Find Out Before You Flip Out

A Canada good stands on the shore near the water and hisses.
Hissing Canada goose at Lake Willastein. Photo credit: me

Ted Lasso. I love that show. I enjoy the sweetness of it…the truth it shares about the power of being vulnerable and kind. Without sharing specifics so as to avoid possibly spoiling an unseen episode for you, I just want to quote one of the characters. In response to something Ted is going through, Leslie Higgins suggests, “If anything, you should find out before you flip out.” Find out before you flip out! Such simple and good advice. And so difficult to do, right?

You likely know the experience. You get a text or an email or voicemail with just a bit of information about a situation and your mind takes you to the worst possible conclusions. It’s an experience I know well. Usually there are two things happening almost simultaneously. There’s this physiological response that happens almost instantaneously. It’s as if the fear shoots through my whole body. Then my mind kicks into high gear and starts filling in the information gaps with all kinds of stories about what has happened. For me, it usually involves me thinking I’ve done something or not done something and that someone is upset with me about it.

So “find out before you flip out” is about interrupting this wild ride of emotions. Here’s a little wonder though. That initial rush of energy that feels like electricity coursing through my body…hat little bit of flipping out that first happen…That seems to be a sort of reflexive.… Read the full post “Find Out Before You Flip Out”

Emerald Eyes

A light brown spinner with long thick legs sits on grassy ground. Two black eyes look toward us.
Wolf spinder.

She carried a flashlight to make the ground brighter.
And there she spotted us, around and beside her.
Some of us glowed emerald and some a bit lighter.
What are we?

When I go outside at night, I often wear headlamp to keep an eye out for snakes. Recently while out in the yard, I got a real treat. All across the yard were green sparkles. These tiny sparkles were the shining eyes of wolf spiders. Wolf spiders have a structure called a tapetum which reflects light onto their retina, allowing them to see better at night. Try it yourself. Go out with a flashlight and shine it on the ground. When you see a greenish sparkle, follow it and it will lead you to a spider. Sometimes the beauty around us reveals itself in subtle but spectacular ways.

To the dull mind nature is leaden. To the illumined mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Read the full post “Emerald Eyes”

Our Regrets

Recently I was talking with a friend and she shared some regrets she had as a young mother. Her reaction revealed that she was still pretty hard on herself for some of the decisions she had made. Her regrets were for things that most people would think were fairly benign in the grand scheme of parenting mistakes. But I appreciated the depth of her emotions. It revealed her sensitivity to the effect this might have had on her daughter. It showed a real understanding of the difference between intent and impact.

Her tearful reaction to talking about these memories struck me deeply and has remained with me.

There are a lot of ways we typically respond when people share regrets. We say they should let it go. We tell them it wasn’t that bad. We say they shouldn’t feel bad about things. But as well-intended as those responses are, I’m not sure they honor the depth at which such feelings run within us. Some experiences just live inside us so deeply they cannot simply be extracted. And maybe they shouldn’t be.

Maybe such regrets live inside us as teachers in a way. Perhaps they are one of the sources of our wisdom and compassion.

I realized that it is these two things that staying with regrets offers: It can become the seed of compassion and empathy so that you can stand in the shoes of other people because you’re feeling exactly what they feel. And it spurs you on to help people in the future rather than hurt them.

Read the full post “Our Regrets”

On Noticing

Small purple flowers on several thin branches of a tree
Eastern Redbud Blooms 
( © earl eliason)

Each spring I look forward to the splash of purplish-pink that the eastern redbuds bring. From a distance, it is as if the colorful petals emerge directly from the gray bark. they come on quickly and with an intensity and contrast that is striking against the green, gray and brown background of the trees that surround them. These trees herald spring for me. I am always a bit sad when the purple flowers give way to the green leaves. I recognize though that in any season there are always a thousand other wonders that will arise if I remain aware and maintain a posture of discovery. I simply have to notice.

Spring is a perfect time to begin to be intentional about noticing the tangible wonders that add joy and intrigue to our lives.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. there is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.  ~Albert Schweitzer

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Seeing Things as They Are

This morning after my walk at the park, I was beginning to pull out of the parking area when I saw a little bird fall over. It then began flopping around. I was so sad. I thought to myself, “What can I do to help it? Should I take it to have it put to sleep? I could at least move it to a grassy area where it would be more comfortable.” I stopped the car and started to get out. Then I realized that the little bird was actually a leaf.

A thin horizon of black separates a bright orange sky above reflected in the bright orange water below.
Lake Tawokoni at sunrise, Melanie

I felt mostly relieved…and also a bit silly.

I started thinking about how often I do this in life. I have an experience and without having all of the facts, I build a whole storyline about what is happening. I may make assumptions about someone else’s intentions. I react to what I’m assuming is happening. I may even have strong feelings about the situation, even though I don’t really know the truth about it.

Mindfulness has helped me with this. It has helped me slow down and allow myself to experience the feelings without acting on them. It has helped recognize that when my emotions are running high, I may not see things as they truly are. It has helped me to recognize that in the absence of information, I may fill in the gaps based on my own experiences.

Of course, I still have work to do. I always will. Sometimes I’ll see a dying bird, when it’s really a leaf.… Read the full post “Seeing Things as They Are”

Working with Anxiety

I’ve lived my life with a certain level of anxiety present on and off. Not an overwhelming amount. In fact, I didn’t really label it or recognize it as anxiety until a few years ago.

A paper cutout of a person is surrounded by words cut out of papers and magazines: social distancing, money, coronavirus, uncertainty, unknown, worries, health, economic, vaccine, evictions, investments

With the onset of the pandemic, I began to experience a more intense level of anxiety. I had an undercurrent of anxiety with me most of the time, but occasionally it would spike to a level that was just shy of a panic attack. I felt pressure in my chest and nauseous. Then there were the burning and tingling sensations in my hands, arms, shoulders, legs, feet, and even my tongue. When it was at its worst, I just wanted to curl up in a ball and hide from everything. I wanted to push it away. I resisted it and feared it, which just made it worse.

In the preceding years, I had spent a lot of time listening to talks by Pema Chödrön. She gives a lot of talks on fear and how meditation can help us in working with anxiety and other strong emotions. One of the techniques she teaches is described by the acronym R.A.I.N. The steps are as follows:

  • R = Recognize what is happening.
  • A = Allow the experience to be there as it is. Instead of trying to push it away, just know that the anxiety is here again. “There you are again” might be the attitude.
  • I = Investigate what is happening in your body. Get curious about where it is in the body and what it feels like.
Read the full post “Working with Anxiety”

The Power and Limitation of a Photo

I’ve been enjoying taking photos lately. And enjoying sharing them with others. It inspired me to add a Photo Gallery to this site. I’ve also been thinking about the difference between seeing a photo and experiencing a place.

Bright red and orange clouds float on the horizon and fade into a blue sky above. Silhouettes of trees can be seen on the shoreline. The sky and trees are all reflected in the water below.
Sunrise on Lake Willastein

Even the most striking photo cannot contain what our eyes and hearts can capture. The two-dimensional-ness of it cannot hold the full joy of the experience. It can’t capture the gratefulness that wells up inside at being there, at that very moment, witnessing the sun scatter colors too bright and varied to name.

It doesn’t capture the magic of not being able to tell exactly where the surface of the water is and the disorientation that follows. It cannot appreciate the moment when the eye lands on a plant that marks where the surface of the water actually is and how my mind has to recalibrate everything I see because it imagined the water’s surface to be higher. It can’t capture that moment of surprise and the enjoyment that comes from being a bit disoriented because the water and sky were conspiring to trick me and I feel pleased because I get the joke.

It can’t capture the amazement at the clarity of the reflection and the reminder that that the stillness of the water is the equanimity I should seek in my mind. Nor the moment of sadness and regret knowing that just recently I made a decision while the waters of my mind were rough and choppy.… Read the full post “The Power and Limitation of a Photo”

Pebble Meditation

One of my favorite meditations is one that Thich Nhat Hanh teaches. It is a meditation that is taught to children in Plum Village in France. Even though it is designed for children, I find it to be a very helpful structure for myself and for people of any age. I especially like that he selects four items in nature—a flower, a mountain, a lake and the sky—to symbolize the qualities of equanimity he teaches.

Beginning meditators may find it to be helpful as well.

Here is how it goes.

Gather four pebbles. If you don’t have pebbles available, you can use other items but if you like the meditation, I encourage you to find some pebbles to use.

Sit in a comfortable position and place four pebbles next to you on the ground or chair. Pick up the first pebble and say:

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.
Repeat: “Flower, fresh” for three breaths.

Say silently to yourself “flower, fresh” and breathe quietly for three in and out breaths. Focus on really being a flower and becoming fresh.

Pick up the next pebble and say:

Breathing in I see myself as a mountain, breathing out, I feel solid.

Repeat silently to yourself, “Mountain, solid” for three breaths.

Picking up the next pebble, say, “Breathing in I see myself as still, clear water, breathing out, I reflect things as they really are.”

Repeat silently, “Clear water, reflecting” for three breaths.

Picking up the fourth and final pebble, say “Breathing in I see myself as space, breathing out, I feel free.”… Read the full post “Pebble Meditation”