Thursday, January 9, 2014

1/10/14—Competing Less and Paying As You Go

This is my cell phone. The drug dealers, pimps, ho's, gang members and convicts amongst my readership will recognize it as a "burner". Everyone else might know it as a pay-as-you-go phone. See, I don't really need a cell phone. So I pay $100 a year to enjoy 10 cents-a-minute and 20 cents-a-text coverage wherever I go. I use less than $20 of that coverage each year and text the rest of my balance to charity. 

The cell phone itself is part of today's story, as is that sparkly pink wristband that looks like it was burped up by My First Barbie. See, I'd had a pink pay-as-you-go flip phone for years. All it did was make phone calls. It could text, too, but it didn't have a keyboard, just numbers. I bought it used. Add the four years that I owned it and it was probably six or seven years old—ancient for phone technology. So it was time to turn it in. 

I went to a Radio Shack right next door to an AT&T store, figuring that would provide a bifecta of phone shopping experiences. But I never made it out of the Radio Shack. The reason? A rotund, loud, pimple-faced teenage girl who took it upon herself to be my salesperson. She turned out to be one of the most competent salespeople I had ever encountered in the kind of store you go into expecting to consult with someone who knows more than you. 

She showed me where the pay-as-you-go phones were and held out this phone. Instead, I reached for a flip phone. As a cell phone luddite, I wasn't sure I was ready for something that looked like a grown up cell phone. "No, you don't want that," she said, handing me the white phone with the keypad. "This will do more for you. You'll get more value from your pay plan and texting will be easier. It's brand new."

"But I don't text," I said. 

She replied, "but one day you will. And you'll want this phone."

I surrendered to her expertise and on the way to the register, we stopped and she said, "you'll also want one of these in case you drop your phone." I perused the cell phone covers and chose black. Then she reached out for my old cell phone and said, "I'll transfer the data for you." 

Now, this chick was kind of bossy and lacking in finesse, but she knew her stuff. Since my new phone had just hit the shelves, she wasn't up on the particular model, so it took her a few minutes to figure out how to move the data from my outdated phone to a new one. It wasn't as straightforward as switching memory chips. But once she got the data transfer going, she helped another customer out. Then another came in and asked a question and she turned to her older associate and said, "would you show her where the XYZ is? I'm helping a customer." 

His eyes widened and I got the impression he outranked her in the Radio Shack hierarchy. Then she shamed him by offering, "or you could finish up this lady's cell phone..." referring to me. It was clear he wasn't capable of that, so he helped the other woman. Normally I wouldn't be so patient or pleasant. I'm not the best customer in the world sometimes. But this particular day I was taken by this girl's skill and her attitude actually amused me because she was just so...annoying...haha. 

Once my phone was done, she asked me to wait as she walked across the store. Once
Awesome sunset captured by my burner.
there, she called out to me, "silver or pink?" I said "pink" and she came back with the totally-inappropriate-for-a-50-year-old-yet-somehow-garishly-appealing sparkly pink wristband. It was on clearance for somewhere around $1. I waffled a bit, but she convinced me it would help me text. Even though I don't text. So that's how I left with a phone I didn't have to program, a black protective case and a sparkly pink wristband. But I also left with a lesson. 

This girl's competence was obvious. She didn't need to prove it with any arrogant bravado. Nor did she need to wield it at the expense of her co-worker. I was so impressed with her casual up-sell capabilities, supported by benefits. I was impressed with her product knowledge, most of which was self taught, I discovered. She was funny in a "I'm so glad I'm not a teenager anymore" kind of way. She didn't have to push it. I have no doubt this girl could be a top achiever anywhere she worked.

As an emotional, paranoid self-employed writer given to crises of self confidence, I've had to be extra careful to swim only in my own pond. What I mean by that is that I've had to work hard to understand that there is enough work, enough success, enough praise, enough respect and enough money out there for everyone to win. So I never have to win at anyone's expense. Nor do I ever have to worry about what my competition is doing. There is no competition in my pond. There is no lack of money or success or opportunity in my pond. There is no need for me to dip into anyone else's pond to get my needs met. In fact, I don't even care to know "my competitors" exist.

It's not about denial. It's about knowing that I have the power to create my own reality and my own success. And if my reality includes competitors I have to compete with for limited funds and success, it takes attention and relevance away from my competence. It takes away from my customer relations. And it takes away from the colleagues I work with, like it did with that girl. It does this because it means I have to work from a place of fear, not confidence. Lack, not abundance. Competition, not cooperation. Helplessness, rather than creatorship. Competition is not an arena that helps you show your power. It's one that zaps you of your power.

That said, it's nice to have a little something nipping at your heels to keep you evolving as a professional and as a person. And, of course, you have to be aware of your marketplace. But when you compete with yourself, you fish in a pond you create and rule. When you compete with others, you fish in a pond where there are limited resources that have already been created according to a communal vision. 

Each time you look outside your own pond for anything—clients, affirmation, self esteem, resources—you immediately limit your possibilities. Because wherever competition exists, it exists under the conditions of limited resources and options that have to be shared. Otherwise, it's not a competition. Someone has to lose in order for you to win. It's a mindset that can kill a freelance career, because fear is a heavy burden to bear when a paycheck isn't guaranteed. Besides, think of the people you know who thrive on competition. Are they people you'd consider balanced? Trustworthy? Humble? Gracious? Do you really want to swim in their pond?

So today's post challenges you to look at where you might be competing or winning at the expense of another and consider if competition makes you more of the kind of person you admire or less. It also asks you to explore whether or not you believe you live in a world with limited resources. The way I see it, if we've come here to expand as souls and spirits, we should give ourselves as much room as possible by taking away the limitations of ego and communal ponds. And if you can be kinder to others in the process, all the better. 

Oh, and the salesperson at Radio Shack was right on all fronts. The wristband makes it easier to text. I do text more, but that's "more" in the context of me only turning the phone on once, maybe twice a month. And the phone she sold me absolutely does more. I can get email on this phone and even view Facebook in a pinch. And I can take pics that garner praise on my Facebook page. It's kind of like a weak excuse for a smartphone (you can't do smartphones on pay as you go, so it's the best alternative out there.) I'm getting way more value for my 10 cents a minute. She was so right. Now I can't wait to drop the phone for the first time to see how my protective case works. ;)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

1/9/14—Colliding With Detachment

Last week we talked about letting go in conjunction with the new moon and the beginning of a new year. And we used the analogy of how trees let go of their leaves fully and completely, which enables them to grow and bud and create new leaves.

But that's not all that happens when a tree sheds its leaves. It also reveals things that lay hidden beneath the leaves. Like the two nests in my neighbor's tree. You don't get a full picture of the situation until the clutter is gone. And it's that way with us, too. Letting go reveals things that are hard to see while you're still holding on.

One of the paths of Buddhism is cultivating a detached mind. I'm not a Buddhist, but detachment is a powerful state. As philosopher and mystic Simone Weil observed, “attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached.” And that pretty much encapsulates the point of today's post. Without the leaves, we can better see the reality of the tree. Without our attachments, we can better see the reality of our lives.

Attachment is nothing more than holding on...holding on to anger, hurt, love, desire—you name it. There is no objectivity, no reality, through the eyes of emotion. Our emotions bias us greatly. But it would be a mistake to think that detachment is walking through life without emotion. Rather it's not being attached to your emotions. It's about separating yourself from your thoughts, emotions and biases so they don't color your world. It's about not being ruled by the whims of emotion.

You can detach overall—that's the Buddhist path that leads to peace and contentment (aka the end of suffering.) Or you can detach from a situation or person, which is what I really mean to talk about today. Because as long as you're invested in a situation—as long as you're in the head of "right and wrong", "your fault and mine", "fair and unfair", "happy or sad" etc.—you can't see the truth of what is going on. You can't be objective. You can only see things through the lens of the emotion or stance you're attached to.

Sometimes you catch a glimpse of the truth...or a glimpse of compassion. And that triggers understanding. Which then triggers letting go. But more often than not, it's the other way around. You drive yourself crazy until you have no other option but to let go. And, once detached, you gain understanding. And then the truth is revealed.

So while you're telling yourself, "I can't let go until I fully understand what happened and why," its actually more common that you won't understand what happened and why until you let go. It's one of life's little paradoxes. But when you think of how you are when you're all caught up in something—obsessing over it, replaying it over and over, thinking of how you'll handle this eventuality or that, drawing conclusions, feeling angry or hurt, pretending like you don't care—you can see how the mind is occupied with everything but genuine understanding. This mental clutter, like leaves on a tree, hides what is really going on at the core of the situation, the core of you and the core of the other person.

In most interpersonal conflict, for example, the reality is that whatever the other person did was not about you at all. You just felt it that way because their drama coincided with a pain or fear or desire deep within you that they weren't aware of or even thinking about at the time.

In essence, two pains collided and neither of the two pains even saw or thought about the other an auto accident where you don't see the other person until you've already hit them. Then all hell breaks loose. Then everyone gets huffy. You go about dealing with the headache of getting things back to the way they were before the accident...with everything in its place so you don't have to worry moving forward. Then time passes and you realize, at the heart of it, it was only an accident, it wasn't really anyone's fault, it didn't happen just to piss you off and thank god everyone came out of it alive.

Whether it's conflict or sorrow or love or romance that happened to you, it was just a collision...something that came to wake you up and shake you up in some area of your life. And, like with the cars, you'll never get back to exactly where you were before the collision. There may be a new and different feel to your vehicle. But unlike with the cars, the transformation that came from the collision is your divine reward. And like the nests in the trees, you can't see that until all your leaves—all the dead skin cells of the injury caused by the collision—have dropped and exposed the beautiful, life-supporting gems beneath.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

1/8/14—Walking Your Talk

I wanted to post an original post today, but I got a call from my brother and we talked for a very long time. So here's a post from 1/22/12 and I'll get to the one I wanted to write tomorrow or the next day. :)

A while back, one of my artist friends, Joanna Powell Colbert, wrote something that forever changed the way I looked at my backyard.  

She urged her readers to notice the other animal families that live alongside ours on our properties. And not just to notice them, but to dial into them the way we do our human neighbors—recognizing their patterns and quirks.

Certainly I was aware of much of what lived in my backyard before. There are the birds that live in the honeysuckle tangle. The rabbits that nest under the shed. The mice that live beneath my deck and occasionally invade my house. Then there are the passers by—the mourning doves, the cardinal, the bluejay, the possums, the owl and Harvey, the neighbor's cat who likes to torment my dogs.

I knew all this, but had never seen it as a community before. Nor did I recognize my role as the steward of this community. For example, I take precautions so my dogs can't get at the bunnies under the shed. If I see Harvey in our yard, I warn him before I release the hounds. And, essentially, I don't do anything to discourage these families from thriving on my property (though when the mice enter the house, all bets are off.)

So it was in this mind last year when I really took a good look at the squirrels that raise their young in my tree. It started out with birds nesting in this one hollowed out limb. But about eight or nine years ago I saw the birds being unceremoniously evicted by the squirrels. Since then I've watched generations of baby squirrels peek their heads out that hollow hole looking for their mama. Then, when they get big enough, everyone moves elsewhere, vacating the hole until the following spring.

Anyway, all that changed when, late last summer, a storm brought down that hollow limb. The squirrels were long gone, so nobody got injured. But their home was totaled. I kept the hollow part and leaned it up against my tree, intending to fill it with soil this spring and make it into a planter or other yard feature.

Well, we've had a warm winter so far. And I think someone might have gotten pregnant early, because I've been seeing a squirrel poking around my planter-in-waiting a lot lately. It's like s/he's assessing its worthiness for another scurry of squirrels expected in the spring. Every time I see him sizing it up, I want to warn him not to risk it. But I don't speak squirrel. All I know is one push and my dogs will have those babies. It's no longer fit for squirrels.

In our spiritual lives, we will all come across a challenge like this—when something that has served us for quite some time now no longer suits us. It might come upon us suddenly like it did for the evicted birds. Or it might take time and repeated reminders to realize, like with the squirrels.

As we move forward on our paths, we need to periodically check to see if the way we're living is in integrity with our beliefs. A vegetarian may realize they cannot, in all good conscience, continue to wear leather goods, for example. A yogi might realize the hypocrisy of their cigarette or alcohol habit. Or a spiritual seeker may find that holding grudges brings nothing but pain for them anymore. In short, the spiritual home we've built can no longer accommodate certain ways of being.

As you walk through the coming weeks, think about the squirrel and the choice he needs to make in order to do what's best for himself and his family. Consider whether the ways you're acting and being continue to honor the spiritual beliefs you've built. Observe your actions and interactions and ask yourself questions:
·      Are you approaching conflicts from a place of compassion and understanding?
·      Do you follow the advice you give to others?
·      Can you see where the judgment you placed on someone else might also be true    
        about you?
·      While you may not be saying unkind things, do you find yourself thinking them?
·      Are you really listening when people speak or are you thinking of all the stuff you 
        have to do later on?
·      Would Jesus/Buddha/God be proud of the way you handled that last interaction?

The questions you ask yourself may be different based upon your beliefs and where you are along your path. But you owe it to yourself to be as honest and as impartial in your self-assessment as possible. To make progress on our spiritual paths, it becomes necessary to shed parts of ourselves that no longer serve.

We may not always like what we see when we look inward. We may find it's not always convenient to act in integrity with our beliefs. We may even discover it's harder to find a new way of approaching things than it is to stay the same. But if you're one of those people who hates it when others don't walk their talk, then you've got to decide whether you're going to be one of those people you hate or not.

The look on my dog's face tells me that once that squirrel's eyes are opened to the way things need to be from this point forward, he will seek higher ground. And you will too.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

1/6/14—Doing Nothing All Wrong

I've been thinking a lot lately about why it never seems like any amount of vacation or down time ever seems to be enough. I suppose there could be a lot of reasons for that. I'm burned out. I don't get good quality sleep. I spend much of my time off running around making up for the things I didn't do because I was busy before. 

All of those are good reasons, but I've discovered another one recently. And it's that the time that does get spent as downtime is time I feel guilty about. Guilty, because there's always something else I could be doing. There's always something left on my to-do list. And so when I truly do nothing, my head is filled with thoughts of how much more productive I *could* be. I just don't let myself savor it. Does this sound familiar to you?

Don't get me wrong. I have plenty of down time. More than most people because I don't commute to a job and don't necessarily work a full day every day. But little of it is quality time. Either I'm multi-tasking, such as watching TV and picking stuff up around the house. Or I'm laying here comatose, unwilling to do anything else and beating myself up about it because of all the stuff I COULD be doing but am not. The only time I ever seem to be in the moment and relaxed and enjoying my downtime is when I sit outside and meditate at night. And even then my mind wanders sometimes. 

So there are two things going goofy here. One is feeling guilty about doing nothing. And the other is is overstimulation/multitasking/worries that take me out of the moment, effectively voiding the effects of downtime. 

Too often I think we think of rest and relaxation the same way we do dessert...if and when you have it, you have it after everything else is eaten. And sometimes you don't eat it. It's an indulgence. A treat. 

When did this become OK? Why did I let it be OK? And was it ever any different? 

Truth is, I'm pretty sure we weren't sent down here to work all the time. And what logic does it make that downtime and relaxation...recharging....would be a last resort—something to do only when everything else is done? How come rest and enjoyment never even makes it to the To Do list, much less rises to the top of it? Why doesn't life work the other way around, meaning that when we're busying ourselves with work and errands and little tasks we're not feeling guilty about not relaxing more? If not now, when do we become fully present and aware in the time that's the fruit of all our toil?

I like feeling busy and accomplished a lot as much as the next guy. And it would be wonderful to have absolutely nothing left on that To Do list. But I'm not sure that will ever happen. So if I have to "earn my way" to relaxation by doing it only after everything else is done, I'll never have fun! And I'd like to feel just as accomplished and productive from doing nothing as I am from doing lots of crap. After all, downtime recharges us, it reduces stress (which improves health), it allows us to pursue our diverse interests and it makes life more worthwhile. Shouldn't that be a star on the To Do list, along with "make money" and "clean house"?

Maybe I'm alone in this. But I don't think I'm alone at not being fully present and in the moment in life. That alone—whether being present in work or play—makes us more vital. So what's your story? Do you enjoy guilt-free, fully present down time? Or are you doing it all wrong just like me? At 50 I'm thinking more and more about what all of this is for and I'm pretty sure it's not to live from one busy weekend to the next.