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Tunnel vision affects all of us. The biggest challenge with this condition is that the primary symptom is a complete lack of awareness that you have tunnel vision in the first place. I see it frequently in my line of work; as a business advisor, I often say I help people see that there is a forest when they are lost in the trees. When I first embarked on my journey, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything special when I helped my clients see the big picture. When I coaxed someone away from the details so they could get an aerial view of the challenge or opportunity they were facing, it didn’t feel like a huge “Aha!” moment to me. But over time, I realized that I was performing an invaluable service for my clients. Here’s the irony: when I stepped back and recognized that being a business advisor was wasn’t supposed to be about having an Aha moment myself, but rather about giving my clients their Aha moments, I said “Aha!” Case in point…being myopic is part of the human condition, so I am just as susceptible as anyone else even if I cure myopia for a living.

My entire thought process on this was sparked this morning, as I was getting ready to leave the house. As I picked up the power cord for my PC I remembered what had happened the night before…

Last night I couldn’t find my power cord anywhere. I looked in all the usual places: the desk, my bag, the bookshelf where my husband sticks it if I left it out and my son tries to play with it. I pored over our office, then expanded my search to the rest of our house, but it had simply disappeared. That’s when the frustration started to creep in. OK, maybe the frustation rushed in, but I had a lot of work to do!

First I was annoyed at myself. How could I have misplaced it? How would I finish my client work if my battery dies? Why can’t I keep track of my stuff? Then the blaming started. Matt must have stuck it somewhere. Why would he put it in an unusual place? He must have taken it to work with him by mistake! I looked all over the house in the places where the power cord had ended up before, but eventually, I gave up. When my husband came home an hour later, the first thing I said was, “Hi Honey. Have you seen my power cord?” and of course my tone was only slightly accusatory. He told me he hadn’t seen it.

About an hour later Matt said, “Hey. Weren’t the cleaners here yesterday? Maybe they moved it somewhere.” Good point. I went back into the office. Like a lot things you look at frequently, eventually you stop seeing them. But what Matt said had flipped a switch in my mind; this time when I looked in the office, it took me – literally – two seconds to see the power cord, which had been shoved into one of those wall pocket thingies where I put all of the important mail I don’t intend to open. At the time, I was so relieved to have found the power cord that I just grabbed it, plugged my PC into the wall, and told my husband he was a genius. Living with me is like an emotional roller coaster.

It wasn’t until I had a night to sleep on it that I realized how interesting that little experience had been. When I saw my power cord this morning, it hit me that I had been gifted a concrete, tangible experience to remind me of how easy it is to become myopic, get tunnel vision, get lost in the trees, or slip into a state of denial. And, maybe more importantly, I had the opportunity to experience how good it feels when someone helps you take a step back in a kind and gentle manner. This situation would have ended very differently if, in the throes of my frustration, my husband took my frustration personally and got angry at me for implying he put my power cord somewhere or got annoyed with me for losing something that is expensive to replace. Instead, he just pondered the problem, came up with an idea, and helped me shift my perspective. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thanks, Baby!)

I suppose the challenge for all of us is to teach ourselves how to take a breath and get distance from something when we feel “stuck.” In addition, it’s important to be receptive to help if we can’t manage to get ourselves unstuck. But to me, the most valuable awareness I received from this experience was to remember to be compassionate when I encounter anyone who is challenged by myopia. I know from my own experience that people who are afflicted with tunnel vision have no idea that they are lost in the trees, so I must be kind and gentle if I help them take a step back so they can see the forest.

All of this from a lost power cord.

On Thanksgiving in 2006, I was reminiscing with my Aunt Pat and Uncle Andy about our frequent outings to New York City when I was little. I was remembering walks in the park, movies in midtown, fancy restaurants. One time I asked for ketchup with my steak…Wasn’t that silly of me? I laughed. Good thing my taste has improved as I have gotten older. Ah, good times.

My aunt and uncle looked at me incredulously, and then my Aunt Pat said, “Jennifer, we only took you to the City twice.”

I was speechless.

Before you say to yourself – here is yet another example of how Jen has created an alternate reality in her head – I will beat you to it. Clearly, my memory of spending time with Pat and Andrew was a bit exaggerated, but with good reason. To a precocious girl of nine years, it was extremely meaningful that a sophisticated couple like Aunt Pat and Uncle Andrew took an interest in me.

I thought their life together was fascinating. They complimented each other perfectly. Pat was fun-loving and Andy had a wicked sense of humor. She laughed frequently and with abandon and he had plenty of material to fuel her outbursts of laughter. They enjoyed each other’s company and spent many afternoons or evenings sitting in their backyard or on their porch, Pat enjoying a cocktail while Andrew smoked his pipe. They enjoyed music, visited museums, read lots of books. They were an intellectual couple, eschewing TV-watching to such a degree that they only had a small black and white television set which was hidden in a closet. As a child, that fact was simultaneously maddening and admirable.

They were also fascinating to me as individuals. Pat made me want to be a working woman. Her life seemed glamorous as she ventured into New York City each day to work at a prestigious company like IBM. Pat’s career achievements were especially notable since she was one of few women in the technology field in the 1970s. I was amazed at her ability and willingness to be a pioneer. Pat showed me that it was worthwhile to strive and it paid off to make your own rules.

My Uncle Andrew was a writer, a career choice I found intriguing. I loved sneaking off to pore over Andrew’s stash of Cracked magazines, and I would spend an hour just skimming old issues for his writing and jokes. I thought it was remarkable that his observations on life were so sharp and witty that someone wanted to publish them in print.  My aunt and uncle were urbane, and I wanted to be like them.

Even in light of these outward achievements, Pat and Andy were extremely accessible people, and their approach to Thanksgiving was embodied how warm and inclusive they were. Each year when I arrived to their house there was someone new: a distant cousin of Pat’s from West Virginia who happened to be in town, a coworker from decades ago, a friend who couldn’t make it home to visit his family, a fellow cyclist who just wanted to join the fun. It never occurred to either Pat or Andrew that they shouldn’t invite more people over, that there might not be enough chairs or enough food. They just embraced everyone and let the rest work itself out. It always did.

As I grew into adulthood our relationship evolved into friendship. Aunt Pat and Uncle Andrew mentored me, encouraging me to follow my instincts, to take calculated risks with my career, and to make the most of the life I have to live. When I contemplated leaving public education for a career in the corporate world, they helped me put aside my doubts and take the leap. That decision was a defining one in my life, and their faith in me was crucial at a time when I was unsure of myself. After twelve years in the corporate world I yearned to start my own consulting firm, and again Pat and Andrew encouraged me to trust in my abilities and in myself. As a result a whole new world of opportunities has become available to me.

I continued to uncover new reasons to appreciate each of them. I noted the depth of my Uncle Andrew’s kindness and generosity toward others. Whether he was visiting my ailing grandparents multiple times per day or spending hours coaching aspiring cyclists who don’t know how to get started, he never expected anything in return. Andrew demonstrated to me how caring for other people makes one’s own life more significant.

As I learned more about my Aunt Pat, it was her bravery that struck me. Pat survived two World Trade Center bombings and helped others to safety both times. She and I spoke over the phone on September 14, 2001 when I was living in Texas, and I was surprised to realize she was comforting me because I was far from our family, even though she was the one who had just had a near-death experience, days before.

Andrew’s caring and Pat’s bravery was the crux of their relationship during their last years together on Earth. Pat was extremely brave during a battle with cancer that lasted over two years, and I know her strength was grounded in how Andy attended to her. Pat needed to be as fun-loving as her body would allow, and Andy facilitated that by enabling her to stay at home and have as close to a “normal” life as possible. Even the day before Pat died, she and I sat on her front porch with her daughter and her sister, telling stories while Pat nursed a martini. It was clear she was losing strength, but she wouldn’t let her spirit be subdued by her fading body. I am appreciative to Pat for being so brave and to Andy for creating an environment in which she could be that way. I am indebted to both of them for leaving me with such an indelible happy memory of her.

I am unbelievably thankful for having had someone like Aunt Pat in my life. I am extremely grateful to still have Uncle Andrew with me now. There is no doubt in my heart that I will be given the opportunity to see them together again, because Pat and Andrew are soulmates. I feel lucky to have witnessed their relationship.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 sneaks up on me almost every year. As I am going about my normal routine, doing what needs to get done, I get on my computer or turn on the television and…there it is. In one second of recognition, I recalled the strangest and most frightening day of my life.

It’s the aftermath of that day on which I choose to reflect. The time immediately following September 11th was one characterized by uncertainty and vulnerability. I had concerns about the likelihood of a repeat attack and wondered what would it take to make me feel safe again. I was reminded that life is short and I noted that some of the people who died that day were just getting started before their future was erased, specifically my friend’s son Bradley who was only 24 years old when he died. I yearned to be with my loved ones (I was in Texas at the time), especially my Aunt Pat who had survived the bombing in 1993 and the Towers falling in 2001. I appreciated the blessing of having such special people in my life.

In the next year it seemed like a change had taken place, as if everyone had rethought their priorities. I observed more parents leaving work early to participate in their children’s activities. I watched my corporate coworkers resign for more fulfilling careers or to work in non-profit organizations. I witnessed friends and acquaintances volunteering in their spare time, resolving long-standing grudges, making time to be with family. At one point I thought to myself that if we had to face such a tragedy and lose so many wonderful people from our lives at least some good had come of it. Our collective conscious had shifted away from money, status, and the acquisition of property to relationships, service, and the enjoyment of life.

For me, the realization was instant even if the course correction took time. I had spent the seven years prior to 2001 working until 9:00pm on most nights. I had lost touch with many people whose friendship I enjoyed. I had let my weight and health condition fluctuate with stress. I loved my job, but I had let it become who I was. After the shock and grief of that day, I felt resolve: something had to change. I made some initial adjustments but, like so many experiences in life, it has been a journey. At one point in 2005, I saw myself falling into the same trap where I was letting my sense of responsibility for my job overshadow my responsibility to my family and myself. I wasn’t the only one; within only a few years it was apparent that many of us, flawed humans that we are, were living our pre-2001 lives; the current financial crisis we are in is clear evidence of that.

Therefore, on each anniversary of September 11th, I first remember the people we lost – the ones who didn’t have the opportunity to finish their lives. Then I reflect on what I have done to keep my priorities straight in honor of them. Have I lived each day fully, like the gift it is? Are my family and friends a top priority and have I taken the time to connect with them regularly? Have I crafted a career for myself that I enjoy while also serving others? Am I donating time or money to those who are less fortunate than I am? Have I taken time for creative pursuits, for the sake of creativity itself? These are the promises I made to myself and every September 11th I take stock to see how I am doing with them. I am happy to report that this year I feel that I am living my promises more than ever, although I always strive to do better.

What promises did you make to yourself in the weeks and months and years following September 11, 2001? Are you following through on them? Today – in fact, every day – is a good time to think about those promises and how you can honor the victims of that tragedy by making the most of the life you have.

Above I mentioned a friend, Frank, whose son died on September 11th. He and his wife, Mary, founded and run a nonprofit organization called Voices of September 11th. This organization provides services and support to those affected by September 11th and has initiated the 9/11 Living Memorial Project to commemorate those who were lost. If you have a minute, please visit their website.

I have felt completely stunted, creatively speaking, since the passing of my dear friend, Norman the Cat. I have been writing in a journal but I haven’t felt like composing, and by that I mean putting together a cohesive essay that has a point. I suppose that blogging is really less about composing essays and more about sharing a thought or two, so I think this entry may have to be a stream of consciousness of sorts as a way to get me back in the saddle. As I said in my first blog entry, Operation Peace and Serenity is primarily about my need to express myself and secondarily about making the readers happy – no offense – because I am a recovering people-pleaser trying to kick the habit once and for all. It is hard though; the more that people respond positively to my writing, the more I want to write entries to which they will respond positively. I suppose that is a common problem with art and creative expression, that if you let the audience influence the art it loses its authenticity, although I never thought of myself as an artist until just this second. That’s kind of cool, actually.

Since I lost Norman, it has rekindled strong feelings of previous losses, including people who died, friends who moved away, and expectations or hopes that went unfulfilled. I am not sure if this is an experience unique to me or something that others experience, but I feel like I have lost so many things all over again.

The night we put Norman down, I was lying in bed unable to sleep. My mind meandered, starting with remembering how it felt to hold Norman as he died, to reflecting on my reluctance to adopt him all those years ago, to how much I enjoyed my life back then, to the way my life turned upside down for a long time after that, to missing so many family members who died in the last ten years, to being sad that some of my best friends live so far away and I don’t see them much anymore, to thinking about mentors and coworkers I lost touch with, to wishing my Aunt Pat could have met my son and that my husband could have known my grandparents, to feeling like I lost part of my identity by not having certain people in my life any longer, to missing my old life but feeling guilty because of all of the blessings in my life now, to wishing Norman was lying on me in bed right now because the feelings of loss washing over me were making me feel so desperately melancholy and when I felt this way he was the one who comforted me by just being there.

As an aside, I once met a woman who, within a half hour of meeting me, said, “I would be scared to live inside your head,” and my response was simply, “Tell me about it.”

I have always had the attitude that I needed to tough it out. I grew up on a street with all boys and if you want to play with the boys you can’t cry when you fall out of a tree and twist your ankle. I played sports and when you get hurt playing sports you walk it off, at least you did in the 70s. Somewhere along the line, I decided that being tough was critical to my identity. As an adult, that translated to acting like I didn’t care if a relationship didn’t work out or I had a disappointment at work. It manifested in catching myself if I started to weep at my grandmother’s wake because there were people around and I didn’t want them to see me crying. It made me seem easygoing and undeterred when someone did something mean to me, even though I secretly harbored a grudge. It essentially turned me into someone who couldn’t express a negative emotion; as a friend of mine once said, I had become a Stepford Daughter/Employee/Girlfriend/Fill-in-the-Blank.

This is where having a life-changing crisis comes in handy. Going through an extremely rough personal experience forced me to become vulnerable because I was too drained to keep up the facade that everything was just fine, thank you very much. I finally realized that there is a huge difference between letting things roll off my back and burying them deep inside. I also have to credit my husband, who is a very accepting person, because early in our relationship I realized that if everything was not just fine Matt loved me anyway. If I felt grumpy or tired or sad I could express it and he would not leave the room, withdraw, or be angry with me. So in the days following Norman’s last, I didn’t revert to my old habit of putting on a happy face and acting like I was handling it. Instead, I let myself feel the overwhleming sadness that came with losing my little buddy; I would sob, my shoulders heaving and strange sounds coming from deep inside my chest. In the past I wouldn’t have even let myself act like that when I was alone, much less in front of a man I loved. But Matt has created for me an environment for me in which I feel safe to express what I am feeling, no apologies necessary. And I have also stopped judging myself for working through these kinds of feelings – this time, instead of telling myself to stop being a baby, I let myself feel heartbroken.

Although I miss Norman terribly and still have moments of extreme sadness, I am in a much better place than I expected to be after only three weeks. I firmly believe that allowing myself the latitude to experience my feelings of loss has quickened my healing, even if it is still in process. This has been an important lesson for me and something I need to continue to explore.

About thirteen years ago while I was working at Lucent Technologies, I went to a training class.  At that time, Lucent was a huge company and it wasn’t unusual to attend an internal class and not know a single person there.  At lunch, I joined another classmate I had just met, T. K. Srinivas, a man who happened to be Indian.  During the conversation, in my typical fashion, which is “intellectually curious plus outgoing minus any sense of boundaries,” I asked T.K. if he had had an arranged marriage.  He said he had, and of course my follow up question was even more intrusive:  What was it like to marry someone you had just met?

T.K. was kind enough to continue having lunch and chatting with me, despite the fact that I had just met him and was prying into his personal life.  As he answered my question, he said something very interesting, something upon which I still frequently reflect.  I am going to state it here and hope that I do his words justice…

In the Indian culture with respect to arranged marriages, people recognize that being married is a partnership, much like a business.  You come together because you have the same goals and the same values, and then you work to build a life and family with each other.  You focus on discovering all of the things that make your partner lovable, because everyone is lovable in so many ways.

I immediately saw the contrast between what T.K. described and what I had been living.  In my world, we date by a process of elimination.  We meet someone, get to know them, and, when we find something about them we don’t like, we end it and move on.  A few months prior to my conversation with T.K., I had actually broken up with someone because he said almost everything twice (No really, it was very annoying.  No really, it was very annoying).  But in fairness, it wasn’t just me.  What about Seinfeld?  Remember the woman he dumped because she ate her peas one at a time?  And there were many other examples of people I knew personally who broke up with a potential partner because he or she wasn’t “The One.”  In our culture, we hunt for a perfect person, a soul mate, someone with whom we will live Happily-Ever-After.  The search itself is the challenge – after all, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find that Prince – but once that wonderful and amazing person has been located, all of the problems are solved and the rest is easy.  As Nipsey Russell would say, “Riiiight.”

It was like a light bulb went off in my head.  Of course!  We are all going about this the wrong way!  Focusing on our perfect match makes us miss how many wonderful people are out there.  More importantly, expecting a partner to be perfect likely leads to failed relationships and disappointment in the end, because no one can live up to such unrealistic expectations.  I started to notice examples of an approach to love and marriage that was generally backwards:  romantic comedies (which I rarely watch unless I am pre-menstrual or hung-over) which always end when the two people wind up together; and dating game shows, like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, where someone searches for a person to pair off with and the resulting relationship is just a footnote in a future issue of US Magazine.  In both cases, the difficult search is the point and, once complete, the story is over.  But in reality, once you commit to someone is when the real work starts.  I realized that a myth had been perpetrated on our society and, to a large degree, I blamed the Brothers Grimm.

The implications for this learning are even broader than romantic relationships.  Imagine what would happen if you focused your attention on the lovable aspects of those with whom you have relationships, instead of what annoys you?  What if you didn’t notice your son’s socks on the floor but instead enjoyed how he always offers to help with the dishes?  What if you let an unsolicited opinion from your mother slide, but appreciated that she brings food for you every time she visits?  What if you spent less time caring that one of your employees always comes in at 9:05am and instead valued that he is self-directed and always completes his work before it’s due?  In other words, what if we stopped expecting people to be perfect because they are already perfect enough?

Maybe I am an idealist, and perhaps what I am describing is an unattainable utopia.  I know from my own experience that it is often easier said than done.  Even so, I believe it to be a worthwhile pursuit to focus my attention on the lovable qualities of the people around me, because everyone is lovable in so many ways.  Thanks T.K.!

I wanted to write a funny blog today, but I am still feeling pensive and I need to roll with it. 

Below is a photo I took of my son half his life ago, when he was a little over three months.  At first, I simply considered this a great photo opportunity and I was very self-satisfied with my abilities as a photographer.  Today I looked at it again for the first time in a while, and I found a lesson waiting for me.

Smile

When was the last time you felt this joyful when looking in the mirror?  How often have you looked at yourself, only to be critical of or disappointed in what you saw?  I would venture a guess that virtually everyone would answer, “A while,” and “Too often,” to these questions.   Yet I defy you to find a young child who looks in the mirror and does anything but smile at him or herself.  Young children certainly don’t look in the mirror and judge themselves, that I am sure of.

Many spiritual teachers proclaim that there is no good or bad, there only is what there is.  Over the course of our lives we develop and strengthen our identity or ego, but that is really just a collection of ideas and memories about our physical selves, to which we become attached.  Our egos spend all day judging things as inherently good or inherently bad, instead of accepting them as they are.  The judging we do clouds our view and prevents us from being truly happy and fulfilled.  Our essence or spirit, on the other hand, is unencumbered by judgment or negative emotions; it isn’t attached to how we look or to things we have or haven’t accomplished.  It is our pure potential, as Deepak Chopra puts it, and connecting with our pure potential is the key to happiness. 

My first thought is, “Gee, that sounds like a nice place to be and I wish I knew how to get there…”  But I am starting to believe that we all used to be there, and the challenge is just remembering how to get back. 

I recently read that, until about the age of five, very young children have not fully transitioned into the physical realm and they are still very connected to the spiritual realm.  In other words, young children are still in touch with their essence, and lack a sense of identity or attachment to the physical form they have taken in this lifetime.  Is that why a child can look at him or herself in the mirror and feel pure joy?  Child psychologists might say that developmentally, the child doesn’t yet associate the image with him or herself, it is something that needs to be learned.  Maybe.  But, what if that association is to be unlearned, or if the real learning is to remember that the physical form our soul inhabits is not who we actually are.

When I first became a mother, I believed that much of my role is to teach my child by introducing him to new experiences, but that is only part of this journey.  The other part of the journey is for me to learn from my son as well, and the first lesson is that I must reconnect with my essence.  I must let go of my attachment to my accomplishments, my failures, my successes and my disappointments.  I have to try to remember how to look in the mirror and see past my Self, so I too can experience pure joy.

Over the week or so since my last post, I have been thinking about my Purpose (with a capital “P”).  I have been trying not to dwell on it, but rather to just let it bounce around in my head so that, when I see or hear something that resonates with me, it might help me define my mission in life.

Interestingly, the term that keep coming to me is “philosopher.”  So in my typical fashion, the next thing I think is, “But is that a job?”  I guess what I am trying to figure out is, will someone be willing to pay me to muse about life and its meaning?  I know that is not the way to approach finding my Purpose, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction. 

When I joined Twitter a while back, I needed to write something as a one-line biography.  In Twitter-world, everything has a character-count limitation, so with only 160 characters with which to work I came up with this without any forethought:

Student of life, working mom, business advisor

I think it is interesting that “student of life” just came out.  And what is a philosopher if not a student of life?   But for some reason the visuals I get when I think of philosophers don’t seem to fit me:  the first thing I picture are togas; the next thing is someone sitting under a tree; then I think of a quill pen, you know, with a feather.  Don’t ask me where these associations come from, because I have no idea, but none of them seem to fit me or who I aspire to be.  I mean, I did participate in a lip-syncing contest in high school and we reenacted the toga scene in Animal House for the song “Shout.”  And I like shady trees, but haven’t sat under one in a while.  Can’t say I ever used a quill pen. 

Maybe what I need to do is redefine the term philosopher for myself, and even for the world at large.  Perhaps the modern day philosopher is the one who ponders life, provokes thought, and helps people make sense of the world…from her laptop.

I absolutely cannot think of the word “philosopher” without immediately calling to mind one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies.  In the Roman times part of History of the World, Part I, Mel Brooks’ character, Comicus, goes up the Unemployment Office window and to get his weekly check from the agent, played by Bea Arthur (remember the Golden Girls?):

Unemployment Agent:  Occupation?

Comicus:  Stand-up philosopher!

Unemployment Agent (annoyed):  What?

Comicus:  Stand-up philosopher.  I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.

Unemployment Agent:  Oh, so you’re a bullshit artist…

I think that says it all.

I often joke about the early midlife crisis I went through when I was 37.  It had all of the superficial trappings of such a life-event:  the convertible (Saab, but at least it wasn’t red), the inappropriate relationships (12 years younger), the surprising hobbies (taking up the drums). 

However, there was one aspect of this life experience that was not as frivolous.  I had reached goals I had set out to achieve, then realized I didn’t care about them.  I had climbed the corporate ladder, then felt the urge to jump.  I had acquired the dream house, then resented the time and effort that went into maintaining it.  I started to realize that the life I had created for myself was not the one I was meant to have.  

When I think about it, I believe that every midlife crisis can be boiled down to two key recognitions: 

  • You aren’t sure about your purpose in life.
  • You just noticed that your time is running out.

So this is where I found myself at 37.  Grappling with the age-old question:  “Why am I here?” and its not-so-distant relatives “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and “What will people remember me for when I’m gone?”  It might have hit me earlier than some, but it was painful nonetheless.  It still is painful because, four years later, I thought I had the answer and now wonder if I was barking up the wrong tree…again.

To consider having a life’s purpose or higher calling sometimes feels fluffy to our Western brains.  We are so results-focused, so goal-oriented, so matter of fact, that the idea that we would have a “purpose” rather than a “career” seems silly – purposes don’t pay the bills!  But according to Deepak Chopra (yes, him again), if you can find your dharma, your reason for being on this planet, then the money you need will follow.  That can be hard to wrap your head around, and I suppose it really requires a leap of faith. 

I do know some people who see their job as just that – a job.  They tolerate their job and pursue their passions outside of work.  That doesn’t cut it for me.  I can’t imagine enduring something for so many hours a day so I can live my life on the weekends.  My continual struggle is to develop a vocation – a job that gives me joy, is consistent with the contribution I am supposed to be making to this world, and will sustain my family.  Gee, I wonder why it is taking me so long to figure this out…

I know it is possible, which is why I refuse to give up.  With increasing frequency, I see examples of people who are pursuing their missions in life and finding that it is works out financially, as well as emotionally.  I will leave you with one such example of someone manifesting her purpose.

My friend, Kerri, has always enjoyed bicycles.  She rode them, learned to repair them, and has been working around them for years.  Her love of biking has become part of her lifestyle – she chooses to ride her bike instead of driving a car.  A few years ago, Kerri channeled her passion for bikes into a wonderful organization called The Bike Church.  Through this program, children in Asbury Park help recycle and repair old bicycles, and are given the opportunity to earn a bike themselves in the process.  Kerri had been running this program during her free time, but knowing it was part of a larger mission to get more people riding bikes, she decided to leave her job to expand the program by adding Second Life Bikes, a similar program for teenagers.  She did this without knowing how she would get paid; obviously, she had to have faith and believe that everything would work out.  Well, a wonderful thing has been happening and I have been fortunate to witness it first-hand:  materials, supplies, and financial support keep presenting themselves to her. 

One day in the course of a conversation, Kerri said, “I really need to get an Internet connection in the shop.”  The next day, she mentioned in passing that a friend had stopped by, and while he was there he offered to set up an Internet connection for her.  I said, “Are you telling me that yesterday afternoon, a couple of hours after you mentioned to me that you needed an Internet connection, someone showed up at your space and offered to install one?!”  “Yes,” she said, and her smile said it all:  On one hand she was surprised and on the other she wasn’t.  Everything has been falling into place. 

This has happened repeatedly.  One day, Kerri was thinking that she should order helmets, and later the same day a woman called and specifically said she wanted to donate helmets.   Another time she was thinking about a specific person who someone had mentioned she should call, and that person stopped by.  There are many more examples, and it has been surreal.

Kerri’s experience has been proof to me that when someone starts a journey down the right path, the universe conspires to provide help along the way.  So even though it is exhausting for me to grapple with the Big Question, I know that this is the hard part.  Once I figure out what I was sent here to do, the rest will be like a downhill bike ride…effortless and fun!

The following shall forever be referred to as “The Deepak Chopra Incident”. 

As I wrote about in “My Backstory,” I went through a very difficult personal time and got through it by turning inward.  I spent a lot of time by myself, reading and reflecting and generally trying to make sense of how I ended up in the situation in which I found myself.  Even though I was in a lot of pain, it was a special time for me because it changed my life profoundly and for the better.

There were quite a few books that really helped me during the journey from personal crisis to rebirth, and the one that was especially meaningful to me was The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.  In this book, Deepak Chopra presented me with a new way of understanding the universe and my perception of it, which caused me to reevaluate my life in every way and make some positive, necessary changes.

So, three years later, when I saw that Deepak Chopra would be doing a lecture and book signing through the Open Center in New York City, I was thrilled and excited to attend.  I signed up six months in advance when I first saw the promotions for the event.  Having recommended the book or even given it as a gift to many people, I also reached out to others who I thought would like to attend.   Through my suggestion, more than ten people registered for the event, including my now-husband and my parents.

A few days before the Big Night, I made a point of taking time to think about what I would say to Deepak Chopra if I had an opportunity.  So many things to talk with him about!  Knowing I would have a minute or two at the most, I needed to cull down the volume of thoughts and topics into something short that would impress upon him exactly how much his book, and he as a person, impacted me.  Should I tell him how many people to whom I had given his book?  Should I let him know that reading his book inspired me to move on from a marriage and abandon a career track, completely revamping my life in one fell swoop?  Should I explain that his words got me on a path to rediscover my personal creativity as a form of spirituality?  That I look at the world so differently now and I am a better person as a result?  Should I let him know he inspired me to write a book on leadership, and plant the seed so that he might write the introduction for it when it is finally completed?  Or, even better, maybe I could ask him to collaborate with me on it?  So many things!

Clearly, I had a challenge ahead of me.  There was no way I would be able to get an audience with Deepak Chopra.  In fact, as my father pointed out, it is possible that the books would have been signed in advance and handed out; after all, he must be a busy man and signing all of those books would take hours.  That was the worst case.  The best case was that I might be able to say hello to him while he signed my book.  Nonetheless, I hoped for the best and set about figuring out what to say to this man with whom I had developed an imaginary relationship in my head.

I utilized my sales training and developed an “elevator pitch.”  An elevator pitch is what you would say if you happened to run into a potential customer in an elevator and had only a few seconds to close a sale.  I honed my message carefully, trying to walk the balance between letting Deepak Chopra know how much he influenced me and sounding like a complete stalker.  After mulling it over for a few days, I felt I had developed the perfect thing to say and, as I sat on the train on my way to New York, I jotted the final version down in my journal.  Feeling satisfied and giddy with anticipation, I put my pen down, sat back and relaxed, enjoying the rest of the train ride with my friend.

When we got to New York City, we met our friends and family for dinner first.  I tried to exchange pleasantries but I couldn’t focus.  I wanted to get to the venue and get a good seat.  I was trying to relax and enjoy the meal, but I was getting stressed that we would end up too far in the back to see Deepak Chopra.  Dinner finally ended and we headed over.  We easily got in line and found seats near the front – enough for our entire group – and I started to feel blessed that things were falling into place.  This would be a very good night.  I couldn’t stop smiling.

This is probably a logical place to stop and make a brief mention of my relationship with my mother.  It’s complicated.  In a nutshell, my mom and I are very different personalities and in some ways polar opposites:  I am a tomboy and she is a girly-girl, I am a risk-taker and she likes for play it safe, I like my independence and she craves closeness, I spend Sundays watching football and she spends Sundays shopping.  We love each other, and we just have two very different ways of approaching things in life.

Back to the Big Night.  Deepak Chopra comes out to speak about his book, The Third Jesus (which is excellent, by the way).  His talk is amazing and I hang on every word.  He is funny, insightful, thought-provoking and inspirational.  He talks for longer than any of us expect and we all enjoy it thoroughly.  When he is finished, an announcement is made that Dr. Chopra will be signing books!  I look at my father, wide-eyed.  He is signing the books!  That means I can meet him!

I am in line to get my book signed, and my heart is pounding.  Everyone else in our group is making conversation while we wait, but I can’t participate because I am rehearsing what I had planned to say to him.  I watch the people who are ahead of me, and notice how much time they have with Deepak Chopra before they need to move on.  It doesn’t seem like they are being rushed, and I appreciate how patient he is and how willing to take his time with each person.  I am so looking forward to having my moment with Deepak Chopra that I can barely contain myself. 

Only a few people in front of me.  My heart quickens its pace.  Now only two people.  I am taking deep breaths and trying to stay calm, because I don’t want to miss my opportunity to make an impression on him.  One person ahead of me, and I can tell they are finishing up.  My turn!  It’s go time!

As I walk up, I am very focused, yet vaguely aware that my mother is right at my heels.  That’s alright, I think, she can hear what I have to say.  I move in front of the table where Deepak Chopra sits.  As he looks up at me, I hand him The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and say:

“I was hoping you would sign this book for me as well.  I just have to tell you that this book had a tremendous impact on me.  It caused me to shift my perception in such a profound way that I ended up changing virtually every aspect of my life.”

He looked up at me and, before he could say a word, my mother said:

“And my book club loved it!”

I was shocked and appalled.  This book gave me the wisdom and strength to leave a toxic marriage!  This book caused me to abandon a high-powered job for a more fulfilling career!  This book allowed me to manifest a completely new life for myself!  Your book club loved it?!?  Are you kidding me?!? No offense, but there is really no comparison here!

Then, before Deepak Chopra could say a word, I said:

“Mom, it’s my turn!”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized what I had done.  In one second, I went from being who I wanted to be – a woman on the path to enlightenment – and ended up back at square one – a girl arguing with her mother.  Great…just great.

Everything after that was a blur.  I don’t remember what Deepak Chopra said to me.  I do remember that he seemed mildly amused.   I remember feeling totally deflated that, while I had made an impression, it was not quite the impression I had intended to make.

So I ask you:  Am I enlightened?

Or maybe a better question is:  Is it possible to be enlightened while you are in the same room as your parents?

What would Deepak Chopra say?

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I am happy to report that yesterday my son was Baptized, so now he is officially saved from the fiery pits of hell.  Here he is pictured with his parents and Godparents, whose destiny is a little less certain at this point.

This was an interesting day for me.  Spirituality has always had an important role in my life and has been something I have grappled with for the last few years.  In some ways I feel “less Catholic” than I used to and in others I am even more committed.  I have come to the conclusion that all organized religions have flaws, because all organized religions are based on something preternatural but are developed and managed by humans, and none of us is perfect.  As Eckhart Tolle wrote about in A New Earth, when people get too attached to their dogma everything gets screwed up (I paraphrased).  I guess Kevin Smith had it right years ago…

When I lived on Pavonia Avenue in Jersey City in the mid-90s, I became friends with a woman who was twice my age who lived downstairs.  We used to talk about stuff like this while she gardened and I watched, and I remember telling her that I was a “90s Catholic” because:

  • I don’t believe it’s wrong to use birth control,
  • I support a woman’s right to choose because I don’t think I should force my beliefs on someone else,
  • I don’t believe that people who haven’t accepted Jesus as Savior are going to hell,
  • I don’t believe that partnering with someone of the same sex is a sin, and
  • I believe women should be able to be leaders in the Catholic Church.

Her reply:  ”You’re not a 90s Catholic, you’re a Baptist.”

Her comment made me laugh and then caused me to investigate becoming a Baptist.  Turns out, that wasn’t a perfect fit for me either.  Why?  Because I had some issues with that belief-set as well.  What about Taoism and Buddhism?  Better, but still not a perfect fit.  I was even considering Kabbalah because the mysticism of it is so intriguing, but it was too trendy.  I mean, share a spiritual practice with Madonna and Britney Spears?  Come on!  Even on my path to enlightenment that was too much to take.

This was all a little frustrating at the time, because that was when I believed I was a hypocrite if I didn’t accept all facets of my chosen religion.  Now I know better.  They only perfect fit is the one you create for yourself.  As a wise woman wrote, “there are many paths to God.”  I truly believe that each person has a responsibility to develop his or her own spirituality in a way that makes sense to them.  Since every person is unique, that spirituality will look a little different for each of them.

So for me, I came full circle and I am back at Catholic.  I remember a Jewish friend of mine saying that Judaism is not just a religion but a culture.  Well, same goes for Italian-Catholicism.  When I say something off-color or mean, my immediate reaction is to make a quick sign of the cross.  When we listed our house for sale, my mother brought me a statue of St. Joseph to bury in the backyard.  Whenever I lose something, I pray to St. Anthony and he finds it (no joke, I’ll have to explain in a separate post because I have so many stories about that).

Now my spiritual practice includes studying the teachings of Jesus, going to Catholic Mass because I love the solemnity and joyfulness of it and because it is at least one hour out of a week when I will reflect, and raising my son Catholic because I want him to have a spiritual foundation.  Later, he can change his practice to something that better suits him if he chooses, but I want to instill in him the faith that there is something bigger, beyond what we can see around us.  That sort of faith leads to a feeling of peace, and I believe that developing it starts with spiritual discussions at a young age.  My father did that for me every week after Church, when he would annotate and sometimes modify what the priest said during Mass.  Thanks Dad!

Anyway, I covered a lot of ground in this post when I really just intended to put up the picture and make the crack about the “fiery pits of hell.”  Time to wrap it up…

Peace be with you.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.