Cookies and Kindness

Christina and JeanneGuest Blog by Christina Baldwin

Originally Posted on Friday, July 28th, 2017 by C Baldwin, http://peerspirit.com/cookies-and-kindness/

My dear partner left for Minnesota for five days and the first night alone in the house I went on a media binge. Up late cooking, with cool evening air coming through open windows, I set my laptop next to the mixing bowl and turned on the news feeds. While making summer soup and muffins for my writing group, and a batch of healthy cookies, I “caught up” with the craziness of the US political scene: daily briefings from the New York Times and Guardian, MSNBC, and late night comic-commentary. It relieves me that smart people are keeping tabs on the tweeting chaos and legislative “multiple vehicle accident blocking all lanes of traffic” that is our current government. Pile up! Only the victims of this wreck are not actually in it, but watching helplessly from the sidelines.

After awhile it dawns on me that while I am  so careful regarding ingredients I put in this food: no sugar, all organic, gluten free flour, etc. etc. what I am putting in my mind (even though I’m feeding off the upper end of information) is nevertheless fairly toxic.

How do I nourish myself in the societal situation we are living through?

As an American and a global citizen, I am committed to remaining aware, informed, and interactive with these larger crises. Yet I find this media immersion exhausting and overwhelming. It disturbs me at a neurological level. I have to manage anxiety, sleep disruption, and mood swings. I do manage. Well, I think I’m managing. I think most of us are managing.

And managing in this situation takes an incredible amount of energy. We are, as a people, worn down by the need to stay tuned and watchful. No matter where we sit on the political spectrum, it’s tense. We’re waiting for the next tweet-bomb, the next act of violence, the next media frenzy: and we don’t have to wait long. We are shell-shocked and not as thoughtful as we might usually be. There is no usually anymore.

So this summer, both in my community and in my travels, I have been asking myself: what can I do, right here, right now, to help ease one another’s way? I can smile and look into a stranger’s eyes. I can put an arm out, stabilizing an elder or a toddler as we walk on uneven ground. I can take time to really listen when I ask someone “how are you?” and they begin to really tell me. I can look for beauty and point it out. I can see an act of kindness and acknowledge it. I can text little notes of love and appreciation.

These tiny gestures take on added significance in times when civility seems to be drastically eroded. Every little gesture reassures me, and those around me, that we are still a kind people willing to look up and look out for each other.  These gestures require mutual engagement: with neighbors who vote or worship differently, with friends terrified of losing their health care, with immigrants trying to find a new sense of home, with strangers at the grocery store, with families straining to stay together.

This is the power of the people: to refuse to be separated, to keep finding ways to hang together, to practice the Golden Rule, to recognize commonalities, to notice that we are still largely respectful, curious; eager to share stories, to be heard and seen.  So I renew my pledge to turn away from the addictive lure of the big catastrophe and spend more time focused on us—the ordinary folks.

It is way past midnight when I take the last of the cookies out of the oven. I turn off the news feeds, quit my email program, disengage the wifi connection, and put the laptop on sleep. Tomorrow I begin anew: waking to nature, waking to the people around me, waking to write in ways that I pray help keep us sane. I have plates of cookies to share with people who don’t expect them. What fun that will be.

SEEING ME: The Payoff of Mental Decluttering

“Pride of Barbados” Photo Credit: Dave Rackley, Dave Rackley Photography
“Pride of Barbados” Photo Credit: Dave Rackley, Dave Rackley Photography

This month’s blog is a free edited excerpt from Seeing Me,  written by photographer Dave Rackley and yours truly.

Seeing Me  is a guide to self-awareness—a “read and reflect” workbook—for reframing the way you see yourself through reflective writing. It is a journey of awakening, calling each of us to look at our lives through a new lens. Using the wisdom of everyday experience and the metaphors of photography, Dave and I offer you a way to explore your perceptions and misperceptions—all to reframe the way you see yourself. 

The following is comprised of two essays, two sets of prompts, interspersed with some suggestions for reframing how you see your life. We hope you take time to do the short exercises and find them meaningful.

Here, Let Me Help You with Those Weeds:
Jeanne’s Overgrown Garden Story

 

“What if I told you that your every conflict, disappointment, struggle, or challenge with others and yourself, was merely a manifestation of what’s going on within your own thinking. Would you go there first to fix, mend, and allay?”

—The Universe, ©Mike Dooley, www.tut.com

 

Is thy gluteus maximus getting sore because you’re on the fence about some issue or wondering how to deal with somebody else’s business?

Concerned about your unappreciative boss? Upset over a nasty neighbor? Troubled about a new (or old) relationship? Stuck in a rut?

It’s time to clear out that mental clutter and go pull some weeds, preferably your own.

In reading self-help books, I often catch myself thinking this is perfect advice for Susie Q. (or my husband or my best friend or…). Hmm. And why do I think I know what Susie needs? And why is she my focus?

Ah, because I am a teacher, a personal growth teacher. All wise. All knowing. All of life is material for my teaching and my autopilot teacher kicks in. I can hardly help myself – I love my work. I love seeing people wake up to their lives and their possibilities.

All wise and all knowing? Not hardly. What I teach people to do is to get in touch with their own wisdom—to practice self-love, self-care. My job is not to fix them and their job is not to fix other people. Our job is to take a long, hard, loving look at ourselves.

I’m not talking about being self-absorbed or narcissistic. When you take the reflective time to get to know and love yourself, and pull out the metaphorical weeds in your head, you can be in the world as your best self, your whole self, sharing your authentic gifts and unique talents.

Once there was a woman who decided to tend her own garden. It wasn’t until she focused on her own soil that she saw both the beauty of her garden and the weeds that needed pulling. And by tending to her own life, she didn’t fall prey to the oh-so-easy distraction of fixing others.

Well I‘ll be darned. Guess I’ll take care of my weeds and you can go pull your own!

Got any good weed-pulling stories to share?

*****

Set a timer for 10 minutes, grab a pen and a piece of paper or a journal, and consider your current life by responding to the following prompts:

  1. I feel overgrown with weeds in my life right now because…
  2. I don’t have time to pull my own weeds, because…
  3. I feel confined in my life right now, because…

 

When you’re finished, read Dave’s thoughts before moving on to the suggestions for reframing the way you see things and the “reframing” prompts.

 

Grading Photos – Not All Are Worth Saving
Dave’s Story of Facing Reality

 

Not every photo that I take will be noteworthy, so I needed some way to score the images. In simple terms a so-so image with no rank gets no attention during editing. A really bad photo may get an “x”, during the initial culling process.

Before editing begins, photos that get an “x” are deleted from the hard drive. I am ruthless – I know I will not be using the photo, and I have no need to keep it around.

A photo with a rank of at least three gets attention. For me, edited photos that have good potential for designation as “keeper” get higher ranks added during the editing process.

As clients select photos for purchase, the rankings change, yet again. This culling process takes almost no time to do, but the resulting rankings save me minutes to hours in the overall process of producing quality images.

Why edit or re-image a photo in the first place? There are many reasons. My three favorites are

  1. take a snapshot to a great shot,
  2. create something no one has ever seen, and
  3. simply because I can, so why not?

*****

Your Opportunity to Reframe Your Life:
Feeling the Possibilities

 

There’s an invitation to live life fully in the moment by clearing your mind’s weeds. It’s a way to be vulnerable – to let yourself bloom, where you are.  Here’s a secret from Brené Brown: vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is emotional risk, exposure, and uncertainty. Strength comes from blooming, not from sitting on the fence and judging others.

Consider exploring, playing with, and practicing the following:

  • Relax. Reflect. Renew.
  • Treat yourself kindly, with care and concern (Self-compassion)
  • Vent (briefly)
  • Challenge yourself with the following slogan: So what? Now what?
  • Move forward, Move from why me? to what’s next?
  • Go pull those metaphorical weeds…stay with it, stay with your story.  By looking at your own life, you can become your best self rather than distracting yourself with fixing others.

*****

Set your timer for 10 more minutes, and consider your current life by responding to the following prompts:

  1. To find the flowers blooming in my life I could…
  2. I can slowly start weeding out my garden by…
  3. If I focused on my own garden rather than somebody (or everybody) else’s, I could…

*****

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

                                                     Brené Brown

 

Your comments or feedback to this process are most welcome.

Seeing Me is available as an e-book on Amazon:
amazon.com/gp/product/B017UNWCQE

act-together

Getting Your Act Together

“Whatever happens on the outside, you need a place
on which to stand on the inside.”

calm-coffee~~Christina Baldwin, author, writer, teacher,
co-founder of PeerSpirit, Inc. and The Circle Way Process

 

I’ve been taking not one, but two —count them, two — classes relative to my life and how I go about my business. I either deserve a pat or a bullseye on my back.

Carolyn Scarborough is teaching an 8-week course based on Julia Cameron’s latest, “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again” and Renée Trudeau is closing in on a 5-week mastermind course for an intimate group of 10 entrepreneurs called “Unleashed.”

Since I also teach reflective writing, I’m slightly “over-reflected” from all of the above. Though exhausting in some ways (hence bullseye on back), immersing myself in this work has paid off and blocks have been removed (big pat on back).

Here’s the upshot: better sleep, greater patience, more fun, more clarity, more confidence, more focused and, well, happier! I think I’m getting my act together.

Carolyn and Renée, in their own unique way, have both helped me to “see Jeanne.” Their courses reinforced the importance of the work I’ve been doing and the passion I have for it. Just last year, co-author/photographer Dave Rackley and I published a book entitled “Seeing Me” to help people reframe the way they see themselves through reflective writing. It’s a good book. You should buy it.

I could feel myself open up in the classes, expand and grow as I watched the same thing happen to the others. And I realized how drawn  I am to people who also allow themselves to be real, to be vulnerable.

Both circles welcomed vulnerability and participation. I realized, especially in the entrepreneurs group, I didn’t have to know everything, or even give the appearance of knowing everything. I was not there to be wise (even though I was, ahem, the elder in both groups), I was there to be me. We shifted into a vulnerable place where all could let down their guard. They saw the real me – the one who suffers, struggles, and tries to get out of her own way.

Try getting out of your own way in order to get your act together. obstaclesYou’ll know it when it happens. It doesn’t feel like an act. It feels real. And it feels really good.

My thanks to Renée and Carolyn for helping me get mine together by helping me see myself, get to know myself and practice the vulnerable route to get there.

Biggest gift? It isn’t about what I want to be, it’s about how I want to be.

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Talking Yourself Down Off the Ledge – Find Your Rita

Recently I had an out-of-sorts day and could have easily (I mean easily) headed toward the ledge. But rather than going for the ledge-balancing act, I took a walk to sort out my out-of-sorts condition. One could just go to the hardware store and buy sorts if you find yourself out of sorts, but the only sorts they stock are short term ones.

Sorting works better than ledging.

What exactly is sorting, you ask?

Try a little air, a little movement, and asking yourself questions. Is it real or true? What am I feeling? Where am I feeling it? What is my body saying? Where is my body tight, grumpy, in pain? I stretched my mind as I stretched my legs. I made room for the bad/sad feelings and didn’t focus on forcing them to go away or stuff them.

Stuffing: bad.

Sorting: good.

Through the walking/sorting process, I realized I needed some mothering, some support, and realizing that, I knew what to do. I called on Rita.

Rita is a voice in my head. We all have voices in our heads (quit rolling your eyes). You know what I’m talking about. As goofy as it may sound, I give them names: Priscilla Productivity, Garbage Voice, and Sarah Slacker are probably the most prominent. They are, as you can well imagine, not nice voices, but they can be oh so loud in my head: you’re not good at this, you’re not doing it right, you should be doing ______ (fill in the blank), you’re not good enough.

But last year a new voice showed up, thank God. It was the one and only Rita. She is my loving protector, takes care of me, nurtures me, watches out for me and always has my back. She’s big, buxom, and bold, and when another voice is giving me a hard time, she gets up in his or her face and politely kicks them to the curb, then helps me down off the ledge.

She has appeared twice now in the flesh, as a SuperShuttle driver last September and last week as a Goodwill employee.

I stopped by the Goodwill close to home and dropped off some items. Before I could unpack them out of the back of my car, a woman brought a cart around to the car and helped me with my delivery. We had a great conversation and a good laugh about the items.img_1474_crop

She gave me the receipt and then said, “Thank you for making a difference in a life today.” I was so taken aback, I said, “Really?” to which she simply responded, “Yes.”

I asked her if I could hug her, and asked her for her name. Ms. Pat, she informed me as she gave me the best motherly hug I’ve had in quite some time. I told her my name and thanked her for making my day and left.

She was a Rita incarnation if ever I’ve seen one, and a reminder to me to call on Rita whenever I feel the need.

Who is your Rita? If you don’t have one, it’s time to find one. A little good will goes a long way.

 

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In Times of Uncertainty: Rethink Who You Are – A Message for My Children and Granddaughters

“When our future is uncertain,
we have a hard time functioning in the present.”
~~Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction,
and Get the Right Things Done

 

The current political scene could easily paralyze me. And the vitriol spewed from various sources including friends on Facebook is hard to take. I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. When I feel heavy and weighed down by the rhetoric and the hatred and fear, I know I need to do something. But what?

Jim Rigby recently said, “We are trying to hold on to human decency, not win the battle of the apes. As the public airwaves now fill with masters of bluster, innuendo and conspiracy theories, it is tempting to respond in kind. But just as bluster cannot win if the standard is reason, neither can reason succeed if the standard has been set by bluster. Instead of countering with the same kind of hoots and howls that only mimic human thought, we must hold on to our our civility and reason as to a flickering flame in a lightless midnight.”

I’m in a good place right now, literally.

I’m house and dog-sitting on Whidbey Island, my heart home, for dear friends, and am also sharing this time with my very special and very exhausted sister who is in need of time away from caregiving. Here, she can rest and regain her sense of well-being.

Recognizing the need for both of us to practice self-care, I didn’t hesitate when Sarah, a new island neighbor/friend, extended a welcomed invitation to attend a yoga class with her.

Wendy Dion, the yoga instructor (Yogalodge.com), impressed upon the dozen or so of us there to “practice being with yourself,” — being in a deeper relationship with yourself, a new kind of intimacy. Though I have definitely learned to slow down (at least part of the day), being with myself is still admittedly an ongoing mysterious challenge.

As I followed Wendy’s instructions for different yoga poses, I listened with curiosity and wonder to my body, focused on its response: to feel it, hear it, know it. In that moment of awareness, I experienced the intimacy Wendy spoke of and felt remarkably more conscious and more engaged.

It was an eye-opening moment and the importance of the deeper relationship with myself became clear.

Right now, in these uncertain and volatile times, it is critical for me to learn to be with myself and know what I feel and think. To love myself so I can understand the ramifications of such love – loving self, loving others, to be in right relationship with myself and this world. I have been caught up in the current political scene. I have found anger and sadness I didn’t know was in me, reminding me that we are all, every single one of us, capable of such feelings, letting us know (if we’re paying attention) what anger and hate can do to us – to our relationship with ourselves, and what it does to our relationship with each other.

So the question becomes, who am I? What is it I want for this world? If it all becomes overwhelming, I can become just as paralyzed as the next person, throw up my hands and say what I do, what I feel, how I treat others, doesn’t matter.

Ultimately, self-care, moving into a deeper relationship with myself, gives me the clarity to know who I am and how I want to be. Not to turn away from the vitriol and venom I read on FB rantings and ravings, but rather to come at it from a different place as I meet it. I don’t want to become what I don’t like, what I don’t admire, what I feel denigrates and defiles the good so many people are trying to do in this world.

I don’t want to promote hate or participate in mean-spiritedness, because I believe when one starts spewing, others stop listening. I would rather choose kind-sight (thank you, Stephanie). Before I open my mouth, let me first be able to go deep within, establish a truer relationship with myself, know and be able to articulate my values and live and share them —by example.

Regardless of your political views, Michelle Obama’s words can be taken to heart. “…how we explain [to our daughters] that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

Before you go low, stop and find out who you are, who you want to be and make the choice to go high.