Tag Archives: awareness

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

This Life & The Afterlife: Torn Between The Two

IMG_2404To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, For in this sleep of death what dreams may come….” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hello friend,

Here’s the deal: I am so desperately eager to get to the next life, but I also simply cannot let go of this one any time soon. Huh? How can I reconcile that? Allow me to explain.

I believe that the state of being that comes after this life is going to be absolutely amazing. Not just amazing, though; because we throw around the term “amazing” all the time about pretty much anything we like: a gym class, our new yogurt, shoes, etc. What comes after our physical death, I believe, will be beyond amazing. Indescribably peaceful, blissful, and aware of our complete oneness with the Divine Source.

Now, let me be clear: I don’t claim to know what exactly comes next (and I am suspicious of anyone who does). I believe that we are all completely divine, that we existed prior to our appearance in this human form, and that we will continue to exist in another form(s?) when we are done with these bodies. I am attracted to many of the ideas of Buddhism, and reincarnation is one that I have played with. I am open to that possibility but not necessarily sold on it. I also don’t really buy the traditional vision of a Heaven with pearly gates and all of our friends and relatives who look exactly like they do now, a view that I think is common. I definitely don’t believe in any sort of Hell in the afterlife. But I definitely do believe in continuous existence, that we are not just going to cease entirely when our hearts stop beating.

I guess if you pinned me down and made me pick a description using our limited human ideas, I would say that I believe that when we die, we become fully aware of our pure divinity again. We lift the veil that we wear throughout our human journey, the one that allows us to believe that we are somehow separate from God and separate from each other. Unbound by our physical form, we join the stream of pure consciousness of All That Is. We are pure Love, and, more importantly, we know it. To me, that is who we are now, but we simply don’t recognize it, aren’t aware of it, and so we continue to act out of ignorance throughout our time on Earth.

You could probably say that is the foundation of my spiritual beliefs: that we are all One—all God, if you like—and thus, the end is not in doubt.

So, needless to say, I am pretty darn excited to get to the end of this ignorance and onto that plane of Bliss and Conscious Union with The All. {I don’t mind if you translate that to “Heaven” and “God” as long as you feel what I mean.} Indeed, I would love to be there now. I can’t wait!!!

BUT…..

You cannot take me now! No way, I need to be here forever! Well, not exactly forever. Just until I reach a wise, old age when my kids have successfully navigated their way into middle adulthood (and hey, grandkids would be cool, too!). I need to be here for them. I guess it is two reasons, really. First, I want them to have their Dad to help shepherd and support them through the trials of this world. I wish that for any kid, and certainly for my own. And secondly/selfishly, I simply don’t want to miss a thing! Seriously. These kids have completely rocked my world, and I am addicted to my life with them. I sometimes have daydreams about being diagnosed with a terminal illness with only a short time to go, and I get to the point of actually sobbing when I think about saying goodbye to them and how many things I would miss out on. It crushes me. I have gotten to the point where I am absolutely clinging to this earthly existence.

I was never this way before I started this family way of life. In fact, before my wife and kids came along, when I lived a solitary (by choice) life, focused intensely on my spirituality and connectedness to the Divine, I felt both blissful and completely ready for death. Eager, even. Often, in my happiest, most fulfilled moments—on the top of a mountain or in the middle of a clear stream—I would hear myself saying aloud, “You can have me any time, God!” I absolutely meant it.

But a funny thing happens when you get invested in particular Earthlings. Suddenly, you don’t want to leave this place anymore. Like the Hollywood stories of people who had given up on life until they meet someone to love, my wife and kids somehow made me want to stay here (a lot!). They didn’t’ make me happier or more at peace. No, they just made me feel responsible and desirous (desperate?) of squeezing out every possible moment with them. They took me out of the next world that I was reaching for and grounded me fully in this one. They made me think Heaven can wait.

So, what gives? Was I crazy then to want so much to move on to the afterlife, or is my mind warped now in thinking that something from this life—even my darling little angels—could be worthy of making me prefer this life to the next one? I don’t know if there is a right answer to this.

I guess the way I am approaching it, I see myself as an infinite being, so the next life is always out there and won’t be any shorter for my stay on this floating rock called Earth. So, despite its uncertainties and cruelties, I am going to take this portion of the ride for as long as it will have me. I know I am wearing the veil of ignorance and disconnect while here, and while that is frustrating at times, I just need to return to my foundational belief occasionally to remind myself: We are all One, and thus, the end is not in doubt. So, I will make the best of this veiled part of the journey, soaking up the magical moments with my family on this beautiful planet. And then, when my day comes—though they may have to drag me kicking and screaming—I will remove the veil and float blissfully away, fully aware of my divine and infinite nature. One moment at a time….

How about you? Are you more clinging to this life or longing for the next one, or, like me, a little bit of both? Open up your journal and take a deep dive into your beliefs about God and the nature of reality. I must admit, I found it quite challenging but wonderfully invigorating to try to put into words how I envision the afterlife. So please, make the effort on this one. I suppose the underlying question with this topic is: do you believe in a Higher Power? What do you call it? Is that Higher Power judging how you are doing in this lifetime in order to give you a sentence for the afterlife? Do you believe there is some sort of afterlife? How would you describe what you think happens to us after we die? Is it different for everyone? What do you think of concepts like Hell or Purgatory or Limbo? How about reincarnation? Pearly gates? Choirs of angels? Do you think you get to “meet” a personal God? A life review? Judgment? Is what comes next dependent upon what happens here in this existence? Do you think that what you get then depends upon what you believe now (i.e. different results for Atheists, Hindus, Christians, etc.)? How much of your view of the afterlife is dictated by a religion? Were you born into that religion, or did you adopt it when you were old enough to decide for yourself, or somewhere in between? How sure are you that your belief in the afterlife is correct? Does your belief make you want to get to the next world as soon as possible, or would you prefer to stick around here for as long as you are able? What are the things in this world that make you want to stay? Do we owe it to ourselves/our loved ones/our Higher Power to stay here as long as we can? Is that just part of the deal of being born? To what degree are you clinging to this world? Is that more due to what you have here—loved ones, etc.—or more due to your uncertainty about what awaits you when you die? Is it normal to not want to die but also to very much want what comes after death? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which life do you want more: this one or the next one?

Embrace it All,

William

P.S. If this one made you dig into your core beliefs and your psyche the way it did for me—I found this topic highly engaging—pass it on. Self-awareness is a gift!

Presents vs. Presence: What is the Best Gift on Your List?

DSC_0405“Together is the best place to be.” —Words painted on the wall at my family’s cabin

Hello friend,

I LOVE Christmas presents! I know that, at this age, I am supposed to be embarrassed to admit that, but it is so true. Even as my hair gets more gray every year, that is one part of being a kid that has never left me. I still get downright squirrely the moment I wake up on Christmas morning, eager to skip the breakfast formalities and get right to the gifts. It is all I can do to keep from shoving everyone—my wife, kids, siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and my parents–down the stairs to their spots on the sofas and chairs so we can start distributing the mountains of gifts piled under and around the tree.

Christmas—and my giddiness about the presents—has always been this way at my house. I had a few friends growing up who got cool stuff at random times all through the year, and Christmas was no big deal to them. They got a few presents, just like any other week out shopping with their parents. Ho hum. We were NOT that family! My parents pinched pennies all year long—“Better ask for it for your birthday,and “Put it on your Christmas List were familiar refrainsbut they went all-out on those two special days. Tons of presents and a real effort to make it a special day. And it was!

My anticipation for Christmas was feverish. The day before was always a rollercoaster of emotions: a kind of ecstatic elation about its nearness mixed with the absolute torment of waiting. Like rabid dogs, my siblings and I would crawl through the piles around the tree and oh-so-carefully slide underneath it, squeezing and shaking each gift, guessing at the contents of each and, of course, making a tally of how many each kid was getting. Finally, in the evening, after hours of begging, we were allowed to open one present—ONE—always the one from my cousins. It was a momentary thrill, but hardly enough to assuage my wild urges to tear through the wrappings under the tree to see if my guesses were correct. I salivated over the thought of new toys. The frenzy in my mind made for a tough time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve, and from the moment I woke up on Christmas morning, I was like a maniac, just DYING to get to the presents.

The years have passed, and though the extremes of my torment and elation have been tamed a bit, I still get giddy in anticipation of diving into the presents. It is a unique delight to tear open that wrapping paper on Christmas morning to discover the new treats that will sparkle up my life in the coming year. I guess that is the one way that I am a classic American: I love more stuff! I often feel a bit guilty about how much I enjoy it. But, since the guilt hasn’t made the feeling go away, I have decided to claim it. I am a materialist. 

A funny thing has happened on the way to my middle adulthood, though. As much as I appreciate the spine-tingling anticipation and excitement for the presents, as the years pass by, I recognize more and more that what I mostly love is the time with my family. It is true that I have always loved it this way—indeed, I have never missed a Christmas at my childhood home with my family, even when I had to quit my job to be there—but only in recent years have I been so keenly aware of its value to me. It was always there, quietly wallpapering the scene of those Christmas Eve games and those wild Christmas morning gift-a-paloozas, but I couldn’t recognize it as such in my greedy haze. I feel it now, and I acknowledge and honor the feeling.

I guess I have come to the point where I can see that the real point of the holiday—or at least the thing I value the most (by far)—is the fellowship, the love for the people I am gathered with (and the ones in my heart) rather than all of the presents that seem to dominate the months of lead-up. Think about this, friend: we have a whole season of shopping and then a whole day of togetherness. I really wish that could be reversed.

I am so glad that I have come to this awareness, this realization, before it is too late. No one has died and left me wishing I had truly cherished the time we had. My family seems to be—knock on wood—in its prime. My parents and siblings are all healthy and enjoy spending time together. We look forward to our Christmas all year as that time to be together under one roof with no agenda. It is simply about being together. And it is the best.   I am beyond grateful for that.

What warms my heart even more, however, is that my kids love it just as much as I do. Their two favorite weeks of the year are the Christmas week with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and then, of course, their week at the family lake cabin in the Summer, where the very same crew is assembled. All year long they talk about how they can’t wait to go back to both places. Not coincidentally, those are my two favorite weeks, too. Birds of a feather, we surely are. I am grateful for everything about our life together. The very best part, though, is that it is just that: TOGETHER.

I guess that is why my grown-up self loves Christmas so much. It is the chance to reclaim with my family of origin what I get with my own little gang everyday: togetherness. The fact that I get them both simultaneously—and that my little birds also appreciate them so much—well, that makes the whole deal simply perfect. That togetherness, that presence, is all the gift I need. It is, indeed, a merry, happy, and most grateful Christmas for me!

How about you? What do you value most about the holidays? Open up your journal and think about what makes you giddy and what warms your heart. How excited do the presents make you? How has that changed as you have aged? Do you make a big Wish List? Is there anything you are on pins and needles about this year, something you are really hoping for? Overall, what is the level of importance placed on the “gift” aspect of the holidays in your family? Would you prefer it be more or less important? What about the “togetherness” part? Is the fellowship with your loved ones a big part of your holiday gatherings? How much do you look forward to the time? Is this the one time of the year you gather with these people? Do you do it out of tradition, obligation, pure desire, or some mix of those? Which one is the strongest factor? Has the togetherness aspect become more or less important as you have aged? If you had 100 percentage points to divide between them to show the value you place on Togetherness vs. Gifts, how many points would each get? Are there other things that deserve points on your scale, such as religion or food? Leave me a reply and let me know: What makes your holiday happiest? 

May your days be merry,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, cry, or wonder a little bit, feel free to share it with a friend who could use some of that today.  Namaste.

Show Us Your Beads!!!

DSC_0224“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” —Maya Angelou

Hello friend,

Wanna make some jewelry with me? Okay, this is what we are going to do. Each of us will make a necklace out of colorful beads and a piece of string. I will give you the string and six Dixie cups full of different beads: white, black, yellow, red, brown, and blue. Next, I will name someone in your life, and you will put a bead onto your necklace corresponding to the race/ethnicity of that person:

  • White Beads = Caucasian/White
  • Black Beads = African American/African/Black Caribbean
  • Yellow Beads = Asian American/Asian/Middle Eastern/Pacific Islander
  • Red Beads = Native American/Indigenous People
  • Brown Beads = Latin American
  • Blue Beads = Multiracial

Make sense? Okay, let’s make a necklace!

Mother, Father, or Caregiver—With my Mom a true Scandinavian and my Dad a mix of German and Irish, I come from one pasty bunch! Two white beads for me.

Three closest friends now—Here I get to add some color to my necklace. My three closest are one guy who is as white as me, one Filipino, and one African-American. Add a white, black, and yellow bead to my string.

Significant other (current or immediate past)—My wonderful wife is African-American, so another black bead for me (I imagine two beautiful blue beads for my kids, too).

Boss/supervisor—Another white bead.

Favorite author—So many to choose from—I LOVE books—but I will go with Henry David Thoreau. White again!

Favorite celebrity/athlete/person in the news—I am wildly unhip when it comes to celebrities, but I definitely follow sports. For the last few months, I have been glued to all things LeBron James. I’ll take another black bead, please.

Musical artist you listen to most on your MP3 player—I have been pretty full of Joshua Radin lately. White bead.

Two TV characters you identify with/want to be friends with—I probably don’t deserve any beads for this category, as I hardly ever watch television shows (I watch sports occasionally). However, the one show I try to keep up on—Parenthood—has mostly White people in the cast. I will take one white bead only (but you should take two if you watch more than I do).

Your doctor—That reminds me, I need to find a doctor! I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I do not have one, but it is the truth. If I want a bead in this category, the best I can do is claim my children’s pediatrician. What the heck! Give me another yellow bead.

Your dentist—While I am pretty much a free agent in this category, the last work I had done gets me another white bead.

Your spiritual leader (i.e. rabbi, minister, etc.)—I do not get a bead in this category, but you probably do.

The person you most admire—I am going to look at this in two ways: all-time historical heroes and people currently alive and in your life. Tough one! My all-timer is Gandhi, and my contemporary is my wife. There is much to admire in each; I am so glad I chose to study one and marry the other. Yellow bead, black bead.

Your three closest co-workers—I am in the palest office you have ever seen! White, white, and more white.

The last person you invited to your home—I have a huge, multi-racial birthday party at my house this weekend—can I get a blue bead boulder for that?—but the last one I had over is my Filipino friend, who brought his White wife and multiracial kids. There are options there, but I think a blue bead is most accurate.

Majority of the people who live in your neighborhood—I live in Minnesota and in the suburbs. Definitely white!

That’s it. We did it! Let us clasp our necklaces and see how they look. The first thing I notice about mine is the absence of brown and red beads. That is fair, though, as I have very few Native American and Latin American people in my life. I also find it interesting that, despite the fact that I have created a multiracial family, I have only one blue bead on my necklace. (This makes me wonder about the accuracy of the exercise in terms of measuring the range of diversity in my little world.) Of the other 19 beads on my string, twelve of them are white, four are black, and three are yellow. That feels like a lot of white, but is it?

While doing this exercise, I felt this odd pressure to produce a perfectly even spectrum of colors. I suppose I hoped it would show that my life is a shining example of diversity and inclusion. When the white beads started piling up, I admit to some gnawing feelings of guilt and shame. Then I started to wonder if I was subconsciously “cheating” to get more non-white beads, having conversations in my head like, “Sure, you have been obsessed with LeBron for the last three months, but over the long haul you are more of a Roger Federer (white) fan.” I had to keep reminding myself that the purpose of this exercise is to gain an AWARENESS of the diversity of my personal social network, not to make a judgment about it. Even so, I occasionally got defensive anyway, and thought things like, “Yeah, but this isn’t accounting for the diverse sexualities and religions of my social group. And what about age and economic class? “ I was reaching. I guess that I have always felt so grateful and enriched every time that I have been exposed to difference of any sort—whether it was traveling internationally or simply befriending someone at a local event and learning all about their life—that I had a hard time keeping myself from thinking, “The more colors, the better!” In the end, my necklace speaks for itself. It is my current reality, so I won’t run from it. I am ready to bare it.

How about you? How does your necklace look? Get out your journal and explore your social network. Does the look of your necklace surprise you at all? What stands out about it? Did you ever feel uncomfortable selecting a bead? Did you—like me—start to feel guilty after picking a lot of the same color, as though you had to justify the result? Although this exercise is to bring awareness to the diversity—or lack of diversity—in your life rather than to make any judgment about it, should we feel some shame if we have a relatively monochromatic necklace? I don’t believe so, but it should certainly make us think. Does your bead string motivate you to actively seek out situations of greater diversity to broaden your worldview and social network? Of all the people representing beads that I mentioned, which of your beads is going to be the next one to change color? Picture your necklace if you did this exercise ten years ago: in what ways is it different from today’s, if at all?   How do you expect it to be different twenty years from now? More colors or fewer? Would you be willing to wear your necklace to a social event and explain it to curious companions? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to show us your beads?

Celebrate you today,

William