Hit The Pause Button, Would You?

pause

My feedback to the student was a tad out of the ordinary. “That was an absolutely perfect use of a pause!”

The adult student was part of a group who delivered their final presentations last Thursday in one of my public speaking classes. Weeks ago, as they were preparing their finals, I had encouraged them to incorporate most of the new knowledge they had gleaned over the past seven units of instruction.

The power of a well-placed pause was part of that training.

Rookie speakers are uncomfortable with pausing. If they’re nervous, they want to rush through the speech and remove themselves from the spotlight. Those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome (see my post from September 8, 2018) hurry through the presentation before someone asks a question they can’t answer. Egotistical speakers don’t like to pause because, well, they’re just so absolutely fascinating they question why should they stop even for a moment?

Admittedly, when you’re the speaker and an audience’s attention is focused on you, a 3-4 second pause can feel like a really long time. But it’s a wonderful tool to add to your repertoire of speaking skills.

A pause gives an audience time to catch up, to process what you’ve said, to take a breath, to consider how a speaker’s words are impacting them. Famous speech coach Patricia Fripp says, “Pauses allow your audience to interact mentally with your words.”

A number of years ago, I remember a guest organist at our church who played hymns differently than the regular organist. At the end of each numbered verse, the guest organist paused a moment before beginning the next verse. We had been so accustomed to our regular organist who just BOOM! started verse two while the congregation was still on the final note from verse one.

When I told the guest organist that I appreciated that time to take a breath, he shared that he had long ago learned the value of a pause. He said, “The larger the congregation (or audience), the longer the pause needs to be.”

This is excellent advice for those on social media where the audience appears to be an endless stream of incredibly angry people.

Go ahead. Take a stand on any issue on social media. Be FOR something or AGAINST something, and I can guarantee it won’t be long before you’re the recipient of narrow-minded, hate-filled spewing of “comments” and then more replies to those comments. It is as if people are engaged in worded fistfights.

I have a deep concern for people who cannot pause for a few moments and reflect on how or why someone may feel or think differently than themselves. The instant negative reactivity unsettles me to the point where I just turn it off. After all, I wouldn’t let people into my home acting like that. So why allow them into my space (and into my head) via my laptop?

Pause is actually defined as a temporary STOP. If we temporarily stop before we react to something and consider our reaction, I’d like to think this would reap amazing benefits to our world.

~~~~~~~~

Patricia Fripp on the value of a pause

Ways a pause can benefit the speaker

 

The Blessing of Smallness

Smallness

a single raindrop

Like many other American women (both young and old, I might add), I have a crush on Dr. Anthony Fauci. And now I’m wondering if this “older man” mild fixation is a new trend in my life because I just cannot get enough of listening to Brother David Steindl-Rast. Happy upcoming 94th birthday, Br. David.

I had included a link to one of Br. David’s meditations on gratefulness in my post Savoring the Good.   And the Network for Grateful Living film “Blessings” (narrated by Br. David) inspired today’s post.

That six-minute film at its essence is a gratefulness prayer. Br. David offers up thanks to the source of all blessings for six aspects of life, several of which we may find unusual topics for which to hold gratitude: breath, humility, imprecision, memory, change, and departures. There’s a link to the video at the end of this post. Please take a few minutes to enjoy it.

In the memory segment, he says, “May I know what to forget and what to retain and treasure, keeping in mind the smallest kindness to me, and spreading its ripples for a long time to come.”

Let those words wash over you for a moment.

The “smallest kindness” phrase carved a niche in my heart because sometimes I feel as though my thanksgiving prayers have become rote; I offer thanks for my life, my family and friends, my home, my church, the community in which I live.

You know, the big five blessings.

Our attention is naturally slanted to the big because that’s what the world pushes. Bigger must be better, right? Huge houses and cars/trucks. Restaurant meals each large enough to feed several people. Designer walk-in closets the size of a motel room. Online influencers who brag of their copious number of followers. Mega churches who boast of 10,000 – 47,000 in attendance pre-pandemic.

So I asked myself, how would I go about being thankful for small things?

Source of all blessings, may we be reminded of the beauty of smallness. Symphonies are a joy to the ear, and equally so is the faint inharmonic melody from a windchime. A photograph of a spectacular waterfall may fill our senses with awe, and yet a photo of a single raindrop waiting to fall from its resting place can bring forth a sense of calming inner peace. Let me be mindful and appreciative of smallness.

As I purposefully seek out small things to appreciate throughout my day, there are too many to list here. Tiny wild strawberries growing by the roadside. An itty-bitty appreciation card that a client included with her payment. A limb of just-blossoming plums that I needed to duck under while on a walk.

A little nose pressed to the screened window sniffing for chipmunks.

Source of all blessings, may we be reminded of the beauty of smallness.

~~~~~~~

PS – Thinking it was a typo (but then I read it twice), I realized I didn’t know the word stan, so I’m providing the definition: an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity. (The word is used in the Dr. Fauci article.)

One of MANY articles about crushes on Dr. Fauci

Blessings featuring Br. David

A Good day (the original) featuring Br. David

A Grateful Day featuring Br. David. This is a remake of A Good Day, revised with video and natural sound vs. still photos. I watch them both back-to-back every morning. What a great start to each day!

 

Savoring The Good

savor the good

Photo by my friend Frederique Vincent

“Our nervous system comes prewired to pay attention to negativity. And it’s jacked up by trauma.” So says Dr. Joan Borysenko, leading mind-body expert.

Is it any wonder that so many of us are feeling anxious, on edge, or in just plain old dark moods during these traumatic times we’re living through?

One way to unburden ourselves from the negative perceptions weighing down on us is to savor the good. The good. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top amazing. It need not be the most spectacular or fantastic. It just needs to be good.

This idea comes from Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk for over 60 years (he’s 93) and founder of Gratefulness.org. Brother David reminds us that “many little good things happen throughout the day.” We take them in but then quickly move on to something else.

For instance, our brains may register the trilling of birds waiting for the feeder to be hung, and we think How sweet. Or we look up to see treetops, newly in bloom, swaying in the wind and register That’s so peaceful. Our phone dings with a message from an old friend and we’re filled with momentary pleasure in recalling that lifelong friendship. Or it might be that emotion of awe when we watch a video about butterflies. The reality is that you get to define your own definition of good.

Brother David suggests staying with each good event for at least 30 seconds. Pay attention to them. Let them soak in. Give them time to embed in your consciousness. Then at bedtime, bring up that day’s good moments and take a minute or so to recall them, to “savor the good.”

When we make this a daily practice, we find that with deliberation, we actually start looking for the good. We’ve set up our subconscious to be alert, to be on the lookout for, good that we can recall that night and be grateful.

Many people are inclined to snap a photo of the good as a means of improving our memory of it. As it turns out, that’s not such a great idea.

Psychology professor Linda Henkel says, “When you take a photo of something, you’re counting on the camera to remember for you. You’re basically saying, ‘Okay, I don’t need to think about this any further. The camera’s captured the experience.’ You don’t engage in any of the elaborative or emotional kinds of processing that really would help you remember those experiences, because you’ve outsourced it to your camera.”

It is as if you’re telling your brain, “Hey, take five; you’re off duty.” Henkel termed this phenomenon the “photo-taking-impairment effect.”

There may be seasons of our lives when the good moments might be few. There are times when we may even need to really search for the good. And for those who are alone right now, this may be that season for you. I pray that you find at least one good moment each day.

~~~~~~~

https://gratefulness.org/

“Photo-taking-impairment-effect” article

A Grateful Day with Brother David Steindl-Rast This five-minute video may change your life.

Video of monarch butterfly swarm from Nature on PBS

 

 

Thinking Outside The Box

Thinking Outside The Box

A few years before she died, my mother-in-law Rosalie was appalled by the birthday card her son Bill bought for my special day. When Rosalie did the choosing, the card usually depicted flowers and professed loving words.

Bill’s card, on the other hand, portrayed an office conference room. A cat’s litter box sat in the center of the long table with spilled litter all around. The “people” standing around the conference table were dressed in business attire but had cat heads instead of human ones. The card posed the question, “All right. Who’s been thinking outside the box again?”

Go ahead and laugh since I did then and still do when I remember it.

Surely everyone in the world has heard the phrase think outside the box. It has been used so often that it’s become a cliché. It’s intended to encourage us to discard our usual way of looking at problems and come up with new ideas, to disregard the obvious and look further for answers.

Like most things, there is some dispute about who “invented” the phrase.

One source says it developed from the publication Aviation Week & Space Technology, July 1975 when a writer said, “We must step back and see if the solutions to our problems lie outside the box.”

Some credit James Adams, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, for making the phrase popular. His book (originally published in 1974) Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas is now in its fifth edition. In that book he presents a visual puzzle depicting nine dots, three dots in three rows lined up. The puzzle is to connect all nine dots with four straight lines (or fewer) without having the pencil leave the paper and without retracing your route.

If you’ve not seen this puzzle before, go ahead and try to solve it and then come back here. One standard solution and some others are noted in a link below. Yes, there are multiple correct answers!

Many fail at this because we make up a rule that was NOT in the original direction. The made-up rule is this: There is an imaginary box around the dots and we believe we cannot move beyond that square. It’s only in the disregard of that imaginary box that the puzzle can be solved.

And isn’t that just like real life? I know that I’ve not put to good use all of my talents because I’ve imposed an imaginary box around what I believe I can do. I’ve missed taking some important chances because I didn’t think I could dare step outside the confinement of what my belief system said about myself.

I like James Adams’ response to people who ask him just how does one think outside the box?

He simply asks them a question in response:  “What box?”

~~~~~

Solution to the nine dots puzzle and some other fun info!

Knowing or Knowing and Doing?

Knowing or Knowing and Doing

You may have seen some of the free online educational offerings during this COVID-19 pandemic. If not, I’ve given you plenty to review in the links below!

I started one on Coursera that was dubbed the most popular online course at Yale: The Science of Well-Being. Happiness is a fascinating topic to me. My interest was fueled by a class I took a few years ago called The Happiness Advantage. If you watch nothing else, view founder Shawn Achor’s TED talk. He is a masterful storyteller.

While I ended up choosing to stop the Well-Being course after just one class (Professor Laurie Santos drove me crazy with her overuse of the non-word “kinda.”), Santos made a valuable point. She refers to it as the GI Joe fallacy.

The cartoon show GI Joe ran in the mid-1980s. I have fond memories of my son Tim watching its reruns. The end of each show featured a short PSA (public service announcement) for kids such as not getting into cars with strangers and being fair.  The closing in each PSA has the kid saying, “And now I know.” And the hero’s response was, “And knowing is half the battle.”

As a cognitive scientist, Santos believes this old adage needs to be retired since knowing something is not enough to change behavior. Apologies to any smokers reading this, because smoking is a wonderful example. It was 1964 when then Surgeon General Luther Terry released the report that first exposed the dangerous health effects of smoking.

It’s been over 50 years that we’ve known (and continue to know more) that smoking cigarettes is extremely hazardous to our health. But a CDC 2018 report showed that nearly 14% of US adults over 18 are still smoking cigarettes. What, those 34 million people have no idea that smoking is terrible for them? Highly unlikely. It’s just that knowing is not enough to change their behavior.

I love learning. I am an advocate for lifelong learning. And yet you and I and everyone reading this likely has some valuable knowledge inside us that is stagnating due to our inaction. This “down time” of isolation might be a good opportunity for us to ponder what that knowledge is and develop a plan to put it into action. Or we can gain new knowledge in something we’ve always wanted to learn and move that into an action plan.

A favorite quote of mine by Christian author Lysa TerKeurst is this:

“Inspiration and information without personal application will never amount to transformation.”

In the end, what we have done with what we know matters so much more than just the knowing.

~~~~~

Shawn Achor’s TED talk, less than 15 minutes. WATCH IT, please!!

Parade’s March 24 link to 28 free courses (NOTE: Some may have expired by now.)

Class Central offers “free online courses from top universities around the world like MIT, Stanford, and Harvard.”

Free college classes from edx

Free classes from Coursera

NPR’s list of free viewings from Broadway plays to Gold’s Gym workouts

GI Joe original PSAs

The Negative We Actually Need Today

negative capability

F. Scott Fitzgerald borrowed the poet’s phrase “Tender is the night” to become the title of his 1934 novel. The term “Bright Star” was taken from one of his poems and used as the title of a 2009 biographical film on the poet’s life. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” (on the adverse effects on our environment caused by pesticides) was supposedly so named because Carson had been inspired by a line of his poetry that says, “And no birds sing.”

Well, since others have used English poet John Keats’ words for their own purposes, so will I.

Keats, who died in 1821 at the age of 25, used the phrase Negative Capability just once in an 1817 letter to his brothers. Keats was describing a conversation with friends from a few days earlier. Wikipedia notes that Keats meant the term to “characterize the capacity of the greatest writers (particularly Shakespeare) to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion and uncertainty, as opposed to a preference for philosophical certainty over artistic beauty.”

Although the primary reference was in regard to a writer’s ability, Negative Capability has come to have philosophical meanings. After some research, I believe this is my favorite meaning of a person possessing negative capability:

One who has a willingness to embrace uncertainty and can make peace with not knowing everything right now

If ever there was a time for Negative Capability to be present in our lives, it is this day, this week, this month.

Many of us are like four-year-olds on a car trip whining, “How much longer?!” We demand to know when this COVID-19 crisis will be over. Come on; give us a date to circle on our calendars so we can X-out the days as we get through them!

Acting as if it’s our right as Americans to demand certainty in uncertain times only causes us more stress. What we know is that we don’t know for sure when life will resume its normal patterns. And in the meantime, we’ll follow the rules of social distancing and washing hands.

Embracing uncertainty can assist us in accepting our changed lives. For instance, you may have seen one of the Facebook postings that reads like a lesson from the Bible. This one is by Kitty O’Meara:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Or this one from the Center for Spiritual Living: “Nothing should go back to normal. Normal wasn’t working. If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson. May we rise up and do better.”

Wishing you joy, peace, and some negative capability on this day.

~~~~~

Article from BrainPickings.org

A Life’s True Calling

life's true calling

My friend Kimberlee Baer says her response is sometimes a conversation starter. At other times it can bring a conversation to a screeching halt.

The question: “What do you do for a living?” Her response: “I’m a licensed funeral director.”

Presently most funeral directors are male. The percentages vary depending on a) whether you’re looking at just the United States or the world, and b) whether the site combines funeral directors with morticians and/or undertakers.

The National Funeral Directors Association, whose members are from the US and 49 other countries, states that 16% of its membership is female. But in an article from NextAvenue.org titled “Why Your Funeral Director Will Likely Be Female,” the author tells us a strong shift is occurring. In the last few years, more women than men have enrolled in America’s 59 accredited mortuary science programs. And in 2016, 61 percent were female.

Kimberlee’s mom (a registered nurse) had encouraged her daughter to find her life’s calling in the medical field. As a science buff while in high school, Kimberlee thought that embalming was a fascinating topic. On senior career day, she chose to shadow a funeral director.

Earning a B.S. in biology, she spent two years in mortuary school and did a two-year residency in Chester, Virginia. Shortly after that, she responded to a funeral home’s ad of looking for an apprentice. She took that position and has been with the independent family-owned funeral home ever since.

Kimberlee has seen many changes over the years, and if we ourselves think about it, we can realize how end of life services have evolved. They used to be somber events, no photos or videos, with just sad music.

Now “celebration of life” services often replace a funeral. There are photos and videos showing the person when he or she was enjoying life. Playlists enable us to hear the person’s favorite music. Often people will include warm or funny stories in their eulogies. People attending the reception share favorite moments of the deceased and laugh as they remember the best times, the most poignant times, of the person’s life.

When I asked Kimberlee to share the most unusual service she had directed, she didn’t pause. This particular man had loved being on his sailboat. His life had basically revolved around sailing so he had left specific instructions for his celebration of life service. Palm trees with tiny lights and antique rum bottles decorated the room. A band played Jimmy Buffet music. Guests were requested to wear shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. Apparently, it was quite the send-off and everyone agreed that the deceased would have thoroughly enjoyed it.

As for the most difficult moments she faces in her role, she named three. The first instance she referred to is a sudden tragic death such as from an accident; the person was here one moment and the next they were dead. Family and friends are in shock and are sometimes barely able to focus.

A second has to do with her location in a small town; often the deceased is someone she knows and/or she knows their family. The personal connection makes it much harder.

And then, coming as no surprise, is the death of a child. Regardless of how old that child is, comforting a bereaved parent is the most difficult aspect of her work. Kimberlee shared the story of a baby who had died of SIDS. The mom had come in to plan the service and the two of them were still standing when the mom just collapsed into her arms. Kimberlee lowered them both to the floor where they stayed while the mom cried and they talked. Together they got through the planning of the service.

Kimberlee feels it is her life’s purpose to be with those who are facing the finality of death. She is able to remain calm, yet loving and compassionate, with those who need her. While seeing so many different sides of grief (anger, denial, heartbreak), Kimberlee has the ability to gently guide people through their most difficult time.

The two of us are new friends who were brought together on a Facebook community page. But that’s a story I’ll tell another time. For now, I’ll simply say that the world is a better place because of her.

~~~~~~~~~~

Next Avenue article

Who Knows What’s Next?

what's next

My mother-in-law Rosalie often quipped an adage up to the week before she died at the age of 100: “Old age isn’t for sissies.”

QuoteInvestigator.com says that the phrase first appeared in the Reader’s Digest April 1968 magazine, having been submitted to their “Life in the United States” section by a Ruth Hain from California. Ruth’s story was that her group of elderly friends had been sitting around complaining of various aches and pains and the maladies associated with aging. Until finally one friend said, “Well, it just proves one thing; old age sure ain’t for sissies.”

As we age we hear more about decline, both physical and mental. Maybe we clicked on one social media article about aging and the algorithms kicked in, gleefully filling our news feeds and inboxes with notices about the hazards of getting on in years.

Many of them scare us because we don’t want to be THAT person who ends up with Alzheimer’s, or THAT person confined to a bed or a wheelchair, or THAT person who has been forgotten and is living in isolation.

The older we get, the more frightening the concept of not being the same version of ourselves becomes.

Next month I will cross the calendar date when I will officially be closer to 70 than 69.

May I just say that feels impossible?

For the past ten years I haven’t minded sharing that I’m in my 60s. I had a blast at my 50th high school reunion in 2018, reminiscing with all the other 68-year-olds. Keeping active in all the ways that it counts (spiritually, mentally, physically, socially), I haven’t felt my age. I don’t feel old.

So I’m not certain why the idea of becoming 70 in the fall feels like a dramatic turning point.

The “aging” site that most frequently pops up in my email feed is called NextAvenue.org. Their tagline is “where grown-ups keep growing,” and their menu tabs are: Health / Money and Policy / Work and Purpose / Living / Caregiving / Technology.

Unlike many of the “you’re-getting-old-and-you-need-to-be-afraid-of-what’s-coming-next” sites, articles, and stories, Next Avenue offers encouragement, insight, inspirational stories, and advice to those in their midlife season.

I like it because it’s not one of those preachy sites that makes it seem as though there is just one right way to live your older life. And actually, it parallels my teaching and writing methods: offering up new information in a positive way for readers to consider and then ponder how they might find ways of incorporating the ideas to improve their own lives.

I’ve included a link below so you can check out their site.

So for now, this is your 69 years, four months, and 22 days old blogger signing off.

~~~~~

QuoteInvestigator.com

Next Avenue

A Peace Page A Day

a peace page

Last June I gave a dear friend (who at the time had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer) the gift of a year in the form of a National Geographic book: Daily Peace, 365 Days of Renewal.

The book’s jacket encourages readers to “Pause to reflect, enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and renew your spirit with the timeless wisdom of Daily Peace. Filled with elegant photographs and thoughtful quotes, this inspiring book will provide perspective and meaning every day of the year.”

National Geographic has a series of these 6”x7” by 1 ¾” thick perpetual calendar books. Besides Daily Peace, they include

  • Daily Kindness, 365 days of compassion
  • Daily Joy, 365 days of inspiration
  • Daily Gratitude, 365 days of reflection
  • Daily Love, 365 days of celebration
  • Daily Calm, 365 days of serenity

Each book offers a monthly theme. The twelve themes for the Peace book are Transition, Healing, Resilience, Strength, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Mindfulness, Perspective, Balance, Tranquility, Kindness, and Simplicity.

Don’t you feel better just saying those themes out loud?

I also bought the book for myself since I had pledged to my friend that I would travel the healing journey with her. Each new day as I turned to the date’s offering, I thought of my friend and whispered a prayer for her recovery.

At times I felt her spirit with me. Other days as I pondered a fresh interesting quotation, I wondered what meaning she might find in the words.

For instance, January 14 provides a quote from Narihira: “I have always known that at last I would take this road, but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

That quote has stuck in my brain, well, since January 14. Consider all the meanings those words might have for various people because what it means to me will be different than what it means to you.

(In case you’re wondering, Narihira was a Japanese poet who (it’s believed) lived from 825-880. No, I’m not an expert in Japanese poets; I had to look it up.)

These books can last a lifetime because they are set up as simply dates, such as February 1. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading that page today or five years from now on February 1.

Because my friend Linda and I began our reading journey in June, the pages for the months January through May are new to us. But even when June rolls around again, I plan on keeping my Daily Peace book right where it is and refer to it each morning. I’m a different person, as are each of us, than I was a year ago. So I’ll be absorbing the photos and words from a different mindset.

Who knows what new motivational renewal awaits me?

A Flash of Unforeseen Remembrance

flash of unforeseen remembrance

Life lessons appear around us each day if we can just remember to be attentive. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find one at a celebration of life ceremony for the son of a friend. I guess because it was unexpected that I felt (and still feel) a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude.

At just 31 years old, unable to recover from a devastating two-year battle with a brain infection, Catzby Pitzvada died on December 17. I had never met Catzby; it was only through the stories of his mom Denise that I knew of him.

The ceremony was TRULY a celebration of life because Catzby lived a full life…full of adventure, travel, learning, music, friendships, laughter, and love.

Although the eulogies and tributes were each uniquely personal, one clear message shone through them all:

  • Catzby cared deeply about people.

  • Catzby understood that relationships need to be nourished.

  • Catzby encouraged those in his orbit to also care deeply about people and nourish their relationships.

A high school friend of his was brave enough to admit that she’s always been kind of a loner. She said she had let many friends drift away, but that Catzby always kept in touch over the years and nudged her to do the same, to keep reaching out, to maintain bonds.

That was the lesson that hit home for me. Because it’s easy to get lazy about relationships.

Right now (without having to think twice about it), I can name four people I’ve been talking about visiting for over a year. Each lives within an hour’s drive from me so why do I only talk about it? Do those people feel loved by my inaction? No. Likely they feel forgotten.

A line of poetry by Edwin Arlington Robinson goes like this:

We cannot know how much we learn

From those who never will return,

Until a flash of unforeseen

Remembrance falls on what has been.

Catzby, thank you for being such an inspiration, for choosing a full and joyful life, for having smile lines around your eyes before you hit 30. And especially thank you for the flash of unforeseen remembrance that we need to hold onto our relationships, to value them and care for them like the precious gifts they are.

~~~~~~

Catzby’s obituary