Trust

Sometimes we need to trust ourselves. Sometimes we need to shut out what everyone else tells us and follow our own hearts. But other times, we have to accept that maybe our perception is dead wrong.

This is pretty terrifying really.

It’s hard to buck the system and decide no matter what anyone else says, you’re going to do the thing that makes you happy. For example, why do people who supposedly love us tell us not to follow our passion? I think it’s because they’re scared. Scared as much for themselves as for us.

Here’s an analogy: during my first marriage, my ex and I hadn’t been romantically involved for several months. I saw a romantic movie and when the couple started kissing passionately, I burst into tears. It was the pain of being reminded of what I was missing that made me cry. Having it thrown in my face broke the dam I’d built to keep all of that pain in check. Sometimes we’d rather believe something isn’t possible than to see someone else doing what we’ve dreamt of.

On the flip side, sometimes our perceptions are just wrong. Let’s take a wedding where we stress over details that no one else will notice or care about. Leading up to a wedding, many a bride (sorry to be sexist, but I have yet to meet a groom who felt similar stress about his wedding) will freak out about any one of a million minute details that no guest will ever notice.

The importance of details like how party favors are presented on the tables, the font of the invitation, or the subtle shade of blue that doesn’t quite match between the cake frosting and the napkins grow vastly out of proportion.

Yet, if you’re getting married, no one–NO ONE–cares if the blues are slightly different shades. What does matter is that you’re happy you’re getting married. That’s really the only detail you need to worry about: are you happy you’re getting married?

When we get into a state where things like matching shades of blue seem like life and death situations, we need to let go and trust in someone else’s judgment. But how do we tell the difference between when our own compass has been dropped vs when someone else’s advice is coming from their own fears?

Sometimes this is relatively easy. If we take a few deep breaths, there’s a place in most of our stomachs that will tell us that our best friend is right that the shades of blue are fine. Other times, it’s tough. Sometimes it takes a lot of soul searching to distinguish between whether what we believe is right or whether maybe, just maybe, we should accept someone else’s opinion.

Sometimes the opinions we hold with the most certainty are exactly where we need to listen to someone else. If only there were a simple test to determine when we’re off base.

Mesmerized


I was given an exercise: describe your life 10 years from now how you want it to be. It’s not the first time I’ve done this exercise. However, it has a slightly different twist this time.

I was asked to write less about what I would be doing and more about how I would be feeling.

I am not going to share my attempt at this exercise in this blog because it’s a bit more personal than I’m willing to share publicly. However, an interesting theme emerged. It was the theme of being “present,” “mindful,” “aware,” or whatever word means the most to you. That state where your brain isn’t off thinking a million miles an hour about a thousand different things but is right where you are physically, mesmerized with the present moment.

Mesmerized. Such a great word–feeling like you can’t look away, hypnotized. Being mesmerized by the present moment means no thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow distract us from what’s unfolding now.

Remember the feeling of getting so caught up in doing something that all else is forgotten? And I am not referring to computer games here. Rather, the feeling of being lost in creating something and suddenly something interrupting you and realizing hours have passed. Or perhaps the feeling of no time having passed at all but realizing you just hiked 7 miles. Or even just enjoying visiting with friends so much that you lose yourself in the conversation and suddenly discover 2 hours have gone by.

Interestingly, my relationship with time seems to have suffered greatly since starting my leave of absence from my day job. I lose track of it continually. Yet, it’s not quite the kind of loss of track of time I was shooting for. There’s the “I’m so engaged in what I’m doing I can’t keep track of time” kind of loss of time and then there’s the “I’m so distracted and disconnected from what’s going on around me I can’t keep track of time” kind of loss of time. I seem to lose more time to the latter case than the former.

Photography gives me hope. It’s the good kind of loss of time for me. It’s when I set aside whatever else is going on in my head and pay attention to reality.

Let’s think about this for a moment: I like photography because it’s one of the few times when I stop imagining things and live in reality. As crazy as this sounds, I’ve decided I’m not crazy at all. In fact, every time I talk to someone about a racing brain that jumps all over the place, this is among the most common of experiences. It’s the moments of quiet that seem to be more unusual.

Do we all walk around with a head full of voices about the past and the future distracting us from the present? The peaceful joy that comes with being fully present truly is mesmerizing, yet so hard to maintain.

Being Golden


Growing up, I was taught to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It seems simple enough. However, this rule can quickly turn an attempt at thoughtfulness into an act of egocentric selfishness.

For example, my aunt was compulsively punctual. Because she was also exceptionally nervous, continually worried about abandonment, and a complete freak to deal with when she was upset, my family went to great lengths never to be late picking her up under any circumstances.

In my aunt’s mind, making us wait even a second would be inconsiderate. At the same time, if she waited more than a few minutes, she would begin to think she was confused about what time we were picking her up and chaos would ensue. “On time” to my aunt meant about 10 minutes early. There was a 4-minute window in which you could safely arrive and retrieve my aunt without panic, chaos, guilt, or retribution: arriving 5-9 minutes early meant you had not waited on her and you were early enough to avoid triggering her panic. This resulted in many dangerous acts of driving.

All in the name of thoughtfulness.

From her I learned to watch myself. To watch when “doing unto others” takes that dangerous turn into “assuming others want what I want.” The hardest acts of thoughtfulness are when what feels thoughtful to someone else is completely different than what we would want. Removing ourselves from the equation and truly making it about the other person is actually quite a challenge.

I think of my grandfather who never wanted gifts and my mother’s desire to give a gift he would like. Every Christmas, she would give him something more and more practical trying to align her gift giving with what she thought he would enjoy. Every year she was disappointed by his reaction. In reality, what he wanted was no gifts but my mother couldn’t give up on her belief that the perfect gift would result in him expressing genuine gratitude.

As selfless and thoughtful as my mother was, here she wasn’t really being thoughtful–it was her own need for her father’s approval that drove her compulsion to find him the perfect gift rather than any need of his.

And this, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Golden Rule. If we apply it from the perspective of our own neurotic need for approval, appreciation, or even just confirmation of what we believe about ourselves (we’re giving, thoughtful people), we usually don’t really apply it at all.

In the end, we don’t want people to do unto us exactly the way they would want us to do unto them. Rather, we want people to know us, see us, understand us, and, as a way of acknowledging that they accept us as we are, do unto us as we would have them do unto us. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” really should come with many footnotes.