“If you want to change your life’s direction, you need to direct your intention, which means first being honest about the thoughts, rationalizations, intentions, and attitudes you already have.” Robert Altman, The Mindfulness Code

You hear about a shoe store opening up at your local mall, and you decide that you simply must have a new pair of fabulous red shoes. Off you go to the mall but you have no idea where the shoe store is in the mall. So you start with the Mall Directory. Looking at the map, what are the two things you need to know to get you on your way to that new pair of fabulous red shoes?

  1. Where you are now.
  2. Where you want to be.

So the first thing you do is find the bold YOU ARE HERE marker on the map. Why begin at this point?

Because you need to know where you are now in order to figure out how to get to where you want to be.

Now, take a closer look at that YOU ARE HERE marker. What it doesn’t say is as important as what it does say. It doesn’t say, “You are here. . . .but you have no business buying yet another pair of fabulous red shoes.” It doesn’t say, “You are here . . . .but once you get to the store, there probably won’t be any fabulous red shoes in your size so why bother?” It’s an objective statement of fact. It’s simply an indicator of your present circumstance, that is, where you are in the mall at this very moment. No more, no less. YOU ARE HERE – it is what it is.

You’re probably thinking, so what? Of course it doesn’t say that, McDowell, it’s just a sign.

But now let’s look at how this might apply to how we think about ourselves outside the mall.

When you think about where you are right now, how often do you attach some type of subjective, usually negative, judgment to your current situation? Maybe you’ve lost your job in this crumbling economy and haven’t been able to find another one no matter how many resumes you’ve sent out or job fairs you’ve attended. When someone asks you how your job hunt is going so far, do you reply, “I haven’t found anything yet,” and just leave it at that? Or do you say, “I haven’t found anything yet . . . and I’m sure it’s because I’m not qualified, there simply isn’t anything out there, no one is hiring, I can’t afford to take such a huge pay cut.” Do you make the objective statement – “no job yet” – only to follow it up with the subjective judgment – “and at this rate, I probably won’t find a job” – which, of course, makes you feel even more depressed and desperate and (if you’re like me) worthless than you already do? And then, to make matters worse, you allow the subjective judgment to determine your next steps, and so now you stop applying for certain jobs because you “just know” that you aren’t going to get hired anyway.

I am, for the most part, a “cup half full” person. But if I had a nickel for every time I added a subjective judgment onto an objective statement about my present circumstances, I’d be living in a sumptuous beachfront house in Hawaii wearing simply fabulous red slippahs (okay, I can hear my spiritual mentors whispering, “McDowell, it isn’t the money that’s keeping you from living in Hawaii, it’s your intention,” even as I write this, but that’s another topic for another blog!). Unless I am “thought-diligent,” unless I am mindful of what I’m thinking about when I think about my life, it’s very easy for me to negatively judge my present circumstances – and, as a result, chart a course of action that will not help me realize my goals – instead of making peace with my present circumstances in order to move forward with positive intentions.

Over the last few years, there has been an explosion of information about how we can use the power of our thoughts to improve our health, attain wealth, attract love, live longer and better. These are truly powerful messages that can – literally – transform our lives.

But I think there is a necessary first step that we must take before we can fully realize the changes that we want to make in our lives by harnessing this power: To know where we want to go and figure out how to get there, we must begin with identifying where we are right now. Knowing where we are helps us identify WHAT needs to be changed and the reasons WHY we want to move away from our present circumstances towards a new life. As an empath, my work is about getting people to have the courage and energy to look at and accept themselves – their wants, feelings, needs, desires, darkest thoughts – in order to move from their current state to a desired future state.

None of us is immune from subjectivity, ignorance, or denial. But it has been my experience that if we can understand our situation from an objective, nonjudgmental standpoint, we have a better chance at finding ways of responding positively to our present circumstances. We must begin by doing what Altman describes as “cultivating a neutral and nonjudgmental awareness, which allows us to witness and observe events without attaching to them. Our subjective emotion needs to be developed into objectivity in order to determine both the need for change and our ability to change.

Perhaps we cannot remove all the ups and downs of life. However, we have it in our power to alter how we perceive our lives, how we interpret YOU ARE HERE, in order to change our perception of the experience of our lives – which ultimately influences our decisions and our actions. This is in no way to imply that your present circumstances might not be daunting, painful, or even life-threatening. Rather, identifying what our lives consist of now, and making peace with our present circumstances, means that we are more readily able to accept and engage the difficulties of life. Once we objectively acknowledge our present circumstances, we can determine where we need to be, and then begin to chart a course of action for getting there.

“If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind.” The Mindfulness Code, Donald Altman

If you truly want to change your life, you must first be willing to change your mind. Donald Altman, The Mindfulness Code ©2010

You know how some people seem to be better at handling change than others? Most of us know at least one person who has successfully made a major change in their lives, like quitting smoking, losing weight, or even walking away from their “Sure Thing” job. Then there are the rest of us – and maybe you count yourself among these people —who give up the minute it gets tough.

Whether it’s a change in your job, health, family, relationships, or life in general, transitions are an inevitable part of life. However, most people don’t like change. For many of us, change can be difficult or uncomfortable. This is true regardless of whether the change is forced upon us, planned, unexpected, or self-created. Why? Because we are giving up familiarity in exchange for the unfamiliar and unknown.

But the good news is that anyone can learn to deal more effectively with change, and face their fears, by doing one incredibly easy thing: choosing to change their perspective of change.

And here’s why I know this to be true.

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From 2002 to 2012, I shared my life with the four-legged love of my life, a Czechoslovakian Shepherd named Kona. He meant everything to me. For 10 years, taking care of Kona gave my life meaning, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

Until, one day, I was forced to imagine the unimaginable.

Almost from the day of his birth, Kona had health challenges, all of which were serious but treatable. Then in 2006, Kona was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. Life expectancy rates for dogs with Kona’s condition were bleak at best; one vet told me that the longest any of his patients lived after the diagnosis was a meager three weeks!

The prognosis was so poor, in fact, that my vet, knowing how I felt about Kona, tried to prepare me for what the tests indicated would probably be Kona’s imminent and sudden death. He walked me through the steps I needed to take in the coming weeks: everything from keeping him quiet, avoiding excitement, and even what to do if Kona had a heart attack while we were out walking or just playing outside, which was apparently how most of the dogs with this condition died.

To say I was devastated doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. And, needless to say, I barely heard a word that the vet was telling me.

I cried for two days. I was filled with fear whenever I even thought about Kona running up and down the basement stairs, let alone not having Kona in my life.

And then I decided to change how I would perceive this awful, unthinkable news: I realized I had a choice.

I could either choose to let it negatively impact every remaining moment I had with Kona – I could lock him in the house, never take him for a walk again, never let him chase birds or rabbits, never leave him alone for a single moment “just in case.” Or, I could choose to see this as a blessing and be grateful for every moment I was going to have with him. We could go on as we did before, chasing lots of rabbits (knowing he could never catch them, thank heavens!), taking long walks – aware of the possible consequences but living our lives to the fullest.

And we did, not just for three short weeks but, miraculously, for four glorious years!

Which is not to say that I didn’t have to come up with a plan for facing my fears and dealing with Kona’s condition realistically. I did have to figure out what to do if Kona had a heart attack while we were away from home. I did have to figure out who I was going to call if Kona became incapacitated, and I needed to get him in the car and to the emergency clinic quickly – not an easy thing to do by myself since he weighed over 100 pounds.

And I did have to think about the unthinkable: going on with my life without Kona in my life.

But once I changed my perspective of the situation, I was able to face the fear and come up with an action plan for moving forward no matter what might happen.

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes. Charles Swindoll, Founder, Insight for Living

We all know that the three most important words in real estate are location, location, location. In learning to deal with change more effectively and without fear, the three most important words are attitude, attitude, attitude. You can change your perspective of an event as well as how you feel about having to respond to it.

Take, for example, writing your own obituary rather than leaving that for someone else. You can approach your end-of-life preparations with dread or thinking it’s morbid. Or, you can see it as an opportunity to sing your own praises, to get your house in order, or to just know that you can do something as painful as thinking about your own or someone else’s mortality without being crushed by the knowledge.

We have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the inevitable, the unexpected, or the unthinkable. But we CAN change how we approach and deal with anything that might throw us off course or keep us from living a life in our best and highest interests.

Change Your Thoughts? Change Your Life!

“We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.” Santosh Kalwar, Quote Me Everyday

Within each of us is a soul-deep knowledge of our passions, our values, our desires, and our yearnings, all of which are waiting to be born. And yet, all too often, our current thoughts and beliefs limit our ability to imagine new horizons, to see our present circumstances or our future in new ways, and to give birth to our true selves.

But you CAN learn to release your limiting thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes. The key is to give yourself permission to acknowledge your current thought patterns, belief systems, feelings, and fears; challenge your existing assumptions and attitudes that no longer serve you; and explore ways to transform your limiting thoughts and beliefs into limitless possibilities!

Giving yourself permission to see your thoughts in a new way and then to create new thoughts based on your own personal truths will empower you to identify, accept, and embrace change in all areas of your life – spiritual, physical, mental, emotional. And while you might not be able to change an unwanted hardship, you will be able to more readily accept and engage the difficulties of life.

I believe that when we give ourselves permission to rethink, to consider other possibilities, we crack open a door to our Higher Selves – and our Higher Selves, recognizing that the door has been cracked open, wedge a crowbar in to make sure that we consider a different way ahead. You only need to be willing in order to move in a new direction!

 

In order to avoid this bitter end, we have to be reborn again, and born with the knowledge of alternatives “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou

Have you heard of the story titled, “The Horse Might Sing”? There are many different versions, but my favorite goes like this:

Nasrudin was caught in the act of stealing and sentenced to die. Hauled up before the king, he was asked by the Royal Presence: “Is there any reason at all why I shouldn’t take your head off right now?” To which he replied: “Oh, King, live forever! Know that I, the mullah Nasrudin, am the greatest teacher in your kingdom, and it would surely be a waste to kill such a great teacher. So skilled am I that I could even teach your favorite horse to sing, given a year to work on it.” The king was amused, and said: “Very well then, you move into the stable immediately, and if the horse isn’t singing a year from now, we’ll think of something interesting to do with you.”

As Nasrudin was returning to his cell to pick up his spare rags, his cellmate remonstrated with him: “Now that was really foolish. You know you can’t teach that horse to sing, no matter how long you try.” Nasrudin’s response: “Not at all. I have a year now that I didn’t have before. And a lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.”

I love this story. It’s a message about hope, a reminder that anything is possible, that there are always options.

For me, having the “knowledge of alternatives” is incredibly powerful. Over the years, knowing that I had options has been essential to me; having options means the difference between seeing a way ahead—or a way out—or staying in those deep holes that I have, on occasion, fallen into.

Giving ourselves permission to willingly consider alternatives is the key to getting from where you are to where you want to be. Willingness is a necessary precursor to taking action: you have to be willing to do something—or, at the very least, willing to try to do something—in order to keep moving forward.

It’s the Same Old Song

All their lives they did what had to be done, and didn’t bother daydreaming about alternative lives because they never expected to be free enough to have a choice. I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, Barbara Sher

Have you ever wondered how some people can willingly walk away from what they know to embark on a journey into a future that isn’t even defined? Do you marvel at people who recklessly go out on a limb—and intentionally saw themselves off? Have you said to yourself, “I could never do that in a million years!”

But then secretly, and maybe a little wistfully, whispered to yourself, “But if I only knew how they did it, maybe I could do it too”?

Most people rarely, if ever, question the path they’re on. They put one foot in front of the other and simply keep moving forward. Part generational, part genetic, part upbringing or culture, there are many reasons why we never consider what we might really want or what might be in our best and highest interest. We simply do what we think, or believe, we have to do.

When thinking about our lives, most of us do what I call “snapshotting”: We see our lives in a certain way, like a photo, and we freeze it at that moment. We look through the lens, we frame the image in the way that is most pleasing to us, and we capture that perception. We like the results, and so we leave it as is.

Then something happens that either allows us or forces us to change our perception of the image, and we are faced with a decision: either keep the image as is or look at the image in a different way, to frame the external situation or event to match our new, internal perceptions. We find ourselves at a crossroads where the same choices and the same decisions no longer serve us.

The definition of crossroads is “the place where roads intersect or a place at which a vital decision must be made.”

This definition has two significant elements.

First, a crossroads involves options: this road or that road, this way or that, this direction or that.

Second, a crossroads implies that we are intended to select one of the options available to us: we turn left instead of right; we take the shady path rather than the sunny one, the uphill climb rather than the downhill stroll. Otherwise, we are at a standstill.

When we come to a crossroads in our lives, seeing all of the possible roads we can take and all of the options that are available to us can certainly be overwhelming and scary. But it can also be a golden opportunity to make some fundamental changes in our lives. It can mark a turning point in how we live our lives.

The Music of the Spheres

I sing like I feel. Ella Fitzgerald

I believe that when we give ourselves permission to rethink, to consider other possibilities, we crack open a door to our Higher Self—and our Higher Self, recognizing that the door has been cracked open, wedges a crowbar in to make sure that we consider a different way ahead.

In order to crack open that door to your Higher Self, you need to give yourself permission to think about alternatives: what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do or even try to do. When you free yourself to at least consider alternatives, ideas that might not have occurred to you in the past now may occur.

Here is a simple exercise for learning how to open the door to your options. You can use this exercise whether you’re at a crossroads now or find yourself at that “place at which a vital decision must be made” in the future.

  1. Open a new page in your journal, notebook, or computer file.
  2. At the top of the page, write: What Does “Opening the Door to Your Options” Mean to Me?
  3. Write down words, phrases, and feelings about the concept of opening the door to options.

If you do only one step in this exercise, do this one. Understanding how you feel about the concept of having options in your life is a necessary precursor to acquiring the knowledge of alternatives. And be honest! If allowing yourself to consider options makes you uncomfortable, you need to acknowledge this as well as the reasons for your sense of “dis-ease.”

  1. Next, thinking about your life now, are you at a crossroads or at a place where you need to make a vital decision? If so, describe the place and the options that you believe you have.
  2. Looking at the crossroads you said you’re at in step 4, are there any options that you believe you don’t have because of the possible consequences or outcomes, whether real or imagined? If so, write these down.
  3. Looking again at the crossroads you said you’re at in step 4, are there any options that you’d be willing to do or at least try to do if you weren’t afraid of the consequences, whether real or imagined? If so, write these down.

Not allowing yourself to get caught up in possible consequences or outcomes is an essential component of learning to open yourself to options. If we think we know what will happen because of something we will or might do, the steps we take, whether consciously or unconsciously, often become a self-fulfilling prophecy: we make it happen because we assume it’s going to happen anyway. In her book, After Shock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You—or Someone You Love—a Devastating Diagnosis, Jessie Gruman describes this tendency like this: “It is the fear of the unknown that paralyzes. You can acknowledge the possibilities and know where you might go. It doesn’t mean that you are fatalistic and it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen.

Sing Your Song

Have you been avoiding looking at alternatives? Have you been trying to not look in the mirror and see what is true? Have you ever asked yourself, “If I didn’t have to worry about the outcome, what would I let myself think about? What options might I have? What choices would I make?”

Are you like the servant in the story about the singing horse? Do you wring your hands over the worst that might happen? Do you see the bitter end in your endeavors as something than cannot be avoided?

Or are you like Nasrudin—ever hopeful, confident in the knowledge that a thousand things might happen before anything might come to pass?

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott said, “If you start to look around, you will start to see.” If you desire to be reborn with the knowledge of alternatives, let your eyes and your heart see all of the possibilities around you!

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.

Continue reading “K.I.S.S and Tell”

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.”

Ouch.

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

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!