K.I.S.S and Tell

So I’m talking to one of the members of my Practitioners Circle when the discussion moved to working with animal totems. She is fairly new to the craft, having just begun to explore where her metaphysical abilities and interests might lie. And, as with all of us just starting out, she’s been using the internet to “enhance” her exploration. Not surprisingly, she’s quickly become overwhelmed with the staggering volume of information – books, webinars, classes, seminars, newsletters, workshops, blogs – that is available to her, all of which is fascinating and compelling but also – well – overwhelming.

Not so many years ago, it was not so – it was very hard to gather information from other metaphysical professionals. We wandered through bookstores looking for the “New Age” section, we culled the library card catalogs for topics like “ESP”  or “Casey, Edgar.” Now, a cell phone and access to the internet puts EVERYTHING right at our fingertips.

Which brings us to that sense of being overwhelmed.

In an article titled, “Overcoming Information Overload,” Margarita Tartakovsky describes it this way: “Information is merely a click — or, more accurately, a Google search — away. Depending on your query, there’s likely at least a dozen, if not hundreds, of blogs on the topic, a similar number of books and many more articles. One bit of information leads to five facts, which leads to three articles, which leads to an interesting interview you must listen to right now, which leads to 10 pages in your browser. Every clue leads to another. Every clue uncovered is a prize in itself: learning something new and interesting and getting one step closer to the carrot (such as the answer to your original question). This is a good thing, but it also can overburden our brains.”

Okay, so we have overburdened brains. So what?

According to Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D, a psychologist and author of Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload, “Information overload occurs when a person is exposed to more information than the brain can process at one time.” Information or cognitive overload can lead to indecisiveness, bad decisions and stress, Palladino said. Indecisiveness or analysis paralysis occurs when you’re “overwhelmed by too many choices, your brain mildly freezes and by default, [and] you passively wait and see.” Or you make a hasty decision because vital facts get wedged between trivial ones, and you consider credible and non-credible sources equally, she said.

So, back to the discussion with my friend. With just a hint of despair in her voice, she remarked, “If I come across just one more class that I need to sign up for or one more book I’m supposed to read, I’m going to cry. Just the other day, I was watching a webinar that mentioned working with animal totems, and there was a link to a workshop that will show you how to recognize and work with your totems. Great, I thought, another class that takes time and that I can’t afford so I guess I’ll just have to wait on figuring out how to identify my animal totems until I can take the class. I want to make sure that I’m doing it right.”

Hang on – did you just say, “doing it right?”

Now flash back to just two days before this discussion. This same Circle member, who is also a co-worker, asked if I could come to her cubicle. When I get there, she whispers with just a hint of okay-this-is-really-icky in her voice, “There’s a bug in my cubicle,” and she points to a rather large insect that looks like some kind of beetle. Now, keep in mind that we work in a typical office environment – no open windows, no doors to the outside, few live plants – so the chances of even so much as a fly getting in are remote, let alone a some kind of big, icky beetle.

Then in equally hushed tones, she says, “You know what’s weird about this?” (As if seeing a beetle in her cubicle isn’t weird enough). “I saw this very same bug while I was getting my therapeutic massage a couple of days ago. It was inside the room with us. Do you think it could be a message?”

So now fast forward to this chat with my co-worker, who is honestly concerned about not having the time or the money to take a workshop on how to identify her own animal totems, and therefore, won’t be able to work with them.

So I asked her, “Remember the beetle in your cubicle? Why do you think you need to sign up for a class when it’s obvious that this beetle bug – icky or not – has made itself known to you already?” She looked puzzled.

Then I said, “Okay, so let’s look at this another way. Is there an animal that just resonates with you, that whenever you see it, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling?”

Without hesitating, she replied, “Oh yeah, when I was little, I had posters of lions all over my room. And whenever I go to the zoo, the first place I want to visit is the lion exhibit. And, I’ve always wanted to go to Africa to actually see lions. Plus, one of my favorite movies is” – wait for it, I think to myself – “The Lion King.”

“Then,” I said (trying hard not to have the merest hint of “are you joking” come into my voice), “Is it possible – just maybe –that Lion might be your animal totem? And that the beetle is here as your own personal messenger?

She looked a little sheepish at this point, and then she replied, “I didn’t think it would be that simple.”

Of course it can. And it should be that simple. It’s supposed to be that simple.

This experience with my co-worker comes up all the time for me, and one that we, as Practitioners, need to consider carefully when working with others. Metaphysical professionals see this all the time – an assumption on the part of the student that the way to enlightenment requires not only exploring all of the tools but using them all as well in order to ensure they do it the “right” way.

But if we believe that enlightenment cannot be achieved without using all of the tools available, and, moreover, classes and workshops are the only means by which we learn to use these tools, then the tools become a trap. Which for most of us means that instead of trusting ourselves to know what is in our best and highest interest, we “passively wait and see.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for asking for guidance when I need guidance. I sign up for classes, buy books, meet with my psychic mentor regularly. There are times when we need help from someone else who is further along the path, who has experience and wisdom and knowledge and tools that we need so that we may improve our own abilities in order to better assist, heal, and guide others.

But, for me, a critical component of practicing my craft is helping others recognize their OWN abilities, to trust their intuition, to carve out for themselves the path through the wilderness that is our time here on Earth.

You know the saying, KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. I use the KISS concept in my practice as well – but I define it as Keep It Simple, Spiritually. My practice is aimed at helping my clients empower themselves, giving them the tools they need to find their own way. And sometimes it’s as simple as helping them see what is obvious – not just to me as the Practitioner, but to them as well.

Here’s why I know this to be true.

When I first started exploring my own abilities, I, too, came across the concept of working with animal totems. And I, too, despaired of trying to figure this out in the “right” way. I thought, “Okay, I guess I’m supposed to meditate “really hard” until my animal totem reveals itself. Or maybe there’s a book I might be able to find that explains how I’m “supposed” to do this.” So I meditated “really hard” – come on, animal totem, where are you, ohm, ohm, ohm – and I saw lots of different animals but only because I wanted to and only because I thought it would be dandy if some really “cool” animal appeared to me, like Eagle (majestic) or Wolf (free-spirited and mystical) or even Lion. But I instinctively – dare I say, intuitively – knew that I was trying too hard, that I was mostly just making this up.

Then one day when I was cleaning my house, I found myself in my Rabbit Room.

That’s right, you heard me — my Rabbit Room.

I have a bedroom decorated with all of my rabbit memorabilia and artwork. And I have all of this rabbit memorabilia and artwork because for as long as I can remember, I have been completely mesmerized by all things bunny. If I went to a County Fair or petting zoo, I always made a beeline for the rabbit cages. If I saw a rabbit in the front yard, I would stop and watch it (still do, in fact). Over the years, I’ve collected rabbit statues, rabbit jewelry, and even rabbit cutlery, and people have given me paintings of rabbits. And, as part of my character that I play in historical reenactments, my symbol has always been the rabbit. I even travel with a stuffed bunny in my suitcase, who goes everywhere with me and has his own section on my Facebook page where he chronicles his travel adventures.

So standing in the middle of this room, it finally dawned on me – gee, could my animal totem actually be Rabbit? And even more importantly, could it actually be that simple?

In his now-classic book, “What Color is Your Parachute,” Richard Nelson Bolles makes this observation: “Your heart knows the places that it loves. Your mind knows the subjects that it loves. Your body knows the workout that it loves. Your soul knows the values that it loves. Therefore, my friend, what a “dream job” is all about (beyond skills) is identifying these favorite geographies, defining for yourself the places that your skills, your soul, and your body, heart, and mind, most often yearn to be.”

My work as a metaphysical practitioner is about helping people find the courage to listen to the truest part of themselves– their “favorite geographies” – in order to discover what speaks to the deepest part of their nature and to move forward from where they are to where they want to be.

In her book, This Time I Dance, Tama Kieves relates a dream she had: “You were meant to write books,” sighed the angel in the fantasy, running the movie. She bowed her head, as her feathers shuddered with my cosmic shock and loss. . . The angel in the after-death fantasy was the ghost that plagued my days. I did know. I did know. I did know.”

Surely, the most credible vital facts are what we know at the soul level about ourselves. And I think we all know our truths, our own credible vital facts.

A student once asked his teacher, “Master, what is enlightenment?” The master replied, “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” (Pierre Teilhard De Chardin).

Let me add one more to the list: When seeking your truth, try looking in your Rabbit Room.

Ready – Aim – Aim – Aim

Most people fall victim to what T. Boone Pickens calls the “Ready, aim, aim, aim syndrome.” They are more than willing to think about it and talk about it, but loath to pull the trigger and take action.” From “Finding Prosperity,” Bob McDermott, Honolulu Advertiser, Feb 2010

So here you are, still at the mall and still absolutely certain that you must have those fabulous red shoes. And, you’ve figured out two very important pieces of what it will take to achieve your goal:

  1. Where you are now (“You Are Here” declares the Mall Directory).
  2. Where you want to be (trying on shoes in the Red Shoes R Us warehouse).

Now what?

We all know that setting goals – knowing where you want to be and what you want to achieve – is key to success, whether your goal is finding financial prosperity, maintaining a healthier lifestyle, getting a new job, or buying those red shoes. And, we know that it’s equally important to have a plan and establish benchmarks on the way to our ultimate goal so that we can measure progress and stay motivated.

But whenever I read a book or listen to a podcast or attend a lecture about goal setting, I always feel like I’ve somehow skipped a page or got to the lecture late and I missed the part about HOW you take that first step. Because all the goal setting and planning and progress measuring won’t amount to much if you can’t – or won’t – take that first step.

Herbert Hoover once said, “Wisdom oft times consists of knowing what to do next.” If that’s the definition of wisdom, I should be a sage on a mountaintop. I have absolutely no trouble figuring out what to do next no matter what the task, the objective, the goal. It’s not the WHAT that gives me trouble. It’s the first step that can trip me up every time.

“The pathway is smooth. Why do you throw rocks before you?” Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers, Copyright 2006

Once you know where you’re going, do you set off with purpose, moving ever forward, keeping up your momentum, and sticking resolutely to your goal of getting to the shoe store? Or, are you easily distracted, wandering here and there, window shopping along the way, not paying much attention to where you are and how you got there until you have to stop and check the Mall Directory again?

Or are you a rock thrower? Do you focus on the reasons why you shouldn’t start? Do you find yourself actually creating obstacles to your success? Instead of just starting out, do you find yourself, instead, starting to question whether you really need those new shoes? Or maybe, you wonder whether you really should just focus on red shoes. What if blue shoes are a better choice? If you go to the Red Shoes R Us warehouse, you won’t be able to pick a color other than red. What if you pick the wrong shade of red.

I hate to admit it but I’ve tossed more than a few rocks into my smooth pathway.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Zig Ziglar

Here’s the ultimate irony. I make my living as a project manager and planner. I spend the better part of my day making plans, creating schedules, identifying goals and objectives, and tracking progress towards achieving those goals. Getting started and continually moving forward is essential to my success and the success of my clients. Not only do I have to make sure that the pathway is smooth, it’s my job to ensure that no one can even find a rock to throw in the way, let alone actually throw it.

But when it comes to my personal life, I seem to have an unlimited supply of rocks and I rarely hesitate to pick one up and give it a good heave.

Take writing this particular blog topic, for example.

I’ve had the title in my mind and the general idea of what to write about for weeks now. Weeks. I knew which quotes I wanted to use, the anecdotes I’ve wanted to share, the cracks in consciousness I wanted to open up for you, my readers. Ready, aim, aim, aim.

And aim, aim, aim, and aim some more – McDowell, what’s wrong with you? You love to write, you love to figure out the best way to express a thought, there’s nothing more fun than picking the quotes and turning a clever phrase, and letting everyone know by your obvious wit and humor how very talented you are and, oh but wait a minute, you can’t just sit down and start writing (rock), you have to have an outline of the topic first and then, oh no (rock, rock), what happens if you find a better quote but it’s too late to use it, and then you write something that isn’t witty or clever and not only doesn’t make your readers want more, but even worse (rock, rock, rock), you actually put it up on the site and your friends read it and then everyone realizes that you aren’t as smart or wise or clever as you think you are and, oh no, the worst yet (rock, rock, rock, rock), the entire planet will read it and realize you aren’t – do I dare utter it – perfect.

And now here comes the rock slide that completely crushes my smooth pathway, and I can’t go anywhere, let alone forward.

“Many people wait for everything to be perfect before they get going. Therefore, they never get going and they never get the rewards. From “Finding Prosperity,” Bob McDermott, Honolulu Advertiser, Feb 2010

When I was about 46, I once whined to a friend about the fact that if I started learning to play the bagpipes now (a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember), I’d be (groan, with lots of rock-tossing thrown in for good measure) 50 by the time I finally could really play with any proficiency. She of course patiently pointed out, “You’re going to be 50 anyway, McDowell.”

And that was six years ago and I haven’t even started taking lessons. That need to look perfect has long been my Achilles heel when it comes to getting started. Not only do I not get started, I don’t even get in the starting gate.

I was having coffee with a friend yesterday. We meet once a month to catch up. Like me, she also writes blogs on several topics, and so we naturally turned to the subject of how our blogging was progressing (hers was, mine wasn’t). We spent the next 45 minutes sharing tips and tricks for writing effective blogs, getting published, increasing our visibility – except that’s not entirely accurate. She talked about all of this while I mostly just listened. Because I hadn’t been able to get started on my next blog topic. And I found myself feeling envious of her and annoyed with myself. I mentioned that I was going to write a blogspot called Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, and she pointed out that she’s still waiting to read this one. “Remember? You mentioned you were going to write this article last month when we got together for coffee.”


When I got home, I kept thinking about why I hadn’t started yet. I tried visualizing sitting down at the computer and cranking this out —  and that’s when I saw and felt what I wrote above – the recriminating self-talk, the doubt, the fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it “right.” My Achilles heel – the need for perfection – had once again stopped me cold. And it slowly came to me how ironic it was that I intended to write about how people sometimes have trouble getting started but I had not yet come to terms with why I kept taking aim over and over without letting the arrow fly.

“A thousand mile journey begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

Most of us have an Achilles heel of our own devising that keeps us from taking that first step towards achieving our goals. For us, then, our thousand mile journey must be one of discovery and self-realization. And the first step on this journey is paradoxically simple: You must start by exploring what it is that keeps you from getting started. Is it the fear of failure or, perhaps, the fear of success? Visualize yourself getting started and then get in touch with what you’re feeling and thinking with regards to this picture in your mind. Keep asking yourself, “What is underlying this?” Keep peeling the onion to reveal what lies beneath.

Next, try to discover what resources, emotions, or experiences you can draw upon to help you overcome the rocks you’ve placed in your path.

And last, find out what it is that will keep you going.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Are you ready to set sail?

Warp Speed

Warp Speed

As I drove by Elizabeth High School this morning, it occurred to me that it’s been 50 years since I had been in high school. In an instant, I was a teenager again, so insecure and yet so full of ego and selfishness. And I remembered the rights of passage – freshman year (the newbie), sophomore year (at least I’m not the newbie anymore), junior year (only two more years to go and I’m free!), senior year (at last, my whole life is ahead of me!).

Fast forward (at warp speed), and I’m now 65 years old. And it also occurred to me that I, suddenly, have far fewer years ahead of me than behind me. Where did the time go?

I love the Star Trek series and its countless spinoffs; I even named Kaylar after my favorite Klingon! However, I disagree with its fundamental premise. You see, I don’t think that Space is the final frontier. I think it’s Time and how we experience it.

In “Navigating 2012: Thriving in Earth’s New Age,” Michael R. Smith said, “Time is an illusion and does not exist in realms other than the earth.”

We all know how what can seem like a blink of an eye to one person can also seem like an eternity to another. A simple example is this: One of my colleagues just got a puppy. Between the sleepless nights of puppy whining, the countless trips outside waiting for puppy to pee, the seemingly endless number of times he has to scold puppy for not chewing, nipping, peeing on the floor, whining, or crying in a single day – every day can seem endless. And then, suddenly, the puppy is six months old and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

I love puppies, and my colleague’s puppy is absolutely adorable. And while I remember, sometimes in excruciating detail, how L-O-N-G that first year was with Kaylar, my experience of the same amount of time passing – “wow, your puppy is already six months go? Where did the time go?” – is definitely not the same experience as that of my colleague – “that was the longest six months of my life!”

In “The Sense of an Ending,” Julian Barnes said this: “I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her, and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However . . . . who said that thing about “the littleness of life that art exaggerates”? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things that adolescence dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life. But time  . . . how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time . . .  give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.

So, even at 65, I don’t have any profound thoughts yet on how to experience time. I guess, in time, maybe I’ll figure it out!

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