpected plot twist. As we go deeper into the story, we find ourselves relating to one of the characters and even imagine the entire story from their point of view. It’s as though we have become Hermione Granger, Naruto, or T’Challa (Wakanda Forever!). 

This deep connection is only possible because of our ability to imagine ourselves in the story. Our connection to ourselves expands to include the thoughts, feelings, and outcomes of the character. When we engage in this practice with the intention to connect and be changed by the story, we are making this time, this practice, sacred. Sacred, while typically reserved for items related to religion, means to set something apart with reverence and respect. We all have things in our lives that we have marked as sacred: our family, our heirloom Bible or Quran passed down from our grandmother, our grandfather’s pipe, our baby pictures of our grown children (from the time before digital photography), and so on. These things are sacred to us because we have made them so. The same is true of our experiences, lived or shared vicariously from others.

Engaging purposefully in this practice—watching or reading with the intention of allowing the content to move and to change us—engages our imagination in a sacred way.  We rejoice when great things happen to us in the mind of that persona, we despair with them in their grief, we laugh, we cry, and above all, we are moved by how it must feel to be them in each moment. The word for this connection in which we possess a deep understanding of how it must feel to be in another’s shoes is empathy. It is our sacred imagination that allows us to empathize with the characters, and this is an important practice we can use in our personal lives to enrich our relationships.

Sometimes, self-reflection uncovers areas where our ideals are higher than our humanity (our bar is set too high), and we must get back in touch. Imagine the connection you have with a friend or a coworker or even a customer or client. Imagine how it must feel to be where they are right now, in the middle of whatever they are going through, and embrace that feeling. From this point of view, we are better able to understand their actions, their reactions, and even their motivations. This act of empathizing with another is the very foundation that allows us to respond to them with compassion. When we take the time to understand how they are experiencing their situation, we are able to connect with them in ways that makes our time with them more sacred, more healing, and more effective.

The most powerful way to connect with another human being is through understanding them in a way that helps us to grow together toward a better mutual outcome. That is the very essence of compassionate collaboration and will strengthen our families, our teams, and our community relationships.

  • Stepping into someone else’s shows as a sacred act allows us to collaborate with compassion.
  • Where do you see relationships that will benefit from more compassion?
  • Where do you see opportunities to help others understand your own journey in a mutually respectful way?


Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Quest for Authenticity

The journey of self-exploration is really a personal quest to know ourselves well enough to be authentically who we are in every aspect of our lives. Finding our steady state of self, the place we are most comfortable being who we are, requires taking full stock of our wants, needs, passions, goals, purpose, and reactions to stimuli (good and bad), We must have a “you are here” point on our map that truly represents us in our entirety. Then, we can take this map with us out into the world of new situations, people, and experiences to help us chart our way back to that place, the very center of who we are at our core.

Some common “hiccups” for being your authentic self in more professional spaces can be addressed but some are actually boundaries we put in place for healthy reasons. Professionalism, especially concerning direct reports and power dynamics, dictates some personal information is kept private. We don’t owe our superiors our life stories any more than our direct reports owe us theirs. While sharing bits and pieces of who we are creates a sense of belonging and builds trust, there are parts of our lives that are inappropriate to share at work. On the other hand, not all work environments are healthy enough for us to share things about us that are normalized in other spaces. For example, a person who is under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella may hide the fact that they have a same-sex or queer partner (or multiple partners) because the heteronormative views of their coworkers include statements that show a negative bias against other orientations. In this instance, a polite distance and lack of personal details provides a safety factor, whether emotional, social, or worse, physical. True threats to the body are not common in more “white collar” industries, but the reputational harm can place a glass ceiling in someone’s career path. The work here lies in knowing what and when (and with whom) we can share to find our way back to the center of our map. 

A useful tool for guiding us in plotting our course is to develop a personal code of ethics. A code of ethics guides our decision-making in both personal and professional settings. Most organizations have a code of ethics (it was probably given to you when you were hired or added to a volunteer team and likely readily available) which outlines behavioral expectations while in the workspace. Personal ethics, however, must be identified by us as individuals. Typical factors include religious/spiritual beliefs, morals, lessons learned from previous experiences, and our overall ideas for what we view as an ideal and just society. For some, it may be a simple list of ethical traits such as integrity, selflessness, honesty, loyalty, equity, respect, and/or empathy. For others, it may be a list of statements (with or without explanations). 

My personal code of ethics looks like this:

  1. I will follow the morals and virtues I hold dear to aid me in making good decisions. I will “walk my talk” as consistently as possible, including doing what I say I will do and showing up when I say I will show up.
  2. I will seek first to understand, acknowledging my personal biases when I become aware of them and working toward making amends when I have caused harm.
  3. I give myself permission to be imperfect, and I will work toward repair and reconciliation for my mistakes and errors. 
  4. I will strive to maintain boundaries as a free and independent person, acknowledging that those around me are also free and independent and deserving of those boundaries.
  5. At work, I will maintain confidentiality with my peers, my coworkers, and those who report up through me to allow open dialogue and foster a speak-up culture. At home, I will maintain confidentiality with my family, my friends, and my congregants to ensure trust is earned and kept intact to the best of my abilities.
  6. I will speak up about events or situations that have the potential to cause physical or psychological harm; I will contact the appropriate authorities when I am required to report a situation or event based on mandatory reporting laws.

Mine does not contain references to values such as integrity, compassion, or loyalty, though all three of these are very important to who I am and who I strive to be in the world. My code of ethics captures behaviors rather than concepts. The use of “I will” statements makes these feel like promises I am making myself and those around me regarding my behavior and how I show up. They speak to the way I move through the world and not simply what values I hold. A list of values alone does not lead to personal accountability and leaves more room for interpretation.

The easiest way to ensure you can follow the map back to your authentic self is to implement a personal code of ethics as your wayfinding principles. Know where your boundaries lie, why they are there, and what actions you can take to create safety and confidence in how you show up in your personal and professional spaces.

  • Find your way back to your authentic self by following your code of ethics.
  • Create your own code of ethics. Include all aspects of life such as work, home, church, social, etc.
  • Where do you see opportunities to be a more authentic you?


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Florilegia

 A dear friend sent me a copy of a book (that I actually already had on my wish list!) for Yule last year entitled, The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Actions into Spiritual Practices by Casper Ter Kuile. In this work, Ter Kuile calls the reader to "deepen [our] ordinary practices as intentional rituals that nurture connection and well-being." In other words, we are invited to deepen what we are already doing and make those actions sacred to add purpose and meaning to even the every-day things we do. 

This work was suggested to me for a number of reasons, I'm sure, and what immediately stood out before I began reading was how much this sentiment echoed the way my religious practices manifest themselves in my life. I find small reasons to pray throughout the day, take moments to reflect and offer blessings to the world around me, and speak words that matter rather than rattling off whatever comes to mind first in conversation with my family, friends, and coworkers. I try to live my life with intention and make my every effort one that fuels what drives me and continues to lead me to become a better person. That being said, some days I fail. But, as the Japanese proverb says, "Fall down seven times; get up eight." The best life I can live is one in which failure and shortcoming compels me to try again. 

Needless to say, I fell in love with the author and began listening to his podcast (along with cohost Vanessa Zoltan), Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. I was apprehensive, at first, because of the notable transphobia of the author of those books, and a very short amount of research set me at ease. None of the profits go to the author (since they are simply discussing the text and not quoting extensively, etc.), and the front page of the podcast has a visible declaration: Hate the author, love the books. While I do not condone hate, the sentiment was enough to help me return to curious and keep an open mind--especially because I have always loved Harry Potter! As my trans-child said to me on this very topic: The books are amazing and the author is trash; both of those can exist at the same time. (Haha! Thanks, polytheism. I love that we have a faith practice that teaches us to embrace the complex and multiplicities of truth rather than forcing us to choose between two polarized options. Also, also, I love that my kid threw my own teaching back at me when I was conflicted. Just heart).

It was in this podcast where I was introduced to the practice of Florilegia. A florilegium is a collection of literary extracts from either one or many sources that, when read together outside of their original context, will lead us to a new understanding. The practice comes to us from the 5th to 12th centuries through religious leaders who would collect short lines or phrases that stood out to them, sparklets, and used them in tandem to create new teachings and gain new understandings from sacred texts. This practice (along with several other very useful contemplative practices) is one of the exercises they use in each episode of the podcast to delve deeper into what meaning we can glean from this work. After all, any work that serves to guide us to deeper meaning and to evolve into a better version of ourselves may be treated and held as sacred!

All of this has led me to create my own journal of florilegium, a place where I write down my own sparklets from all the sources surrounding me in my daily life. From books to articles, from television shows to social media, I am recording those sparklets that stand out to see what wisdom may be gleaned in what is right before my eyes. In reading these short phrases and individual sentences without the context provided in the greater text, I am finding myself paying more attention to the individual turns of phrase and to my own use of words as I write. It is my hope that over time, there will be phrases I write or speak that will guide others to find new ways of becoming for themselves. That, as a creative person, is the highest praise I will receive for my work: knowing my words have impacted another in a way that touches their lives.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Core Value: Curiosity

Much of the discussions around curiosity as a concept center on using curiosity to combat or counteract the human tendency to judge things that are different. When faced with change, we typically list out everything that could go wrong if we adopt it.  Leadership and organizational culture theories call us to use our curiosity to create a sense of open willingness and acceptance to change.

Leadership resources point to “curious” as the neutral point on the mood elevator and asks us to at least remain curious when we are faced with change—in other words, to approach the change with a curious mind. When we look at curiosity as a value rather than a mindset, the conversation changes. Holding curiosity as a value leads us to engage not only our minds but also our hearts in this work. A curious mindset will ask for more information to help the seeker understand and adopt someone else’s idea, and curiosity as a value will lead the seeker down the path of creating their own ideas. The curious mindset is important for following, for working to adopt change, and for growing in the same direction as a collective; but the value of curiosity is the foundation of problem-solving, discovery, and innovation.

As we gain knowledge and experience in an area, we may easily become set in our ways. In a technical field like medical laboratory science, there is a finite amount of information we use on a regular basis. We know which chemicals are in which tubes, which tubes are required for which tests, which reagents go on which analyzer, which analyzer alarm requires which action, and which actions will yield the results we seek. We can perform all of this virtually on autopilot by the time we’ve done it a thousand times. Repetition, it seems, may be the death of our curiosity, and this is where many of us find ourselves after years in the field.

Bringing our curiosity to life again requires us to expand our boundaries, and it begins with wondering. We are good at wondering outside of our work environments. We may watch a flower bloom and wonder how it knew it was finally safe in the face of all the late snows. We might watch the snow falling on the mountains and find ourselves wondering how the storm can look so different depending on our elevation. We may be watching the slow construction of a new building on our route to work and wondering what it will be when it’s done. Our curiosity leads us to learn more, such as finding an article on high-elevation gardening or a video on mountain range weather patterns. We may even take a few minutes to drive past that construction site to read the “Coming soon!” sign we can’t quite see from the main road. When we are on our own time, we readily engage what inspires us.

Applying this to our work or long-term volunteer environments might seem less relevant, since most of us are not particularly inspired by our jobs. I offer that it is exactly our curiosity that can guide us to engage in our work with new eyes, to wonder what might be yielded from an unopened envelope or new intake/task. From here, we are poised to discover barriers, to seek new ways of doing things, and to look beyond the status quo to gain more consistent and successful outcomes in every aspect of our lives. Curiosity leads us to wonder if there is a better/easier/faster/more efficient way, guides us to research options, and compels us to try something new. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but curiosity is the mother of innovation when we hold it as a core value.  


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Core Value: Be Here Now

“Be Here Now” comes to us from the modern Mindfulness movement, but the concept is much older than that. The origin of this ideal lies in the 1971 work of Ram Dass, an American yogi and spiritual teacher whose work focused heavily on spirituality, yoga, and meditation. In his book, Be Here Now, Dass describes his own journey from a PhD psychologist working out of Harvard to his spiritual awakening in India facilitated by Guru, Neem Karoli Baba.

While very few of us will embark upon such a journey, his story offers remarkable direction for how we can embrace our own lives with a “living faith in what is possible.” The Be Here Now concept readily lent itself to those who wanted to move beyond the limitations placed on them by others, and its adherents include Steve Jobs, Wayne Dyer, and George Harrison.

Since then, his meditation practices, associated with the foundational concepts of being present with the Now, fueled a movement we all know as “mindfulness.” Like Be Here Now, Mindfulness practices teach us to focus on the present moment, including our own feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, in an open awareness of what is going on around us. Mindfulness meditations guide the individual to focus inward, but the practice is not meant to stop there! The goal is to be able to focus our awareness onto a situation, including not only our own thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions, but also those of the other person.

When we Be Here Now with one another, we give them our undivided attention and actively listen to what they are saying. We focus on the individual, see their facial expressions, read their body posture, and meet them in their fear and concern with compassionate attention. We do this, because we also want to be heard and understood in this way when we others are attending to us. In order to foster this level of understanding, we must strive to speak clearly, such that we are saying what we mean and meaning what we say. We cannot speak in ways that expect others to read between the lines to grasp our true meaning.

Further, with the amount of technology and social media we use, the concept of speaking plainly and making clear points must be applied to our writing, as well. This careful attention to communication, both verbal and nonverbal, will allow us to truly understand the thoughts and feelings of those around us, whether they be coworkers or members, and lay the foundation of true compassion. 

Be Here Now calls each of us to be fully present with the person in front of us, to set aside distractions, and to actively listen and attend to their needs. Most of all, Be Here Now calls us to invest in what and who is in front of us and to give the best we have to offer to every situation.

Ram Dass. (1971). Be Here Now. San Cristobal, New Mexico: Lama Foundation.

“Be here now” is a core concept that challenges every one of us to give our undivided attention to our colleagues, friends, and family; to actively listen to understand,;and to speak and write clearly in a professional and direct way.