my daughter always puts cups in the sink after she uses them. she loves to place them upside down, frequently in or on top of the opening to the drain. as the primay dishwasher in our home, this makes me crazy. seriously. crazy. it makes no sense to me why anyone would put a cup upside down in the sink, let alone on top of the drain, and, it’s messy.
my son likes to borrow my car. he is far from irresponsible and typically restores order. he forgets periodically, however, and on those days i find the stereo turned up, gum wrappers gracing the floor, the mirror and drivers’ seat adjusted oddly. while it only takes me a few seconds to clear the clutter and restore order, it always ruffles my feathers more than it should.
my responses to these situations are frustratingly common for me. i aspire to be a gracious sharer and yet irritation so quickly and frequently settles where i wish understanding and flexibility lived.
the culture in which i live affords me so few natural opportunities to share. instead of relying upon a central desktop computer, multiple laptops migrate around my home which is spacious enough for everyone to have their own room.  no one ever gets a busy signal when they call because each of us has our own phone. with stores open 24 hours a day my neighbors never seem to need a cup of sugar or to borrow a tool. i am warm in the winter and cool in the summer, dwelling in my heated and air conditioned home rather than chopping wood or running through sprinklers with those around me. paper cups are the norm in my neighborhood coffee shop and i order my drinks to go.
sharing space, objects, and ideas, and all the stretching this requires, isn’t as common as it was in the past. we used to have to share a phone, a television, a car, a kitchen, a bathroom, books, movies. now we stream, download, amass portable devices, drive through, and hole away. sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.
i have friends who chose to live in intentional community in order to keep their lives from becoming too self-centric. many restaurants are integrating community tables where patrons can join others. these are fantastic things and yet not everyone can or will or wants to share in these ways. we all can, however, share more. we might, for example, share a conversation with our neighbor when racing in and out of the house. we could, for instance, loan our professional expertise to a non profit or our interviewing skills to a college kid learning how to apply for work or our time to clean up a trail or our eye contact to the grocery clerk who’s worn out or our sink with a housemate who places cups upside down. maybe we could share our things spontaneously, our time more freely, and our selves (our ears, our hands, our eyes) with more regularity.
i’m not referring, here, to the kind of giving of self or making space for others that is borne out of martyrdom or a lack of health or is solicited by manipulation. i’m not suggesting we rescue others from their responsibilities nor that we consistently swallow our own needs and preferences in deference to those of others. sharing out of guilt or when motivated by another’s entitlement is not healthy.
what i am referring to is the kind of sharing that grows both the sharer and the shared-with. i’m talking about developing the ability to hold our own preferences loosely enough that there is room for the presence of others in our day or week or month. the kind of sharing that is less about loaning an object and more about the giving up of ones’ self or invisible things/energies/capabilities connected to ones’ self. the kind of sharing that helps me realize that my [bizarre] need for cups to be placed in the sink a certain way means that i see the sink as mine and not a shared space. the kind of sharing where my flexibility, grace, and ability to be with with others meaningfully is grown.
every time i open my mouth to call attention to upside down cups or gum wrappers and ill adjusted mirrors i try to pause to ask myself, “to what end?” “does stating my preference or reaction contribute to the quality and nature of the connection i want with connor and kaija today?” i typically decide “no” and in so doing feel a sense of stretching. the sink may not be how i want it. i may need a moment before pulling out of the driveway and yet i can live with that and that feels strangely comforting to me. i don’t always have to have my way. i can live in a space that is shared, where the preferences of others live on an equal plane as my own, and where relationships mean more to me than my stuff.
it can be challenging to find places and ways to share. when we live alone. when we like things our own way. when we want to rest. when we have worked so hard for our autonomy and our ways of life. when someone has taken advantage of our sharing in the past. and yet, it can be done. with intention.
sit at a community table at a coffee shop. share a possession with someone (something that you care about but that you won’t be resentful about having shared) and pay attention to how it feels to let it go and receive it back (or not). share one gaming system amongst your group of friends. borrow books and movies from a library instead of downloading them then watch them in a shared space rather than by yourself with headphones in. share a compliment with the person who pumps your gas. or makes your coffee. or ironed your shirt. or cleaned your office.  loan someone your empathic ear, listening without giving a single piece of advice. share your flexibility and let someone else win the argument. share your humility and let someone else be “right,” even when...no...especially when, you disagree. you just might find out that there’s a very good reason they place the cups in the sink upside down.


(less than) ideal

years ago my family began a christmas caroling tradition. we gathered a group of friends and traveled to the retirement community where my mother-in-law was living. the kids among us made simple ornaments and pictures to hand out to the residents and we walked the halls singing from the caroling books my Nana used in the 50’s. our guide for the evening was an 80 year old woman named anna. small but mighty, anna led us with confidence. up and down stairs, in and out of rooms, telling us tidbits about the residents we were meeting. we had great fun and felt extremely rewarded by the smiles and genuine gratitude we felt from each encounter we had with a resident. toward the end of the evening we sang “i’m dreaming of a white christmas” and anna began to cry. when we finished she told us why.
when anna graduated from college she felt as though God was calling her to become a missionary. she decided to follow this call and boarded a boat headed for india. on the way her ship stopped briefly in the phillipines. world war II broke out, however, and japan took the islands leaving anna and her fellow passengers prisoners of war. two and a half years later, at her release, irving berlin had been present and had sung “white christmas” to the detainees. 
all 25 of us stood, dumbfounded, as anna shared her story. she told it as though it was old news, nothing extraordinary, something we already knew. for us, however, our already meaningful evening took on an entirely new dimension. no longer were we able to consider those we’d sung to as just a bunch of retirees. there were prisoners or war here, people who had been sung to by irving berlin. there were complexities here, hearts and minds and souls here. in sharing time and space with these people our stories had intertwined. 
we’ve carried this tradition on for 12 years, missing only one year in the mix. we’ve had as many as 47 people in our band of singers and as few as 22 over the years. in our early years we would gather for pizza before or ice cream after and then began sharing a potluck at a friend’s home as part of the tradition. this november i booked our usual date early, sent out emails a month before, and prepped our ornaments and books. in an odd twist of fate, however, very few carolers were available to join us and of those that planned to come, several ended up sick or called away by urgencies the day we were to sing. when i arrived at the center, knowing our group would be small, i felt discouraged and afraid. my worst fear truly could happen. i had planned an event to which no one might come.
this might not have mattered to me in other situations but i am now a known commodity at this center and among those that join me to carol. if only a few people were present, what would everyone think? doreen is a loser. all she can come up with is this? does she have no friends? no colleagues? no one who wants to spend time with her? why didn’t she just cancel? what did she do this year to make her yesterday’s news?
i’ve heard these fears and worse in my own mind many times and i hear them from others as well. why put myself out there? why risk inviting people (into my life, into an experience, into a conversation) only to be rejected? why confirm my fears that i am alone? not compelling? not interesting? a flop. a failure. 
our official start time rolled around and no one but my husband, daughter, and me were present. i began to dread the time. i began to regret the request that my friend host our post caroling gathering. i began to feel foolish and apologized to my family and to the coordinator who had fit us into the schedule. i began to feel a failure.
then, it happened. two of our oldest friends, both part of our original group, arrived. one with her 16 year old son and the other with her elementary aged kids. my college freshman son sauntered in wearing his santa hat with his roommate in tow. still feeling disappointed by our small numbers, i was relieved that we would at least be able to sing a few songs. we ventured out, beginning in the main dining room then heading down hallways and into the special care units and the health center where residents were likely spending a disappointing december.
we began weakly, rushing through each song as though saying, “sorry we’re small, sorry we’re not very loud. we won’t bother you for long.” i just wanted the exposure of my ineffective gathering skills over. as the hour went on, however, something amazing happened. i stopped caring that there were only 10 of us. it didn’t matter because what was happening was meaningful. i began missing those that weren’t there because i genuinely cared about them rather than missing them because i wished their bodies would make our group larger (and my planning more seemingly effective). i settled in to the moment and saw more fully the smiles of the residents to whom we sung. i actually heard their voices as they joined in. i savored the image of 5 year old everly twirling down the halls in her fancy christmas dress and observed her and her brother hiller melt hearts when they handed wheel chair bound men and women hearts of cinnamon and apple sauce. i fully noticed my son’s countenance as he interacted confidently with the individuals on the alzheimer’s unit and my daughter’s desire to sing one more verse and linger. because our group was small we had the freedom to wander down to the basement where residents sell amazing mid century modern furniture and other things they no longer need. the two 16 year olds among us played in the motorized scooter chair as they had played on tricycles years ago. we were all relaxed in a way that we wouldn’t have been had we been managing a large group. later we shared space and conversation in deeper ways than we had in the past, the 16 year olds talking politics, a mixed age group discussing theology, and others playing board games. as we tidied up i realized that i felt joy where i feared a feeling of failure would settle.
i want to master the lesson that is in this. i want to mean what i say when i say that whoever is supposed to show up will. i want to be confident enough to invite others and then release them to do what is best for their sense of self rather than having to respond to meet my needs of having planned a successful event. when i do this i will be free to continue to take relational risks. i may have to face my fears in the mix and in so doing i just might experience something important.
i feel confident when i say that everyone, deep within them (or possibly very close to the surface), has a sense of aloneness that twinges when touched. fears of no one showing up haunt us. i hear these fears all the time at coffee shops, in my office, everywhere, really, where honest people talk. sometimes they come true and we experience disappointment and loneliness. sometimes they don’t and we are comforted. the trick, it seems, is to not stop at the loneliness, the self proclaimed “failure” when we ask and no one shows. when we stop there we begin looking only for evidence that supports our belief that we truly are alone. that the people we want don’t want us so we may as well declare ourselves an outcast. unlovable.
perhaps it is in these places that we can truly begin to see who is there, more than who isn’t there, for us. it may not be an ideal community, it may not be a perfect partner or friend or roommate or spouse, it may be a less than effective co-worker or neighbor, it may be only a “good enough” connection. we may think we’re “settling” and yet, in so doing, we may learn to flex and share and co-mingle in new and grace filled ways. who knows, we may be that which has been “settled on” in the lives of others. funny, that.
being a friend to ones’ self is an essential foundation to being a friend for another. inviting others is easier when we know that, no matter what, we ourselves will show up for ourselves...and for each other...in whatever ways, large and small, we are able. only in taking risks can we deepen our connections with others and with ourselves, becoming grateful for (and grace filled toward) the fellow pilgrims on our journey...even if they are few and far between. the less than ideal may be just that...ideal.


right next to the spice

a few years back i saw a movie that ignited in me a deep fascination (some people in my life might call it an obsession) with india. the day the dvd was released i bought the film (a rarity for me) and immediately watched the extra features which included an indian cooking “how to.” the next day my son and i made our first indian dish, aloo gobi, carefully following each instruction.
shortly thereafter i made a trip to a local indian market and bought a few spices including an especially spicy curry powder. i wanted to learn to make more dishes, yet every recipe i found required 5-10 different spices and many steps of preparation. i felt sad. by that time i had developed a taste for the delicious meals i enjoyed at indian restaurants. i wanted to recreate them at home, yet, pushed by the pace of my sometimes-too-hurried life, i began to try to fool myself into thinking that my meals were indian if i simply doused them with the curry powder in my cupboard. forget the garam masala, the cumin seeds, fennel bulbs, and finely chopped ginger. no need for turmeric or simmering or bwana’ing (the art of making a gravy with spices and water, mixed with vegetables and legumes). curry powder made it indian, right?
some of you who know me may know that i am not a patient cook. i love to experiment and be creative in the kitchen but i mostly love sitting down to eat with the counters clean and all necessary cooking items washed and back in place. complex recipes are not my speed, they require too many ingredients (so much to take out and put away all before eating), demand far too much attention to detail, and often rely upon slow preparation and stretched out cooking time.
as my life has shifted, however, and i have developed a growing respect for results that can only be accomplished with patience, i have found my way back to some of those recipes. i have begun to try them again, contributing the time, care, and complexity of ingredients they suggest. i am noticing the way in which an honoring of the intended preparation methods requires me to change my process. requires me to make more messes. requires me to take more time. and allows me much more of a reward.
my favorite indian dish at present is chole, a chickpea curry that simmers in a gravy infused with whole cloves, cardomom pods, pepper corns, and chopped ginger root. by the time it is served the chick peas are heavy laden with the flavors of the spices. yesterday, as i ate a bowl of it, i bit into one garbanzo that tasted exactly like clove, then another that was heavily spiked with the peppery warmth of cardamom. it struck me that the complexity of this dish was so much more rewarding and interesting than the many bowls of hot curry i had made earlier in my journey. the fact that the flavors changed from one bean to the next, based on what they were near in the pan, is fascinating to me.
it makes me think about relationships. and community. and how i am flavored by the spice i am next to.
it seems to me that many of us surround ourselves with people who are just like us. when together we’re like one big dish doused in one single spice. it might be flavorful and yet it’s one dimensional. people who share our outlook on life, our beliefs or values, our socio economic status, our neighborhood, even our physical appearance make us feel so accepted, understood, and comfortable. we know how to talk to and be with these people. we speak the same languages, quite literally using the same vocabulary. we know what life in this kind of community will taste like. it’ll be familiar, comfort food safe. and that’s o.k.
it’s also o.k. to have times and spaces wherein we throw caution to the wind, stop worrying if tarragon and chile paste go together, and create something new. something we don’t know how to anticipate because it’s unique every time. a community with someone who looks nothing like us, believes things we don’t (or better yet, things we don’t understand), lives in places we haven’t traveled to, or who makes us just a wee bit uncomfortable. a community comprised of whole, strong spices. a community where each being is different and where that differentness makes a change on that which it is near.
i recently served as a panelist for a worldview forum at malone university in ohio. in preparation for the event i listened to the podcasts of previous forums. one had a christian scholar sitting next to the imam from the local muslim church. they each took five minutes to explain their faith tradition’s positions on scripture, dress, and the afterlife. it was not a debate. it was not a discussion. it was, simply, a coming together. a time of mutual sharing of space in the service of understanding where each of these very different flavors fall. and of respecting. other panels have accomplished the same objective with people on opposite sides of issues such as food production and farming, civil disobedience, and other seemingly unable-to-sit-at-the-same-table topics. i felt so impressed. and inspired. and enlightened.
as i reflect on my own community of support i realize that sometimes my fear that other spices might overwhelm my own flavor cause me to avoid them. at other times i lament over not being entirely sure how to interact with a taste highly different from mine so i hold back. i work hard, however, to push past these, and other, fears and have benefited from a wildly diverse and spicy group of friends and colleagues. beans and spices of all different types, so to speak, subtly flavoring those around them.
by opening myself to complexity, by being willing to sit with the not-like-me flavors that are next to me in the pan, my life becomes so much richer. my values are not compromised, my beliefs not necessarily shaken, the things i hold dear are not at risk. rather, my own self becomes more richly complex...more diversely seasoned. my community is simply expanded and grown and i am expanded and grown with it. the co-mingling makes the whole thing better in every way.
i’d love to know how the spices right next to you either keep you comforted and consistent in important ways or seep into you in challenging ways that change you. there is a time for both one spice curry and many flavored chole. a time for comfort communities and complex ones. if, and as, you’re willing i’d love to hear about yours...


the gift of authenticity

years ago, a woman that i admired invited me to her home for coffee. this new friend owned a business i frequented and was wise and witty. she embodied both a sturdiness and flexibility that drew me toward her. she told funny stories in which she took herself lightly and yet didn’t shy away from sharing her opinions and knowledge boldly when asked. she lived her values and gave generously of her time and resources to her community, her friends, and the world. all of this made her extremely attractive and wildly popular to those around her. given her amazing ways, i made all kinds of assumptions about what a visit to her home might be like. her abode would be warm, i was certain, and yet it would also be immaculate. books about smart topics would be laying around, heavily tagged and bookmarked, and classical music would greet me as i approached the door. it was all going to be so perfect, i imagined, and, it was. in completely different ways than i pre-supposed it would be.
when i arrived, no music was playing in the home that looked little like i had imagined. leslie’s daughter was coloring at the table and a few toys were scattered about. muffins were baking in the oven and the bowl they were mixed in sat on the counter. i was greeted with a welcome that was genuinely gracious and ushered into a home that was beautifully warm, creative, and real to the core. there was no pretense of perfection or subtle direction to notice the tidiness of her home or apologies regarding the stuff of everyday that is always out at my home but never seems to be at others. there were no all-too-familiar comments about how sorry she was that she only had time to bake muffins instead of providing a spread of home made danishes and preserves. instead, she told me plainly and without any false modesty, “i decided to give you the gift of not cleaning up. i figured if i started by having you over to my house as it normally is, maybe you’d feel welcome to do the same.” later, when the kids were using the bathroom she sent me upstairs to wash my hands. with what i can only call incredulous relief i witnessed evidence of her honesty. a stray sock, a pile of accumulated stuff outside her daughter’s door, and a few random objects strewn on the stairs after having been tossed up from below peppered the floor. the bathroom mirror had water splashed across it and there was a toothbrush on the counter. she really hadn’t cleaned up. the deep sense fondness i felt for my new friend is hard to describe. to this day i think about that sock on the floor and the instant affection born through my friend’s simple authenticity when i think about connection.
every one of us has a story about “entertaining.” our mother’s and father’s were either uptight and stressed leading up to visitor’s arrivals or perfectionistic and militant. they either had events catered or vowed to have everything home made. they made chore charts and kept everyone home to clean or did all the cleaning themselves, pointing this out to us in ways only true martyrs can. they helped us create assumptions about what it means to open our homes and our lives to others. while with them we developed deep beliefs about how we must present ourselves and our real and symbolic homes to others.
i escaped some of these ways of thinking because, somehow, my mother knew how to make an impromptu snack out of whatever was in the fridge. she was confident that the smell of popcorn was an inviting (and cheap) greeting and that what was served always came second to the environment within which it was offered. she never had a clutter free home and yet our home never felt cluttered. both of my parents welcomed people and knew that their welcome was far more important than anything else. the emphasis wasn’t on the clean, well appointed home or the fancy food, it was on welcoming the people that entered it. i never knew what an art it was to fully welcome people until i began inviting people into my own home...and office...and life. even with a history of being a part of an authentic-living community, i struggle (don’t we all?) with strong unconscious tendencies to want to present that which is tidy, perfect, well crafted, and the rest. i want to win this struggle.
a friend of mine did a stand up routine recently wherein she joked about spending all day cleaning house in preparation for visitors only to greet them, vacuum in hand, claiming to be just starting to clean up. “wow!” her guests think, “her house is this clean to begin with and she’s still cleaning?!” we want such interesting things: to have a tidy exterior and to make it seem effortless; to seem perfectly “together” and yet deeply humble and mindless regarding compliments; to have meaningful connections and yet to maintain control over our schedules and time and the content of our conversations. we wouldn’t want to appear messy, to not have it all together, to be...authentic.
i think back to that sock on the floor. in that moment it was, concretely, a symbol that my friend chose to live life fully and still invite me in. that she chose to include me then rather than to wait until she could have the house clean and still have time to connect. today, in my mind, that sock has come to represent so much more. when i feel tempted to inflate my successes in order to control what people think of me, i think about that sock. when i’m feeling low but respond to inquiries about how i am with, “life is all sunshine and rainbows thank you very much,” i think about that sock. when i feel less than and let that motivate me to miss out on experiences where that might be exposed, i think about that sock.
an author that i’ve been enjoying recently says, “if you want your community to be marked by radical honesty, by risky, terrifying, utlimately redemptive truth-telling, you must start telling your truth first.” (shauna niequist, bittersweet)
i want that. i really do. i want that kind of community and yet feel tempted to hide the dirty sock behind any number of distractions in order to direct your attention where i’d rather have it...on the clean and folded laundry rather than the soiled and scattered less than perfect parts of myself, my home, my life. in so doing i tell not only you that cleaning up is more important than you are, but i tell any children in my life the same. and they believe me and tell their kids and they tell two friends and so on and so on and...
may we all take small risks, as we are able, to invite people in today. not when the house is clean or my reputation is sparkling or i can pull up in a new car or i’m feeling prepared; but now. and may you and i welcome the messes that are part of being authentic. part of being real. part of being.


"that" person

it seems that i have become “that” person. 
when people see me coming they sheepishly try to put their phones away without my noticing. they apologize for their last several status updates or explain why they were so hyper-active on twitter the day before. if they have their headset in their ear they wince, making their most sheepish “i’m caught” face.
i feel sad because, of all the people i do not want to be, it is “that” person.
so, today i want to write about why i care so much about our full fledged love for (and consumption of) all things digital in the hopes of putting forth that which i am for (instead of that which i appear to be against). i want to expose my deepest passion. the one that drives me even harder than my frustration with screens and the way they numb us out and dumb us down. my real love is this...life. relational life. intimate, raw, unknown-ahead-of-time experience and existence. full, real, and true relationships with ones’ self, ones’ God, and ones’ community. life. in capital letters. LIFE.
life, to be satisfactorily lived, requires attention. this is why i care about the lack of attention we pay to our non typing or seeing senses, why it matters to me that we sometimes cut experiences short in order to type about them, and this is why i am passionate about calling our technology habits to our conscious awareness. it’s not that i’m anti-sharing. i don’t necessarily even have issues with self promotion. i simply feel sad when i experience a stronger draw to my glowing computer screen than to my fully embodied life. when i feel a desire to do something simply so that i can tell someone i did it. basically, when the responses to my status updates become more important to me than the activity i engaged in.
many people i encounter hold back, feeling that they don’t know how to accomplish what pop psychology calls “living their best life.” experiencing defeat before they begin, they sit back and wait until the “just right” opportunity presents itself. they don’t do the small things that might not matter to anyone other than themselves. they feel paralyzed by fears of getting it wrong.
to these people i say, never mind living your best life...just live a real life. a messy life. a life filled with “i can’t believe i did that crazy/silly/mundane thing i’ve always wanted to do but never quite had the courage to do” moments. like going to a movie by yourself. like playing in a fountain. like dancing, alone, at a concert. take yourself out to dinner. or take someone else. maybe someone you hardly know. go into an asian market just to look and smell. buy horchata at a mexican grocery and try to speak in spanish. walk slowly. walk a labyrinth. write a letter. read your favorite book from high school. join a team. take a class. daydream. go ice blocking. and please, by all means, remind me to keep doing the same.
what i’m saying is this, update your status to your hearts’ content. tweet ‘til the cows come home. text away. my hope is simply that you’re doing these things on your breaks from doing the really important thing...bravely, boldly, and wildly living the real life that happens in between typing things up.


setting the stage

while driving my daughter to work today we came upon an emergency. a police officer was directing cars in a single lane, fire trucks filled a parking lot that had been doused with water. an ambulance was pulled, half in and half out, of the lot and black smoke was billowing. i did what i always do when i see such a scene...i started praying. for anyone who might be hurt. for the helpers who had responded. and even for the small groups on onlookers (this time replete with cell phones, video recording the incident).
as we inched closer to the actual action everything changed. first we noticed boom mics, then improvised dressing room tents, then the catering truck. what looked so much like an emergency was really a set for the taping of a television series. i felt so silly. and so manipulated.
i recently experienced a similar set of feelings while in long beach california where a csi miami show’s taping was evidenced only by the wardrobe and property trucks parked in a corner of the lot. without those markers everything seemed so real. the police uniforms and cars, the scurrying about, the victims.
come to find out, in the csi television series, long beach plays the role of miami. not long ago the set dressers converted a portion of the beach on my brother and sister-in-law’s street to look as though a hurricane had been through. replete with overturned cars, debris strewn about the beach, and a trailer on it’s side, it all looked quite real. one of their neighbors, who is from thailand, posted photos of the set on facebook with captions that read “my neighborhood,” failing to mention that the hurricane was staged. she was flooded with worried responses requesting status updates on the safety of her family.
these incidents strike me as eerily similar to how relating in social networking spaces feels these days. we follow tweets that share everything from the mundane to the important in real time and we, ourselves, tweet that which we want to be associated with. we watch eachother’s facebook pages, noticing how we all look in posted photos, who has rsvp’ed to events, and whose names are (and are not) on invite lists. we read quippy status updates that paint pictures about how friends’ days or weeks are going and fill in the blanks in between by noticing eachother on the pages of friends in shared circles. we get drawn in by the drama and feel alternatingly fantastic and terrible based on how our “production values” measure up or not. we tend our own pages with care, posting what we hope others might notice and setting spotlights on particular occurrences. we tweet and post as though we are setting a stage.
i’m guessing we’ve all done it. used people, events, stories, or things as props to highlight our significance or fill in gaps for a sense of lacking. if we haven’t, i’m guessing we’ve been tempted.
a few weeks ago someone told me they thought i was christina applegate. after i stopped laughing all i could think was, “this would make an unbelievable tweet or remarkable status update!” in the sake of full disclosure, i did not consider this because it was goofy interaction but because i thought such “announcements” might make me seem younger and more hip than i really am...as if by my suggesting this i might be able to get people to think it. never mind that it was dark and very late at night. never mind that i was recently “gifted” a subscription to the aarp magazine or that i was asked, a year ago, if i wanted the senior citizen discount. i never felt tempted to tweet these incidents.
here’s what strikes me about this. it is so easy, these days, to create a false self. just as long beach can be made to be miami, so can we make ourselves over online to be different from who we truly are. when these false selves are recognized and rewarded (by garnering friends and followers) it can become internally confusing. the false self has hundreds of “friends” and followers. what about the true self. could it garner this kind of relational bank?
what if people knew that i only “liked” harvard university so i could look intellectual? what if people knew that i listened to bon iver once just so i could say i was a fan? what if it was disclosed that i only stepped in to the hot new restaurant in town so that i could check in (location apps) and never ate there? how would people feel if they knew that i find ways of manipulating celebrities to friend me from their personal accounts just so they show up in my friend list? who would be shocked if they learned that i have several twitter accounts so that i can build interest in my primary one by having lots of responses, all generated by me, under different alias’? what if people knew i took roughly 500 photos of myself and then doctored the best with photoshop before using it as my profile picture? 
these are all real questions i’ve gathered over time from real people who are just trying to make their way through the complex maze of relationships in cyberspace. it’s so easy to fudge the facts and, if not fudge, highlight those we like and omit those we don’t.
above my bathroom mirror a phrase is painted on the wall. the phrase is this: “be.” that’s all. just be. who you are. really.  i had that word-phrase placed there because i need it. i need reminders that who i am is enough. i need antidotes to the cultural pressure to “do, do, do!” with disregard for personal integrity, depth, and rootedness. i need to remember that it is the fact that i am doreen that matters and not the fact that i look like christina applegate to a stranger. 
the phrase that could affix to a facebook wall could be “PRESENT!” as in, “present yourself.” make the set look good. create a realistic environment with whatever props you have on hand. train spotlights on the places you want people to notice. exaggerated colors and size look better from the audience. they’ll make your set “pop.” the better the set looks, the larger or more devoted the audience. heck, if the set is really good, even folks uninvolved will be pulled in just as onlookers are at a television taping.
when the taping concludes, however, the set is deconstructed. the illusion shattered. the fake blood and smoke machine residue cleaned up. the fire trucks and costumed police officers go home and all that’s left is the empty parking lot. the same is true of our online selves if we’ve constructed false selves to whom our “friends” are connected.
and so, it might behoove us to ask ourselves, behind the well and carefully constructed “walls,” who are we and who are our friends and followers in this non-illusory, real-life-touchable space. why not drop the set decoration and offer ourselves as we really are? as BEings whose flaws serve only to make us all the more compelling, interesting, and real.


be kind to everyone for...

about a year ago many of us were glued to silent television screens while 33 chilean miners were extricated from deep within the earth. as they were pulled, one at a time, from underground, family, friends, and many around the world vowed their support and undying attention. 365 days later many of them are struggling to deal with the difficulties they faced and some are confused by the brief celebrity they felt the fleeting warmth of. 
there is a christian mystic who wisely said, “be kind to everyone, for theirs’ is a difficult journey.” this hits me as far truer than i’d like it to be.
for a few moments, right now, think about your own life and the community of people who surround you. who among you have faced loss or tragedy this year? who has experienced difficulties at home or work? is there a child who struggles at school or a parent who struggles in their vocation? are there individuals who are lonely or people who are in need of solitude?
life moves quickly and we are pulled in a multitude of directions. for this one moment or this one day might you take the opportunity to recognize the difficulty of someone’s journey for the sake of comfort and connection? our journey’s are difficult...kindness matters.

to read my original post on the miners please see: mining for simplicity


supermodel essentials

i received, today, an offer for a great deal on “supermodel essentials.” “wow!,” i thought. “i’ve always wanted long, lean legs, a personal air brush artist to cover flaws, a team of lighting professionals, and an entourage of doting wardrobe folks who whip out the perfect outfit and tailor it to accentuate the positives and camouflage the negatives. i’m so in!!!” come to find out, however, that none of these essentials were included in the offer. instead, i was offered “sexy t’s, cute yet comfortable pants, and lots and lots of lip gloss.” i decided not to click “buy.”
and yet, along with countless others, i buy in every day.
every day.
i am prone to notice the “essentials” that seem just out of my own reach...just as many of us are. the straight teeth. the flawless, wrinkle free skin. the full head of hair. the title that we somehow never earned. the couch that has one less stain and several years less wear. the winning smile and entertaining ways of the pta president who volunteers in the classroom, brings goodies to the faculty, and has a thriving law practice. the car we dreamed we’d own but now know we’ll never afford. the kids who get straight a’s, hit home runs, and are humble to boot. the white picket fence or the house with just one more bedroom. the six pack abs. the sharp wit and brilliant vocabulary.
we are masters, it seems, at believing that all kinds of things are essential. and yet, do we really, truly, in the depths of our beings, believe this? are titles and appearances and and possessions and the like really essential to who we are and how we measure and consider our level of contentment?
i will tell you this. no manner of sexy t shirt, cute yet comfortable pants, or lip gloss will turn me into what our world calls a super model. regardless of all the claims advertisers make, all the dollars they put into trying to make me believe them, all the dim lights and bold promises in the world will never, ever alter me enough.
the same is true of so many of the things we imagine are essential to our happiness, our beauty, our health, and our acceptability. i talk with people every day (and oh how i can relate to their thinking) who are certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that if they were just smarter, better looking, more conversational, less conversational, better dressed, richer, younger, older, more networked, stronger, hipper,  and drove a better car they’d be more loved. by others and even by themselves. just as if what a person puts on could have the power to make them a supermodel.
and so, i ask myself (and encourage you to ask yourself as well), “what do i deem truly essential in my life?” my own response starts like this:
an open and respectful heart and mind toward others...even toward those who believe that sexy t’s and lip gloss are essential.
a deep faith in a God who is, above all else, loving.
enough structure to help me grow and enough freedom to help me live.
a willingness to be shaped by and be engaged in the shaping of others..even when it’s uncomfortable.
and i’m working from there.
the goal is to be honest with ourselves about the essentials rather than believe one list and behave, largely unconsciously, out of an entirely different one...to live as though the “perfection” of our outsides (our bodies, our homes, our careers, our families, and so on) is more important than those qualities and pursuits that essentially shape us at the core where t shirts and comfy pants and lip gloss have no power.


(close) encounters of the human kind

in the wake of storms threatening to cut off access to the internet on the east coast several months ago a friend posted the following quote from the borowitz report on his facebook page:
“As Hurricane Irene batters the East Coast, FEDERAL DISASTER OFFICIALS HAVE WARNED that Internet outages could force people to interact with each other for the first time in years. Residents are bracing themselves for the horror of awkward silences and unwanted eye contact. FEMA has advised: “Be prepared. Write down possible topics to talk about in advance. Sports...the weather. Remember, a face-to-face conversation is basically a series of Facebook updates all strung together. Hang in there.”
while natural disasters and the people that they impact are not fodder for laughter, this author is so accurate about where we have found ourselves as a people. we have, so quickly, become adept at living in spaces that do not require contact with others in ways that awaken our senses. we are wimps, of sorts, in the arena of encountering. especially of encountering in person.
how often do we hear the statistics relating to the common occurrence of faked phone conversations in order to avoid real time conversations? i’ve used my phone to avoid petitioners on the street. i’ve prolonged calls in order to appear busy. i’ve texted to avoid the person next to me at the lunch counter.
and i ask myself, “why?” “do i trust myself so little?” “am i really such a poor communicator that i can’t decline a conversation directly?” “am i actually willing to disrespect myself and those i encounter by lying so easily?” “has it really come to this?”
literature reviews tell us that increased time in front of screens leads to less family talk time (whether that be family by blood, by choice, or by geography) and less social practice. further, research (and common sense) tells us that social practice and time spent conversing with others helps us to find our way and develop ourselves as relational people. the twin tasks of encountering others and encountering ourselves are deeply intertwined it seems.
when we speak of relationship we automatically infer that we are talking about alliances between self and an other. in reality, however, the primary relationship of self with self determines much of how relationships with self and other will begin and develop. once such self and other alliances are made, the connections therein serve to provide feedback loops of sorts regarding how we are doing in our relational pursuits. 
when a strong, honest, congruent, and insightful relationship exists between a person and his or her own internal world, that person often demonstrates the confidence and resilience to tolerate the risks associated with “fully present living” within the context of others. they can sense internal longings to know their own mind and heart as well as to encounter the minds and hearts of others. there is a freedom to be onesself as well as the knowledge that a deep respect for others will keep ones’ narcissism in check.
a difficulty, as i see it, is that our growing addiction to things on or in our ears and screens at our faces is keeping us not only from knowing others but also from knowing ourselves. this puts us at risk for feeling ill equipped for knowing how to encounter our own desires and wishes for solitude and connection let alone discerning how to blend those with the connection or retreating needs of those we encounter. we feel at a loss for knowing if we can risk a few minutes (or hours) of connection, for feeling confident about both beginning and ending conversations, and for trusting that we can navigate the world of the social and related.
when we avoid a present other by interacting with one confined to written words on a screen (or worse, an imaginary voice on the other end of the phone) we are really playing into the fact that we have no idea how to act with volition, how to assert ourselves appropriately with others. we fear hurting feelings or feel angry that someone feels entitled to our time all the while ignoring the fact that we can, if we chose to, handle encounters...even difficult ones. we lose out on opportunities to practice encountering others while staying rooted in the self.
for instance, it is o.k. to look someone in the eye and say, “your passion is inspiring and i’m really not able to stop and talk right now.” or, “i appreciate how difficult a task you have chosen and i’m needing to be on my way.” it’s also acceptable to decline small talk at the lunch counter in order to regroup silently for a busy afternoon (“it is so thoughtful of you to speak with me. i’m actually needing to ‘go silent,’ for a bit, however, to get myself geared up for the rest of a demanding day. thank you for your kindness”). conversely it’s o.k. to respectfully initiate conversations with those you encounter, paying attention to being neither narcissistically entitled to their time and attention nor insensitive to the cues they send about their openness or lack thereof. none of these may be familiar, or comfortable, or even within your imagined repertoire, but all of these things are options and they are far kinder and more respectable (to both yourself and the other) than out-of-hand avoidance.
so, the next time you encounter a lonely stranger on a park bench, consider your options. when a clip board clad youngster with propaganda inspired garments nearly tackles you, weigh your response. somewhere between avoidance and engagement lies encounter and encounters are rife with opportunities for growth and opportunity in your relationship with yourself and with others.


busy signals

i just ate lunch. that’s all. ate lunch.
i didn’t check the latest headlines. i didn’t pay bills. i didn’t check facebook. i turned off my phone. i sat down. i ate.
when i update the statistics and research to prepare for my talks on how technology is shaping us neurologically, relationally, and personally, it is common for me to become disillusioned and sad. we are increasingly, it seems, a people unable to be at rest. with computers (called phones) in our pockets we are connected to the world at all times and are rarely single-minded. we consider multi-tasking a prized ability and accomplish more in a day than previous generations did in a week. we carry on many conversations at once (facebook messaging while texting while chatting with our kids) and have access to news and entertainment 24 hours a day. we even multi-entertain, playing video games on our laptops while we watch the new season of television shows.
here are a few things i miss:
fuzzy television screens between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when all the major networks (and that’s all there were) were off air.
flights during which i didn’t have an option get online or make a phone call.
busy signals.
do you remember those? the “buzz - buzz - buzz” that told you that the person you were calling was on the phone already. 
i miss these things because they forced me to learn patience. they didn’t let me get away with not being able to be bored or to delay gratification. they also, somehow, helped me manage my expectations, as well as the expectations of others, about what i could realistically accomplish in a day.
i have recently begun facilitating a series of workshops on mindfulness. in a recent session at a high tech company, participants spoke of attending meetings held on their own campus’ via conference call instead of walking to the meeting room, of being in on such conference calls while responding to texts from their partners and reading work emails, and, mostly, of being constantly bombarded with information, messages, and needs.
when we had busy signals not only did we have to practice persistence and patience in trying again but the person we were calling did not have to collect new tasks while completing the one at hand. when offices were closed between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. employees really had time off. when screens did not offer access to round the clock news, movies, and television, we were forced to either be bored, become creative with entertaining ourselves, or, actually sleep. 
mindfulness provides just one alternative to the multi-tasking way that most of us thrive on. living mindfully requires us to be present in the moment. it forces us to attend to that which is NOW, observing the thoughts about the past and future without locking on to them. we simply let such thoughts pass by while we attend, fully and actively, to that which is right this minute. mindful living requires that we find busy signals to help ourselves and those in our lives understand that, while access to us may be infinitely available, we ourselves are finite beings. we are only capable of so much. truly.
so, how might you create some busy signals in your life? make some time where you attend, fully, to one thing at a time? might your voice mail say, “i’m taking a day phone free. if this is really important, leave a message and i’ll return it tomorrow. if not, please don’t leave a message and call me in a few days instead.” could you set an instant email response that says, “i’m trying an experiment and will respond to emails only between 2 and 4. i’ll not be checking or responding at other times. thanks for understanding.” might you force yourself to close your eyes during a conference call, turn off your phone when you’re at your daughter’s game or son’s recital, or go for a walk without your earbuds in. 
doing one thing at a time may never win you a trophy. it might not even change your life. trying it, however, here and there as a balance restorer to the hyper drive that is life in 2011 may just teach you something. like how to eat your lunch and really taste it.


the smell of social networking

i recently came across research that found young adults more willing to give up their sense of smell than their access to social networking sites. 
this struck me because smells are important to me. the scent of hot blacktop takes me to the 110 degree summers of central california and tire stores catapult me back 35 years to the studio, covered in rubber mats, where i took tumbling lessons. patchouli oil, basil leaves, coffee, and rain trigger similarly rich and vivid memories. even less obviously pleasant smells arouse positive memories. sweaty, “hot boy” smell always reminds me of my third grade classroom after recess and burning garlic bread is the smell of sunday dinner when i was 10. 
our sense of smell is integral. the smell of smoke tells us to pay attention. the smell of food affects its taste and people whose sense of smell is impaired have difficulty regulating their eating. a whiff of the fragrance worn by someone important has the power to transport. scents can affect mood and alleviate stress. animals use olfactory cues to hunt and to protect. 
somehow i can’t see facebook (or google plus or any other social network) filling in the gaps left by an “unsmelling” nose.
and this is just one of the five senses that aristotle originally suggested. neuroscientists and cognition researchers posit many more not formally classified senses that allow us to perceive our surroundings as humans.
for years i have been a loud proponent for becoming sensually alive. (notice how you felt when you read that sentence.) i believe strongly that tending to ones’ sensual self is healthy. the senses provide avenues into our relationships with ourselves, God, and others as well as the world around us in profound ways.
frequently, statements like the ones above are greeted with reactions ranging from blank, open-mouthed stares to extreme discomfort and/or incredulity.
a simple “feeding” of the senses is all i mean to suggest here. paying attention to what is sensed and providing opportunities for the visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory senses to come alive. smelling things. tasting them. noticing what one sees. paying attention to the feeling of sensations such as water, air, and touch upon ones’ skin. hearing both that which is obvious and that which is not. seeing, deeply, what is in ones’ visual field. noticing our bodies and the sensual pleasures and pain they enjoy and endure. we are so out of touch, it seems, with our own sensual selves.
in previous times we, as a people, felt things, experientially, in ways we do not today. we felt exhausted from a day’s labor in the field. famished at meal time. without phones, televisions, or magazines, previous generations longed for the barn dance on saturday night or church on sunday to give them faces other than their own family’s to look at and voices to hear. we see the number of faces in a day that they saw in entire decades.
and yet...we are bored. we are lifeless. and, to “solve” these “maladies” we seek constant stimulation at the screens that fill our landscapes and yet, there is so little truly alive stimulation to be found there. when babies are uncomfortable, bored, and/or learning about their needs and wants we attend to their bodies. we feed them, we stroke their skin, we burp them, we sing to them and read to them and let them see our empathic faces. we don’t prop them up in front of a screen and hope that they forget that they are wet or hungry or scared.
so, today, i offer a different idea. might we, as a people, benefit from tending to the parts of our sensual beings that have not been exercised of late? might we be less bored, less driven to find entertainment outside of ourselves if we did this? while the carefully attended to smell of a rich cup of coffee may not feel as rewarding as noticing the number of friends in your circle at first, might it come to be at least stimulating? while the sight of a deeply blue sky dappled with wisps of white may not feel wonder-filled at all at first blush, might it come to bring a different sense of calm than a screen? might it actually connect us to our breathing, to our own thoughts, and usher us into our present moment in a profoundly different way? the feeling of squeaky blades of grass, rough carpet, or cold cement on the feet could come to symbolize grounding in a way that no texted tome ever could. and touch...real, skin to skin, air to skin, or fabric to skin touch might awaken us in ways that digital “in-touchness” never does.
as smell alerts us to danger, informs hunger, and induces emotional responses, so can our social networking leanings inform us. perhaps, however, they are informing us that there are parts of us that are under-developed. in response, how about tending to a sensual aspect of the self every time we feel drawn to check in with a screen. might this encourage us to care as much about our present, physical selves at least as much as our online ones? perhaps we’ll begin hoping for more for ourselves. perhaps we’ll begin giving ourselves more...genuinely, in embodied ways, like we used to...