Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The best way to get over our problems is to help someone else

I've been in a cranky mood lately. One of the reasons is that I didn't get to rest this weekend. I need at least a day to myself every week to be functional. Another reason is that the people around me seem to be constantly giving me advice that I haven't asked for--advice on being sexier or being calmer or god knows what else. Guys, I'm doing the best I can. Just everyone leave me alone! That's what I was thinking when I went to Wholefoods to buy some groceries.

Having picked up the couple of things I needed, I was walking back to my car. A tall African American man, in his early twenties, approached me and mumbled something. It was dark but I wasn't afraid. Once you've lived in New York and ridden the subways at 11 pm, it's hard to be afraid in a Wholefoods parking lot in Petaluma at 6 pm.

"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you," I said.
"Can you help me buy some food?" he asked.

I looked at him. His clothes were clean, his eyes were sharp, and his demeanor was respectful but not subservient. He kind of looked like a young Barack Obama. I liked him. I paused to think.
How could I really know that he was going to buy food?

"I'd be happy to do work for the money," he said.

I wasn't in a hurry to go home. "Let's go food shopping," I said.

"Really?" His face lit up.

So we grabbed a cart and went back to Whole Foods.

"Can I buy some raw food? I love salads and vegetables," he said.

"Of course." I watched as he took a small bag and started filling it up with greens. "Why don't you get a big bag of salad?" I said. Hell, salad wasn't expensive.

His face lit up some more as he put the greens in the bigger bag. He looked at the fruit and I nodded for him to go ahead. He picked up two apples. I was impressed by how careful he was to not spend too much. We went to the salad dressings and I watched as he carefully compared prices to save me money.

We passed by the fish counter. "Do you like fish?" I asked.
"I love it!" was his reply.
"Well, let's get some."
He asked the guy at the counter which was the fishiest fish. The sales guy pointed to the most inexpensive salmon. I was wondering how much he would want, when I heard him ask for half a pound. Ok, that was reasonable. Then the sales guy gave him a package of smoked fish, for free. I was surprised. Clearly the universe was supporting my friend.

"My name is M..." he finally introduced himself. I told him my name and asked him what had happened that he was having a hard time. He had been a bus boy and had lost his job. He was looking for another job to support himself. He really wanted to be a photographer and was saving money to get a camera.

I wanted to make sure that he would have enough staples to get him through. Down the aisles we went as we picked up eggs, crackers, pasta, pasta sauce, beans, etc. Did he want anything sweet? I asked him, knowing that I would be hitting the chocolate if I were in his shoes. No, was his reply. He had cut out sweets a while ago. Well, he sure was eating healthier than me.

By the time we were finished he had three big bags of groceries. That was the best $100 I've spent. I got ready to say good bye to him. "I want to walk you to your car," he said. Carrying the three bags he walked me to my car. He had a long way to go. He was going to take the bus to Marin City. I was concerned about how he could carry everything. He wasn't concerned. He was happy. He never imagined that he would be going home with so much.

"I really want to give something back to you," he said.
"No need," I replied. "Pay it forward. You can help someone else in the future. It wasn't that long ago when I had no income and would come to this same Whole Foods because they give out a lot of samples. Sometimes that would be lunch--cheese and crackers and fruit that were samples. But I can tell you this. Things change in the blink of an eye. And I know you're going to be OK."

He smiled and I hugged him good bye. I knew he was going to be OK. He was asking for help, but he wasn't being a victim. He was taking responsibility for his life, and he would be fine.

I came home feeling good. What problems was I having? I couldn't remember, nor did I want to. I was feeling too happy--happy that I had connected with this beautiful, young man and grateful that I was able to help him. Actually, he was the one who had given me a gift. After so many hurtful experiences from helping "friends" I didn't think that I would be willing to help anyone again. I certainly wasn't going to help someone out of obligation. But giving to M... came from my heart and was received well by him. I remembered what true generosity feels like. It feels like love.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Women are not meant to work the way men do

Sorry to be so politically incorrect. And I'm sorry if my Women's Lib sisters will hate me for this comment, as I was one of them in the 70s. I would have killed (Ok, maybe that's too strong) any one who tried to tell me that I couldn't do what a man did. That's why I was one of the few women who got my MBA back in 1975. I didn't like business; I just had a point to make. And I wanted to earn a lot of money.

Well, more than thirty years later I still don't like business. I like my job because I have the luxury of working for and with some incredible people, from home, with flexible hours, and can keep myself out of corporate politics. But as a rule I don't like working for corporations and I now understand why. It's because women aren't meant to work this way. We're not meant to run from one meeting to another, non-stop, and work on tight deadlines. I'm sorry but the Women's lib movement did us a disservice. Don't get me wrong. It was much better than the 50s, which turned women into dependent children whose main goal in life was to keep the house clean and the husband happy. Women's Lib got us into high paying professions and won us some independence, and for that I am grateful. But in the process it turned us into bad imitations of men.

I just learned that men have 16 times more testosterone than women. No surprise, right? Men have testes, so they have testosterone. But I didn't know that we use testosterone when we're in the corporate world, managing people, leading, working with tight deadlines, running from meeting to meeting. So where do women get their testosterone? From their adrenals. When a woman is working that way, she is running on adrenaline. Eventually her adrenals burn out.

All the women I know who are in their fifties and have worked in corporate America have adrenal fatigue. If we're still working for a corporation, we can't function the way the thirty year olds do. It's not just that we're not willing to work 24/7, though many of us aren't. It's that we cannot work that way without getting sick. I can work 30 hours a week at my job. If I work much longer for too long a period, I wind up spending several days in bed. I am forced to take care of myself and to say no. My energy is limited and I am very choosy about how and with whom I spend it. Right now Cisco, my book, and my blog are it. There's not much space for anything else.

To my sisters in their forties who are working in corporations, aren't you starting to get tired? Please start taking care of yourselves. Eat when you're hungry, not when you are starved. Men do. Get enough sleep and rest. Men do. If you can reduce your hours or can leave the corporate world altogether, do it. I bet there is something that you are passionate about doing, that you would rather do.

To my sisters in their twenties and thirties, do not buy into the success paradigm. Life is not about climbing the corporate ladder. Life is about creativity and following your heart's desire. For women, life is about going into that space of timelessness and bringing ecstasy back into our life and into the lives of those we care about. It's time we lived up to our potential.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Putting aside childish things

I almost missed President Obama's inaugural address. Thank God, my boss reminded me. I have a lot of work to do today, and had to force myself to take a break and turn on the TV. Once I started listening to his speech, however, I temporarily forgot about work. I was stopped. I started crying. His words spoke to me at a deep soul level. No other politician has spoken to me like this before, only spiritual teachers. Obama held satsang for me today. Satsang is the sanskrit word for a true meeting of a community--a meeting where spiritual teachers transmit freedom. For me Obama's speech was satsang.

He spoke about putting aside childish things. We have been teenagers too long. Especially us baby boomers, going after pleasure as if there was no price to pay for it. There is always a price. And the price has become too high. The price of not growing up is our survival as a species and as a planet. It is definitely time to put aside childish things.

On a global level, this means cleaning up our mess. We've polluted the planet and it's time to clean it up, just like a teenager with a smelly room needs to clean his room up. We need to stop the wars, just as kids need to stop fighting in the playground. We need to put aside the petty corporate politics.

I'm not political. I know that I can't go out and save the world. All I can do is put aside my childish things. I've been doing this for a while, but there is always more. A childish argument that I had with a girlfriend of thirty years has ended. I hadn't spoken to her in eight years, but we have connected again and the love is back. Actually it never left; I just wasn't paying attention to it. It's time to stop judging friends who think and act differently than I do. Thank God for our differences. How boring the world would be without them. People need our support and love, not our judgments.

It's time for me to show up in the world and take responsibility for my part. It's time to use the gifts I was given to help alleviate suffering. My book and this blog are about that. If my words help shed some light for someone else, I am happy. Even if they push people's buttons, at least they are serving as wake up calls. I can't be afraid to state what I think because it will upset people. It's time to be an adult.

Finally, it's time to put aside childish worries. Am I looking old? Do I still look good? Do people like me? Will I ever have a boyfriend? It's been forty years since I was a teenager. It's time to stop acting like one.

Obama is the first president who is younger than I am. I am getting old. In the middle ages I would be a toothless crone by now. It's time to support younger women with the lessons that I have learned from life, not compete with them for looks and men. It's time to offer wisdom and love, not petulance and fear. It is indeed time to put aside childish things.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Life is good

This blog is dedicated to one of my oldest friends (in terms of length of time, not age) who recently came back to my life. I wrote her an email yesterday, telling her about the small pleasures of my life. I ended the email with a simple statement: Life is good.

That statement touched her deeply because of its simplicity. She wrote: I loved the phrase you wrote, "LIFE IS GOOD". It has been a long time since I actually heard it. It sounded so good, I felt it in the pit of my stomach. I read it and reread it so many times, to make sure that it would not disappear. Her statement made me cry. I've been so happy for so long, I forget that it's actually rare. She asked me to write more about it, in simple terms. So here it goes.

While my blog tends to focus on issues I have, I want everyone to know that the issues are the exception. The basic ground of my life is happiness, and once in a while some issues arise which I address. I forget that for many people suffering seems to be the basic ground of their life, and happiness only arises once in a while.

So why am I happy? Let's take today. It's a holiday and I got to sleep in. I woke up in my comfortable bed with my two cats sleeping by my side. It's January, but here in California the sun is shining and it must be 70 degrees. I did the laundry outside--which is where the washer and dryer are--in the midst of a beautiful garden. For breakfast I had quinoa, which my upstairs neighbor cooked for me, with cranberries and pine nuts; I added cinnamon and some fruit. It was delicious.

After showering, with the tub still wet, I noticed that a fly was stuck in the water. It's wings were wet and it couldn't move. I took a piece of paper and put it near the fly. I watched as the fly walked on the paper. Then I took the paper outside in the sun with the fly on it. Its wings glistened in the sun. Pretty soon they were dry and the fly flew away. I felt happy to have saved this fly. It doesn't get more simple than that.

Then my cat Max came running in from the garden where he was playing. A dog barking had frightened him. His white paws were dirty and he looked at me with an attitude that said, "Yeah? What's your problem?" I had to laugh.

I got on my computer and had several emails from good friends, among them the one asking me to write about life being good. Gratitude bubbled up from my heart spontaneously, not because I was suppose to be grateful but because I was in awe of how beautiful my life is.

My life is abundant. In this moment I am healthy; I have enough money; I have a beautiful home; I have two healthy cats; I have friends who love me even if they don't always agree with me; I have a boss who actually cares if I am unhappy even if she can't wave a magic wand and make everything better immediately; I have the freedom to say and write what I think; I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Life is good.

My prayer is that all beings experience life as being good. This is possible. But it involves taking responsibility for your life. It involves knowing what you want, eliminating what you do not want, and having the courage to follow your dreams.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Do NOT count your blessings

I woke up this morning feeling feisty, probably because I feel fully rested for the first time in weeks. (I went to bed at 6 pm.) There are many topics that I could write about today--because lessons are coming at me a mile a minute--but I'm going to write about the most contraversial one I can think of. This will not sound spiritual, but I don't care. With all the talk about gratitude going on, my advice to you is: Do NOT count your blessings.

What I am finding is that people are confusing gratitude with fear or obligation. I'm hearing people who don't like their jobs saying that they're grateful that they at least have a job, when so many people are losing theirs. Sorry, this isn't about gratitude; this statement is about survival. And survival is fear based. It's the human animal trying to survive at all costs, even at the cost of the human spirit.

I'm getting preached at by some ex-friends that I should be grateful to people who have helped me in the past. Here's another insight: the words "gratitude" and "should" do not belong together in a sentence. "Should" is about obligation; it's about debt. It's saying, I did you a favor and you owe me. Again this has nothing to do with gratitude.

Gratitude is a form of love, folks. It bubbles up from a heart that is so full, that it can't help but express itself. It bubbles up from joy; it bubbles up from the soul. It cannot be forced, as no form of love can be forced. Can you imagine saying to someone, "You should love me"? How do you tell a heart to love? In the same way, you cannot tell someone else that they should be grateful. And you cannot force yourself to be grateful out of fear that if you are not, you will lose what you have.

Fake gratitude is as yucky as fake spirituality. For God's sake, do not count your blessings. If there is something that is unacceptable in your relationship or at work, speak up. Say "no" to anything that does not serve you. Do not keep saying yes out of a false sense of loyalty to some outside force. Love yourself enough to let others know when something isn't working. But don't belabor what isn't working. Once you've said no, then ask yourself what it is you do want. Focus on the positive. Focus on creating a life of joy, not one of survival.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The difference between happiness and unhappiness: a change in perspective

I have spent the last couple of weeks feeling overwhelmed about work. This was exacerbated by my not feeling well. I didn't have the energy reserves to cope. And so I fantasized about not working and I wrote in my blog that I was unhappy at work. Which was true for me at the time, but is not true a couple of days later. So did anything external change since I wrote my last post? Nope. I still have the same amount of work. Except that I feel better physically and have more energy. And because I have more energy I have shifted from feeling like a victim to taking responsibility.

Today was the day that would have sent me over the edge, if I had continued on my old path of victimhood. I woke up at 6 am to go to the office in San Jose for a couple of meetings. One of the meetings was with my boss, and I thought it was important that we be face to face. At 8:30 am I was stuck in traffic still in Marin, wondering if I was going to be late. I received a phone call from my boss. The child of one of my coworkers was sick, and she wasn't going to make it in. Since she wasn't going to make it in, my boss decided to stay home as well, because her 17 year old dog was sick. "Lame excuse," she said. Not lame at all, I thought. Of all the stuff that my boss is dealing with, her dog's illness is probably the only thing that isn't lame. The political stuff at work is lame. And even my issues are lame. At least the drama part of them.

Well, I was happy to turn around and come home. There was a lot of work to be done and I could put my time to better use than driving five hours. I looked at all the meetings I had on my calendar, and all the deadlines I had agreed to, and I figured that I would just work over the long four-day weekend and get everything done. Then something awful happened. I spilled some water on my computer and my keys got stuck. I couldn't type with any spaces. Shit! I wasn't going to be able to work the rest of the day, and I was going to spend tomorrow driving to Cisco. That was the straw that woke the camel up. I thought, there is no way I can do everything that I promised. I need to ask people to move meetings back. I won't be able to produce some reports until a few weeks later. And a strange thing happened. I calmed down. And when I calmed down, I became much more effective.

I called Tech Support and they told me that the water probably created globby dust that was causing the keys to stick. They would open my computer up, take a Qtip and some alcohol, and clean it. Well, I figured I could give it a try myself and see if I could save myself the long drive. I took a toothpick and some alcohol and started cleaning the keys. Lots of cat hair came out. (Thank you, Max and Bradley!) And then my computer was working again! So no trip to San Jose tomorrow. Whew! What a relief!

But I could still change my meetings and deadlines, and get some space in my calendar and in my life. I emailed my colleagues--most of whom are very reasonable people--and next thing I knew several time consuming projects were moved over a couple of weeks and my calendar was cleared of meetings for tomorrow, so that I can focus on an analysis that is due. I will not be working this weekend, except for Monday which is a holiday. I feel that I can breathe again. I have regained my perspective.

I still need to discuss my workload with my boss, and I'm thinking some things need to come off my plate. But there is no drama attached to this now. There is an opening that wasn't there before, and a knowing that we'll work it out. No one out there was asking me to do the impossible. I was doing that to myself. But I knew that; we are in a prison of our own making. I just forgot...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Choosing truth, freedom, and happiness over security

Up to this point I've never written about any issues at work in my blog, for several reasons:
  • For the most part I have been very happy and haven't had any issues.
  • When I've had issues they've been minor and I could work them out.
  • My boss reads this column and I worry more about upsetting her than I worry about upsetting my other friends.

But recently I realized that in order to do what I consider to be my life's work, I have to be willing to talk about everything and not censor myself because I fear the consequences. It's not that I don't fear the consequences; I do. But I can't let fear stop me from telling the truth.

So after almost two years of working at my job and loving it, I sent an email to my boss on Friday and told her I was unhappy. She had opened the door for me to do that over a year ago, when she asked me to let her know if I ever was unhappy. This is something new for me. In the past I have told my boss I was unhappy only when I had made the decision to leave. By then it was usually too late to fix things. I have made no such decisions here. My fear is that she will think me an ungrateful, lazy employee and let me go. Still, I need to tell her the truth. I promised to do that.

I remember decades ago telling my boss at Columbia House that I was unhappy. He was a big burly man with a loud voice and everyone was afraid of him. I was afraid of him too. But my life had become so miserable at work that I was willing to leave even though I didn't have another job. His reaction surprised me. He looked at me and said, "Don't you know that no one is happy?" My response was that I knew that, but I was choosing not to participate any more. I was choosing to be happy regardless of what the rest of the world was doing. To my surprise he asked me what my issues were. He asked me what was going on with the other employees. He asked me to please stay. I never expected that. That night he invited all his employees out to drinks and the next day he visited all his direct reports and asked them how they were doing. People were wondering what got into him. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

Fifteen years later this situation is very different. My current boss is the opposite of that big, burly guy. (OK, the one thing they both have in common is that they are very tall.) She is sensitive and very much in touch with what is going on with her employees. But we haven't talked in a while, probably because she is extremely busy and dealing with stressful situations that would have me running out of the office pulling my hair and screaming, if I were in her shoes. I am in awe of what she is able to handle. I cannot do what she does.

I do not have her energy, her youth, or her willingness to deal with corporate insanity. I have loved my current job because:

  • It has been stress free.
  • It has allowed me to use the talents I have.
  • It has offered me the right amount of work for the hours that I am suppose to be working.
  • I have been able to meet everyone's demands easily and I have been appreciated for that.

In the last month-and-a-half, and especially since the forced two-week vacation, I am reminded of why I thought I could never work for a corporation:

  • There seems to be a corporate amnesia about the fact that we were forced to take vacation. All projects are due asap.
  • I have more work than I can handle in the time allotted.
  • I am asked to do some work that does not appeal and that I don't have the talent for.
  • I cannot meet everyone's demands and need to push back.
  • I can sense people's disappointment, impatience, and frustration with me.
  • I am stressed and exhausted--physically and emotionally--and do not have the time, energy, or space to work on my book.

I am not happy. I have no idea what the consequences of making this statement will be. But I have to make it because I choose truth, freedom, and happiness over security.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Setting intentions, not making resolutions

Happy New Year! It's that time of the year, when people make resolutions which they keep for about a month or so. Why is it so hard to keep resolutions? And what can we do instead that will be more rewarding?

Resolutions are boring. They're about fixing something that's broken. They come from a place of "should." I should: stop eating sugar; exercise regularly; call my mother more often... You get the gist of it. They're not something that we want to do, they're something that we feel obligated to do so that we can be a better person, a more attractive person, you fill in the blank. No wonder we can't stick with them.

So what if instead of resolutions, we set intentions for the new year? How much more empowering is that? Intentions are about us being co-creators with God. They're about checking into our hearts and discovering what gives us joy. And when we discover what gives us joy and go for it, then we are fulfilling our life's purpose. Then we are following our destiny.

So my main intention for the new year is to make my book a bestseller and to have it be read by all the people who could benefit from it. It's to start speaking about the issues that I am passionate about: being true to yourself, breaking free from the disempowering concensus, living a life of joy. It's about showing up in the world and offering my gifts of clarity to support others in their spiritual journey.

Oh, and my secondary intention is to have fun.

What are your intentions for 2009? What life do you intend to create for yourself?

There really is no time to waste, as the world desperately needs your true gifts in order to be saved.