Archive for the ‘Limiting Beliefs’ Category

What Peace Corps Taught Me – Fame

Written by Kate • June 27, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsI am sure this sounds like the most ridiculous idea but during my Peace Corps service, I really got a taste of fame and I didn’t much like it. Lemme esplain.

I lived in a small town in West Africa, maybe 3000 people in Sekou and all of the several villages surrounding Sekou. Essentially no one but the Proviseur, who I mentioned in my last post was the only other person I knew who had traveled,  and I had ever traveled more than 100 miles from where people were born, grew up and lived and died.  Certainly no one had been on a plane and no one but the Proviseur and I had ever left our families for any length of time.

So my arrival, like all other volunteers in the small communities we were placed in Benin, was big news and I was big news.  Children would freak out with joy at seeing me and rush me and want me to give them money, wisdom, and lots of attention.

Author with High School Kids - HIV Prevention Education in Sekou, Benin

Author with High School Kids – HIV Prevention Education in Sekou, Benin

The long and the short of it is that I was a thrilling and novel presence wherever I went. Children would watch me read. Whenever I went for a run or a bike ride, strangers would want to race me because if they could beat me, well life just got better for a moment.  Walking past an elementary school became something I avoided. Children would yell for me, surround me, want my money, and to touch me.

I soon learned what living a fish bowl constantly being watched felt like. I finally really understood what it’s like not to be able to go about doing the ordinary things that all people must do without others following you, watching your every move, judging and commenting on you in the moment, and wanting a piece of you.

Because of my own experiences, I respectfully ignore famous people that I randomly encounter. A few examples are of once boarding behind John Cusak on a plane and sitting in a secluded airport waiting area with David Lee Roth.  Not a word to either of them.

In my experience, fame isn’t what is cracked up to be. And it’s amazing to me that I was able to learn this lesson through living in a very small town in West Africa. You never know what life will serve up to you.

 

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What Peace Corps Taught Me- Connection

Written by Kate • June 21, 2012 •
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Peace CorpsIn an ongoing series about what I learned from my service in the Peace Corps, this article is on connection. My first two articles in this series are:

What Peace Corps Taught Me- A Series

What Peace Corps Taught Me- Presence

I arrived in Benin with the largest contingent of volunteers to ever arrive in one training group. Apparently, our Peace Corps Director at the time decided to minimize the disruption to Peace Corps Benin by unifying the normally two separate training groups and creating one large group to be trained at the same time.

Side note: This wasn’t a total disaster but let’s just say not every detail was understood about what effect 80 volunteers would have on training resources. For example, there weren’t quite enough rooms for everyone so some of us had to live in the teachers quarters. Not a problem at all. But in the mess hall, there was never quite enough to eat as the staff didn’t know how to make meals enough for the 80 Benin volunteers plus the [unknown to me] number of Togo volunteers with whom we were training. I began to feel a vague “Lord of the Flies” mentality descend over the group as we all started to make sure we were there at the start of the meal and to take as much as we possibly could have wanted because there was never ever going to be seconds. For this reason, I still avoid buffets to this day because, despite their obvious abundance, it invokes in me a sense of lack.

Back to the main story…We 80 Benin Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) trained in Togo together for 6 weeks and then another 6 weeks in Benin. Obviously, with 80 people living together in stressful circumstances, it wasn’t easy going. I fell in with a group of volunteers that I really liked right away but thought that many of the others and I just didn’t click. There weren’t many that I outright didn’t like but I just didn’t make that heart connection from the first. And so I, and many others, started to form the inevitable cliques where we sorted ourselves with other with whom we had a natural affinity.

Off To Post

We then all got sorted out and shipped off to our posts, where we would live for the next two years. I had wanted to be in the south of the country because I felt I wouldn’t have been ready for the tougher life au Nord (in the North) where there was no water, electricity, or other Western comforts. As it turns out, I was posted in the only 10 KM area in all of the south that did not have electricity.  And there was no running water. So I ended up in a very small village that was the heart of voodoo without any of the comforts I had been hoping for while in training. But life often knows better.

I learned to love my life where I was, as did the vast majority of the other PCVs. Learning to love your experience wasn’t universal. Some people just never adapted and left early. Once I figured out my water situation- I paid someone to bring me water from the town pump. -Let me tell you, water is very very heavy. I once tried to carry it on my head in a large bowl the way the Beninoises did it and I thought I would crush my neck downward.-  But living without electricity, without street lights, without light pollution became one of the true joys of my life. I had a shower next to house- which consisted of a cement flooring and 3 and 1/2 sides of screening that were created by lashing together 10 foot dried palm fronds. Because it was so hot there, almost everyone ended up taking two showers per day, one in the morning and one at night, to cool down and to get rid of the day’s sweat.  Taking a cool shower outside in the warm night, looking at the stars and seeing the sky’s vastness, is something no one should miss.

Circumscribed World

As you can imagine, pre-internet, information became a one-sided affair. Newsweek was provided by Peace Corps so that we would have an understanding of what was happening in the wider world and I became a BBC and VOA junkie. And I would call my family once a quarter and write to them as often as I could, as would they. But life got simpler, smaller, till it felt like my life was about me, my village, and my fellow PCVs.

As I settled in, dealt with my homesickness, and adapted to my new living situation and Benin’s culture, I started to make friend with several of the villagers in my town. One of my closest friends, Romaine, just showed up one day and wanted to see the new PCV in town. She was wholly different from anyone else I met in that she had enough courage to just come over and introduce herself. We sat around chatting one afternoon and it was very pleasant. Then she came back and I settled in for another chat but she didn’t just want to sit. So while we were talking she did my dishes, over my protests. At some point, she and her two children just moved in with me.

For her, this was a very logical move. She just knew that no one could be happy living alone, it was anethma in Beninois society. And she needed a better place to stay after having left her cheating husband and his uncaring family. She wouldn’t take the single mattress I had in my living room in case her 18 month old daughter had an accident in the night- so she and her kids laid out a mat each night and slept on the floor. So I provided for her family in terms of food and shelter and she became my housekeeper of sorts. Her presence and her children gave me even more additional insights into Benin. It ended up being such a blessing to have her and the kids in my life.

Author with Friends

Author with Friends

In addition to Romaine, I became very good friends with four additional people in my village. One, the principal of the local technical school which provided agricultural training, was the only one who had traveled more than 50 or so miles from his home. He had lived in the USSR [Benin was communist until 1990] and taken courses at a University in Moscow. So he alone understand my homesickness although his was overlaid with the pain of the overt racism he endured in Moscow. So my five good friends and I. Life settled into a routine and really was quite simple for the rest of my time in Benin.

Time and Opportunity Enough to Connect

I would also travel often to the capital, since it was just an hour away, to get money or for my work as the President of the Women’s club. While at the PC offices in Cotonou, I would socialize with the other PCVs that were there. We caught up. We shared our experiences, our regrets, our failures, and our successes. With our shared experiences of life alone in our villages, the other PCVs and I all had a sense of connectedness that ran very deep. Our personality differences melted away and we were able to share a deep bond over what we were experiencing.

I remember marveling at the connection we all were establishing and it dawned on my that our three months of training for our Peace Corps service was probably one of the most stressful and difficult periods of our life, perhaps not the most auspicious way to begin a last friendship with 80 other people. I mean layer over the culture shock with language training with dysentery with immunization shots that could make you ill for days and even the most even-tempered of a person could become an irritable person, right?

But with our two-year commitment, we were afforded the time and the opportunity enough to connect, to share our deepest selves with each other.

Connectedness

The deep bonds I created with nearly 80 other people, through our shared experiences is one of the most profound of my entire Peace Corps experience. Without other distractions – no movies- no internet- no TV- no phone- no easy transport to take us away- all we had was each other.  We upleveled our interactions with each other.  We played cards, talked, and learned to be even friends.

It is this level of connectedness that I still seek today. I’ve moved to a small, exurban community and there are so many competing demands on our time. But on of the most profound ways we can spend our time is through our interactions with others in similar circumstances. It nourishes the soul.

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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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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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