Archive for the ‘Courage’ Category

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Presence

Written by Kate • June 13, 2012 •
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Peace Corps

Peace Corps

When I arrived in Benin in 1995, I was your typical type A personality. I expected things to happen like a well oiled machine, for traffic to flow, for service people to get things done in an efficient manner, for me to accomplish something quickly and move on to the next accomplishment. I could use my will to move mountains and get other people to move faster, do the right thing.  This is my perspective of my life was before I left.

I arrived in Benin and went through a series of shocks. Of course, being in a African country itself was the first big shock. Benin is peaceful so there is no famine or conflict or mass migrations. Benin was full of people going about their lives in the most trying of circumstances, without access to education, without transportation, electricity, or running water. And it was damn hot. Tropical, a few degrees off the equator hot. So people didn’t stay indoors much so it was a puzzle to me why everyone was outside all the time. Didn’t they have homes? Benin finally yielded many of its mysteries to me and after a year or so, I was able to easily navigate ordinary life in Benin. I learned something new pretty much every day until I left and it became a warm, comfortable, hospitable environment very quickly.

Adaptation

I learned to love the people, the food, the quiet, the night sky without street lights obscuring my view, full moons, and taking outdoor showers.  I got used to 100 degree heat such that I distinctly remember being at my friend Colleen’s place and wondering if some crazy Arctic cold front had moved in to make it freezing in my part of Africa. I put on all my warmest clothes, two layers, and a blanket. Still cold.  So I finally consulted her outdoor thermometer to find out what level of freezing weather we had achieved in Benin to find myself shocked when it said it was 72 degrees.  In short, I was fully adapted.

Expectations versus Reality

One of the most painful changes I had to adapt to is the fact that no one had the sense of time we have in the West and people prefer to be polite and acquiescing rather than truthful. It took me too long a time to put these concepts together and until I realized that, I waited for lots of meeting to start that were never going to happen.

One of the things I took upon myself was to get out into the area I lived in, well off the main road, and speak with people about how they’re doing, what they need, and how I could help. But with only my bike as transport, I would ask people to meet me at a certain time at a certain place that was convenient to us both.  I laugh now at what I was expecting but at the time I didn’t know better. Most people don’t own clocks or watches and they don’t have the time to walk 30 minutes to where I wanted to meet.  And then there was market day, when everyone got together and sold their goods and wares. I didn’t realize that it was a vital day in the lives of EVERYONE.  No one could miss market day. But there I was, let’s meet on Wednesday, the 23rd at 2pm at so and so.

I would ride up on my bike and wait. And wait. And wait. They never showed. But in that hour or the two that I first waited, I went through such a range of emotion. First anger and then rage that they would make me wait like this. Indignation that they would make an appointment with me and not keep it. And I would focus on how badly I was being treated and how things “should” play out. Unfortunately, this had to happen three or four times before I realized something was wrong with the way I was approaching this with my neighbors, people I wanted to help that we’re consistently blowing me off.

Patience and Presence

As I waited for my neighbors and through other experiences in Benin where rushing through anything became simply impossible, I learned that patience is like a muscle. The more I tried to be patient, the better at I became. It helped a lot that in many circumstances, I simply had no choice.  So I could go around getting angry at people or I could step into the flow of life around me. It seemed a no brainer to step into the flow rather than be angry all the time.

As I became better at being patient, I noticed that I was able to use the time to enjoy the moment I was experiencing. I had no other place to be and no phone, TV, or other person to distract me. I sank deeper into the moments I waited and found the ability to experience each moment. Life seemed to expand in these moments and I felt such peace and an increasing sense of wonder at how lovely each moment is. Without knowing its name, I learned to become fully present for long stretches of time each day.

Reintegration

Upon my return to the US, I wasn’t prepared for the cacophony and distractions with which I was presented. All of sudden everyone had cell phones and used the internet 24/7. I got caught up, distracted, and lost my endless patience in the pace of modern life. But after several years of this, the whisper of what I had experienced was starting to get through to me.

I then began to slowly re-implement all of the “advances” I had achieved in Peace Corps. I stopped watching TV, stopped listening to radio. I added in moments of stillness and meditation into my daily life. And life seems to both slow down and to be far more enjoyable now that I’m able to be in the moment.

I created an e-book to help others learn what I had learned in Peace Corps, which can be found on my website called 8 Steps to Living a Tranquil Life.  In case you don’t want to download it, the five main ideas of the book are as follows:

  1. Begin to slow your life down. Find additional time in your life by eliminating as many distractions as you’re able.
  2. Begin to add meditation into your life, in any of its forms.
  3. Find time to pray or use visualization to connect to the Divine.
  4. Add in longer moments of stillness, starting at about 15 minutes per day.
  5. Begin to experience what it is like to be fully present in a moment. And expand from there.

The less you do each day, the more you’re able to live each day. Experience each moment through presence. And witness how truly magical life can be.

 

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What Peace Corps Taught Me About Life- A Series

Written by Kate • June 8, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsI joined the Peace Corps in 1995 after a few years in graduate school. I studied International Development which is a fancy way to say I learned about how to improve the lives of those living in developing nations. We studied economics, the environment, microcultures, etc. Every single person in my class of about 200 had been in the Peace Corps except maybe five others. And four of those other five had spent time in developing nations through other programs. So it was just me and a guy named Josh who had never been to a developing nation. At first that was fine. But then, class after class after,  I saw the sense of community, of shared experiences by all returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV). They had this deep connection, this bond that was apparent after a few seconds, no matter where they had served.

And so I became very interested in joining and becoming a part of this larger community- and it was a great way to get overseas and pay back the mounting debt I was beginning to feel I owed to the world. I wanted to be overseas again, after having spent my senior year of undergrad in Paris, I wanted to give back to a world that had provided me with so much, and I wanted to be a part of a community.

I realized things were going to have to change. I let my perm grow out, I went camping for the first time in 15 years, and I applied to the Peace Corps. Peace Corps tried to not send me the application saying I wasn’t qualified enough. Please. So I told them to just send me the thing and we’ll see. This was pre-internet- by the way- so I couldn’t just go online.  And then I found out that this is something they do to everyone because hey, if you’re going to fold just because you someone hassled you about your application, you shouldn’t be wasting Peace Corps’ time and money on getting you overseas.

I applied. I jumped through their hoops; medical, dental, references. I got certified by my doctor that my hayfever didn’t pose a risk to me in a place where there is no doctor.  I got my wisdom teeth out- just in case they came in while in country. After 8 months of paperwork, doctor visits, and more, I was invited to go to Benin in West Africa for two years plus 3 months training.  I found out just before Christmas 1994  and decided to wait until January to tell my Mom -so I wouldn’t ruin her Christmas. I was going to leave in May.

I had never heard of Benin so I looked at the map in my office at the time and could not find Benin. Turns out the map was too old. Benin has been Dahomey until 1990.  Remember- no internet! So I found out about Benin through books and was very excited.

I had to tell my Mom and the rest of my family, give notice at work, buy supplies, and get ready to leave. What I didn’t realize about my 2 years of service is that I would get far more out of it than I could ever have given and that it was to change me fundamentally from the person I had been prior to my service.

I will be writing about the biggest lessons I got from my experience and apply them to life here in the US in a series of blog posts.

The other posts in the series:

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Presence

What Peace Corps Taught Me- Connection

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Fame

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Follow the Joy

Written by Kate • June 1, 2012 •
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O Be Joyful

Image Thanks To CameliaTWU

It seems like such a simple thing to do: “Follow the Joy”. Do what you makes you feel an abundant sense of peace, joy, well-being. But what if the joy you feel is caused by something you were taught was wrong, or impractical, or just “not done”.  What if your Joy is telling you to quit your job and back pack around Europe? What if your Joy is telling you to stop staying out late and start doing yoga at dawn each day? It’s easy to think that you’re the one who is willing to follow your Joy right up until your sense of Joy tells you to do something that feels inconvenient and scary. “Quit my job? How will I live?” “Stop staying out late? What about my friends and my community? No one I know does yoga or gets up at dawn”?

The down side to not following your Joy:

  1. Less joy. By allowing your beliefs about what is right and what is “allowable”, or by worrying about what “they” might think get in your way of following your Joy, you ignore what makes you happy and you do something else instead.
  2. Lessened ability to know what brings you joy. When you start to consistent ignore your internal guidance system about what brings you joy and you instead do the acceptable and practical thing, you become less able to hear the system and it becomes harder and harder to know what it is that feeds your soul.
  3. Numbness and despair. After years of ignoring your Joy, you end up in numb and in despair. Mid life crisis, anyone? And then you have to peel back the years and the layers of practical and fear to find that small, nearly silenced voice that is your Joy.

But why not bypass the typical approach to live and avoid your mid- life crisis and years of numbness and despair. Follow your Joy, no matter how impractical it may be.

The up side to following your Joy

  1. Increased confidence to follow your Joy. The more you’re willing to risk following your joy, the more you’ll able to do to follow it. You’ll see that although it may have appeared impractical to your mind’s eye, following your Joy actually makes a lot of sense to your life. And in a virtuous cycle, it just gets better and easier.
  2. Synchronicity. More joy. More confidence. More things clicking. You will become “lucky”. Things will go your way. You’ll start getting the right resource at the right time.
  3. Rich and happy life. As you build your confidence and momentum, life get happier and your life is full of rich content that feeds your soul.

So skip the mess. Have the courage to follow your Joy now.  Show others the way.

 

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Give up complaining

Written by Kate • May 23, 2012 •
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Stop Complaining

Image Thanks to ATurkus

I know most people complain, it feels so good to do it sometimes. And there are a rare few who take it to such a level that it becomes an art form such that it is akin to entertainment to hear the way they complain.  It can be fun to witness this level of complaining.

And sometimes it’s painful to see how much complaining takes up a person’s life. It’s like they’ve resigned themselves to permanent victim status. I’ve heard from others so often variations on the following statements: “This other person did this so I had to respond in this way [meaning normally I wouldn’t be stoop this low but the other person’s behavior forced me to]. ” Or “‘Can you believe the other person acted in this way [meaning I know how others should act at all times and it’s the way I see the world]. Or “This situation happened to me and it’s not fair [meaning I have so little power over my life I react to these situations rather than accept what is].

Don’t get me wrong. It’s easy to see in others where and how they complain too much. It’s far more difficult to catch yourself in your chronic litany of “they done me wrong”. I have been guilty of complaining as much the next person. But several years ago, I gave up complaining for long periods of time [with varying success]. I’m happy to report that my desire to complain lessens the more I practice the art of giving up complaining. Complaining focuses your attention on people and matters external to yourself and keeps you focused on what is happening to you, rather than what you can do in your life and in the world.  It’s an incredibly corrosive attitude that can keep you stuck in victimhood and powerlessness.

The following are some reasons why you should give up complaining and some common situations you may find yourself in once you’ve committed to giving it up.

First though, as in all things, don’t expect complete transformation one day to the next. We are biologically wired to continue our habits and it’ll be some time before you’re able to change any habit. So consider a 30 day trial and notice how often you complain during those 30 days. And then, at the end of the 30 days, start adding in one hour per day that you’re complaint free [in addition to all the time you sleep – which can’t count! 😉 ].

Complaining Gives Your Power Away

When you complain about something someone else does or something that has happened to you, you’ve given your power away over how much you can influence people and events in your life and  how you want to act. If you can imagine the difference between being someone who takes the temperature of a room and someone who sets the temperature of room, you can start to see who you’ve given your power away.  If you’re the thermometer, then you’re the person reacting to whether or not the room is hot or cold. When you’re the thermostat, you set the temperature of the room.  So if someone is doing something else you don’t like, you don’t let them shift your sense of self or sense of peace.

By being the person who remains unaffected by bad or boorish behavior on others’ parts, you can rest in your own centeredness. For example, imagine the Dalai Lama and how he reacts. He has been accused of terrible things by the Chinese government and he continues to pray for that country. His sense of self, his sense of right is not being altered because of external situations or circumstances.

Complaining Focuses Your Attention On One Moment In Time

By complaining over situations or another person’s behavior, you are focusing all your attention on one moment in time- without allowing for the broader sense of time and space. So someone was unbelievably rude to you or a circumstance is entirely unfair- and then you complain about it and you focus on how bad the situation was. Well, that situation happened and now it’s over. Yet you’re continuing to give all your attention to a situation that, if you allowed it to drop, would be over and forgotten. No need to keep dredging up one moment and time and keep it with you as you continue to feed it your attention and focus.

Instead, you can acknowledge it happened and that it kinda sucked or that you didn’t like what happened to you or label it unpleasant. And then drop the situation, your anger, your sense of what “should have happened”, and move on. It’s over and now you can focus again on the situations and people that you choose to spend your attention on.

Complaining About Someone Else Means You’re Deciding How Everyone Else Should Act

It certainly is easy to hold everyone else to the highest bar and expect them to act in the way you think is best. This is how other’s should be be. This is clearly how the situation should be. They shouldn’t act this way.  But what you’re really saying is that you expect people to act in the way you think they should act, in all situations, in a way that is beneficial to you.  Which is hoohaw, as you well know. But it’s hard to drop the satisfaction you get when you “know” you’re right and the other person is wrong. Here’s the truth: if your advice is so great, you follow it first. You be the person who acts correctly in all situations, who doesn’t let tiredness, or fear, or insecurities swamp them from time to time. You be the person who puts acts in the “right” way every time.

Instead, be the change you want to see in the world. Be the one who allows others to act in the way they need to act, even it you disagree with the manner in which they do it.  Focus instead on how you’re interacting with others, the joy and the sorrow you bring to the world, and how you make the world a better [or worse] place. You can only change yourself.

Common Situations You Find Yourself In Once You’ve Given Up Complaining

Someone else complains all the time

Once you’ve decided to give up complaining, you’ll unfortunately notice in even more in others around you. This is to be expected, normal, and frustrating! But just because you’re become aware of how complaining doesn’t help and in fact hurts you doesn’t mean others realize this. For them, complaining still feels right or good. So meet others where they are on their path. And if their complaining gets extensive, don’t be afraid to change the subject or to remove yourself from the situation.  After a while, sometimes longer than we’d like, others will notice that complaining around you doesn’t work anymore and you’ll find others doing it less and less.

You just want to complain about this one little thing- it’s so justified.

Sometimes you’ve been so wronged or you’re so tired that you feel like this one time that complaining is totally justified and appropriate.  The fact is that you may have been utterly wronged but complaining about it doesn’t change that fact. Complaining about it gives your power away. Instead you can think, discuss, mull over the situation and respond to it. Discussing a situation and how you’ll respond to it is not complaining.

You’ll know you’ve slipped back into complaining when you move from discussing a situation about how you’re going to react to focusing on the actions of the other person or the situation and getting into a sense of I’m right and the other person/situation is wrong.

Try It!

Giving up complaining is a worthwhile effort that takes patience and mindfulness. The rewards are a stronger sense of self and an increased ability to respond to any situation you find yourself in.  Try for it for 30 days and see!

 

 

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Recharging and Resting.

Written by Kate • January 31, 2012 •
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Morning silence

Image Thanks to Mara ~earth light~

In my previous post about resting and relaxing, I said that it’s important to honor your body’s signals about when to rest and when to act. It’s a concept I’ve been struggling with the past few weeks because I haven’t had any drive to accomplish anything this month. And I have really been resisting my body’s clear signals to chill out, all the time.

In looking back at the holiday season, I did a lot and my body is now telling me it’s time to recharge.  But my head is saying go, go, go! With this internal conflict, there is no way for me to fully relax or to get it in gear.

So I had to take another look at my beliefs and I’ve realized that my head is saying “go” because it’s what I “should” be doing. I should be moving, shaking, and accomplishing.  And why “should” I be accomplishing all of this?  Where does this “should” come from?

I realized it’s an unexamined belief that’s been running a part of my mind and causing me to act even when it’s better to rest. As if resting isn’t as important as doing.

I’ve given myself over wholly to resting and I don’t feel guilty about just laying around, recharging. It’s been wonderful. And I can now feel more energy and the smallest hint of the desire to really do something else besides rest.

What you resist persists. So I’ll just be until I feel truly inspired to do. And that’s ok.

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