Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving. It's right up there with New Year's Day as one of my favorite holidays. I've come to really appreciate those celebrations that can't be taken over by commercialism, that offer space for reflection.

I know that if you're doing the cooking or trying to travel within certain time limits it can feel chaotic. But we have some control over that. The expectations are simpler than those holidays that are associated with gift giving or wild partying. For me, I am so happy to just gather together with others to be mindful of what we are given. As we get older, the list gets longer and longer. It might be remembering the touch football games in the backyard with friends or family no longer with us. It might be thinking about the times people have been so generous in the hospitality they've offered us. It could be for our health, for shelter, clothing, food, friends, family; the most creative friends also find reasons to be thankful for the lessons learned when things have not gone well.

A friend sent me this prayer that she had taken from John O'Donahue's To Bless the Space Between Us.

Grace After Meals

We end this meal with grace

For the joy and nourishment of food,

The slowed tome away from the world

To come into presence with each other

And sense the subtle lives behind our faces,

The different colors of our voices,

The edges of hungers we keep private,

The circle of love that unites us.

We pray the wise spirit who keeps us

To change the structures that make others hunger

And that after such grace we might now go forth

And impart dignity wherever we partake.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Joy Diet - Connection

This chapter of Martha Beck's book stood out for me. Maybe that's because I am a connector. I think it's my vocation.
I grew up moving around a lot. Learning to make fast connections became an important survival skill. And even when I settled as an adult, I found I loved pulling people together, meeting new people and finding ways to fit with them, figuring out what we had in common, enjoying learning about our differences. I like to stay in touch. Sometimes I make contact with people I haven't seen or heard from in years. Some connections get broken, and some just seem to melt away. There has been pain and heartache from some of the losses, relief occasionally; but the overall joy and satisfaction of building relationships is more than worth the risk of loss. The Little Prince was always a favorite story about connection.

I recognized in reading this chapter that sometimes my tendency is to give up my ground in the interest of making things easier. And I make assumptions all over the place.

A couple of years ago I picked up an interesting book that had a personality test in it; you figured out where you were in a spectrum of about 15 categories and that information might help you understand yourself and the people in your life. I took it, my parents took it, some friends took it - we had a few aha moments. I realized that I'm not as adventurous as I thought I was. My husband wouldn't take it. He didn't really say he refused - he just never got around to it. I was dying to find out how he would score. So I took it for him!
I answered 104 questions as I thought he would answer. I figured him out. And later we were with friends talking about the test and I said something like "Well, he is more this than that so that explains ..." He looked at me and said, "But I didn't take the test." He had become in my mind what I had determined he was. We doubled over laughing and have laughed a lot over it since then. I realized how easy it is for me to make assumptions about people. And then I'm not really connecting with them. It's a one sided relationship. I think it's a hazard in many relationships - I can recognize times when I've made incorrect assumptions about customers, friends, and family. And I see that by becoming still in myself, I may be able to be more true to them and let them show me more of who they are. I started practicing this in small bits - I like the calmness it brings, even if it is only for an instant.

By the way, I have to say that my favorite line in this chapter was "When you're doing nothing, caring for your screaming toddler creates only empathy for what it's like to be a very ambitious person in a very small body."

I've loved the connections that we've been making in this book club - even if they are just for this short time, I'm so grateful for the willingness of my fellow participants to share themselves so readily. Thank you, thank you.

You can follow the wonderful discussions that this chapter has generated by going to

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Joy Diet - Laughter

Now really, once you take a look at this picture of the man I live with, do you think I needed this chapter? Martha Beck suggests that you laugh at least 30 times a day as part of her Joy Diet. Piece of cake!

I had the good fortune years ago to interview and hire a colleague where I worked who had laughter down to a science. She had set up humor carts in hospitals where she'd worked. She had countless tricks - things she'd learned, things she'd made up - to keep the department, patients, students not only laughing but coming up with creative ways to solve problems. It was exposure to her that got me going to the Humor Project's Laughter and Creativity Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. Even after she moved away we'd still meet there. It was a terrific education for me.

I come from a family who likes to laugh anyway. It's often how we cope with the fact that we have some big differences in the way we think. When we can find things to laugh about together, we know how much we care for each other, and it reminds us we are so much more than our opinions. But actually learning more about laughter and how to facilitate it in certain situations made it a much more intentional activity. And as Martha points out, it multiplies exponentially.

One of my favorite props is the red sponge nose. They're small and light enough that you can ambush groups with bags of them. I met a CEO who kept one in his briefcase. If a board meeting got too contentious, he'd bend over as if to get a tissue or something and come back up to the table with his nose on. While the attention of the group was focussed on the ones arguing, he'd sit patiently till someone noticed and the bickering would stop dead.

I love to play with the noses. When my niece got married, I brought a couple of bags of them and passed them out to people at the reception. Suddenly everyone was dancing with red noses, making conversation with folks they didn't know, and the fun just kicked up a few notches.

Years ago I was laid off from a job that I'd had for 9 years. There was a large restructuring in the hospital and a lot of people's jobs disappeared. It was a very traumatic event. I'd never quite understood how awful that can feel - that when you've worked hard and done a good job, you can still be so vulnerable. You feel such rejection. The method they chose to tell the employees who were to leave was humiliating - they called you in, asked you to turn in your passwords, etc., and you were escorted to your car. My co-worker who had the same level position as I did was called in first and came back crying, saying "I don't have a job." We were both trying to absorb that information when they called me in - and I, too, was gone. I'd just come back from the Humor Conference a week or so before that. And I think the effects from being there were what helped me get through that period with some grace. To begin with, I suggested to Janet that we go to Mohonk - a gorgeous place to hike. It was 10 am, the most beautiful late spring day, and rather than go home alone and sit and mope, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we were free to do what we wanted. We hiked, we groused, we stewed, and we laughed that day. Of all the surrounding memories, that's my favorite.

When my husband's brother died suddenly at 48, it was the laughter that started everyone on their journeys to healing. Chris had left us with lots of memories that we could share with tears running down our faces - because they were so funny.

My grandchildren keep me laughing; each one has given us some priceless stories that have become part of the family lore. The four year old alone, pictured, keeps me well above the threshold of 30 laughs per day.

I'm intrigued by the HoHoHaHaHa yoga. Maybe I'll check that out.

I hope you're getting your daily dose of mirth. You might want to check out the Humor Conference Website:

And to read my Joy Diet companions' responses to this menu item take a look at Jamie Ridler's blog:

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Joy Diet - Play

The adventure with The Joy Diet by Martha Beck continues. I loved this chapter on play! It really caught me by surprise, as some of the other sections have. But when I read this one it felt like an aha moment!

Ever since I was a teenager I've occasionally framed my life in the most dramatic scenarios I could think of. I remember throwing up to my mother in my mind's eye - "I don't care if my room is neat! Is it important to have on my tombstone 'Here lies Becky. She always had a neat room? or She could wear a size 8' " Whatever the current demands were that I wasn't meeting.

As I've grown older the line that I often find useful to remind myself what's important is from Psalm 90: "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."

My early heroes were people who were selfless, smart, inquisitive, compassionate, dedicated. And they went up a few notches if they had a good sense of humor.

While my earlier dreams of going off to save the world never materialized, my "jobs" and my career actually did line up quite well. I ended up as a physical therapist for 40 years. Some aspects of that can be aggravating, frustrating just like any other job. But for the most part I loved working with people in a way that I hope did make a difference for them. We were frequently able to make play out of our visits together. Since I spent a lot of that time in home care, we could use our sessions to tailor their efforts to what was most important to them.

In my retirement I'm often reflecting on what I'm called to do. Time with our grandchildren, being able to support our kids' busy lives by helping with transportation or errands, having time to visit aging family members, being able to enjoy friends - these are clearly part of my career. I feel so lucky to be able to do these things.

Painting, using my painting to promote a vision that I embrace, has come as such a surprise to me at this point in my life! It brings me so much joy, opens so many new doors.

Rowing, walking, yoga, exercise - are small steps to my larger visions. By keeping myself in good shape I'll have the ability to continue doing what I love as long as possible.

Martha talks about the games we play - and how we need to evaluate them in terms of our real career. If they don't serve that, then we need to find a different game. I didn't have those words or concepts to use at the time but when I made a job change that surprised some of my family and flew in the face of societal norms I realize that that's what I was doing - walking away from a game that didn't serve my real purpose. Those events in our lives can be really scarey, but deep down we know they're right.

I feel like I have reached the stage where it IS more like water flowing than swimming against a current. There are surely going to be difficult times. But I like having this concept of career and play to keep myself honest - to keep checking to make sure that I'm serving that divine spark that I've been given. It keeps going back to identifying that desire.

I've posted an image of one of my standing stones that was inspired by Catherine DeVinck's poem The Womanly Song of God.
To see how others in the Jamie Ridler's book club responded to this chapter check out her blog at: