Monday, April 30, 2012

Trolling for Laughter

When my friend, Jackie, and I set out to write our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within we knew we were not experts in psychiatry or philosophy. We were simply two women who had seen the devastating effect of men and women suffering from self-inflicted negativity and we vowed to do something about it. However, sometimes the teacher becomes the student. Thus was the case at a mini workshop I coordinated in Port Angeles, WA at InSpired Gift Shop. Our group was small, but lively. The ages of the attendees varied from a middle school student to an octogenarian. I warned the group early on that I had no intention of pontificating for the duration of the workshop. I expected their input. Since we kicked off the workshop with an ice breaker to help me learn everyone’s name I could call upon them directly by name. After that everyone knew anonymity was impossible, so rather than shrinking into a corner (an (impossible feat based on how I configured the seating arrangement) everyone dove right in and offered insights and obstacles one faces regarding negativity. Elizabeth was the first to respond with an example of diverting negative responses from others. She told us that she was 80 years old (she looked two decades younger) and many of her friends suffered from a wide range of pain and illness. None of us can escape either of these maladies, but another participant, Rebecca offered hope. She shared her experience with an elderly man that she visited when she was working for hospice. She listened attentively to his depressing situation. Clearly she was not in a position to do anything about his very real illness and pain. However, she asked him what he enjoyed doing when he had been in better health. He mentioned his love of playing cards. The next visit she brought a deck of cards and they played gin rummy. Both had a wonderful time. We cannot “fix” every problem but that does not mean we can’t do something to improve the situation. I did my typical spiel about the importance of smiling. Later, I put on a little finger puppet that looked like a horned troll. Three of the participants (two midwives and one OB/GYN) imagined the look on their patient’s faces if they approached a typical gynecological exam with this puppet on their finger. Of course everyone laughed. Whether that finger puppet ever makes it to the women’s clinic remains to be seen. However the image of that mini, orange troll will probably live on in the memory of both the medical staff who were present for the workshop, as well as in the minds of the remaining participants (all female) at their next well woman exam. Even the Buddha could not fix the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. However, we all have the ability to learn from our situations and become wiser from the experience. The trick is to use our creativity to find a way to handle things in an optimistic way. When all else fails imagine the doctor donning a thorny finger puppet on his or her finger before your next gynecological or prostate exam. If that doesn’t produce a chuckle I don’t know what will.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Strawberry Fields Forever?

I am trying my hand at gardening. The IDEA of backyard horticulture has appealed to me for a long time. Unfortunately aspiration and execution are two different things. My lone attempt at growing my own vegetables is embarrassing. We had a big yard and I thought my baby daughter, Alicia, deserved pesticide-free, home-grown veggies. With health in mind and hoe in hand I trotted off to become an Arizona version of Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? And contrary I soon became. The first problem was the ground was like cement. In fact I learned it WAS cement or caliche, a natural form of concrete. After a few attempts at hacking away at the anvil-like soil, I asked my husband, John, to ready the area by digging it up and creating rows. I, of course, would do the rest. My memory is hazy, but I think he not only tilled the soil he probably did most of the planting too. No problem, I would pull the weeds and water. Again, I have a little historical amnesia. I remember pulling some stringy weeds, but maybe John wound up assuming the watering duties too. At any rate, when it was time for our harvest our bounty consisted of two snow pea sprigs and a bunch of radishes. Planting radishes was John’s idea. I think radishes are nasty so of course they proliferated like bunnies on a holiday. In retrospect, I was young and did not have a realistic idea (or attitude) about the work a garden would entail. I thought I’d throw a few seeds out there, squirt them with a hose and something would magically happen. Well, something did – a plethora of nasty radishes. However, since John did most of the work it only seems fair he could eat his bountiful root vegetables with relish (or mustard?) I know I’d have to put something on it to make it edible for MY taste buds. Now I live in the Pacific Northwest. The ground is soft and rich. The owners of the house where I now reside not only planted a garden, they put a fence around it to keep the munching deer at bay. When I first moved in I noted a few weeds in the garden, but I thought I could handle it. I just needed a nice sunny day to get started. Problem numero uno. Waiting for a sunny day in this neck of the woods is like waiting for hell to freeze over in Phoenix. While I bided my time rain came and weeds followed. During this interim I traveled to Arizona for my high school reunion. When I returned a week later my garden became a field of dandelions! So now I have to pull weeds before I can plant. These weeds are actually kind of pretty, but they are weeds none-the-less and they will not help my garden grow. It reminds me of negativity. People have all sorts of reasons for having uncharitable thoughts, speech and actions. Many pessimistic individuals claim that while a negative outlook may provide fewer positive results, it also protects them from disappointment. Unfortunately, negativity is more like a cancer than a protective shield. It starts small, and may seem innocent enough at first, but if not minimized, it can grow out of control. Waiting for the right time to change your grouchy tendencies is not in your best interest either. Manure may be good for the soil, but a poopy attitude is not and neither is procrastination. It’s like my experience with my weedy garden. So what can we do about it? Let’s take this example a step further. Imagine each negative thought you have is a crabgrass, curly dock or broadleaf plantain. Sometimes weeds can look like the beginning of a “good plant” so you may be hesitant to pull that puppy out. However, weeds, like negativity, become easier to identify with time. Once you make a conscious effort you will recognize the culprit, pull it out by the roots and substitute bad thinking with better thinking. Or in the gardening world, substitute crabgrass for something tastier such as my all-time favorite fruit - strawberries. Whether it’s reducing grouchy thoughts, speech and actions or battling the urge to procrastinate, creating a happier life is a lot like gardening. It takes work, but the rewards are worth the struggle. Speaking of struggle, as I write this article he sun is peaking out and my garden beckons. It’s time to do a weed purge. And as I pull each offending plant out by the roots I will try not to curse the earth I hope will nourish me. I have no one to blame for this mess but myself. And after all my hard work is done and a necessary amount of time has passed, I will be well on my way to (forgive me John, George, Paul and Ringo) strawberry fields forever.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rain and a Soppy Disposition

It’s raining. In fact it has been raining most of the day. I’m from Arizona where rain is not a regular occurrence, so when I encounter a long bout of soppy weather I get a bit incredulous.

“You’ve been at this all day, don’t you think it’s time to move on?” I say to the clouds outside my window. Of course the rain doesn’t listen to me. It just keeps plink, plink, plinking on the roof, the patio and my muddy yard.

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest I knew we were in for some wet weather. I love the greenery here and I know it doesn’t get that way by accident. Yet, I’m annoyed. I keep looking for the sun and a rainbow that isn’t ready to appear - at least not yet.

Those of you who have lived in wet environments probably have no sympathy for my plight. This is not unusual. Most folks who have not suffered from a particular problem or situation do not have the ability to empathize. This is not limited to the weather. It is a rare person who has compassion for someone whose plight is unlike one from their own experience.

That is why I always find it interesting when I give talks about erasing negativity and someone invariably asks for advice on how to erase negativity in someone else.

The short answer for this is you cannot change the mindset of someone else. However, you have total control over your own thoughts, speech and actions. Even though most of us understand this, we still find ourselves wanting to change the horrible actions or behavior of someone else.

It’s like the conversation I’m having with the clouds. Say what I want, my opinion of the weather is not going to have any impact on the outcome. I can curse the clouds, sing a song of joy or go dancing naked in the streets. The rain is not going to stop until it’s good and ready.

So what is the point you ask? While we have total control over ourselves, we choose to have more thoughts, speech and actions condemning someone else. That attitude is a real joy sucker. My advice is to accept people for who they are. Sometimes that means staying the heck away from them. But waiting for them to change is as fruitless as cursing the rain.

Change yourself where you can and leave it at that. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” The same is true of trying to change others.

With that in mind I’m going to stop complaining, suck it, put on my raincoat and umbrella and enjoy the afternoon. I may not be able to do anything about the weather, but I can do something about to encourage a sunnier disposition.