Posted by: lornasass | December 2, 2012

DO PRESS YOUR LUCK!

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A Hill in Marin
Photo by Lorna Sass, c. 2012

I’ve been spending some time in Northern California, Marin to be exact. 

It’s rainy season in this beautiful county just across the Golden Gate, but I grabbed a slice of time between showers to go hiking in the hills.  I climbed up to the ridge and saw the valley sprawling below covered by dark foreboding clouds that promised an imminent deluge.

I loved being up there.  The wind was whistling with excitement and expectancy, but soon my mind became  filled with dread: “Don’t press your luck,” a bossy inner voice yelled, “Get down off this hill before the rains come and you get drenched!”

Who was issuing these commands?  I knew in a flash that it was my parents, back from the dead to protect me against imminent danger.

So I dismissed the voices and walked on.  Then the wind grew stronger and the voices yelled even louder:  “It’s going to get muddy and you may trip and fall on the way down.  You could break a bone and you’ll certainly get filthy.”

The wind whipped through me, bringing strength and clarity. Suddenly I understood that the biggest danger of all was to give in to these frightened, cautionary commands.  Now in my sixth decade, I could parent myself and go against the rules.  

Yes, I would do an about-face and press my luck.  I’d stay up there as long as I felt like, and I’d think of the steep hill as a friendly place, not a mud-slide in disguise.

In case you are wondering dear reader, I made it down just fine: no mud, no rain, no broken bones. 

More importantly, I learned that that the real adventure of life begins when I feel safe even when dark clouds hover overhead.

Posted by: lornasass | June 27, 2012

MY WORRY CUP

A good antidote to worrying.
Photo by Lorna Sass

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.  I guess I was busy being busy even though I know full well that Busyness is Overrated.

While I was busy, I also found time to worry–and no doubt the worry contributed even more to my busyness.

In addition to my niggling worries, there was a big worry:  I was waiting for the results of a blood test used to diagnose a potentially life-threatening illness.  During the 10-day gap, I tried to remember to breathe deeply.  I even reminded myself that there was a decent chance the results would be in my favor.  But despite all the positive self talk, my thoughts returned to worry and to the endless “What if’s…”

When I finally got the results, it was good news:  I didn’t have the dreaded disease and wouldn’t have to spend the summer figuring out how to deal with it.  I experienced a sense of relief.  But that relief lasted for only a few hours.

Then I noticed something interesting and alarming:  my worry cup began filling up again.  Little worries became bigger, as if my brain didn’t know how to run on empty and automatically expanded what I was already fretting about.

When I had an opportunity to tell spiritual teacher Fiona Moore about the devilish workings of my worry cup, she reflected back that the brain’s job is to figure things out, so whenever it’s not focused on a useful task (like multiplying or dividing or writing a recipe), it creates problems and then goes about trying to solve them.  (I am paraphrasing here.)  Fiona teaches a course called Let Go, Let Love and is very good at setting her students straight about the workings of what she calls “the every day mind.”  Fiona’s comment helped me remember that worries are only thoughts, not the truth.

On and off over the past decade, I have made a study of worrying and here is what else I’ve discovered:

1)  Worries are always based on past experiences cast into a future context.

2)  While I’m worrying, I’m not living in the present.

3)  The worrying mind doesn’t leave room for pleasant surprises.

4)  99.9% of the things I’ve worried about never happened.

5)  Worrying is a compete waste of time.

Dear reader, I wish I could offer a magic solution, wave a wand, and take all of our worries away.  I’m not there yet, but I do have some tools in my personal and coach’s toolkit that help when worrying gets out of control.  Here’s a quick exercise that I find very helpful.  Doing it alters the neural pathways in the brain, a good thing when the brain is stuck in worry!

EXERCISE:

Close your eyes and connect into the worry.

Imagine the worry as a disc spinning behind your forehead inside your head.  Notice the speed and whether the disc is spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Move the disc about 6 inches outside of your head and continue to watch it spin.

Then abruptly stop and begin spinning the disc in the opposite direction outside of your head, working up to the same speed.

Move the disc back inside your head, behind your forehead and begin laughing–a real belly laugh for about 30 seconds.  This part is really important so don’t leave it out.

Check in with your worry.  It will have lost its charge!

It’s an amazingly effective exercise which I’ve done many times.

And just for good measure, after you’ve done the disc-spinning, listen to what Bing has to say.

Posted by: lornasass | March 31, 2012

BUSYNESS IS OVERRATED

Here I am walking the labyrinth at EarthRise, the IONS retreat center in Petaluma, CA
Photo by Michael Steinman

For most of my life I’ve admired busy people, congratulating them on making the most of their time. When I questioned how they did so much in a day, such people would earnestly respond something like, “I’ll have time to sleep when I’m dead.”

Actually, I used to be one of those people, the type who over-scheduled days, constantly on fast-forward to do the next thing.  In fact, my neck leans forward on my shoulders, as if to remind me that I’m supposed to be ahead of myself, doing it all.

Recently a man about 45 told me that he had purposely structured his work and social life so that he wouldn’t feel busy. I was thrilled to hear such clarity and conscious decision-making about something so precious as how to manage one’s time on earth. It was also a great relief to hear that someone had actually managed to survive withdrawal from the busyness addiction.

This man told me, “My mother kept herself in such a state of busyness all her life that she never had more than five minutes for people. I didn’t want to live like that.  If a friend suggests we have coffee together, I’m happy to pass a few hours in leisurely conversation and I prize having the two hours available to do just that.”

I loved hearing this and it confirmed an idea that has long been hatching in my mind:  busyness is vastly overrated. Busyness starts in the mind with a to-do list.  It then plants itself in the body:  adrenaline pumps us forward to complete the to-do list and we feel stressed.  At the end of the day we’ve gotten a lot done– and our culture rewards achievement–so we feel good momentarily, patting ourselves on the back, but many of us are so wound up that we can’t sleep at night.  There’s always more to do and often our spirits feel neglected and we find ourselves wondering, “Is this all there is?”

So, dear reader, here’s what I’m wondering: What if laziness became a virtue and people were judged successful by how much time they took off? 

What if we did nothing and stopped worrying about becoming sinners with idle hands?  I suspect most of us have a kind of black-and-white thinking about busyness:  If I slack off, I’ll become a slacker.  Soon I’ll be on welfare or even worse, on the street.  This steep slippery slope sounds kind of silly when you think of it this way, but behind all this busyness, I suspect most of us fear that we’ll fail to be productive human beings if we let ourselves stop and smell the roses.

Years ago I read a book on creativity that prescribed extended periods of laziness to give the imagination freedom to roam.  At that time I was shocked, but now I’m believer.  Slowing down and doing less has been very rewarding for me.  I feel calmer, happier, and more fulfilled.  Plus, I’m seeing more magic, beauty, and mystery in this extraordinary experiment we’re participating in.

So how about pretending that we live in a country where the person with the most leisure time is considered the most successful in our society? (I am reminded of the country of Bhutan, whose gross national product is personal happiness.  Honest!) 

Yes dear reader, if you are feeling too busy, why not give laziness a chance?  Take some really deep breaths every time you remember.  Go on a long, meandering walk to nowhere in particular.  Even better, sit and do nothing  and see what happens.

Please let me know how it goes!

Posted by: lornasass | March 26, 2012

CREATING SACRED SPACE

Making space for something new...
Photo by Lorna Sass

Dear Reader:  You haven’t heard from me in a while and this is why:  Spring came early to New York City this year, and I got an early start on doing the proverbial spring cleaning.  I dug deep into closets and cabinets and found lots to throw away or pass along to someone who could use it. 

To reveal how deeply I dug, I’ll confess that I found a vintage box of carbon paper.  Remember carbon paper?  That box has probably been in my cabinet for 40 years…Why was I holding onto it?  Did I think that typewriters would make a comeback?

Aside from the breath of spring, another inspiration for this frenzy of cleaning was a book called Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston.

Every few hours, after sorting and giving away or dumping more stuff, I’d return to the book and get re-ignited by reading statements such as:

“Space Clearing creates room for expansion.”

“[Space clearing] helps you manifest what you want in your life more easily.”

“You create a space in which something new can happen…”

After reading a few pages, I would take a deep breath and resume the space clearing (which sounds so much better than spring cleaning).  Who could resist the idea of making space for something new?  Not I.

After 4 days of de-cluttering, I suddenly came to a halt.  Two things stopped me in my tracks.  The first was tossing all of my dissertation and historical cookery files.  I was astonished at how much research I had amassed (about 10 feet of files), and how many articles I had written (over 200).  I ended up saving hard copies of the articles (they were written on a manual typewriter), but all those xeroxes of esoteric articles on 14th century Arabic distillation and rare Italian cookery manuscripts are being recycled as we speak.  Hard to part with them, but I was ready: It’s Life Coaching that has captured my fancy and now I have room for those growing files.

The second thing that stopped me was the need for a shredder.  Aside from some ancient tax records of my own, I had come upon my deceased mother’s bank statements and realized that it would be wise to cut them into tiny pieces.  I borrowed a neighbor’s shredder, but then I couldn’t bear to use it on my mother’s papers.  How do you shred the only remaining tangible proof of a person’s life, especially your mother’s?   I wanted to burn them in a ceremonial fire, but couldn’t figure out how to do that in the middle of Manhattan.  So I put my mother’s papers back into their large envelope and stowed them away.

By this time, the throwing away and space clearing all began to feel like too much. I felt stunned and saddened, so I stopped and took a break.  What I realized is that I even when I feel ready to de-clutter, I still need some kind of ritual before releasing the stuff of my life.  I need to take some time to celebrate what I have accomplished–all the projects completed and even the fat files containing dreams never materialized.

Alas, all the files were gone by the time that I recognized this need for ritual…

But don’t cry for me, dear Reader.  Remember that I have created space and wait with joyous anticipation for the new experiences that will come into my life.  

However, please remind me that when I’m next ready to empty my file drawers, I need to pause and give thanks for all of the curiosity, discipline, labor, and enthusiasm that made me the person writing this blog post. 

Wishing you vast sacred space and the best spring ever.

Posted by: lornasass | March 13, 2012

MY COMPUTER FAST

Two weekends ago, I announced on this blog my intention to shut down my computer on a Thursday night as an experiment.  My idea was to see what life was like when it wasn’t punctuated by reading e-mail, Tweeting, Facebooking, and doing google searches.  Here’s what I discovered:

1)  I had a lot more time–at least four hours a day by conservative estimate.  This was shocking to discover and delicious to experience.

2) I felt a sense of spaciousness and ease in my day:  I seemed to flow more smoothly from one thing to the next without stopping by to check the computer for new e-mails.  I felt a little like a was on a retreat…

3) I’ve come to use the computer as my telephone book, so I needed to turn it on briefly two times over the weekend to check addresses and phone numbers.

4) It’s much easier to arrange a meeting with a friend over the telephone than to bounce dates back and forth by e-mail.

5) My back and eyes like moving around a whole lot better than sitting in front of the computer.

6) My 1500+ Facebook friends didn’t notice my absence…

Overall, the experience was so positive that I have decided to turn my computer off from Saturday night until Sunday night every week, making Sunday my computer Sabbath.  I love the idea of having a Sabbath, and my Sweetie is willing to give the experiment a try with me.

I’d love to hear your experiences if you decide to try a similar experiment yourself.

Posted by: lornasass | March 1, 2012

THE JOY OF SHUTTING OFF MY COMPUTER

Lying on a park bench and looking up in the Central Park Ramble. Winter 2012. Photo by Lorna Sass

Dear Reader:  I’m going to do something that feels radical:  I’m turning off my computer tonight and won’t turn it back on until Monday morning.  (And anyone who happened to read my recent post knows that I don’t have an iPhone!)

I’ll admit it:  I’ve overdone all the DVD watching, article reading, teleseminar listening, e-mailing, Facebooking, and Tweeting.

Yes, I’m needing to shut down until the well fills up.  (Ha, I might not even collect my mail!)  

Once I thought of this idea a few hours ago, I felt a huge sense of relief.

Ah, a quiet weekend with hours of extra time to stretch into.

I am lucky to work from home and to be able to make this delicious choice.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted by: lornasass | February 14, 2012

WISDOM ON A PARK BENCH

Today on my walk through the Central Park Ramble, I spotted a bench with the following dedication imprinted on a gold plaque attached to the top rung:

Yesterday is history,

Tomorrow is mystery,

Today is the present.

This “haiku” says it all:  This moment is the only one in which life is actually happening.

I think I will ask that the same message be tacked to the bench I’m donating via a bequest to the Central Park Conservancy in my will. 

A message worth repeating since it’s so challenging to remember…

Posted by: lornasass | February 9, 2012

SAYING “NO” TO THE iPHONE

I’ll admit it, dear Reader, I’m a late adopter.  Learning new technology doesn’t come easily to me and I resist it.  (The good news is that by the time I get around to opting in, the gizmo has gotten cheaper, lighter, and more efficient.)

Frankly, over the last six months I began to feel increasingly embarrassed that I didn’t have the newer, better, lighter iPhone.  Everyone seems to have one (or another kind of Smart phone) and be glued to it.  Not having google at my constant beck and call was feeling stranger by the minute, and did I dare be among the diminishing numbers parted from e-mail for hours at a time?

So two weeks ago, after spending a strange 1 1/2 hours accomplishing nothing at the Verizon store, I dragged myself to the Apple big box and stood in the bright lights, reminding myself how lucky I was that the latest iPhones were in stock.  After all, everyone I asked was so excited about the 4S, with Siri to boss around and all the other wonders that this new model offered.

I had the vague idea, I guess, that the iPhone would somehow simplify my life.  Isn’t that what new technology is supposed to do?

Well, dear Reader, you can probably hear what’s coming.  I hated the “getting to know your iPhone” intro they offered at the store.  I found the keyboard way too small and the print on the screen even smaller.  Almost every thing you had to click or slide seemed counter-intuitive to me.  I grudgingly slogged through the lesson with the amazingly patient young instructor (who no doubt cannot even conceive of life without an iPhone), but as soon as I got home, I tucked the gadget on a closet shelf and proceeded to ignore it for the next two weeks, taking solace in the familiarity of my old cell phone–which I rarely use, by the way.

So guess what?  Tomorrow I am going to return my iPhone.

 I am pleased that this little experiment will have cost me only a modest amount of time and a small re-shelving fee.

Here’s what I learned:

1) I don’t want to spend my free time even tempted to look at another screen.

2)I actually LOVE taking frequent breaks from e-mail.

3)I don’t need or want to have instant access to more information.  I already have access to more information than I can comfortably handle.

4)I don’t want to become one of those people who checks Facebook during intermissions at a Broadway play.

5)I don’t want to be part of one of those couples that sits eating dinner, each in his own virtual world.

6) Best of all, I now know that I can live a happier and more fulfilling life without an i-Phone.

Now the iPad:  that could be another story…


Posted by: lornasass | February 4, 2012

WHAT’S RIGHT ABOUT YOU?

Flowers emerging from my shadow. Photo by Lorna Sass

Dear Reader:  Do you find this question startling?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t ask myself this question very often–if ever.  I have spent most of my life trying harder and “improving” myself (whatever that means), rarely stopping to acknowledge how much of a new, improved version of me I’ve become.

This fact came through to me when I read an e-newsletter from Marci Shimoff, author of the fine books, Happy For No Reason and Love for No Reason.  Marci herself says that she was brought up short by this very question when it was asked of her by a colleague who heard her lamenting a perceived lack.

So, I’m thinking, even someone who has spent her very long, accomplished, professional life helping others find inner peace and wisdom continues to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right.  I admire Marci for her honesty, and you know what?  It’s not such a big secret that here’s clearly an epidemic of  “I’m not good enough,” going around–and it’s catching.  (When was the last time you heard someone say anything nice about themselves?  We were taught that was bad manners…)

What is this yucky habit of hating ourselves that we humans all have?  Would we ever dare talk to a friend the way we talk to ourselves?  (Actually, I’m not sure all humans speak meanly to themselves or if it’s just those of us who grew up in the “new world.”  When someone asked the Dalai Lama about self-hatred, the translator had a rough time finding a Tibetan word for that concept!)

Recently I received another e-mail announcement, this one from the deeply thoughtful and kind Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, announcing the videos of her newest dharma talk:  Trusting Your Basic Goodness.  I listened to it a few days ago and felt comforted, as if I’d been given permission to luxuriate in a love bath, relaxing into the warm water of knowing what’s right with me. 

I think I’ll go take that bath right now.  Even contemplating the prospect makes me take a very deep breath and brings peace, comfort, and a smile into my heart–peace, comfort, and a smile that I am happy to share with others.

Posted by: lornasass | January 21, 2012

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

Photo of agave by Lorna Sass

We are leaving Sonoma after a glorious month of sunshine, freshly-picked produce, and magnificent cactus and succulents of all kinds growing with abandon as if they had all the space in the world–which they do.  We are heading back to snow, cold, and boxed arugula flown from here across the country to New York City.

Dear reader, I guess you can tell that it’s hard for me to get excited about the prospect of going home.

My friend Gerhard Bock, who lives in nearby Davis and blogs about planting a succulent and bamboo garden in his front and back yards, knowing how I share his madness for these beauties, offered to send me home with some plants and cuttings.  How could I say “no?” 

I couldn’t resist the idea of bringing some of California home with me.

Yesterday I started packing.  Well, truth be told, I started packing in my head a few days ago.  I knew that the cuttings would easily fit into my suitcase.  What presented a real challenge was the large agave plant he offered me and I couldn’t refuse.  It took up half of my 24-inch suitcase.

I went to sleep last night feeling relieved that I’d managed to fit the agave plant in.  Then I remembered what I knew all along:  I really didn’t have the space for this large, handsome beauty in my NYC apartment.  Furthermore, I decided it would be cruel to consign the agave to a pot when it would be much happier growing right here in California where it had a chance to spread its roots in the kind of soil it was accustomed to.

This morning, I took it out of the suitcase.  I felt an immediate sense of relief,  I will gift the plant to a friend with a large garden.

And I will go home lighter but still very much enriched by all we have seen and done here–and with cuttings of other beauties that will –with a hope, a prayer, and some tender loving care–take root after their cross-country jaunt.   And the I’ll have daily reminders of the great pleasures of miniatures.

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