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Dharma: Bringing Forth What Is Within You 767 1024 Thayer Fox

Dharma: Bringing Forth What Is Within You

What is it that you can’t stop being? I’m not referring to your job, your to-do list or your identity as a parent or partner. What are you unconsciously doing or being as you go through your daily routine? What grabs your attention? When do you feel clear and charged like you downed an espresso? These clues will help reveal your Dharma.

Dharma is a central concept in Hinduism and Buddhism that does not have one translation. “The path” is the most accurate nutshell definition. The implication of dharma is that each person has a right way of living for them. Once you inhabit your true nature and align your life with a path of expression, the journey towards enlightenment begins. Don’t tune out because the word enlightenment feels too lofty, enlightenment in Buddhism just means awake. When we engage in our dharma, our heart awakens, transforming our experience of the world around us.

Years ago, after reading Stephen Cope’s, The Great Work of Your Life, I set an intention to notice what I couldn’t stop being every day. Stephen said to look closely at your childhood. What did you love doing? What characteristics stood out in your personality?

As a child, I loved reading and writing poetry. Under the covers with a flashlight, I whispered the poems of Yeats and Arnold late into the night. In 5thgrade my English teacher noticed my passion and asked me to stay after class. We started meeting regularly, and I shared my journals with her. The memory is vivid because it was my first experience of feeling seen by another person. Observing the “Buddha nature” in someone and reflecting it back to them is an act of love that can change a life.

Writing is now an expression of my dharma, but my dharma is not necessarily to be a writer. What drew me to poetry were the emotions that the writers boldly displayed. The courage in their vulnerability gave me access to my shut down heart. Something inside me desired to be brave and open too.

The next time I noticed a glimpse of a path was at a soup kitchen with my mother. I was twelve years old, so it was suggested that I stay in the kitchen and make cheese sandwiches. As soon as things got busy, I snuck into the dining hall and chatted with the men and women seated there. Moved by their rawness and transparency, something dormant inside me was activated.

Assuming that being of service or a volunteer is part of my dharma is too basic a translation of the soup kitchen memory. Making a difference for the men and women at the soup kitchen did flood me with light, but it was who they were that made that possible. The same as the poets. What reached out and grabbed me in both circumstances was the purity in the communication. It’s the same reason I love attending AA meetings fifteen years later. Alcohol hasn’t been an issue since my first year of sobriety, but I can’t get enough of the brave people there who share from their hearts. I feel blessed to be an alcoholic, so I have access to those church basements.

As a parent, understanding dharma is essential. My greatest responsibility is to notice what my children can’t stop being. Burying them in my dharma would eventually cause them grave pain. My daughter sings as she brushes her teeth in the morning and as she reads in bed at night. My son uses two boxes of aluminum foil to build a robot at 6:00am. It’s not my job to interpret what any of this means, but I can keep exposing them to opportunities that may reveal the next step in their journey. I highly recommend a book series that I love reading to my children called Ordinary People Change the World by Brad MeltzerEach book describes a dharma journey, and I’ve never made it through one without getting choked up with tears of awe.

A quote in the Bible sums up the importance of connecting with your dharma: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”  The destruction referenced in this quote is rarely cataclysmic. Most people destroy themselves slowly over a lifetime by making small unconscious decisions that lead them farther and farther away from their truth.

Being disconnected from my Buddha nature for fifteen years almost killed me. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to stop drinking. Without alcohol, far from the right path, my experience of the world was excruciatingly empty. Even without an addiction, the world is a distracting place, and most people get lost or coached away from their dharma at an early age by well-intentioned mentors and peers who are not fully expressed themselves.

But it’s never too late. Ever. Finally, at forty-four, I feel peaceful and fulfilled, closer than I’ve ever been to a right way of living for me. On days that I’m impatient because I want it all figured out, I remind myself that dharma is not a destination, it’s a lifetime of becoming.

 

The Hallway: The Space Between the Comfortable and the Unknown 1024 1006 Thayer Fox

The Hallway: The Space Between the Comfortable and the Unknown

Have you gone through a period where you no longer fit comfortably into your life? The old routines, relationships and ways of thinking that used to yield results and fulfillment no longer work? You are confused because you are doing everything right. You feel alone because you don’t know how to describe what you are experiencing to loved ones around you who may take it personally. If any part of this resonates, then you are or have been in “the hallway”.

The hallway is long, and there are many doors. Some areas are not well lit. Whenever I enter it, my reaction is to exit immediately through the door which led me in, return to what is comfortable. But I have found that staying comfortable comes at a high cost to my soul. At best, comfortable is the field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz.

Taking an inventory of your vices is a great way to determine if you choose comfort over growth regularly. Staying stagnant requires numbing agents because it goes against our ever-evolving nature. For years, I was engaged in a ferocious game of whack-a-mole, using different vices as anesthesia to numb my instincts. After I quit drinking, my smoking took on a new fury. Then I stopped smoking and picked up food. Obsessive exercising eventually replaced overeating. After injuring myself multiple times, I turned my focus to shopping/accumulating stuff. Simultaneously, I filled my schedule with social commitments that didn’t align with my core values. As a result, I often felt awkward and relied on gossip as a way to connect with my environment. And busy is a vice too, being busy ran my show for years.

Running out of vices was the best thing that ever happened to me. Without them, I couldn’t squeeze myself into a life I’d outgrown. I was tired of being Alice in Wonderland crammed into that house after she ate the cake.

Without vices, my pain and longing became acute.

The first time I entered the hallway was when I stopped drinking at age thirty. Not picking up a drink was the easiest part of getting sober. The struggle was waiting in the hallway between my old life and a new life that had yet to reveal itself.

One night, when I was around ten months sober, I went out to a group dinner at a trendy Manhattan restaurant. Some people at the table were friends, others acquaintances. I had been laying low, doing my best to avoid environments that could trigger me, but these dinners had been the bulk of my social life, and it was time to re-engage. After settling in, I was relieved that the wine on the table didn’t tempt me. But as the evening progressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable. The music in the restaurant was loud, so it was impossible to carry on a conversation. Hot and crowded, the waiters bumped into my chair. No one at the table drank heavily, but they were buzzed, swaying and smiling.

I was bored, lonely and longing for something I couldn’t identify yet. I ate to quell my unease and ended up eating everything that I could get my hands on. The void  I felt was the same one I used to flood with alcohol. Food was less effective, but it did the job. Hazy and bloated, I excused myself as soon as the check was paid.

The next day I felt horrible, physically and emotionally. I called my AA sponsor and described my non-alcohol induced malaise. She laughed and told me I was suffering from an emotional hangover. Emotional hangovers occur after spending a lot of time vice free (this is the key part) in environments or with people who do not align with your core values or even worse, trigger old trauma. Symptoms of emotional hangovers include circular thinking, self-doubt, low energy/depression, and anxiety.

But what was I supposed to do? Those were my friends, and this was my life. Something must be wrong with me. That’s when my sponsor told me I was in the hallway. Naming my location made waiting in the unknown more bearable.

That wasn’t my last group dinner, I continued to return to old patterns, hoping that something would click into place. Nothing did. I became willing to try some of the other doors in the hallway. Placing myself in different environments was scary and exhilarating. I met new people inside each door. People who appeared strange at first, and now I can’t imagine my life without them. The more risks I took, the less attached and afraid I became.

I am in a hallway now, growing impatient and wanting to force results. But after many visits over the past fifteen years, I know that if I stay open and curious, the next phase of my life and development will be revealed.

Gratitude: The Best Meal To Serve Your Hungry Ghost 640 480 Thayer Fox

Gratitude: The Best Meal To Serve Your Hungry Ghost

Gratitude is wishing for what you already have. For most of us, this doesn’t happen naturally. Good news is that our brains can be re-wired. Daily practice carves out neural pathways that will routinely lead us to fresh ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Grateful people are happy ones; there is nothing complicated about this equation.

Gratitude is a trendy word today. The star of self-help books and Ted talks, like the beautiful one given by David Steindl-Rast, gratitude’s power is undeniable. Gratitude challenges are prevalent on social media, people post lists for a period and then stop. Schools discuss ways to instill gratitude in children. Gratitude journals are sold at toy stores near the Uno cards.

The mass effort to bring gratitude to the forefront of our collective thinking is a positive step. But when something becomes familiar, we stop noticing it. It’s the reason we forget to wish for what we already have. The concept of gratitude has reached the tipping point of overuse, and people feel like they are cultivating gratitude by attending a lecture at their children’s school or highlighting paragraphs in a book. Engaging in a practice and understanding a concept are worlds apart.

For the first thirty years of my life, I didn’t have an ounce of gratitude. Growing up in an environment that kept my fight and flight response activated, the hungry ghost was strong inside me. I craved and schemed to obtain what I wanted as quickly as I could get my hands on it. It was never enough. Entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. There is no appreciation or relief in the world owes me mindset.

So how did I transform from an entitled wretch to someone who feels deeply grateful for my life? Slowly.

Gratitude has been a focus in the rooms of AA long before it surfaced in the mainstream. Fourteen and half years ago, after not drinking for ninety days, my sponsor told me that my thinking was now the source of my misery. She suggested that I email her a gratitude list every morning containing three items. I asked her how she expected me to be grateful sitting amidst the rubble of my life? With few people left, no job, depressed and over-weight, making a gratitude list felt like a cruel request.

When I would call my sponsor to complain that I had nothing to put down on my list, she would calmly ask me, “Did you have a bed to sleep in last night? A warm meal for dinner? A roof over your head?” Annoyed that she would suggest these necessities for my list, I was desperate to feel differently, so I did what she said.

For the next few years, I made gratitude lists daily. The lists became effortless as my life grew. They still included simple things like a great yoga class, walks around the reservoir in Central Park, a delicious meal at City Bakery, and a job that paid my bills. On challenging days, I would put down the three items that my sponsor mentioned when I started the practice. I didn’t just scribble them down anymore, I sat with each one, finally understanding that they weren’t as elementary as I initially believed. They were and still are enormous blessings.

My baseline well-being shifted with my thinking. There is always something right in front of me to be grateful for, it just requires a shift in perspective. I no longer write lists, but I end my two daily meditations by saying thank you for whatever blessings I am present to at that moment. What I focus on is my choice and choosing to focus on the abundance in my life always improves my mindset.

 

Transcendental Meditation Is Not as Boring as It Sounds 1024 576 Thayer Fox

Transcendental Meditation Is Not as Boring as It Sounds

Do you meditate regularly? If so or if not, are you sick of hearing about meditation? That makes two of us. Listening to anyone describe their meditation practice is on the same level of tedium as someone telling you about their dream. But meditation is an essential habit in my life that produces results. This post is about how I went from being a New Yorker brain NEVER meditator to someone with a forty minute a day Transcendental Meditation practice.

Similar to my belief in God, meditation is my own thing, I don’t need anyone to support or understand it. What you get out of meditation may be different than what I do, and if you practice it regularly, you will get something, guaranteed. As promised, I won’t wax poetic about my profound meditative experiences, but I strongly suggest that you read David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish. It’s easy to digest and will get you excited.

For twelve years I listened to people discuss their meditation practice at AA meetings. Meditation is part of the 11thStep in the 12 Step program. If you take on recovery the way the founder of AA, Bill Wilson intended, you will come face to face with it at some point. Some people listen to the Headspace app, others have cushions, some meditate on a subway for five minutes during their morning commute. I used to pretend that my park walks counted as walking meditation but after learning TM, I feel the difference.

I am an all or nothing gal which leads to my main reason for signing up to learn Transcendental Meditation: I do well in structure. The four-day course is designed as a springboard to help you create a new habit in a supportive environment. It’s not free, and after plunking down the fee, you feel obliged to see it through.

Pain has always been my greatest motivator, so I signed up for a TM introductory course in the Fall of 2016 after a rough summer with my son.  If you read my previous post about Expansion and Survival Mode, then you know that I experienced post-traumatic something after he had an accident as a four-year-old.

Up in Maine, a year after the doctors declared my son recovered, he cartwheeled down a narrow stairwell while running. I lost it. Thankfully the area was carpeted, and after five hours spent in the ER for observation, the doctors said we could head home. My son barely had a bruise on him, but I wept for days. I use the word wept on purpose because it wasn’t conventional crying, it was frenetic trapped energy passing through me in the form of non-stop tears. My hands shook, and I could barely sleep. Jolted awake periodically by visions of my son rolling out of bed, I started checking on him throughout the night and lining his floors with pillows at 3am. Sleep had been a “thing” before my son’s accident, but this was drastic.

Whatever mental and emotional flooring I had installed that past year fell out from under me. I knew I wasn’t my old self, but I had no idea that I was on the verge of a breakdown. Friends and family asked me if I was getting help in impatient tones. Their empathy had long expired. My husband was the only one concerned. We are both stoic creatures, and he knew my behaviors were far outside my baseline character.

A week later, on a playdate with a new mother friend, I opened up and explained why I couldn’t focus on a conversation with her while watching my son fly around the yard with her boys. She asked me if I had ever heard of Transcendental Meditation and suggested I check it out when I returned to New York in the Fall.

A month later, I was seated in a comfortable chair at one of the centers on Madison Avenue. The instructors are out of central casting, talking slowly in soothing tones and I felt like I was in a meditation documentary. To my relief, I didn’t have to sit in the dreaded lotus position, or even entirely still. This has been a past meditation deal breaker for me. You are allowed to wiggle your feet, stretch your arms, and do whatever movement comes naturally to you while you are meditating. In TM, you are given a “mantra”, a meaningless word that produces a sound that helps your mind focus and settle. Your word is your secret, I have never told anyone my mantra.

Overall, the course was simple and relaxing. I did not experience any WOW moments like I had in other workshops but I was intrigued by the data. Nonetheless, after investing the time and money, I took on my new practice wholeheartedly. After a few months, I noticed that I wasn’t as reactive and that doomsday scenarios weren’t domineering my headspace. Navigating daily life felt less weighty, which freed me up to enjoy it more.

Some days I feel like I am fake meditating, using my mantra as a hammer to break up the chatter in my head. Other days I fall asleep in the first few minutes. Occasionally, I sink into a boundless space where my mantra disappears, and I experience a chill that runs up and down my spine. In my assessment, these are the days that I am meditating correctly but my TM teacher Donna said that they all count just the same.

When people ask how Transcendental Meditation differs from other forms of meditation, I don’t have an answer. Whatever works for you regularly is the right form of meditation. For me, TM’s structure and group aspect were essential in getting started and developing a sustainable habit. Included in the initial TM course fee is a lifetime membership to all TM facilities so you can go to group meditation events, lectures and one on one check-ins if you feel frustrated or need the extra support.

I love my mantra. The random word comforts me. I reach for it when my nervous system gets overloaded. If I wake up at 2am with a ticker tape of thoughts, my mantra puts me back to sleep. At the risk of sounding corny, it’s gives me access to a safe place inside myself that I never knew existed. That alone is worth it.

 

Feedback: Who You Listen to Is Just as Important as Who You Ignore 640 428 Thayer Fox

Feedback: Who You Listen to Is Just as Important as Who You Ignore

Over the past year, feedback has played a critical role in my growth. Seeking feedback has been a system of mine since I stopped drinking. So why did it take thirteen years for me to see any results? A glitch was sabotaging my feedback system. I was jogging 5 miles a day and eating an extra-large fat-free/high sugar frozen yogurt covered in rainbow sprinkles for dinner wondering why I couldn’t shake the extra few pounds. One blind spot can derail an entire system. Feedback is either a tsunami wiping out miles of beach or rocket fuel that can blast you to the moon, there is no in between.

After thirty years of doing things my way and ending up with a suicide note in my side table drawer, I became open to feedback. This was my first experience taking advice. Without alcohol as anesthesia, I was swallowed by the pain of poor choices and unprocessed emotions. A flesh container filled with impulses and fears, it was amazing that I had survived for thirty years without listening to anyone. Desperation gave me the willingness to try a different way. As the AA old timers say, I took the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth.

My life grew exponentially as I followed suggestions from my sponsor and other sober women from AA. I met my husband, we had our daughter, bought an apartment, settled into the American Dream. A year after the birth of my son, my ego started whispering, “we can take it from here.” It’s easy to locate the periods in my life when I allowed this thought to be my driver; dragging myself out of a burning vehicle is always the next scene in the movie. Eight years sober, with every box checked I hit a spiritual bottom.

With pain as my motivator, I returned to AA and started working with Jeff. Yes, is a gift of willingness and I started saying yes again to whatever was suggested. The feedback system was successfully re-instated; I began to feel better.

Widening the feedback circle with my expansion, I noticed how a casual comment could deflate me. Negative or careless feedback can destroy an embryonic idea in a sentence. Yet, I kept bringing dreams to intelligent people with clipped wings and walked away believing that flight was not an option. Unaware of my blind spot in this pattern, I thought I needed to keep working on becoming a better me who would produce better ideas.

Rarely did I strategically select the source of feedback because unbeknownst to me, information wasn’t my objective, I was looking for approval and love. Proximity also made a lot of my decisions. It was easy to be lazy with a ton of well-educated friends who will give me thirty minutes of their day. I would share whatever idea was percolating with whoever was next up on my calendar. A stopped clock is right twice a day, so sometimes I got lucky.

At the two Tony Robbins events, I attended this past year, my blind spot was uncloaked. First, I had to separate love and approval from my feedback loop. Next, I had to get clear on what I wanted to accomplish. If you want useful answers, then you need to carefully construct your questions. Then I had to look at how I selected a feedback source. Tony says that mastery is doing something every day, taking a course or reading a book doesn’t make you a master of anything. The key to feedback is finding someone who is living and breathing the topic, so it is integrated into their bloodstream and not an extraneous subject they study. For example, seeing a shrink who is single to discuss your marriage because she has a degree from Columbia on her wall is the wrong determining factor. Going to a friend who still giggles and holds hands with her husband fifteen years later will always yield superior results.

The other day on a plane, I was able to help someone who was struggling with addiction. I know I have a black belt in this area, so I spoke up confidently when the young man across the aisle asked me if I thought he drank too much. I also know when to keep my mouth shut or recommend another feedback source. If I am giving boardroom advice based on Adam Grant’s brilliant presentation philosophy in The Originals, the only thing you should consider is purchasing the book. I haven’t given a business presentation for over fifteen years. Yesterday’s work doesn’t qualify when considering a feedback source.

If you choose to casually share a new endeavor with a friend or colleague, be prepared for unsolicited feedback. Knowing who to listen to and who to ignore is an essential skill. Always ask yourself before the wind leaves your sails “Is this person qualified to give me feedback in this area? Better yet, be conscious about what you share with whom. Just because someone is a good colleague or mother friend doesn’t mean they will understand your creative vision.

Positive people who always agree with every word you say are great fuel sources, but they aren’t ideal for feedback either. If your heart rate hasn’t picked up when you request feedback, then you are playing it safe. I showed three people preliminary blog posts before starting The Growth Project: one person for quality, another person for content and then my husband who I can count on to say it all. Building a site without this due diligence would have been wasteful if all three of them declared that my articles didn’t align with my mission.

Here is my Feedback hit list as a take away:

  1. Feedback is critical, but who you choose to receive it from more so.
  2. Don’t default to the easily accessible. Your smart and available friend who attended Princeton twenty years ago isn’t qualified to coach you in many areas. Doing extra research and finding the six degrees of separation source is worth the effort.
  3. Ask yourself before approaching any source “Why are you qualified to give me feedback on X.” The answer should be as evident as the color of the sky.
  4. If you find yourself a recipient of unsolicited feedback, don’t mistake certainty for sage wisdom. Knowing what to ignore is just as important as your great idea.
  5. Feedback is only valuable if you implement it. Don’t waste people’s time unless you are ready to go the distance.

 

Are You Stuck? Find Your Blind Spots 640 426 Thayer Fox

Are You Stuck? Find Your Blind Spots

Are you self-aware? Can you speak about your strengths and weaknesses with ease? I know the danger of this position firsthand; self-knowledge seems useful initially but ends up creating a surplus of certainty. Certainty is the cement in which we get stuck. Our known weaknesses don’t take us down, it’s our blind spots. If you don’t believe that you have any, then you have just located your first one.

I learned about blind spots at The Landmark Forum a few years ago. The Forum leader drew a Venn diagram on a whiteboard in front of the room. Inside the first circle on the left, he wrote: What I Know I Know. He then told us to write down an example of something we know we know so I wrote addiction and nutrition. In the circle at the end, he wrote: What I Know I Don’t Know. Most of us borrowed his example, to fly a plane, to complete the exercise. He finished the diagram by writing What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know aka Blind Spots in the middle circle.

The forum leader told us that the majority of what stopped us in life was housed here. A blind spot is a hidden area that you can’t see about yourself which can cause minor and severe accidents as you change lanes in life. Although blind spots are unconscious, we often go to great lengths to keep them concealed.

The irony of blind spots is that they are glaring to many of your friends and colleagues, like a strand of spinach wedged in between your two front teeth. Uncovering blind spots is the secret to becoming unstuck in any area. The inspiration that becomes available in the breakthrough moment when you come face to face with a blind spot is electric. It provides energy to take massive action and action will always move you forward.

A powerful way to uncover blind spots is to interview your friends and family. I did this exercise in my 3rd Landmark course, Self-Expression and Leadership Program, four years ago. The feedback was invaluable. I chose three conscious friends and asked how I occurred to them. Trusting they would speak out of love, I listened carefully, not liking everything I heard. One friend said that many people saw me as a combination of “aloof, hard to get close to, intense and confrontational.” Another friend asked me who else I planned to interview “nobody’s going to tell you the truth.” When I asked her why they wouldn’t, she responded, “because you scare people.” Ouch.

These conversations changed me. The disconnect between who I wanted to be and how I occurred to people was face up on the table now. My deepest desire was to connect with people in a meaningful way, but my delivery and mannerisms were sabotaging this possibility. When I couldn’t find an access point with someone or felt awkward in a situation, I became aloof, the cool girl act from my teen years. Of course, not everyone is available to connect deeply, so I also had to address why I kept going to the hardware store for oranges, which has always been one of my favorite Al-Anon sayings.

Here are three tips on how to locate blind spots:

  1. When you complain about being powerless in a re-occurring situation. Being a victim. “She makes me feel X all the time.”
  2. When you make excuses about people or situations that keep you from looking at your part. “He acts the way he does because he had a rough childhood.”
  3. When you believe that an external event is causing a problem instead of taking a closer look at your behavior. “Everyone was gossiping at the dinner.”

I had an old boss who constantly complained about everyone being an asshole: the garage attendant, the barista, and most of our clients. He believed wholeheartedly in his interpretation, and the stories he would relay were convincing. I fall into this rut too and the words of a wise friend always pull me out, “You see one or two assholes in a day, maybe it’s them. If you see more than three, consider that you are the asshole.”

It takes guts to locate a blind spot, but the breakthrough awaiting is worth the initial discomfort.

Judgment or Reality? 640 432 Thayer Fox

Judgment or Reality?

How many times have you made a decision based on an abrupt judgment? Do you feel confident that the way you see things is reality? Do you explain some of your judgments as instinct?

I’ve been off lately, barely able to sit through my two daily meditations because of the creepy crawly energy under my skin. The voice in my head has been relentlessly antagonistic. I could chart and study the chain of minor events that lead me here, but that would be a waste of time.

Looking for relief, I walked into a midday AA meeting in my neighborhood. Finding a seat in the first row, I adjusted the angle of my chair repeatedly, so I wasn’t too close to my neighbors in any direction. That’s the nature of the mood I can’t shake. Finally seated, I stared at my phone pretending to read something so no one would engage me in the usual friendly AA fashion.

Looking up at the clock, I cased the room, every person looked crazier than the next. Why did I think this was a good idea? How the hell could these people help me when they were all tearing at the seams?

No one sat in the leather speaker chair yet; there was still hope. I prayed a wise female version of Gandalf would plop down and say something astonishing.

A few minutes before the start time, a robust, dark-haired man took the seat. His sweaty face looked familiar. Then it hit me how I knew him. Struggling for over a year now, he could barely pull together ninety days of sober time before going on a bender. Thoroughly agitated, my instinct told me to bolt; no way this messy man had any sage advice to pass on.

Before I could gather my stuff, he introduced himself and began speaking. Debating whether I dashed for the door now or waited until he finished, I realized as I put a water bottle into my backpack, that the dark-haired man was staring only at me. Before I had time to be uncomfortable, he paused and pointed at me, “I know you” he said loudly.

This is totally off script, a speaker never addresses anyone in the audience during the twenty-minute opening talk. Without responding, I tilted my head giving him a quizzical look. He continued anyway, “I was counting days when I heard you speak at the 79th street workshop, you know that big Sunday 11th step meeting?” I nodded, I had spoken there recently. The speaker smiled, “That was the best qualification I’ve ever heard. I wanted to drink badly but stayed sober so I can sound like you one day.”

Sound like me? The judgmental shrew about to walk out as you bare your soul? I looked down, unworthy of his generous words. Today, I was not the woman who gave that talk. My eyes filled up as my heart opened. Putting my hands together, I bowed my head in a Namaste to show appreciation.

Gratitude surged through me, replacing all irritability. One sentence out of a stranger’s mouth smashed the self-centered glasses I had been wearing for days. Humbled, for the rest of the meeting I listened like my life depended on it.

My judgment almost kept me from being able to experience that mystical moment. I wonder how many beautiful minutes, hours, days, years have been stolen by snapshot opinions masquerading as instinct. God/ a higher intelligence/ destiny connects with us through other people. The most important job I have every day is to make myself available.

 

Are You Revealing or Hiding? 640 426 Thayer Fox

Are You Revealing or Hiding?

What if when we met someone new, instead of sharing external details about our lives, we revealed a few stories from our past that shaped us. What if we spoke about what made us feel excited and what we would like to accomplish? What if the creation of relationships was more intentional and transparent? What kinds of extraordinary bonds could be created using this formula?

After watching Diane Keogh’s Ted Talk, I did exactly what I just described and made a lifetime friend.

At first, I felt the concept in the speech was obvious. After years spent exposing my core in the rooms of AA and listening to others do the same, I experienced firsthand the healing power of personal narrative. Once I realized that my secrets weren’t unique and the ugliest parts of my story were useful to others, I began to boldly inhabit my history in church basements all over Manhattan.

This transformation was compartmentalized, and socially, I still defaulted to the weather, vacations and other safe conversation topics which left me unfulfilled when I walked away from an exchange. These rote dialogues didn’t reflect who I was or who I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to create an opening for more to exist. Interactions began to feel like a waste of time after I became aware that the paths I kept taking would never lead to the complete connection that I craved.

As Diane mentions, in every conversation, people are either trying to hide or reveal their pasts. The longer I sat with this thought, I saw the disparity between my AA world and daily life. Blaming my zip code and others perceived limitations in the area I chose to hide in provided me with the excuse I needed to avoid taking responsibility. At that moment, I made a decision to merge my two worlds.

At this time, my son started at an Upper East Side preschool. I signed up for the role of class mother, which was a shared position with another woman named Alison. We first met briefly in September 2013 at a class welcome meeting at the school. 5’10”, thin, blond with an easy laugh, the only thing that differentiated her from the general Upper East Side population was her Canadian accent. Aside from sharing the class mother role, she also had twin boys, so at the least, we would be playdate buddies.

After drop off, a few weeks later, Alison came up behind me and asked if I wanted to walk home together since we lived a block apart. I decided to follow through with my new vow and bravely attempt a different version of the get to know you exchange. At the least, it would calibrate our dynamic so future interactions would be straightforward. Alison kicked off the conversation with the perfect question, “You mentioned that you grew up in New York? What was that like?”

For the next 6 blocks, I gave her a synopsis of my life; highlighting painful and joyful moments equally, leaving nothing out. I didn’t dial my energy back or soften my tone in a concerted effort to be less intense, a criticism I have been given much of my life. I felt clear and calm as I spoke. Midway through I noticed something remarkable in Alison’s listening. I didn’t know then that she is a trained mediator. My post: The Power of Listening explains this distinction.

As we approached Alison’s block, I explained what kind of friendship I was interested in creating during this phase of my life: something real and growth-oriented where we could both say it all. Unfazed, Alison smiled and looked me directly in the eye, “that’s an amazing story, and I am interested in having that kind of friendship with you. Do you want to grab a coffee or walk in the park soon?”

I walked away with tears in my eyes- boy was I wrong about Canadian Barbie. Alison and I still laugh about my misconception. She is rare soul, and still one of my closest friends even though she lives in London now.

Since that time, I have taken risks with people that did not yield the same results, but they saved me time and energy in the long run. Living like this no longer allows me to complain about people’s capacity. Once I reveal myself, my part is done. I can walk away knowing that I gave the interaction my all, no matter the results.

Today, are you revealing or hiding your core? If so why? What do people need to know about you to truly know you?

How to Make Everyday Extraordinary
How to Make Everyday Extraordinary 640 425 Thayer Fox

How to Make Everyday Extraordinary

Ordinary days are waiting to become extraordinary.

What if you give an ordinary day the opportunity to be more? What if you believed that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was only a shift in perspective? And you have the power to make that shift? If you are having a “fine” day, nothing scintillating on the schedule, don’t write it off just yet. We believe that extraordinary enters wrapped in boas, followed by violinists. You will continue to miss the faint knocking if you don’t adjust your thinking. My most extraordinary days always catch me off guard.

This story is an example of everyday extraordinary that I almost missed.

The day started at 2 am with my daughter waking me up to tell me that her bedroom was too cold. A 25-degree night in January, mine was freezing as well. My light wouldn’t turn on as I got up to investigate and after trying a few other outlets, I realized the heat and electricity was off all over the apartment. Too tired to deal, we all went back to bed. Hopefully, this would resolve itself by 6:30 am. It did not.

After a cold, dark breakfast, I walked the kids down the emergency light wrapped service stairs. At the bottom, our doorman told us that the entire building had no power. Con Ed had been on our street since midnight, and due to explosions, they still couldn’t get into the manhole. I saw a crew of Con Ed workers huddled near a smoking pit across the street from our canopy when I exited to walk my son to school.

After drop off, my thoughts turned to my son’s fish. He has two tanks containing nine tropical fish, and it hit me that the heater had been off all night. The big tank was too heavy to move, so I wrapped it in blankets. Our beloved Betta fish Jek lived alone in a bowl that was easily transportable, so I brought him over to the super at a neighboring building for the day. At least I saved a life.

My agitation ballooned as I headed home thinking about all the items on my to-do list that required electricity. One of the Con Ed workmen was talking on his cell phone near my canopy, so I lingered until he hung up.

“Hi, I live here- wondering what’s going on with the power? How long will it be out for?” I asked in my best trying to sound calm voice.

“I’ll have a better idea once the explosions stop. It’s not safe to go down yet. I just got here at 6. This is nothing compared to the job I was at last night- near Chelsea Piers- snow melting mixed with salt from the plows is causing explosions all over. I got home at midnight, and they called me at 5 am to come in and take over this job.” The rosy-cheeked Con Ed man responded. I did the math on his sleep the night before and wondered how he sounded so relaxed after getting less than five hours. Exploding hole aside, insufficient sleep is enough to nose dive my day. There was something unusual about this clear-eyed man.

“My name is Thayer, What’s your name?” I asked.

“My name is Tom, nice to meet you, Thayer. God, I feel bad for all of you without light and heat. What a hassle. Once I can get in there, I promise we’ll get it back up as soon as we can.” Tom smiled.

Our conversation was interrupted by a doctor with an office in my lobby;” Excuse me, what is going on here? What in the world am I supposed to tell my patients?” she asked Tom tensely.

Tom responded with genuine concern, “I’m so sorry about this, it must be hard for business. Once I get into that hole, I’ll be able to give you a better sense of timing. Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you as soon as I know?”

Disarmed by his compassion, the doctor gave Tom her number and walked away.

“Wow Tom, you’re a pro,” I said.

“Nah, she just wants to make a buck, it’s no big deal,” said Tom. “I got a great life; this is all gravy.”

The use of the word gravy clarified the source of Tom’s unique energy.

“Tom, are you a friend of Bill’s?” That’s what sober people say to feel out other sober people instead of flat-out asking them. Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

My question was met with another enormous smile, “Why yes I am. How long have you been in the program?” Tom asked.

“I celebrated 14 years two weeks ago.” I smiled back.

Standing on the frozen sidewalk, smiling at each other, my frustration was replaced by love. Love for Tom, love for sobriety and gratitude for all human beings who were doing their best that day.

“Can I give you a hug Thayer?” Tom asked. Usually, this corny request would make me cringe, but that judgment didn’t even cross my mind. I nodded, and Tom grabbed me in a bear hug, picking me up off my feet. I wish I had a photo of that moment, the smoking pit behind us and all Tom’s co-workers looking over.

We all go through up cycles and down cycles; periods of high energy, productivity and positivity followed by fatigue, doubt, and procrastination. We are not robots. I feel disappointed when I crash out of an up cycle, wonder what I did wrong, and how I can extend it next time. Trying to force my way back into the state with a “fake it till you make it mentality” is a start, but the pursuit of it as a goal takes on desperation, which denies me access every time. I am learning that the pathway to consistent re-entry is through my heart. Connecting with people who inhabit vulnerability and gratitude opens something inside me that I can’t activate alone.

Tom’s attitude not only shifted my day; it left an imprint on my soul.

 

 

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“No” Is a Complete Sentence?

Do you have trouble saying “no?” How many invitations do you answer “yes” to because you are afraid to say “no”? Afterward, do you use the word “should” to justify your response? “I should stop by that cocktail party for twenty minutes.” Why didn’t you give a clean “no”?

I heard in an Al-Anon meeting years ago that the word “no” is a complete sentence. It was a breakthrough moment for me, and all the times early on in my sobriety when my AA sponsor said that I over-explained and gave away my power came rushing back. The woman speaking added that you could even say, “…thank you”afterward if “no” alone sounded too sparse. “No” does not need to be followed up by an excuse or dressed in elaborate details. Fear and guilt do not need to accompany a “no”.

As I have grown, so has my relationship with “no”. After years of saying “No thank you” without further explanation, I added another line when I was responding to people or organizations that matter to me. I now create an opening for a “yes” to exist. For example, when invited to a cocktail party (I don’t drink, and dislike standing around and small talking), I say “no thank you” to that invitation and suggest a walk in the park instead.

Tim Ferris has a great podcast about various ways to say “no”:

Listen to How to Say No from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/id863897795?mt=2&i=1000395251247

I have noticed that women have more trouble with “no” than men do. Does it reflect our societal views on femininity and the proper way for a woman to behave? Does a clear, female “no” transmit a vibration of conflict or disruption because of its rarity? Or do women intrinsically care more about being accepted and loved? “No” definitely threatens our need to belong.

I said “no” the other day, and it took two hours for the conversation that followed to exit my brain. It was surprising to me because I had gone through phases when “no” was as easy as “yes”. I was asked to participate on a committee at one of my children’s schools. It was a time-consuming endeavor that held zero appeal. I re-read the email three times and played out various scenarios. I was flattered by the kind reasons they gave in asking me to perform the role, but I knew that was not a reason to say “yes”. Saying “yes” to potentially boost my child’s standing or curry favor in the school community equally inauthentic motivations. Both of those reasons tie back to my ego and need for significance. The only way to arrive at a “yes” in this scenario is if volunteering at the school occurred to me as an act of love.

There was a cc list on the email, and I debated whether to hit “reply” or “reply all”. Would the committee discuss my “no” and create a narrative about me? Would I become a bitch or become difficult to deal with, or just be regarded as plain old selfish? The good news is that people already have set opinions of us and it takes a lot more than one volunteer role to alter the way someone sees us long-term.

Too many small and seemingly benign “yesses” separate us from self, from our WHY. I love the Derek Sivers philosophy—it’s either “Hell yeah” or “No”.

https://sivers.org/hellyeah

There is no middle ground. Being aligned with self-gives us access to power. After doing work to identify my values clearly, decision-making became a breeze. I will write a post about a process I went through to determine my values soon.

Another waste of time is rehashing a “yes” response. If you think carefully about your reasons for a “yes” or ”no” in advance, then once you say it, the internal conversation must be over. The amount of mental space I used to spend questioning my ”yes” and “no” decisions wasted more time than actually showing up at something for a few hours.

Take notice of your first response to a yes-or-no question. The yes or no is always present in our body before our brain starts computing all the reasons why or why not. Whenever we talk to ourselves using “should”, we are in “no” territory.  If the cellular response is “no”, stay present to the way your mind handles the “no”. Look through all the smart reasons it produces to change the “no” into a “yes”: it’s just this one time and if I don’t say “yes” I may not be invited again. What will a “no” cost you? Get in touch with that fear and see where else it dictates your life.

“Nos” open up the space to fill your life with “yes” experiences. If you are feeling blah or lukewarm, take a look at your “yesses.” Too many seemingly benign “yesses” will lead us to an internal dead zone. The “Hell yeah” trail always leads to exhilaration and growth.