Monday, February 27, 2012

Close Kitchen Doors and Unleash Your Power

Ever walk through your kitchen closing cupboard doors and drawers?  Maybe you’re like me and go around closing the open lockers in the locker room at the gym.  Why do we close them?  Perhaps, they’ll in get in the way as we walk through and slow down our progress.  In addition, before I leave the house I make sure everything is in its normal place.  I feel complete and ready to go out.  Unfortunately, it is not so easy to close doors in our head.   Those doors swinging around in our minds slow us down in getting on with actual life.   Back before I ‘retired’, the open projects were managed by the circumstances of the job.  Things needed to get done and the time available was limited.  I was always on the go, making lists and checking things off.  There is a natural momentum in a highly scheduled lifestyle.  The focus goes from ‘what do I have to do’ to ‘what do I want to do?’  It is a shift from external locus of control to an inner. 

Rat Race or
One of the little advertised facts of retirement is that many individuals who go from employee to retiree fail in that transition.  Either they (especially men) get depressed and die quickly or bored they return to work.  Surveys indicate that most of these returnees to work do so to feel useful and productive.  That is not a bad thing.  If the return to work is not due to financial necessity or a burning passion, perhaps it is a default solution to managing one’s newly free time.  But for many Boomers, it may conflict with long held dreams to finally do whatever they wanted.  A website has compiled the world's most common goals and in the top fifty nothing is even vaguely like kicking back or relaxing.   For growth and fun, why not grow the powerful skill that entrepreneurs all practice:  Self motivation and management.  Most of us adapted to the work world and defer ultimate authority to our bosses.   As employees we have a built-in system that channels our time.  Without the job structure to produce results, it is easy to start projects then get distracted.  Unfinished projects don’t go away, they linger in the background of our lives like ghosts haunting us.   Sometimes depression appears and then the thought arises that work is more fun than retirement.  Then they get back on the hamster wheel.  Don't rat yourself out, identify incomplete projects or goals or dreams; from planting an organic garden in the backyard to starting that on-line business to taking the class in origami. Now, start closing the doors.
Lately, feeling a gnawing unease I was given noted productivity guru David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  In spite of my self talk that I didn't have to be productive,  a light bulb went off in my head and I began to conceive of this stage of life, retirement from the daily 40+ hour grind, as a project.  And it consisted of many sub-projects.  It is not a vacation and therefore deserves the attention and planning that I gave to my career in education.  Allen considers all aspects of life a project.  He encourages individuals to get control of all of the projects in their lives from maintaining the house, to keeping fit, to career advancement, to child rearing.  You name it. 

Close that hula loop & swing
Like many people, I had many dreams that I wanted to pursue when I had the proverbial free time.  Some of these I wrote down as goals or vision statements but after awhile I noticed how many of these ideas seemed to stall.  In surveying my life’s goals and bucket lists, I noticed what Allen calls ‘open loops.’  Loops that are closed have a beginning and end and are complete.  Open loops leak energy.  I started looking at various domains of my life from this perspective and noticed many things seemed to get stuck in the idea or conceptual stage or maybe at the beginning.  A lot of open loops can clutter our minds and sap energy.  I looked at the projects in my life from planning a trip to remodeling the house to getting the car tuned up to learning badminton.  After identifying the open loops, it gets real simple and powerful, 'What is the next action step?' Do it, close the loop, and move on!

If it is planning a trip, then the next step might be looking up flights to the intended destination.  If it is repairing the house, calling the contractor for estimates.   The main thing is to stay with the concrete and not the long term.  When we think about many projects, they are either big and complicated, or vague and mysterious or even just hard.  The perceived difficulty can stop us before even starting and we end up with a lot of open loop projects.   Is that so bad?  Well, not necessarily but in that case Allen recommends a Maybe/ Someday folder for those projects we are not yet committed to.  By moving a project into the action folder, we are saying we want to get this done. 

How does your kitchen look?
In my case, I gathered up those goals, projects, and tasks and listed each one from auto repair to Zambia trip.  In the collection process I ended up deleting of what turned out to be ideas, not projects and fantasies not dreams. Anything remaining was assigned an action step.  One longstanding project was remodeling the front of my house, therefore the next action was to call the contractor.  Immediately, upon calling him I felt energized.   By taking action, I felt more productive.  Studies show that minor successes can create as much endorphin rush as major ones.  Find your open loops, take action steps, and bask in the positive vibes of being your own boss.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ritual & Ceremony Prime the Pump of Manifestation

Ritual by the Pacific

On a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Esalen, a group of twenty five wrote down their wishes, hopes, and dreams on a scrap of paper.  Then passing a candle and a bag of tobacco each person burned their paper and tossed it and a pinch of tobacco into the sea.   The group dispersed and went their separate ways. It sounds banal and quaint to modern, scientific minds.  What affect could that possibly have in manifesting something in the ‘real’ world?  A lot in my experience.    Ritual is an essential aspect of my life.  Perhaps it is because I am a recovering Catholic but it works.

Many years ago suffering a painful break-up,  I went to Hawaii to assuage my pain.  One day on the coast of Kauai, sitting on a lava rock I wrote a letter of good-bye and a prayer of well wishing for her and myself.  Burning incense, the letters, and a photo, I wallowed in my tears.   When it was over, I was done with it.  Upon returning home, the next Sunday at church I met my next girlfriend.  Coincidence?  I had been trying to end that dysfunctional relationship for months but the ritual made the difference.  It was really over and the space was cleared for the new.  The slate was wiped clean and a call was sent out into the universe.

A pinch of tobacco, a whole body smudge, a random Tarot card, a prayer written and burned, and honest, open hearted sharing recently culminated in an unexpected career opportunity for an acquaintance.  She had shared her concerns about a professional conference in Europe and whether she would be invited to attend.  A couple months after the cliff ritual, she was awarded a prestigious position at the conference.  Our rational, thinking minds can’t imagine how those arcane actions could have impacted the material world.   

Much has been written on the power of attraction, pro and con.  The realm of the non-literal elicits high emotion from both rationalists and metaphysicians.   Too often the resulting highly opinionated commentary shuts out the value and truth of both positions.  Pragmatists may say that praying and wishing for something won’t make it happen.  On the other hand there are those who adamantly adhere to metaphysical doctrine of ‘as a man (person) thinketh’ and insist that that is all it takes.  Walking the line between the two can take some skill and determination.  Staying open to the metaphysical, while grounded in the material can be difficult.  

Early on in my writing on these topics a very close friend read one and she declaimed, “I don’t have time for this new age babble.’  Confused and hurt, I responded, “OK, let’s not talk about it.”  At that point, I realized there was no space for discussion, just argument.   Deliberative and pragmatic by nature, like her I came to esoteric teachings with a skeptic’s mind.   “How does it work?”  “What is the evidence?”  “How do you define god/ spirit?”  With low tolerance for the latest fad in my career in education, I was known for asking tough questions from our ivory tower presenters.  What is the evidence?  Usually, the new ‘reform’ best practices were repackaging of the same stuff I was subjected to fifty years ago.   Keeping it real is my motto.  And along with the great twentieth century metaphysician, Ernest Holmes, I keep it open at the top.  In other words, when something works, makes sense, and is useful I’ll do it.

Calling the Unconscious
Back to rituals and manifestations:   Many of us who have been tightened down in a traditional career for thirty plus years have a built in wariness for fluff.  After all, we have survived for so many years by figuring out the program and following it.   Ritual, symbol, and ceremony can activate the personal subconscious in the collective unconscious.    Oracles such as Tarot, I Ching, Runes, etc have been used for insight and manifestation throughout the world.   Although not literally prescriptive, they can elicit ideas, visions, in the individual.  Those images and notions can tap into the subconscious mind, which is much smarter than our waking selves.  An experiment in Holland some years ago proved that when difficult, unsolvable questions are posed to subjects before sleep the solutions come to conscious awareness upon waking.  It demonstrated the power of our minds is greater than our ability to access.   With practice ritual can help us to tap that great reservoir of knowledge.

Dive in & discover
Will just affirming and prayer get the results you want? It may happen but as Peter Tosh said ‘Take one step toward heaven and jah (god) will find you.’  Our human natures are built on volition.  That is how we evolved and survived.  Taking action tells the universe and yourself that you are serious, or to the caveman you want to live.  You are putting your time, your ego, your heart on the line for your goal.  Priming the wheels of the unconscious with ritual and ceremony focuses your power and sends a signal to the world.   But active effort sparks the engine that gets the vehicle of manifestation moving.   The tools for transformation range from rituals and ceremonies to meditation and prayer to journaling.  Discover and incorporate the ones that resonate with you.   At the same time, follow the admonition of the early metaphysicians, ‘Treat (pray, affirm etc.) and move your feet (take action).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Take Your Time with Transitions

Throughout my life I have carried a certain social stigma that shows up at any group social function; parties, family dinners, group meetings.  When the event is over my first inclination is to leave, split, adios and go on to whatever is next.  This character defect once was so bad a close friend confided in me, 'what happened to you all of a sudden? You said good bye and you were gone.'  Uh, yes it was time to go.  What is not easy for me is the ambiguous nature of endings and therefore beginnings.  The party ends and now it is time to begin the drive home.  This was reinforced in a thirty year career in education where everyone's day is run by the bells, when it rings you go.  Period.  The shift in work focus as marked by so-called retirement has been a radical lesson on becoming comfortable with the meandering and gradual nature of transitions.

Transitions take a lot longer than we ever expect.  In this century we are conditioned to expect things to change rapidly in technology, politics, you name it.  We have become a nation with an epidemic case of ADD, which is fostered by our highly consumerist society.  Each new ‘device’ offers more tricks, features, and entertainment that we didn’t know we needed.  Reminds me of a piece I wrote about  about the 70s hippie commune, Taylor Camp, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  The kids (now senior citizens) were seeking a calmer, quieter, simpler life living in tree houses.  In the 21st century, life is a lot more complicated than in the 70s.  We live in a global village with instantaneous connectivity with friends, colleagues, and customer virtually anywhere in the world.  This rapid social and technological change has been seen as a factor in the ever increasing incidence of depression and anxiety.  The constant change in daily even extends to the stock market with its now regular mood swings. 

With this backdrop, the transition to ‘retirement’ or the next chapter after one’s original career, can seem excruciatingly slow.  Changing daily habits is the easiest.  I did not find it tough to learn to sleep in in the morning.  Staying out during the week to indulge in my passion for live jazz quickly resulted in a new sleep routine.  The more difficult change was addressing other aspects that drop away with the job; social connections, achievement, structure, and sense of purpose.  For myself and many others there is no possibility (or desire) of continuing the job in a modified form.  I wanted a clean break, a reinvention that would open the space for new passions and projects.  In a word: Reinvention.  Just as work acquaintances largely faded away, also unexpectedly former hobbies disappeared (couldn’t play my sport of 40 years, tennis, due to aging back issues), my spiritual community began to look tired and boring.  I chose to study the issue and read a bunch of books on retirement and completed the questions for self-awareness.  I even hired a coach for four sessions.  One night I did an elaborate burning ritual with documents, clothes, and photos from my past life.  All of it was good but no bolt of lightning from the rare blue skies in Santa Monica transforming me into a totally new character. The key ingredients missing were time and focused action. 

Seeking Vision in Death Valley
Rather than patiently doing my inner closure, my impatience and anxiety led me to hitch onto a new lover as if she was a trolley to Mt Zion.  The weight of my major life transition was too much for our nascent connection and we imploded after a couple years together.    When the relationship came to its end, I was finally and truly on my own with full days to build my new life.  I even went on a ten day wilderness vision quest in Death Valley to find that instant direction.  Not so fast.  Faced with persistent questions for the introspective:  Who am I?  What am I to do? Where am I to go?  The urgency seemed much greater at 60 than at 25.  Time was no longer on my side.  If not now, when?  Rather than looking for the perfect career/ location/ mate, I shifted my inquiry to 'What is it that fulfills me now?'     

After tapping my decades of meditation practice and reading William Bridges' 'Making Sense of Life's Transitions', I decided to let it simmer and only when fully cooked...act.  Practicing acceptance ironically has yielded insights that were not attained by thinking and striving but by living here and now.  As they say in zen, ‘reach, don’t grab.’ It is a balance of living fully in this experience now and still growing, exploring, and inquiring.  I’ll always be a quester, but now I know there is no rush AND study and preparation can set the table but the repast must still ripen, cook, and be served in its own time.  Then taking action with the knife and fork, we are ready dine on the sweet nectar of this golden time of life.