travelsinateacup.co.uk

For awhile, after I’ve traveled abroad and through multiple time zones, my sleep patterns are way out of whack. I wake in the middle of the night, feeling like it must be morning (“It is,” says my body, “somewhere…”) More than this, when I wake it takes me a minute to clock my surroundings:  Where am I? I listen for sounds to orient myself. I become oh-so-present, feeling the need to get my bearings in the moment. Darkness sharpens my senses, but my brain doesn’t quite grasp the input it’s getting.

en.wikipedia.org

My emotions also shift during and after a trip. I tend to immerse myself so totally in new travel experiences that, when I come back home, everything inside of me feels as though it’s been re-set to different coordinates. I feel a little ‘out of body’ at first; sleep deprived for sure. But also deprived of things I’ve become used to in my new country:  a different slant of sun; a bluer sky; a haze of burnt-orange, or blinding-white buildings perched on a hillside. Aromas that’ve awakened my senses: the bitter-orange blossoms that are totally distinct from the orange trees in my home state. (How is it that the air in the entire city of Marrakech, no matter where you go, smells like cedarwood?)

thesun.co.uk

Coming home, I can fall prey to what I call the Traveler’s Blues. Thankfully, the symptoms don’t last long and are eased somewhat by cat-naps. But I’ve also learned to be gentle with myself when a trip ends. It’s ‘ok’ to suddenly long for every aspect of my new country(ies), while at the same time feeling ecstatic about being back home in my own space. The push-pull of relief, and longing – a sweet melancholy. Right then is when I try to bring my mind and heart together by entering a different kind of ‘time zone’.

In his book “The Power of Now” (1997), Eckhart Tolle calls it The Gap:  the space of no mind, no thinking; just being and feeling wholly present where you are, in every way. Of course, Ram Dass’s book “Be Here Now”, written in 1971, should be credited with introducing the mental oasis known as Being Present. Regardless of who nudged us into this practice first, I feel deep gratitude for this resource.

As I return to my own country, back to my own complex life, I feel that I’m returning from a deep-dive: not only into another culture, but into my Self. Imagining myself a scuba diver, ready to make for the glittering sunlight on the surface of the ocean, I swim slowly and calmly. I focus on my breathing. My heartbeat is a meditation. The dark mystery is below, the sunlight shimmers on my eyelids. This perfect moment is a balance of Who I Was, joined by Who I Am Now; of remembering, and anticipating my next travel adventure.

cats.org.uk

Yesterday I was literally down on my hands and knees cleaning my floors, feeling so pleased with the results. But a few hours later, as the afternoon sun streamed through the glass storm door at the front of my house, I saw tiny little paw prints trekking figure-eights in the polished glow. How, I wondered, did one of my cats come in without my seeing it, to dance on my floor while it was still wet? I thought that cats were averse to anything wet, never mind sticky, as the floor wax is. Sneaky. Unexpected. Yet there the prints were, proclaiming ‘territory’. That’s how cats are. What did I expect – really? As I grow older, I think of a similar metaphor that’s been present throughout my life. Ideas and beliefs that were fulfilled, and those that were crushed to bits in the process of living.

Starting pretty early-on (I think it began when I entered school), I’ve always had expectations for myself; and soon afterwards, for others. To be honest, the bar was set pretty high for a long time; the pressure intense, for me and anyone I was close to. How did this develop? As I look at my own upbringing, it’s clear that my parents and grandparents drove much of what I thought was my own initiative. Turns out, it wasn’t. Still, I can’t say that their expectations for me were out of whack. Most of what they asked (make that, quietly and subtly demanded) turned out to be helpful.

But being shaped by our elders is a kind of an expectation in itself; the method doesn’t always translate so well when we try to shape others, so that their attitudes and actions conform to what we want and need. How much influence do our expectations have on the people we say we love? And how do we ‘put them – what we expect to happen — out there’ — as demands, and even ultimatums? Or, do we go into what I call ‘stealth mode’:  our expectations are very specific, but we don’t share them overtly. We alone know what they are; we  sit back, waiting for others to intuit what they are. Disappointment and resentment lurks, then grows.

Entering into relationship – especially the kind that is deep, heartfelt and crucially important (we feel) to our wellbeing – we bring expectations. They’re driven by our needs and our desires. As I think back, and look forward, I’m learning from experience how my expectations are sometimes unrealistic, ego-driven, and completely impossible for another to fulfill. It stands to reason, then:  either I’m trying to make someone into the version I want, or, my expectations are a reveal of my own faults (read unresolved fears or insecurities). Perhaps I’m basing my expectations on what others around me use as a measurement of Success and Happiness? Are they even mine?

That would be just as silly as waxing a floor in a household full of cats, believing that not a single one will go dancing on the wet floor.

Western culture Readers of a certain age might not have grown up with the expression, to “Fly by the seat of your pants”. On its face, it makes no sense. But when my grandmother used it – especially with reference to something I was doing or even thinking about doing – there was no mistaking her disapproval. “Flying by the seat of your pants” is a phrase from aviation history; back in the day when airplane pilots had few navigational instruments and had to rely on their instincts. (Aviation also gave us the phrase, to “wing it”.) Both expressions roughly translate as, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it !”

When I was much younger, I for sure did a lot of “winging it”:  trusting my instincts about what felt true and correct at the time. As I’ve grown older, however, Life has taken on more of a jigsaw-puzzle experience:  a lot of pieces showing up on the table; its just a matter of fitting them all together for the beautiful picture I know is hiding in that jumble of shapes.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy looking at those shapes:  education; career, marriage, family, more education, a left-turn in my career, friendships and deep connections, and travel. Always, lots and lots of travel. Are there any other pieces I haven’t mentioned? Yes:  a home by the sea, good health, grandchildren, abundant love and creativity (whatever those puzzle pieces look like – snippets of a rainbow, I think).

gettyimages

What happens to my mood when the pieces don’t fit together when, and how I think they should? Sometimes I feel as though my Life might be on someone else’s timeline; so, a little frustrated. Why aren’t things coming-together when I want them to? Alana Fairchild, channeler (my word) of all things Rumi, offers a thought that – thankfully – soothes my troubled thoughts most of the time:  “…it’s best to  participate in this Life with much less certainty than the mind would have us believe is needed for Inner Peace. Inner Peace doesn’t come with understanding; it comes with trusting.

Deep in my soul I know that Trust is key to feeling peace in my mind and heart. Trust can translate as, whatever words we choose to use to describe our individual beliefs and hope for this world:  Source energy, God, Buddha, Gaia, Allah – just to name a few. Whatever’s going on, it will all be “ok”. Will it? I’d love to get that in writing.

Klimpt’s “Mother & Child”, bingimages

I think about how difficult Trust can feel, especially when Life is filled with successive hard-knocks. How do we keep getting up and standing, let alone trying our best to move forward, albeit one step at a time? The answer to that question is uniquely personal; but in the midst of my own struggles, and after working with so many damaged children and adults over my many years in public service, I can offer what I’ve seen, heard, and felt. The most at-risk people in the world can and do not only survive, but can eventually thrive. Even without a faith in a deity or higher power, there’s very often an instinctive desire to survive:  to climb up, and out of despair.

The human spirit is amazing in its strength and grace. Peace in mind begins, then, in honoring the living, breathing essence of one’s existence. Life feels fragile, but it’s not accidental. Our primary ‘certainty’, even without full understanding, must be the value of our own lives. We learn to Trust our own beating hearts, regardless of how many times we feel betrayed by others. Peace in mind that can never, despite how complicated or jumbled Life may seem at times, be misguided or misplaced. I’m going to relax in that Peace today, however long it lasts.

Why do people lie? (Rhetorical question, bear with me.)

“I never got your project in my email.”  Yeah, I think you did; I requested a Read Receipt.

“My wife has no clue because I’m such a good actor, but I am so checked out of our marriage.” Trust me:  on some level, she knows.

“Í didn’t eat the last (fill in the blank).” Ok, so it’s you, me and the cat. Has he learned how to open the ‘fridge?

When my son was still a toddler, he thought that by covering his own eyes, he’d be invisible to everyone else in the family. So if he wanted to “hide”, he’d just put his little hands up in front of his face, like the game of peek-a-boo we play with babies. A cloak of immunity (he loved to pull all of the clean linen out of the closet and spread it around the hallway) from discovery and accountability.

Today I was reflecting – as I’m sneaking up on another birth day this month – on the many wonderful ways that age brings not only wisdom of self-knowledge, but common sense. This week, however, I was confronted by both the first and second statements above, made by people who are actually older than I am. So, denial and obfuscation – let’s just call it what it is, dishonesty – is obviously not the sole territory of the young and foolish. Anyone looking for a back door, an escape clause or hatch, a way to be invisible can deploy lying. Lies can be big or small, but they’re all about avoiding exposure. But ‘exposure’ to what? I thought back, to that feeling…

The first professional job I had in my first career (Education) was a high school teacher. I was thrilled to have the job, but apprehensive about being so close in age to my students (I was only 23, and they were between 16 – 18 years old). Despite having graduated from college and having several credentials “under my belt”, I feared being called-out as a fraud. What did that mean? To me, it meant being appraised, and found lacking. Knowledge; poise; maturity; skill:  missing from my repertoire.

I survived my first year of teaching, but learned some hard lessons about being truthful and humble (I told my students I had more experience than I actually did at the time). They learned otherwise.

Why do we lie, or, my favorite, not tell the whole truth in certain situations? As I noted above, this is really a question that most of us know the answer to:  to avoid the nasty consequences we know are coming if we tell the truth about ‘whatever’. The problem with lying, however (unless there’s some kind of pathology in operation), is twofold:  first, the lie seeps into our beliefs about ourselves and almost always causes even more fear and self-doubt; and second, lies tend to proliferate because they become easier to tell.

The man who told me about his clueless wife is totally depressed and wakes exhausted, most mornings at 3 a.m. The woman who told me she didn’t receive my project (despite my receipt that she’d at least opened my email) is developing a growing reputation as a “flake”.

I’m not holding myself above anyone who has lied, or attempted to avoid being exposed by saying nothing or providing only a partial truth. I’m just thinking about what this feels like in our hearts:  when we engage in deception, or when we become aware that we’re on the receiving end of a lie. It doesn’t feel good. It always comes out, in one way or another. The dis-ease of lying is corrosive. How much better to come from a place of Truth, shout or whisper your Mea Culpa, and ask for forgiveness?

gettyimages

In the past few weeks I’ve had multiple experiences – first a trickle, then a steady daily stream – that’ve revealed a heartbreakingly common theme of being human. Many Readers are familiar with the thought experiment that shows the Law of Attraction at work:  holding an image in your mind during a normal day (a butterfly, for example) and noticing how many times you see images, or the real thing, from sun-up until sundown. It’s pretty remarkable – if you can maintain playful focus on whatever you decide you want to ‘see’.

The thought experiment I’ve been living recently first started (maybe 3 weeks ago) when a dozen or so of my colleagues were tasked with choosing teams for a project. Anyone could start the process of choosing – it began, and ended via email. But as those who were anxious to pick competent and capable friends began sending out Invites, others were left unchosen.  Memories from grade school athletics:  the unsparingly-cruel team captains selecting the best, or most skilled, players so as to avoid getting stuck with ‘losers’.

If you were in the small group of misfits no captain wanted (as I was, in most sports competitions), the lesson was unmistakable and painfully poignant:  no one wants you. In my colleague-teaming situation, this played out (via groupmail) in a very public way:  who was invited to join, and who was left asking to join. Yes, we’re all adults and this is Life, but still; it didn’t feel good. After all, we all want and need to be well-regarded; to be chosen; to be Liked.

In the 26 August “New Yorker” magazine, there’s an article titled “Trouble in Paradise” by Andrew Marantz. The piece focuses on the Tech industry’s efforts to confront its ‘demons’, in terms of its perceived (and fact-based) lack of ethics. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple and several others are being called-out for tactics that are now collectively referred to as “Human Downgrading:  …a reduction of human capacity…and human sensitivities” (p. 63).

There’s a ton of ‘psychology’, as it turns out, behind what these platforms do, and how they do it, in their quest for more and more presence in our lives. Turns out (many Readers might already know this), for example, an individual (not a Think Tank) came up with the idea of the ‘Like’ button. The button’s designed to gather data about our preferences, but also feeds our dopamine-hungry bodies in the same way that video games do:  by zapping our receptors with alternating challenges, rewards, defeats and punishments.

But what happens when we put ourselves ‘out there’, in the arena of social scrutiny, and we are not chosen? Or, we don’t get the number of ‘Likes’ we want and think we deserve? Studies are now showing that we grow panicky and anxious, sad and even despondent. Combatting the Awful Truth of the phrase “If It’s Not Insta, It Didn’t Happen”, Instagram in Canada has removed the ‘Like’ button entirely from its application, knowing full well what this means to the company’s bottom-line.

So after my “teambuilding” (a deliberate oxymoron, here) experience, I continued to encounter friends and family members who were feeling invisible, neglected, unloved and even shamed in their experiences and relationships. I’m not trying to imply that all of these outcomes are the result of being “on” Social Media, or, Under the Influence of Social Media, but the New Yorker article presents pretty compelling evidence of a connection. The Tech Giants (the humans running this industry) themselves seem to be in growing realization that much of their money-making relies on promoting and maintaining human emotions such as apprehension, uncertainty, insecurity and a sense of inclusion or exclusion.

gettyimages

Who are these people Liking and Following us, and why does this even matter so much? What might Likes and Follows be a substitute for? I note the symbolism of a simple ‘button’, like Roman Emperors of ancient times:  “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as to whether or not a gladiator’s life should be spared. Wait – did you think that ‘Thumbs-Up’ was invented by Tech? (smiley emoji)