Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stretching Beyond Limitations

My women’s softball team won a decisive victory over the Valle de Oro Valley Girls yesterday. Woo Hoo! In the five years that we have played this team I think we only beat them one time.

After the game we share soft drinks and socialize with the other team. I talked to one of the players and remarked on her speed running the bases. Now mind you, this is a woman who is probably at least 60 years old. We shared tips on how to improve our skills and stay healthy.

This is particularly important to me as I was playing with an aching hamstring. Of course the most important advice to prevent this painful malady (a pulled muscle) is to stretch. I don’t like to stretch. I’ve always enjoyed sports, but I have never been able to touch my toes without bending my knees. Describing my body as inflexible is a gross understatement. I go through the motions of this important warm up (our team always stretches before our games as well as our practices) but I don’t like it. Never have. But now I will put more effort into the process. There’s nothing like a little painful reality to change a habit.

I can’t help but think how stretching before a game, or any time, is a good analogy for life. In order to be your best, you need to prepare. This goes for mental, as well as physical, exercise.

However, most of us have such busy lives that it is easy to forgo the little things that don’t seem 100% necessary for the immediate result we are trying to achieve. In my lifetime, the word “instant” became synonymous with “better.”

But is it?

We want “instant” solutions for our health problems, instant solutions from our leaders, instant weight loss and the list goes on and on. The reality is most of our problems (and that includes our country’s) did not happen over night. Solutions will not happen overnight either.

It’s like my aching hamstring. If I want the muscle to perform well, I need to stretch it. After all, I sit in front of a computer most of the day writing. The most activity it gets is when I scratch it, or take a break to eat or use the bathroom. But when I go out to play ball, I think I’m just going to get out there and run to first base like I did when I was 12 years old. Well, my body laughed at my arrogance and now I have a physical reminder that I need to prepare myself more before I go out and play.

However, stretching doesn’t always apply to physical activity. I recently asked myself, “How often do I resort to the status quo in my thinking, or in other activities in my daily life? Am I extending my reach by pursuing my dreams, expanding my network of friends, acquiring more knowledge, or developing my compassion? Or am I satisfied to go along with the status quo?"

I recently read an article on dialogue by Buddhist Philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda. He recently wrote this on the topic of dialogue in the January 15, 2010 issue of the World Tribune:

“Dialogue is not simply two people asserting their opinions, nor is it just a simple exchange of words. Through conversing, we can gain a shared insight into each other’s point of view and intent. It is also a process of creating something of new and positive value.”

In our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, there is a chapter that discusses the importance of dialogue. For many of us, dialogue is a bit of a stretch from how we usually communicate. However, communicating in our old patterns will not bring us the fresh results that most of us want in our relationships and interactions with others.

So think about stretching, both physically, emotionally and when communicating. It will take some time to develop new habits and methods, but happier results are sure to follow. Or, you can ignore my advice and follow my bad example of running around and pulling a muscle. Whether it’s sports or life, why not try a little stretching? You may surprise yourself with what you gain. And all you have to lose is the misery of having (or being) a pain in the backside.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Friends in Life, Friends in Death

This last weekend was a tough one. I attended the funerals of two dear friends.
Norma was in her 70s, had stage four cancer, and knew her days were limited. She lived a full life, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to live longer. When they held her memorial service, some 20 people lined up to tell the congregation what a funny, loving and altruistic person she was.
By the time the service was through, Norma’s adult children seemed transformed by what they heard. Everyone will miss Norma, but it was encouraging to hear what a positive impact she had made on so many people during her life.
The other funeral was for my friend, Michael. He was only 59 years old and had a sudden, and deadly, heart attack. His widow, Marsha, has been a friend of mine since childhood. As a writer, I always hope there will be some magic words I can say that will help. But the fact of the matter is, there are no such words. All I can offer is my friendship and try to be there to help see her through this devastating time in her life.
In the first chapter of our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I retell the story of Julie, a woman who lost her only son. This is what she said:
“I was angry and said hurtful things to people who cared about me,” said Julie. “In a perfect world my friends would’ve understood and not taken it personally, but that was not the case. And perhaps that was too much to ask. The result was people left my life because they didn’t understand what I was going through, and they didn’t know what to do. I was so consumed in grief that I couldn’t tell them that I needed them more than ever.”
Just as the situations, memorials, life experiences and ages of my two friends differ, they do share one thing in common, they had many friends who will honor their memory, as well as help the surviving family deal with the loss.
After interviewing Julie I realized that not all mourners are appreciative, kind, and thoughtful to those who are trying to help. They are hurting and suffer from an unimaginable sense of loss.
However, by offering friendship, no matter what, you can help make their process easier. A few things I learned through Julie is:
• Do not offer platitudes such as “He/She is in a better place.” This may or may not be true, but often this type of comment disregards the hurt the mourner is feeling.
• Even though the mourner may try to push you away, continue to offer friendship.
• Be patient. Everyone heals at a different rate.

I am not a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. These observations are those that I learned from someone who shared her story with me. If you know someone who has suffered a huge loss, I would recommend grief counseling. However, whether they take that advice or not, the one thing that you can offer is a nonjudgmental friendship.
In conclusion, I would like to use an unattributed quote I found on the internet.
Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.