NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

 “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Thankfully, growing up I never heard adults say this too seriously. It was always tongue in cheek, almost with a wink, acknowledging the inevitable inconsistencies between parental admonishments and actions. I took the implication as, “Be better than us; we want better for you.” There was also a sense of unfairness, a double standard lurking. But I think I forgave it quickly, understanding that parents are imperfect beings doing their best.

“Shame on you,” a patient once said to me when, in an attempt to empathize with his perfectionism, I admitted to some lapse in discipline I had committed around some health habit. It was early yet in my study of self-compassion, but I managed to not take his shaming as a reflection of my own character. He might be ashamed of himself if he were me, but I did not have to accept that projection.

Hypocrisy: Oxford Languages defines it as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” The opposite of ‘walking the talk’. A friend very gently challenged my current sleeping patterns, pointing to the inconsistency in what I practice with what I preach (nightly blogging does that to me, and I’m a night owl in general anyway). Does that make me a hypocrite?

I have always been a hoarder. I buy clothes I love and don’t wear them, in case they get dirty or ruined. I stockpile stickers, stationery, stamps, journals, essential oils, socks, scarves, washi tape, and now, (*sigh*) sourdough starter (seriously, that realization today was eye opening).  Ever since I read The Art of Possibility, I have honestly embraced an abundance mindset, evangelized for it.  There is enough of everything; we can all get our needs met.  And yet, if I look at my habits and patterns of behavior, it is quite obvious that I live in an internal world of scarcity. Otherwise why would I hoard?  Is it because I’m a hoarder, I know it, and I don’t like it, that the message of abundance resonates so strongly? Maybe this is another example of cognitive understanding and acceptance, coupled with considerable lag in limbic apprehension and realization? 

So do I still get to speak and write about abundance, even as I grapple to live into it fully in my own head?  Do I have the right to counsel patients about healthy habits in sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management, and relationships, even as I fall down every day in each of these domains? 

Yes, I do.  Because I persist in my own efforts, continuously, courageously, despite my recurrent failures.  I’m getting better—last week I wore ‘new’ skirt, boots, and coat (ranging from 2 to 7+ years old) to afternoon tea.  I can slow and divert from hoarding impulses better today than a few years ago…sometimes.  Progress is detectable over the long arc of my lifetime thus far, and I’m confident I can stay the course.  Persistence pays rewards, even if long delayed.

We are all in the same boat here.  Old, entrenched habits of thought and action are hard to break.  Perfection is a myth.  Outcomes vary according to so many factors, and intent still matters.  Despite my humbling realization today (I now have a plan for using my copious Discards of Sven), I believe I still walk my talk.  Because my talk is not, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  It’s, “I know how hard it is.  I struggle too.  I’ll keep going with you; we are all here doing our best.”

Meaning Indeed

Do you not just love when insights occur in rapid and acute succession?

I had ‘Rubik’s cubed’ the last post for a few weeks before finally sitting down to write and publish it last Tuesday. The smoke signal idea came to me while typing—it felt almost tingly, like the most pleasant and rewarding epiphanal effervescence. And here just now I’m only describing that sensation for the first time. How fascinating. Little did I know last week that my own smoke signals have long smoldered in the distance. Since musing about the physical sensations of meaning, I’m suddenly noticing my own, left and right.

I’ve had two prolonged absences from in person clinical work these two years. The first was 2.5 months externally mandated by pandemic lockdown in 2020. The second, ending as of 10 days ago, was a 5 month personal leave. In each case I did my homework prior to returning, reviewing charts and schedules, contacting colleagues for sign out (the verbal transfer of care between clinicians who share patients). Both times I felt ambivalent, missing the nearly 24/7 control over my own schedule (or the illusion of it, anyway), and also anticipating the gratifying interactions of in person clinic.

In June last year, the joy of return enveloped me like the warm, welcoming hand of a soft spring breeze. I had completed the interview part of my first face to face visit since March. We got to the exam room and I did my usual head and neck assessment. I put my stethoscope earpieces in and placed the diaphragm against the patient’s chest. That first heartbeat may have been the most soothing sound I had heard in years. The soft, rhythmic, unobtrusive yet vital thudding of the heart of a live person—a person in my care—wow. I can’t remember if I actually got goosebumps then. But I get them now just thinking of that moment. I had not realized how much I missed hearing it, or how much it meant to me. I lingered an extra second or two just listening, feeling a deep joy and relaxation, a settling of my soul even, maybe. It was profound and totally unexpected.

This time it was a conversation. It’s such a privilege to know people in the intimate space of their health, to appreciate them as whole people, body, mind, and often spirit. In executive health we get the bonus of relating our patients’ whole person health to their roles and responsibilities as designated leaders at work. This intersects also with relationships in their families and personal tribes, just as it does for all of us. Toward the end of an interview last week, once again I felt overwhelmed by a deeply grounding, relaxed and yet energizing sensation. My patient and I were talking, engaging, exchanging ideas and observations, relating, as fellow humans. It felt paradoxically expansive and distilled at the same time, like I had dropped right into, and was operating directly from, my core, best self. I was right where I was supposed to be, doing and saying exactly what I was meant to do and say, right in that moment. I could only marvel inwardly and briefly in real time, as the encounter moved on. It was not until later in the day that I was able to name the emotion as sheer joy. I was lighter on my feet, uplifted in my chest, feeling positively buzzed.

Wow, it’s already the end of October. NaBloPoMo is almost upon us (well, upon me, I guess, as there is no longer an official November event–but this will be my 7th consecutive attempt), and I feel ready! The theme this year is personally meaningful to me (stay tuned for the reveal), and I look forward to the challenge. So good to be back, friends. Onward.

Paradoxes and Polarities

Moonset, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, CO January 2020.
Photo by Karen Cornell, DVM, PhD, DACVS

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

The last NaBlo of 2020, hallelujah!  I do this for myself, but the views, likes, and comments are rewarding—so thank you all!

Every cloud has a silver lining; every light casts a shadow.

What paradoxes did you experience in 2020?  Here are mine:

  • Unearned vacation
  • Survivor’s guilt
  • Loss of control/autonomy of schedule
  • Loss of social activities/tightening of social bonds
  • Attention toward global humanitarian issues/Focus on intimate relationships
  • Disruption of usual routines/Return to fundamental patterns
  • Things are so bad/So much potential for good

Now some polarities I managed… What were yours?

  • Fear/Acceptance?  Curiosity?  Courage?
  • Self-care/Care for others
  • Doom scroll/Tune it all out
  • There’s nothing I can do, not my problem/I must do everything I can to help, it’s all up to me
  • I belong to this tribe/I reject this tribe
  • Think it through/Take action
  • Burn down the Patriarchy NOW/Culture change happens slowly
  • Intrinsic calling/Extrinsic conformity
  • I’m Awesome!/I will never be good enough
  • Inner peace/Outrage
  • Make sweeping delcarations/Qualify every statement

Wow.  That’s kind of a lot, and pretty complex.  And yet it’s so simple, so Zen

Life is an exercise in holding space—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally—for all that feels like contradiction.  We are here to reconcile it all, to dig it up in order to smooth it out, to make peace in the morass, to turn manure into fertilizer.  The flexibility to hold mutually divergent ideas at the same time, and to move fluidly from one pole to its opposite and back again in dynamic balance—this is my most valuable lesson from this year.

In April I wrote about the best thing that could happen from this pandemic:  Connection.  It’s already happening, and I’m so grateful.  I’m also inspired, empowered, and ambitious for more. 

Can’t wait for 2021.